Can We Read One Another’s Minds? Andrew Root Says Yes

Can We Read One Another’s Minds? Andrew Root Says Yes April 23, 2013

We all know the experience of the irresistible nature of yawning — when someone we loves yawns we yawn right back. Somewhere I read that those with good skills of empathy yawn when others in a room yawn while those with low skills in empathy don’t yawn back. Yawning, then, is a starting point to explore Andrew Root’s 8th chp, “Can I read your mind?” in his new book, Relational Ministry.

Personhood is about relationships. Empathy is about our ability to indwell one another and so share life and love. Our brains are designed in such a way that relationships lead to mutual brain activities.

What is the best sign of empathy? What do you recognize in another when you know they are empathic?

Andrew Root observes that brain science today concludes that we are all wired to indwell one another through brain activities. Our brains are made to read one another’s minds and to feel each other. The opposite of empathy is Schadenfreude, the joy in another’s defeat or misery. Schadenfreude is rooted in radical individualism and competition and comparison: we compare because we compete for limited resources so that we — I — can get what I want and be happy in getting what I want. Comparison breeds competition and competition breeds Schadenfreude.

Warriors of competition are miserable in relationships.

He appeals to Daniel Goleman and the brain theory of the “open-loop nature of our limbic systems” where our brains respond and form responses in response to the facial and physical and verbal expressions of another person. This shapes our emotional stability. We have “antennas to indwell each other” (104). Our minds are “social organs.”

This leads Root to consider “mirror neurons.” We have a group of neurons in our brains that are designed to mirror other persons, their actions and their feelings. They wave a hand, our brain says wave your hand. Mirror neurons are the hard wiring of empathy and are “mystical” and “spiritual.”

We can also pollute the other person by communicating fear and anxiety…


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  • John Evans

    Scot, are you familiar with the author Douglas Hofsteader? He writes extensively about the mind modelling the minds of others in his book I am a Strange Loop. I highly recommend it.

  • Phil Miller

    I did find it kind of crazy that two people were able to completely shut down a huge metro area like that, not to mention the huge investment in manpower to capture them. It was a like a small army assembled to get these guys.

  • Phil Miller

    Oops, please delete my comment up in #2, I meant this to go on the “What They Want” post… I have too many browser windows open!

  • John L

    Goleman is doing some great work.

    Mary Lou Jepson gave a TEDTalk (2013) showing a literal reading of one’s mind, with grossly resolved images of picture thoughts.

    “…Another group at the University of California, Berkeley has been able to decode a brain-wave into a recognizable shape. They showed people in a brain scanner a set of YouTube videos and scanned them to build a library. Then they were shown a new video. After scanning their brains, the computer could decode the image. The resolution is bad, but it’s clearly right, and it’s stunning.

    So, as Jepsen says, they just need to up the resolution. All they need is a thousand-fold increase. How do they get that? Traditionally, better resolution comes from bigger magnets in the MRI machine. Jepsen, however, is looking at techniques to arrange the magnets more cleverly. If successful, they could build a device to do an instant read-out 1000x times better than today. “That’s the dream.”

    And Jepsen says it’s not a matter of if this happens. “It’s coming. We’re going to be able to dump our ideas directly to digital media.” It might take 5 or 15 years, but it’s coming. That, of course, leads to very real concerns about privacy.

    In the near term, this will be a personal tool — someone driving by your house won’t be able to scan your brain and download your thoughts. It will be used for personal enhancement, or to possibly treat Alzheimers and related diseases.

    But Jepsen emphasizes, if we want to understand ourselves better, we need to do this. And if we do that, “We need to learn how to take this step together.””

  • Ironically I yawned reading the first paragraph of this article… not out of boredom, mind you, but out of the mere suggestion of a yawn. Crazy.

  • Great series. We are using these posts for a discussion group. Coincidentally (or “God-incidentally”), I recently came across Attachment Theory of psychotherapy, and a book called “A General Theory of Love” (Lewis, Amini, Lannon) which goes into depth on this same topic (e.g. “open-loop nature of our limbic systems”). It is one of the best psychology books I have read since college. And to me, it all underscores the divine wisdom of the Second Greatest Commandment, to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”