The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Theory of Mind

One of the most impressive features of the human brain is its ability to understand other brains, i.e. the ability to construct a "theory of mind" about other people's intentions and feelings. By observing someone's face and behavior, human brains can infer that person's invisible "state of mind", an expression originally introduced by US psychologists David Premack and Guy Woodruff ("Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?", 1978). We don't just build a theory of our own self, but also a theory of other people's selves. Children cry when other children cry, a sign that they identify with their pain. We feel sorry for other people's misfortunes (although not always happy for other people's luck). Premack also discovered that children are prewired with the distinction between "minds" and non-minds, i.e. between sentient beings and inanimate matter. Children treat differently objects that move by themselves and objects that move only when someone moves them. Children tend to see a "motive" behind self-propelled objects. It is a built-in ability to guess the state of mind of another being. Face perception might be the most developed visual skill in humans.


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