The human mind sees minds everywhere. Show us a collection of bouncing balls and we hallucinate agency; a glance at a stuffed animal and we endow it with a mood; I’m convinced Siri doesn’t like me. The point is that we are constantly translating our visual perceptions into a theory of mind, as we attempt to imagine the internal states of teddy bears, microchips and perfect strangers.
Most of the time, this approach works well enough. If I notice someone squinting their eyes and clenching their jaw, I automatically conclude that he must be angry; if she flexes the zygomatic major – that’s what happens during a smile – then I assume she’s happy. The point is that a few cues of body language are instantly translated into a rich mental image. We can’t help but think about what other people are thinking about.
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