Other Minds

With the terms "tacit knowledge" and "Theory of Mind", a fundamental philosophical problem has entered the so-called cognitive neurosciences:

The problem of "other minds". To know what the person opposite us thinks, feels, wants and intends, is of vital importance in many respects. But this knowledge of the mental states of others is hidden and has to be inferred indirectly.

The subject matter of "other minds" has lead to a current boom of research projects, which have hailed the era of the "social brain". As a result, a lot of hope rests on the relatively new imaging and neurophysiological methods to be able to examine and answer a few questions in new ways. In this, perspectives of other disciplines are blocked out when questions are addressed with behavioral, physiological and imaging methods.

The members of the Research Group exchange information on concepts, methods and perspectives of the different disciplines. In doing so, the debates and projects of the RG Other Minds had three focal points:

Across Individuals (within species and cultures)

Interpersonal mental inferences depend on many factors that pertain to us as individuals and in our social context. Can these factors be blocked out? How do primates, apes, and humans infer the mental states of others? Is there a slimmed-down concept of "Theory of Mind" we can use when we compare species? How do children infer each others' mental states as opposed to adults? Are they wrong more often than adults or do they manage with what they are capable of? In how far can ontogenetic and phylogenetic developments be compared? Do our mentalist capacities change throughout the course of our lives? And if so, what does that mean for communities?

Across species

We talk to dogs and think horses are our friends. The understanding across species is riddled with misconceptions, and yet it works. Or does it? Which species and which abilities of mental inference clash here – and to what effect? What is the minimum requirement for shared "assumptions"?

Across cultures and communities

How does the inference of mental states work in different cultures and communities? Are the basic rules the same? What role does nurture play in the development of this ability? What misunderstandings can be caused by differences in understanding others or in interpreting when members of different communities meet?

In cooperation with the University of Magdeburg, the Research Group organised a summer workshop entitled "Other Minds" as well as a panel discussion on "Philosophy and the Cognitive Sciences. The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship?".

Anthology "Other Minds"

The proceedings of the Magdeburg workshop were published as an anthology in 2008, with contributions from philosophy, medicine, psychology, biology, sociology and literary studies.

participating Alumnae / Alumni