By Kunalan Manokara (Bugle Team)
Let us talk about minds today. You know, minds. The thing we young people claim to have, every single time we attempt to validate our decisions to our parents. We have minds of our own, right? It’s assumed that all things living have a mind; I can think, which is how I’ve written this article, and you can think as well, which is how you’re making sense of this information as you read it. But have you ever wondered whose mind we actively think about, and whose we do not?
Three points, then.
One. No prizes for guessing whose mind we almost always think about: our own. The spotlight effect, as described by Gilovich and colleagues (2000), is peoples’ tendency to overestimate the extent to which they believe they are being noticed. We constantly think that our actions and words are being watched, and as a product, navigate our social worlds by being acutely aware of our mental worlds. Talk about being stuck in one’s own head. This egocentric bias, where we assume the universe revolves around us, no doubt comes with difficulties attached. It determines which other minds we think about, but also, whose minds we ignore. In a weird and paradoxical manner, we hence attribute minds to the non-living, whilst depriving the living of mental life.
Two. We think about the minds of people who are dear to us. We need to know what our friends think about our new hairstyle, and our parents’ thoughts regarding our tuition fees are equally critical to us. Yet, we somehow tend to attribute mental life not just to people who matter to us, but also objects. For anyone who has owned a car before: have you ever named it? Described it in emotional terms that are uniquely human? I know I’m guilty: I miss my Tara so much, much to the disdain of my girlfriend. Anthropomorphism, peoples’ tendency to attribute mental life to inanimate objects (Epley, Waytz & Cacioppo, 2007), is undoubtedly influenced by how important those objects are to us. Personal relevance is critical. What then, of objects that we don’t hold so dear? Who cares, I guess. Now, what about people who don’t matter to us?
Three. Dehumanization is a big word, and conjures images laden with negativity no doubt. Yet, research in this field strongly suggests that we do indeed deprive certain groups of people of mental life; we simply refuse to think of their minds. The homeless, pagan worshippers, poor immigrants and refugees are often the targets of dehumanization (Hodson & Costello, 2007; Esses et al., 2008). In short, groups that tend to be low on competence and perceived social warmth, are at greatest risk of being deprived humanness (Harris & Fiske, 2011). So whilst we treat our cars and commodities with love and affection, there’s also a chance that we think much less about showing the very same emotions towards living, breathing humans. Now this, is materialism at its finest.
I would like to conclude by contradicting my very first assumption. More often than not, we don’t actually assume that all things living have a mind. Neither do we realize that all things non-living, do not. The boundaries between living and non-living become blurred within our subjective mental capacities. In lieu of such unclear demarcations, I cannot help but wonder: how uniquely “human” is the mind, given that we allow objects to possess it, yet deny fellow human beings from attaining it?