Metacognition squared

I spend a lot of time thinking about how others and I think, and trying to associate with people who do the same.  But I assume there are people smarter than us who routinely think about how people like us think about other people thinking.  They do this with the same natural ease that we consider the age-old problem of other minds and how they differ from our own.

And I feel like this is a multiplicative thought process, not an additive one, because to consider someone else’s metacognition is to also consider the cognition of everyone they’re thinking about.  Additionally, since to this hypothetical person metacognition is as routinely analyzable as normal cognition is to us, many of the considered individuals have multiple layers of thinking to address.  Each person’s metacognition adds an exponential number of additional cognitions to consider, both their own and those of other people they think about, metacognitions and ordinary cognitions.

In the mind of the natural second-level metacognitive thinker, my awareness of his existence is a factor he should take into account.  Does that awareness change how he must perceive my metacognition?  If not, that still represents a slight change in his own metacognition: he must realize that my awareness of his thought process’ existence doesn’t fundamentally change it.  But if it changes how he perceives my metacognition, on a basic level, does the whole system restructure itself like a Jacob’s Ladder?  In other words, does the answer to this question change either his own metacognition (since he’s able to comprehend the second level of metacognition, my metacognition should factor into his) or his meta2cognition (is my metacognition fundamentally different because I am aware of the possibility of additional complexity)?

If this makes your head hurt, don’t worry.  If you actually are a second-level metacognitive thinker, please brag about it/explain it in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “Metacognition squared

  1. Reminds me of more generalized theories of observation like the observer effect [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)] in which the observer corrupts/changes the results collected, through the process of collection.

    And maybe this is off topic but what if the being capable of meta^2cognition was extraterrestrial? It seems that by possessing greater meta-cognitive/mental abilities in general, they would, at least by our laws, be able to restrict our rights/kill and eat us/perform science experiments upon our poor, dumb bodies (as we have done to animals and indigenous populations perceived as unintelligent.

    1. I suppose that is a bit off topic, but it is definitely interesting to think of the intelligence-as-moral-superiority idea from that perspective: that what gives someone the power to govern/rule is actually a more acute understanding of the people being ruled.

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