From the Author
I'm the author of 'Mindreading' and would like to comment on a review by 'A reader from London'. I think the reader may have misunderstood part of my book, or else not read it quite carefully enough. He or she seems to think that I have conflated empathy (the lack of ability to understand another person's state of mind) with sympathy (caring about others). I make this distinction quite carefully in the book, as many people do mix these two terms up. On p138 (paperback version) I wrote 'In psychology, we use the term 'Sympathy' to refer to how we feel when we are moved by another person...it can lead to an unselfish attempt to alleviate the others suffering...Empathy...refers to the attempt of one person to understand the subjective experience of another.' I explicitly say that people with autism are able to show sympathy for others (i.e. they care about other people) but many are not able to understand another persons state of mind (i.e. they lack empathy p144). Psychopaths do not show sympathy, but do have empathy. It is precisely the ability to understand another persons feelings coupled with a lack of feeling that enables them to be cruel (p145). I do not say that people with autism are like psychopaths.
The only reason I can think of why this confusion may have arisen is that I quote an experiment in which the author of the experiment uses the term empathy to describe murderers who show no emotional arousal towards pictures of people in distress. Whilst I think this was a clever and insightful experiment, the author was using the term empathy in a different way from some other psychologists hence the reason why I spent the best part of two pages describing the difference between the two terms. In addition, less than two pages out of 240 were spent discussing psychopaths. The book deals with how we develop a theory of mind, what theory of mind is, whether animals have it, and finally, if robots could ever know what a person is thinking. I am sorry that a reader from London thinks that I am sloppy and irresponsible. I spent four years researching this subject; I have a post-graduate degree in it, carried out research in theory of mind in chimpanzees, spider monkeys, bonobos, children and people with Aspergers syndrome, and know many of the other scientists involved in this field.