Excerpt from Navajo Myth and the Theory of Mind by John Justin David


The following essay appears in our Spring 2016 digital issue. The entire issue is available for immediate download.

Ancient Navajo myth and modern neuroscience are joined together across centuries of thought by their common insights into the human mind. Some of the latest scientific discoveries about how the mind works can be seen paralleled in Navajo myth. This is because masterworks of the great Navajo storytelling tradition contain a foreshadowing of what cognitive scientists call Theory of Mind.

Although “Theory of Mind” may sound murky and impenetrable, it actually identifies a normal part of how we think in everyday life. We each apply a Theory of Mind when we realize that other people have their own perspectives, beliefs, and intentions different from our own. We theorize in our own minds about what is going on in their minds. This helps us understand their motives and actions. Theory of Mind can be loosely described as the innate human ability to “read minds” through normal cognitive capacities.

PenIcon4JohnJustinDavid-smallJOHN JUSTIN DAVID researched the Navajo under noted ethnologist Dr. Irving Goldman at Sarah Lawrence College, where he developed a fascination with their stories. John has also won regional, national, and international contests in poetry and short fiction. With nearly 30 years professional experience in editing, writing, and publishing, his work has appeared in various magazines and journals and has been recognized with a number of writing awards. He also coaches authors and recently completed a book on three creative principles in poetry and literature.

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