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Book: Mindbindness: An Essay on autism and Theory of Mind, by Simon Baron-Cohen (1997).

Mindblindness, from various sources, is an inability to use empathy; an inability to "conceptualize, understand or predict knowledge, thoughts and beliefs, emotions, feelings and desires, behaviour, actions and intentions of another person." I got that last part from Wikipedia. Mindblindness seems to be synonymous with the inability to use Theory of Mind. The opposite of mindblindness is "mind reading," but not in a sixth-sense kind of way.

There is a lot to say about this book, like most such books. It is a seminal work in the field of Autism research. Simon Baron-Cohen is famous for at least two reasons. First, he is one of the great thinkers in Autism research and one of the most prolific researchers and writers in the field. His influence is everywhere in the field of Autism, and he remains very active in the field despite being around for decades. Second, he is the cousin of Sacha Baron Cohen. I could not possibly make up the second point.

In this largely theoretical work, Baron-Cohen puts forth a model to explain the act of mind reading, and suggests there are four components that are active during mind reading. This model has been knocked about since the 80s and Baron-Cohen has expanded on certain parts and backed off on others, and continues to work to develop ways to explain the experience (and specifically challenges, abilities, and propensities) of people with Autism.

At one point I recommended this book to a family who was wanting more information about Autism. This was before I read the book, unfortunately. This book, while extremely interesting and important, is also expansive and technical. I would not recommend it for the average person even though Baron-Cohen suggests in the intro that he attempted to write it both for academics and lay-people. If you are a lay-person who appreciated this book, you might consider becoming an academic.

In conclusion, it is an important book, but it is also outdated. It is interesting and complete but it can be dry and hard to follow at times. It is fairly short but there are shorter and more concise summaries of the highlights elsewhere (e.g., Wikipedia). If you work in the field of Autism and people pay you to know stuff, you should probably read this book. If you are trying to figure out what is going on with your kid who just got diagnosed, I would not recommend this for your first book on the subject. That recommendation would obviously be my own book.

#theoryofmind #empathy #ASD


© 2020 by Andrew Schlegelmilch