Questions to ponder on the Theory of Mind

  1. How do you determine the presence of minds in others?
  2. How comfortable are you with the notion that there exist people fully as capable of thoughtful reflection on the world as you (perhaps some even better) and yet come to completely different conclusions? How do you negotiate disagreement with others?
  3. What is it like to be a bat?
  4. If you could be transported instantaneously to a world where other people’s thoughts in your local vicinity were revealed to you but yours were as also revealed to them, would you want to go there? Do you think those who were born into such a world would wish to come to ours where thoughts are kept quietly within skulls?
  5. Can one lie in their sleep?
  6. Why do you think people believe “weird” things? What “weird” things do you believe?
  7. Why do you think so much early/foundational research on the Theory of Mind was spent on “false belief” studies?
  8. For human beings does “life” “end” with the end of “the mind”. Does it begin there as well? Is this the same criteria we ought to apply to those things we believe have minds?
  9. Is there a baseline level of respect owe to the integrity for things which do (not) have minds?
  10. “Think about it,” David Foster Wallace bids us, “there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.” Is this the “default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth” for all mind-having-beings or is it the conditioned response of a single subset of a single species of primate?
  11. Do we mind-having creatures tend to over-attribute or under-attribute mental states to others? Why/Is it important to understand (the mental states of) others?
  12. Do human beings of today have the same “minds” as human beings of way back when? What about the minds of human beings of the way off when?
  13. When you “change your mind”, what happens?
  14. How often should we change our mind? When/Should we change it more/less?
  15. Will we make it to the next…?

Questions from the community!

  1. Do humans deserve consciousness? Is consciousness a burden? Have we wasted it?
  2. Do you believe in the ‘collective mind(s)?’ If my mind is the conduit through which I experience the universe, is it influenced at all by the mere existence or presence of others (ignoring the direct ways humans influence each other, e.g. talking)? If you think the collective mind(s) exist, is it bounded at a particular level (e.g. your immediate physical proximity, the community, the nation, the human species)? If you don’t believe in the collective mind(s), why do you think we prefer holding bioethics discussions in person sitting far away from each other, instead of through (convenient?) internet services?
  3. Why do certain cultures fear death, while others celebrate it? How does the culture we grow up in and its attitudes towards death affect our psyches and how we live our day to day lives?
  4. What can we do to broaden our perspectives on controversial topics-how can we learn from one another to improve our understanding of our place as engineers?
  5. Will a utilitarian approach to public policy be different if decision makers have a direct access to the subjective experience of pain and pleasure of others? In other words, should the utilitarian weight emphasize the subjective or objective aspect of pain and pleasure?
  6. How much of the way we think and the actions we take are dictated by the media and other pop culture influences?
  7. Can you ever really know what another person is observing and how they interpret those observations without a shared experience? Even then, without an equivocal genetic makeup and dietary intake, would you ever truly be able to ‘hop in someone else’s shoes.’ Is true empathy therefore unreachable?
  8. How does one reconcile the idea that our own perceptions of self differ from others’ perceptions of us? Does our perception of self matter if we aren’t able to effectively communicate it to others? Can someone ever be truly understood outside of their own mind?
  9. Does anyone really truly understand another person or creature? Could they really know the complexities of all the thoughts present in their mind? If one cannot even understand the complexities of their own mind, then how would one understand someone else?
  10. Though there are compelling reason to consider changing the definition of the death when applied to a human person, what meaningful consequence would there be for such a change? The purpose of our current definition of death is so it to be applied across all life forms as a generality. When someone says that their dog died, there is a common understanding that what happened is that same as if someone says their parent died. It’s almost deceitful to change the definition because if commonly accepted it does not make our speech more precise it actually detracts from our speech and makes it more uncertain about what death happened. It would also further stratify our raking of biological life. People would then start arguing that dogs and cats have this higher death, monkeys and dolphins. Who are we to determine what can experience a death of personhood? Furthermore we are talking about a situation which no one has inherently come back from. Although the idea of person may be gone who is to say that the body does not continue to feel hunger, thirst, heat, cold. Regardless of what, I think that even a single  response constitutes life because it feels beyond human judgement to determine a unique form of death for humans. I think the reason we think about brain death as death is because we consider it equivalent to death for ourselves who cannot accept the idea we are alive without an ego, that we encompass a body and mind. I think we can be alive without either a body or mind. Find the question in that.
  11. What contributes to our “mind” beyond what’s inside our skull (digestive system, perhaps?)?