I realized this week what traits distinguish people I find delightfully gemultlikeit and those I just want to slap. Theory of Mind (ToM).
Theory of mind is a concept from Developmental Psychology. It is a developmental attainment which most children achieve by age 4--the understanding that other people see things from a different perspective--a mental flexibility. It probably stems from Piaget's concept of egocentrism--young children don't get that other people don't see what they see--exemplified by the mountains task. The child views a paper-mache mountain on a table. Each side of the mountain has a slightly different scene. The child walks around all the sides. Then, they sit down and the experimenter asks what the child sees--and they describe what they see. Then, the child switches places with the experimenter. The child is asked to describe what the experimenter sees. And the child describes what they see, their view of the mountain, and not the view of the experimenter.
ToM also uses the clinical method to understand how a child thinks. ToM uses the Sally-Ann scenario. Sally and Ann are dolls. Sally has a basket, Ann has a box. In Sally's basket, the experimenter places some pencils. In Ann's box, the experimenter places some candy. The child is asked to describe what's in the basket and what's in the box. Then, the experimenter hides Ann. The Sally doll then takes the candy out of Ann's box and places it in her basket. She takes the pencils and puts it in Ann's box. The child is then asked what is in the box. The child correctly answers "pencils." The child is then asked what Ann will think is in the box. The child answers, "pencils." The young child is unable to have the mental flexibility to understand people see things from different perspectives. Or that they have privileged knowledge that another child did not.
Most children attain this ToM around age 4. It has nothing to do with intelligence. An experiment was done--average intelligence children, Trisomy 21 children (x<70), and ASD children with FSIQ of at least 100. Both the normal children and the Trisomy 21 children showed ToM. The ASD didn't. This indicates the deficits of the young autistic mind. Usually, ASD will achieve this simple level of ToM by age 9. By then, the other children have attained a more complex ToM which includes pragmatics. This is something that is much harder for ASD.
ToM is what makes someone loveable. Someone who has intrapersonal intelligence. Someone who can correctly label whatl other people are thinking and feeling. A good sense of humor (as opposed to cruelty masquerading as humor).
The lack of ToM is the Macguffin of Potok's "THE CHOSEN." Danny Saunders is a gaon, a genius Hasid child, a child who is all mind and no heart. He is so heartless and so narcissistic as a child that even his father, Rebbe Saunders, is frightened. He believes the best way to ensure his child finds a heart to balance his mind is the silent treatment. He doesn't speak to his son. Ever. If he takes the child on trips, silence. Nothing. Rebbe Saunders does not consult with others in the community. Or even his own wife. A man without ToM trying to raise his son with even less of a ToM. Mazel tov.
And of course--it didn't work. As exemplified by what gets the plot moving. Even the yeshivahs have baseball teams . They play each other. Reuven is one of the best players of his yeshivah. But his yeshivah is not a Hasidic one. To the Hasids, the other Jews are apikoros--heretics. Danny is one of their best. He deliberately beans Reuven to win the game and sends Reuven straight to the hospital with a concussion.
Even Rebbe Saunders is horrified. And makes Danny visit and extend an insincere apology.
And the plot gets set in motion.
Reuven's father is a teacher and a scholar of Jewish law who spends much of his time at the Brooklyn Public Library. Lately, a young Hasid has been coming in and reading Freud. In German. They strike up a relationship, with Reuven's father recommending books and guiding Danny's understanding. Of course, Reuven's father knows who this kid is--you don't find many Hasids alone in the Brooklyn Public Library, reading Freud in German. Reuven's father insist that his son become friends with Danny, invoking the Talmudic commandment--find yourself a teacher. Find yourself a friend. Danny already has the teacher. Now he needs the friend. And as Reuven's father repeatedly says to his son--"It is not easy to be a friend." Reuven becomes the friend, visiting the Saunder's home, taking in Shabbat. As much as Rebbe Saunders may be horrified by his heartless son, he is not beyond showing him off to the congregation for his gemaitraiya skills. Reuven may be a math whiz himself, but Danny is better. Talk about Rebbe Saunder's inappropriate reinforcement of Danny. + Few consequences for being heartless.
In the sequel, "THE PROMISE" we see that all this has been for naught. Danny is now a doctoral student at Columbia. He has been permitted to do an "experiment" on a teenage boy with both conduct disorder and psychosis. The experiment--cue in the Oedipal music--putting Michael in isolation and giving him the silent treatment. What he found intolerable, he nonetheless imposes on a very fragile adolescent. Michael decompensates. But it's okay--Danny gets his dissertation approved and earns his doctorate. Yay. Danny is an academically brilliant psychologist, with a keen grasp of the literature and the research. But he still lacks a theory of mind. Hopefully, he will never practice and just be an academic.