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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Your Thoughts Ain't My Thoughts

A number of years ago, I was introduced to the online content of Vincent Stewart, also known as The Spirit of Truth and Reverend X, who briefly served as a public-access televangelist until he reportedly “was kicked off the air due to exposing his bare ass on-air and asking the audience to find any traces of sin.”

Of particular interest, and during the call-in portion of his broadcast, I found it humorous how Reverend X responded to one caller by stating, “Your thoughts ain’t my thoughts!” Stewart ineloquently argued that what the caller thought wasn’t the shared sentiment of the host.

It remains unknown as to whether or not he understood the concept relating to theory of mind—“how we ascribe mental states to other persons and how we use the states to explain and predict the actions of those other persons.” All the same, Stewart preemptively refuted mindreading.

Per one source, “First-order theory of mind refers to thinking, knowing, perceiving or feeling what others are thinking, knowing, perceiving or feeling, and therefore is recursive. It is implied by statements such as ‘I think you must be thinking that I’m an idiot,’ or ‘Ted thinks Alice wants Fred to stop bugging her.”

When a caller to the public-access program confronted Stewart, presumably projecting her meaning onto the host’s pattern of thinking, he quickly blocked her attempt to frame his thoughts. After all, her thoughts weren’t his thoughts.

Personally, I prefer Steven Pinker’s perspective relating to thinking others know what we know, as it pertains to common knowledge in game theory. Pinker states

I know something. You know something. I know you know it. You know that I know it. I know that you know that I know that you know it, ad infinitum—or not. This is where we each know something but we’re not so sure that the other guy knows that we know it.

This effect is referred to as the curse of knowledge. Expanding upon this concept, one source describes it as “a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with other individuals, assumes that the other individuals have the background knowledge to understand.”

For example, suppose that throughout your life you’ve eaten peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Since childhood, your parents toasted the bread and this is an essential component to your enjoyment of the sandwich.

One day, when at a friend’s home and offered a peanut butter and banana sandwich, your friend serves the untoasted variety to you. Perhaps you assumed that because you’ve always eaten the sandwich with toasted bread, everyone else also ate it in a similar fashion.

In this example, your assumption is based on the curse of knowledge—thinking your friend knows what you know. In reality, the thoughts in your mind aren’t automatically shared with or by others.

Given this understanding, when the caller challenged Stewart on his interpretation of biblical scripture, it is likely that the caller believed that The Spirit of Truth was operating from the same core assumptions about the Bible. After all, biblical knowledge must carry the same meaning to all people.

However, Reverend X quickly dispelled such an inference by stating, “Your thoughts ain’t my thoughts!” What the caller knew wasn’t the same was what Stewart understood to be accurate.

Discovering this discrepancy, it’s possible that the caller could have then experienced the phenomenon of recursion by thinking, “I think you must be thinking that I’m an idiot, because my interpretation of the Bible isn’t the same as yours.”

Then again, I’m recursively thinking I know what the caller was thinking. See how this works?

Through understanding that others don’t inherently know what we know—and that it isn’t true that they should, must, or ought to believe as we do—we can disturb ourselves less. Using this perspective, three lessons become apparent to me.

First, we can learn to tolerate the fact that other people hold different thoughts and beliefs than we do. I frequently use this lesson when unable to persuade others to my point of view.

Second, we can use unconditional acceptance regarding the thoughts and beliefs which others maintain. Rather than stipulating the degree to which I’ll accept people’s thoughts, I simply let go of the inflexible belief that they must agree with me.

In this way, tolerance differs from acceptance. I can tolerate that my friend has the audacity to serve an untoasted peanut butter and banana sandwich, even though I believe it’s an abomination to the dish. Conversely, acceptance is letting go of the rigid toasting rule altogether.

Last, we can communicate our thoughts and beliefs using rational compassion so that our ideas and attitudes are expressed with the understanding that others may not already think what we think. This element speaks to the value of open, honest, and vulnerable communication.

Herein, I’ve addressed the theory of mind, recursive thinking, a game theoretical perspective pertaining to common knowledge, and the curse of knowledge. Rather than erroneously believing that others know what we know or believe as we do, we can simply accept the truism:

Your thoughts ain’t my thoughts!

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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