When I had a cough last week, my son Joe, who has autism, shouted at me and covered his ears. I didn’t mean to cough but, to Joe, so what? His autism means he doesn’t get other people’s intentions. People like him are sometimes said to lack a ‘theory of mind’ — lacking the idea that Dad or anyone else even has a mind, possessed of its own thoughts and intentions.
This complicates his life infinitely. And that alerts us to a commonplace miracle: the contrast with the rest of us. Often we can see inside other people’s heads. We’re prolific theorisers about what they’re thinking. What’s more, we’re often right: if you flash the cash as we hit the bar I understand that you intend to buy the round; if you open the door and step aside I understand your courteous intention to let me through; when hero and heroine finally kiss it’s because they both know — though neither speaks.