Changing How the World Thinks

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Issue 57: Knowing Others and Knowing Our Selves

Are our minds and the minds of others ultimately unknowable?

Editorial other minds

Can we ever know the minds of others? Will we ever experience their lives as they do? Is technology distorting identity?

“No man is an island” wrote Donne. We are social animals and through shared experiences we come to know ourselves and others.

Yet such is the nature of consciousness that our thoughts and feelings are ultimately hidden, private and inscrutable. From our loved ones to strangers on the street, it remains impossible to truly know anyone. Meanwhile, with the parade of perfect lives exhibited by social media, or twitter and its anonymous trolls, the gap between appearance and reality is growing. And now neuroscience claims we even dupe ourselves to gain social advantage.

Are our minds profoundly unknowable? Are we as much a mystery to ourselves as we are to each other? Or is experience inextricably social and identity created through interaction with the world?

In this issue of IAI News, we tackle problem of other minds. Our contributors will be asking if it’s possible to know anyone, including ourselves, and how this might radically change the way we see the world.  

The Minds of Strangers
Anita Avramides - Oxford philosopher and author of Other Minds
How does self-knowledge differ from our understanding of others? Can we know the minds of those around us? Or will the Other always remain a mystery? Avramides investigates the enigma of other minds.

The Secrets of Experience
John Heil - metaphysician and author of The Universe as We Find It
Can we experience the consciousness of another? Will we ever know what it is like to see through their eyes? Seeking answers to these age-old mysteries is philosopher of mind, John Heil.

Smoke and Mirror Neurons
Parashkev Nachev - UCL behavioural neurologist
Advances in neuroscience claim to identify the exact location of empathy in our brains. But have we jumped to the wrong conclusion? Nachev investigates whether understanding and sympathizing with others really is built into our minds.

Cyberspace and the Self
Patrick Stokes - author of The Naked Self: Kierkegaard and Personal Identity
As the Internet creeps further into offline life, does the distinction between real and virtual still hold up? Examining the self in the digital age, Stokes asks if our online selves are our true selves.

How to Read a Mind
Keith Frankish - philosopher of psychology and mind
Can we really know our own minds? Is self-knowledge as unreliable as our understanding of others? Drawing on the idea of the ‘mindreading system’, Frankish encourages us to examine ourselves with more scrutiny and less complacency.

Spotting the Killers on our Streets
Chris Carter - criminal psychologist and novelist
Can we ever trust the people we meet? Do we know what people are truly capable of? Criminal psychologist Chris Carter shows how your charming neighbour could turn out to be a psychopathic killer.

The Riddle of the Self
Joanna Kavenna - author and prize-winning novelist
History and literature abound with efforts to define the self. Joanna Kavenna considers whether true understanding lies not in the destination, but in the journey itself.

The Factory of Virtual Fantasies
Xinyuan Wang - UCL anthropologist
Workers in Chinese factories are constructing complex and glamorous online identities to compensate for the bleak reality of factory life. Is fabricating fantasy lives unethical? Wang investigates the dilemma of the Internet and identity.

Meaning, Minds and Mother Tongues
Daniel Everett - linguist and sociologist
Why does a shared language make us feel at home? How does someone’s speech reflect their experience of the world? Daniel Everett explains how understanding another’s language is crucial to understanding them.

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