Thinking About Other Minds
Jaeger, Christopher Brett
Every day, we engage in countless interactions with others. Navigating these interactions requires us to think about others’ minds. We use our observations to make inferences about the beliefs, desires, and goals of the people with whom we are interacting, and shape our own behavior accordingly. Psychologists call this “theory of mind.” While scientific understanding of theory of mind is broadening, a number of ways in which people think about other minds still lie outside its scope. What inferences do people draw about others’ minds when the others are not specific, observable individuals? Or are not people at all? What inferences do people make about others’ capacities? What cognitive processes are deployed in making these inferences? This dissertation explores these questions in three different contexts. Chapters 1 and 2 of this dissertation focus on two relevant legal settings. Law affords a particularly interesting avenue for investigating these questions, as law routinely asks people to reason about unseen causes of events. Chapter 1 examines how people think about the abstract mind of the "reasonable person" when applying tort law’s reasonable person standard. Chapter 2 investigates how people conceptualize the "minds" of non-human technologies, such as self-driving cars, and how those conceptualizations affect legal decisions and policy opinions. Finally, Chapter 3 explores people’s puzzling inclination to spontaneously adopt the visual perspective of pictorial representations of agents, even when there is no communicative value in doing so.