Thursday, February 20, 2014

Greedy Mind Readers and Embodied Transparency (inspiration, process)

On my reading list: Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us About Popular Culture by Lisa Zunshine

Discovered this book via this intelligent review by Michael Bérubé in American Science (A Theory of Theory of Mind):

"Lisa Zunshine has a theory—a theory about theory of mind. It goes something like this (and in order to paraphrase it, I have to exemplify it, by getting inside her head as best I can): Our brains evolved in such a way as to render us all eager but flawed mind readers. Whenever we see each other, we try to figure out what other people are thinking; it is a necessary skill in a deeply social species—or, rather, we are a deeply social species precisely because we have this skill. We try to read each other by look, posture, expression, gesture. And, to make things more complicated (and/or fun), we know this about each other, so we also try deliberately to produce certain readings in others by feigning certain looks, postures, expressions and gestures. All the world’s a stage—and the world we have created includes millions of actual stages, where actors embody the principle that all the world’s a (self-reflexive) stage.
Our culture, Zunshine writes, is a culture of greedy mind readers” that relentlessly invents scenes of what she terms “embodied transparency,” in which characters are briefly readable to each other and/or to us, often at times when they intend not to be. In such scenes, we become able—or we are led to think we are able—to translate body language into a statement of intent: “That body, by virtue of being the object of our theory of mind’s obsessive attention, is a tremendously valuable and, as such, potentially misleading source of information about the person’s mental state.” It is potentially misleading because we can always feign a look, a posture, an expression or a gesture: “We end up performing our bodies (to adapt a term from cultural studies) to shape other people’s perceptions of our mental states.” Scenes of embodied transparency, then, delight us because they fulfill the brain’s need to decode social signals..."

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