Home > Papers > Knowledge of our own thoughts is just as interpretive as knowledge of the thoughts of others

Knowledge of our own thoughts is just as interpretive as knowledge of the thoughts of others

Peter Carruthers argues at On The Human that the idea that knowledge of our own thoughts is qualitatively different than knowledge of the thoughts of others is one we need to abandon. He proposes instead that the much-discussed ‘mindreading’ faculty used to understand others is used to understand one’s own internal state, as well, in a theory he calls Interpretive Self-Access. 

The difference then between self-knowledge and other-knowledge lies only in the sensory information it has access to. Self-knowledge may have a larger number of inputs (eg, internal speech) but is otherwise identical in character. The intuition that one’s self-knowledge is veridical, he says, is a habit and arises from the mind’s ability to ‘short-circuit’ counter-evidence, where when considering the behaviors of others, a greater chance of error is assumed. In short, we don’t see self-error because it’s hard to get in the habit of looking for it.

This latter explanation (as I understand it) seems a bit simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If the system works, the brain is not likely to take time to examine it. And the data he marshals is tidy; this is the sort of large-scale reinterpretation that makes many outlying results (eg, in metacognitive ability studies, studies about autism, cognitive dissonance) fall into line.

It’s also reminiscent of the Buddhism of your choice, which centers around the difficulty of learning to observe one’s own thoughts. It’d be interesting to see if Carruthers has done any work with Buddhist meditators.

 

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