Christian Long

Rebecca Saxe: How We Read Each Other’s Minds

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Reflection by KATIE R.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Rebecca Saxe: How We Read Each Other’s Minds

Rebecca makes a very good point in bringing this fact up. It is true that at various times in our lives, our minds can play tricks on us. It takes us quite a while for our minds to process various ideas or thoughts of other people. When she showed the picture of the mother holding her newborn child, she said that it wouldn’t take us very long for our minds to process what the mother was thinking. But, as she got further into her conversation, the audience started to realize just how hard it is for our minds to process ideas.

When she started showing the audience the videos of different aged children, she brought up the fact that different aged children process ideas very differently. She told the same story to a five year old and a three year old. The five year old had a mind that processed and figured out the outcome of the story very quickly. He figured out that the pirate, Ivan, took the sandwich that he placed on the treasure chest, but he didn’t realize that Joshua had placed his sandwich there, when his sandwich had been blown down onto the grass. When the three year old was told the exact same story, he processed the same story in a sort of similar way, but he believed that Ivan would take the sandwich that was on the ground. Then, he said that Ivan shouldn’t get in trouble because the wind was responsible. This is completely different from the five year old’s thoughts. He believed that Ivan should be held responsible, since he took the sandwich that was not his. This proves Rebecca’s point that our minds process ideas and reach different conclusions as we grow older and our brains develop further.

Rebecca also proved her point when she told the story about the coffee and the mysterious powder. Two friends are eating lunch in a chemical factory and one of the girls asks her other friend to get her some coffee with sugar. When she goes to get the coffee, she notices that the container with a mysterious powder inside is labeled, “deadly poison”. However, she goes ahead and puts the powder into the coffee. When she takes it to her friend and her friend drinks it, her friend is fine. What would have happened if the powder was actually poison? Our minds process information and can come up with different moral judgements, as Rebecca brought up. She then went on to explain how many people believe that the girl should have been blamed. If the “powder” had turned out to be poison, the girl would have been in more trouble. Her mind had to work sort of with her in order to make the right decision. Basically, our brains take information, record, digest, and comes up with conclusions that we base off of our own moral compasses

It was very interesting to see Rebecca express the possibility of changing our moral judgements by being able to control the part of the brain that helps us process information. In her second experiment, the people were exposed to fMRIs and presented with the exact same experiment. Yet, the conclusions were different. It was clear that science can manipulate our decisions by being able to isolate the part of the brain that controlls how we make our own decisions. Even the man who spoke to Rebecca at the end of her presentation about the long term implications of her research, should we be able to manipulate the human brain to change our moral judgements and decisions to achieve a certain outcome?

I believe it is okay to do this. We can when researching for cures for illnesses or researching for other things that help us.

If we manipulate other people’s thoughts just for our own personal benefit, this is not okay. By doing this, we are disrupting people’s independent thoughts. The very best part of humanity is independent thinking that allows us to make moral judgements. Rebecca’s experiment shows us how easily we might be able to be turned into a society that can be controlled by outside parties, if they have the right technology. This, in tern, is a very scary proposition!


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