Knowing They Know That You Know

This opening paragraph from an old NYT article tickled my fancy:

(Follow closely now; this is about the science of English.) Phoebe and Rachel plot to play a joke on Monica and Chandler after they learn the two are secretly dating. The couple discover the prank and try to turn the tables, but Phoebe realizes this turnabout and once again tries to outwit them.

As Phoebe tells Rachel, “They don’t know that we know they know we know.”

“This layered process of figuring out what someone else is thinking — of mind reading — is both a common literary device and an essential survival skill.”

The human facility of three mental states – the triangularization of minds – is a trait that evolved due to our excessive social interactions. An extension of this triangularization of minds is the concept of common knowledge which was briefly touched in one of the puzzles I posted on this blog: The Blue-eyed Islanders.

[Hat Tip: Cheap Talk]

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3 responses to “Knowing They Know That You Know

  1. “They don’t know that we know they know we know.” was funny, sort of. But the link to the blue-eyed islanders puzzle made it better. Good that the visitor wasn’t brown-eyed!

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