I lost my theory of mind… or Where my mind at?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will Tarkington


The theory of mind is an intricate part of understanding how humans interact. Now my blog typically deals with real world examples of my social engineering techniques. However I’m taking a moment to discuss one piece of theory.

The reason I’m taking the time to do this is simple. Without the theory of mind everything that social engineers do or attempt to do would fail. The theory of mind is basically one’s ability to differentiate perspectives. From perspective comes intention, from intention comes reaction, and from reaction comes reward (or failure).

So to begin with the First Order of the Theory of Mind:

The first order is simply the awareness of self. You know that question you hear people ask “Is this animal self-aware?”  This is the first order of the theory of mind. In essence it’s the ability to determine that you are unique. That you have an individual perspective and individual desires.  It is this ability that lets you make statements like; “I would like chocolate over vanilla.” It may seem odd but without this you could not think of yourself collectively or individually as an entity. There would be no YOU to want chocolate.

The Second Order of the Theory of Mind:

The second order provides you the ability to identify someone else’s perspective. For this example we are going to use a common example that happens all over the world. Salt, there is a salt shaker and in the first order you would be aware that you want the salt. In the second order you would be aware that someone ELSE wanted the salt.

This is important because it means you can now decide if the person reaching towards you is likely trying to kill you or not. It also means that you can now decide if you want to assist that person in getting the salt. You can also evaluate if your wanting the salt should trump their wanting of the salt.

However the REAL fun begins in the next order.

The Third Order of the Theory of Mind:

This is the place where most of the Social Engineering will start to come into play. Essentially and convolutedly the third order is:

I want the salt

You want the salt

I am aware that you want the salt

I am aware that you are aware that I want the salt

It is at this exact moment that negotiation begins. Prior to this event it was a contest of desire vs desire and now it’s part of an abstract concept involving “trade” or reciprocation. If I give you the salt now will you help me later? I know you know I’m helping you. Thus social mechanisms such as guilt and friendship or rivalry come into play.

The Fourth Order of the Theory of Mind

Are we ready? This is going to start get convoluted but here we go!

I want the salt

You want the salt

I know you want the salt

You know I want the salt

I know that you know that I want the salt

I know that you know that I know that you know that I want the salt

Wheeeeeeeeeeee it’s starting to turn into the princes bride here. The only other thing I want to note is that TOM (Theory of Mind) doesn’t have to relate to only 2 people in regards to their orders.

So for example a third order TOM could be:

I want the salt

You want the salt

Sheri wants the salt

I am aware you and Sheri want the salt

In this scenario you start to see the complexities of making alliances or influencing different people to change the outcome. Who should get the salt? Which is more beneficial to me Sheri or you? Are you both aligning against me?

This is the crux of our social society.

I encourage everyone interested in human behavior to spend some time studying the TOM become aware of when to apply it and how to apply it. This makes all sociological research easier to do.

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