Why read minds when you can communicate?

ACTION: Adapting CANSAS to Individuals’ Own Needs                                                 Recovery Conversation Theme #7: What I see, hear and believe 

By Warren Heggarty 


One of the biggest causes of misunderstanding in the world is mind-reading. Not everybody has had the same life experiences as we have, which means that our attempts at mind reading often miss the target. 

Actually, most people probably think there is no such thing as mind reading (maybe there isn’t!) but everyone does it, and it leads to trouble every day. 

Most commonly we suppose that we know exactly what is going on in someone else’s head. We assume that the fellow creeping round the side of our house is up to no good, spying on us. Yet if we observed him carefully, we would discover that he has come to read the electricity meter which is covered up by a large plant that we recently placed there. 

Mind-reading other people can be a problem, but expecting other people to be able to read OUR minds can be worse. We often just EXPECT people to know what we are thinking, or what we want or how we feel. But if we haven’t actually TOLD them, how are they to know? Unless they actually CAN read our minds. In which case they wouldn’t keep getting it wrong… 

The good thing about NOT mind reading is that it forces you to open up a channel of communication and actually ASK the person what is on their mind. And allow them to ask what is on your mind. (Boissiere) 

If mind reading is opening the door to misunderstanding, feeling certain about our opinions is opening a trap door into the abyss. A little bit of mind-reading might not be harmful. As long as we limit our assumptions to fairly obvious things and as long as we don’t believe our guesses are infallible. 

When we know people or situations well enough, it is helpful guess how they will react to something or what they would think of us if they found out we did such and such. However it is usually very unhelpful to assume that our guesses are 100% correct. This is where we slip up because sometimes our guesses are 0% correct. 

It may be that you have never made a mistake about anything in your life, but most of the rest of us make lots of mistakes. The older we get the more we are able to reflect on how wrong we were when we were younger. Not that we are right about anything NOW. We just realise that we are capable of being wrong. (Neuman, 2013) 

Someone who has been abducted by Aliens might find the skepticism of unbelievers a little annoying. So too, the person who has never seen any evidence of life on other planets might consider alien abduction victims to be deluded. 

Nevertheless it is possible to agree to disagree and not to get into a fight over it. Think about how the other person might have come to the outrageous conclusion that aliens do not exist, or the equally outrageous conclusion that they do exist. Not everybody has had the same life experiences as we have. 

Feeling certain that another person can read our minds, or that we can read other people’s minds requires us to be cautious on two counts. Firstly, most people don’t believe in mind reading. Secondly, many people have been certain about things that have later been discovered to be false. 

Aristotle’s error 

Aristotle, that great thinker who tutored Alexander the Great, for example, had a theory that mosquitoes spontaneously generated from the water of swamps. He had no idea they hatched from eggs and went through metamorphosis, because he had never spent enough time lurking round swamps to make the connection between the various life stages of mosquitoes. Aristotle may have been the smartest person in the world, but even he came up with some clangers. 

Perhaps if he had spoken to some peasants down by the swamp he may have learned about the life cycle of mozzies. But it seems he put too much faith in the workings of human reason and not enough in communication. Communication, that is, listening to others, will help us develop better relationships no matter how right or wrong our ideas may be. 


Boissiere, E. (n.d.). 5 Misunderstandings that will cause problems with your closest relationships. Retrieved from Everyday Power:


Neuman, F. (2013, March 27). Strange ideas: The incredible things some people believe. Retrieved from Psychology Today. 

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