Is mindreading a gadget?

By Pierre Jacob & Thom Scott-Phillips.

Non-cognitive gadgets are fancy tools shaped to meet specific, local needs. Cecilia Heyes defines cognitive gadgets as dedicated psychological mechanisms (e.g. cooking and sporting expertise) created through social interactions and culturally, not genet- ically, inherited by humans. She has boldly proposed that many human cognitive mechanisms (including imitation, numeracy, literacy, language and mindreading) are gadgets. If true, these claims would have far-reaching implications for our scientific understanding of human social cognition. Here we assess Heyes’s cognitive gadget approach as it applies to mindreading. We do not think that the evidence supports Heyes’s thought-provoking thesis that human children are taught to read minds the way they are taught to read words. We highlight a potential circularity lurking behind this analogy, and we explain why we are unpersuaded by Heyes’s anti-mentalistic proposal for handling data inconsistent with the gadget view, which others take to be evidence for mindreading in human infancy. We conclude that while human minds may well be filled with gadgets, mindreading is unlikely to be one of them.