Theory of mind in the comics

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Tank McNamara has been exploring the psychological implications of thought balloons. Here's yesterday's strip, which illustrates the point that despite the crucial role of "theory of mind" in human evolution and child development, the ability to attribute beliefs, knowledge and emotions to others is not always a good thing.

(As usual, click to embiggen.)

Here's Monday's strip:

And today's:



14 Comments

  1. Oren said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 5:48 am

    Maybe you will like this post, about "understanding" the "language" of penguins.

    [(myl) Since the point of the described research is that male penguins' calls are an honest signal of amount of body fat (more is better, as far as female penguins are concerned), we should refer to the kind of communication involved as "theory of body" rather than "theory of mind".

    This kind of fitness signaling -- honest or not -- is ubiquitous in nature, going back roughly as far as sexual reproduction does, since it's a natural consequence of sexual selection.]

  2. Mark P said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 8:43 am

    Am I the only one who has ever wondered if everyone in the world but me can read minds, and they're just being polite by not laughing and pointing at me?

  3. Zubon said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 8:53 am

    Mark P, if the rest of us can, we can mentally laugh with each other. We just don't point.

  4. SeanH said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 9:16 am

    Mark P, you are not the only one who has been troubled by the problem of other mind-readers.

  5. JimG said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 11:55 am

    As I understand it, women can read men's minds. They all know they should never tell any man what they can do. And even when a woman does tell a man, he doesn't ever take it seriously.

    I thank God that actions speak louder than words (or thoughts).

  6. Josh said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    Mark P and Sean H, if other folks could read minds, I'm sure one of them would have slugged me by now.

  7. tablogloid said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

    I was raised in a very strict Catholic family in the 1950s. I also read a lot of comic books. As a result, every Sunday as I sat through Mass, I was so sure that the priest could read my thought captions that I used to brush my hand over the top of my head to try and pop the bubble and erase the copy.

  8. Rubrick said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

    There are problems with the embiggening in Safari. The thought bubbles are rendered as transparent, not white, and so when the image is enlarged in place whatever is behind it shows through, rendering the text illegible.

  9. Rubrick said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    I should mention that I have no idea if the problem lies with the original artwork, Mark's method of putting it on the page, or a Webkit bug.

  10. Ray Dillinger said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

    I see a similar but using Firefox.

    I'm very confident that people can't read my thoughts. They so seldom run away screaming.

  11. Ray Dillinger said,

    July 14, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

    Sigh, a similar bug, not a similar but. I hate making typos on the language log.

  12. chris said,

    July 15, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    Mark P and Sean H, if other folks could read minds, I'm sure one of them would have slugged me by now.

    This seems a common sentiment, but surely a mindreader would have long since learned how plebeian your thoughts are, or else gone insane by picking up similar thoughts from everyone?

    Unless you think that you, in particular, are an exceptional fount of offensive thoughts?

    But in any case, if most people could read minds, con artists would be far less successful.

  13. Mark P said,

    July 15, 2010 @ 10:54 am

    chris, you haven't followed the logic. It's all a big conspiracy. The mindreaders have to act as if they could not read minds, or the non-mindreader (me, and perhaps Sean) would catch on. Where's your paranoia?

  14. Sili said,

    July 15, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Am I the only one who has ever wondered if everyone in the world but me can read minds, and they're just being polite by not laughing and pointing at me?

    Yes. But I've wondered whether my senses are reliable, and perhaps everyone is actually big green blobs that are just interpreted to be regular humans by my brain. (In this scenario 'regular humans' don't exist, of course.)

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