miriam english (miriam_e) wrote,
miriam english

theory of mind and helping people

Theory of mind is an interesting concept. It lets us understand what another person sees. We generally develop this ability at about age 4 years.

Here is a common way it is explained: A father phones home and his three-year-old daughter answers. He asks her what she's been doing. She answers, "I've been playing with this." She doesn't understand that he doesn't know what she's looking at.

Last year an artificial intelligence was able to demonstrate theory of mind. This is a big deal. It is the beginning of empathy. There's still a long way to go yet, of course, but it's still pretty damn amazing.

I've begun to wonder if theory of mind is not the solid thing it is generally assumed to be.

I often help friends and family with their computer problems over the phone. It is extremely rare for a person to describe what they are seeing. Usually they seem to assume that I can see what they do. And it isn't just because they assume I'm an "expert" with computers. Often they'll do this with computer interfaces that I've told them I have little or no experience with. I'll jokingly tell them I haven't developed telepathy yet, so don't know what they're looking at, so they need to describe for me what they're seeing. But for some reason I've never understood, this is almost impossible for most people to do. Instead, I have to describe what I think they might be seeing and ask them if that fits or not, going through multiple descriptions until, either one fits what they're seeing or they become too frustrated and call an end to it.

Why is this? I'm not exceptional. Why can I describe things, but most other people can't? On rare occasions I have met people who carefully detail what they see and it's like turning on the light in the room. I can see what they see and quickly help them to the solution, if I know it. This makes it even more obvious there is something very strange going on here.

(Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/333266.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

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