Mind Blindness – Eye Direction Detection

misaligned right eye

I haven’t done much reading about misalignment of the eyes. I do know that if the eyes are not aligned properly in an infant, stereoscopic vision does not develop naturally. From the picture in the last post, you can see that my brother’s right eye looks off to the side while the left seems fixed on the camera. The strange thing is (as if the weirdly pointing eye is not strange enough) that sometimes his right eye would look at me and the left would do its own thing.

I would like to address how mental blindness affects family members.  But first let me summarize Simon Baron-Cohen’s findings detailed in his book Mindblindness[1].

Baron-Cohen proposes a four-part mechanism required for what he calls mind reading, a term he uses to describe how cues, non-verbal and verbal are combined to allow the observer to correctly interpret social situations, which he calls ‘social chess’. The first mechanism is the Intentionality Detector, whereby the observer perceives an agent that propels itself somehow (i.e., not a random event).  The second mechanism is the Eye Direction Detector, which notes the direction of the other’s gaze and what the other is looking at. The third mechanism is the Shared Attention Mechanism where relationships of the self to the agent and to a third object or agent can be formed. The fourth mechanism is the Theory of Mind Mechanism. This is a system that uses information from the other mechanisms to construct a representation of mental states of other agents and generate a theory of meaning among relationships in the ‘social chess’ game.

Furthermore, Baron-Cohen suggests that there are neuroanatomical analogs of these mechanisms and identifies them in his text.  He also cites animal and human studies where brain damage in these areas was associated with corresponding behavioral deficits as predicted by his theory.

So what does all this complicated theory have to do with family relationships?

I can only imagine what it is like to be a parent of an autistic child.  However I would assume that it would be very difficult to believe that a child does not know that other people are people and not objects. Having observed my own parents, I can imagine the frustration of a parent who endlessly continues trying to reach an unreachable child. If a child is missing a leg it is easy to understand why he or she cannot walk unaided. If a child is missing the neurological equipment to process any part of the mechanism described above, he or she must be reached in a different way. The fact that something is missing is a realization to which a parent must arrive.

Among the disabilities of my own brother, I am sure that mind blindness is among them. Perhaps it was his eyes that confused me. I never knew which of them perceived me or if either of them did. Was his Intentionality Detector working or was I some inert object to him?

attentive left eye

What about other siblings?  Do you think that siblings of the mentally blind develop enhancements, deficits or distortions in the mind reading mechanisms?

I leave this as an open question. I would love to hear others’ ideas about this.


[1] Baron-Cohen, S. Mindblindness, MIT Press (1997)

3 thoughts on “Mind Blindness – Eye Direction Detection

  1. The structure and form of a question is a good indication of its answer. Questions regarding our personal internal cosmology, which we pose to ourselves (and sometimes others) over decades, deserve a precision of expression. If possible.

    One. Facts. a) Your Brother suffers from a misalignment of the eyes. b) You are of the presumption that the misalignment of eyes in an infant prevent natural stereoscopic vision

    Two. Hypothesis. a) Mindblindness (social chess delayed) (i) encounter is non random (ii) eye detection (iii) shared attention (iv) T.O.M.

    Three. Brother is disabled.

    Four. Independent Questions (i) Was Brother’s Intention Detector working? (ii) Are you inert? (iii) Do siblings compensate?

    Critical thinking is an important tool in telling a good story. The beginning of a critical thinking story is especially critical. What are the facts? Our hero in Western Critical thinking, Socrates, always led his discussion toward the obvious necessity of self honesty. Clarify the questions. Clarify the facts.

    Critical thinking, like playing the piano, and forming a healthy relationship that has a life of its own is a matter of practice. Some of us have better things to do with their time. Implying, don’t you have anything better to do? What passes beyond the realm of our perception is not always invisible. And the invisible is not always imperceptible.

    In the Healing Garden every healing artifact is an image of an object that exists in relation. The image of (intentionality) life in relation to (intentionality) life is relationship. This has a life of its own. The configurations that define our perspective of life are n+1. Many. — The Healing Garden gardener

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    • In clarifying response, it is our supposition that siblings each choose what is valuable to “do with their time”. As each of us will do. Some of us spend our lives exploring realms others regard as insignificant trivia. A human creature, with a complex and functioning neuro-sensory and motor-sensory system taking its private cultural paradigm to the extreme (we call this a cult of one in the Healing Garden) may figuratively have “somethings better to do with their time”. — The Healing Garden gardener

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    • I’m not really following you on this one. Does your outline refer to the structure of my post? It has been a while since I wrote it, so I am not sure if that is what you are referring to. I usually think pretty clearly about what I want to say. I try to relate current thinking or research to my interests and come to my own conclusions about whether new information throws any light on my own interests. I would be surprised if I posted a sloppily put-together post. I’ll re-read it to see if it still makes sense to me, as it must have when I wrote it.
      Thanks for commenting
      Jack

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