A recent article called Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know was the top download on NYT.com over several post publication news cycles. The piece is framed as a new justification for literature as a scorecard-like tool for sharpening one's theory of mind -- the ability to see competing versions of reality from anothers' point of view.
The writer, Patricia Cohen, seems more intent on stroking the bruised egos of arts and humanities majors than on any serious exploration of perspective-taking or its many tangible benefits. Maybe that's to be expected from right brains tired of accommodating a left brain world. But that's more of an indulgence than a meaningful exercise of right brain power in its contemplative and exacting glory.
Nor does the piece focus on any likely corollaries: does an intellect wired for math and science find it more challenging to process the shades and complexities that perspective-taking poses? Centuries full of socially clueless science majors could argue that case rather well. While I'm no more dismissive of liberal arts than the next New York Times-colored word person, that's not the lead story that been buried here.
The ability to view the world through others is a kind of lens crafting that focuses us on details we would overlook in our own petitions, priorities we only notice in the obsessions of others, and most importantly, motivations that would otherwise confuse or surprise us if we couldn't well piece them together.
Lens crafting is our best defense against blind spots, blindfolds really. It enables us to see differing perceptions and to understand how others we conflict with would process or filter the same circumstances or events we're interpreting so differently. Talk about your intractable negotiations -- how can we even approach that bargaining table without lens crafting?
Other than coercion and intimidation there really is no way to win over adversaries or influence the outcomes more oriented to our own goals and motives. As Joe the Biden says, we're now in BFD territory that eclipses even the future of English programs in higher education.