It is possible, then, that certain cultural artifacts, such as novels, test the functioning of our cognitive adaptations for mind-reading while keeping us pleasantly aware that the “test” is proceeding quite smoothly.
–Lisa Zunshine (Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel)
Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, desires and intentions of another individual. This ability to ‘asses’ the mind of another is enabled through understanding one’s own mind. If you walk into a room and someone has a frown with their arms crossed, our minds conclude that this person is upset. What happens if your mind cannot do all this? Neurological disorders hinder the theory of mind process and creates disorientation for individuals. Literature enables access into the mind that is less theoretical and more imaginative. In this sense, literary texts often offer implicit theories about how the mind works. The projects included here deal with works that dramatize theory of mind in the strict sense intended by cognitive scientists as well as works that seem to offer related theories about the workings of the mind.
In ‘Chaucer is a Cognitive Scientist, Kinda,’ Christopher Vitale examines Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval dream visions and how it contributes to a conversation in what looks a lot like a pre-modern proto-cognitive science. Sadia Reza’s ‘Othering: A Failure of the Imagination‘ proposes the question: “Does our perception of someone as an ‘other’ obstruct our capacity for theory of mind?” Ariel Shapiro sets out to explore the rise of the autism narrative and it’s effects on cultural attitudes about “neurodiversity” in ‘The Autism Narrative’.