Projecting Value

Jon Bunting - "funfair action"

In the post Action, Perception and Theory of Mind, I laid out a few ideas about discussing actions, observations, perceptions, theory of mind, and how they relate to interpersonal and inter-group dynamics. The text was kept quite abstract, but now I would like to use a few concrete examples in order to show how to take advantage of these new concepts.

Here we use the same Two-Body Problem from the other post, but instead of nameless parties, I use human names. Instead of abstract actions, I use concrete actions, and instead of amorphous bodies, I use companies. This scenario is going to be studied from a “Value” perspective.


The Scenario

 Puppy-Toys LLC          Cat-Snack Corp
+--------------+        +--------------+
|              | -(X)----------+       |
|              |        |      |       |
|              |        |      V       |
|     Dave -------(Y)-> |    Alice     |
|              |        |              |
|              | -(A)-> |              |
|              |        |              |
|          +------(C)-> |              |
|         /    |        |              |
|        /     | -(D)----------+       |
|       /      |        |      |       |
|              |        |      V       |
|     Sam --------(S)------> Carol     |
|              |        |              |
+--------------+        +--------------+

A threat originated from the Puppy-Toys company, towards the Cat-Snack Corporation.

Imagine that there is only one objective action, but that it is obscured.

Instead, we have four interpretations of the obscured action:

We won’t go into which is right or not. It is enough to see that each interpretation arises from the ambiguous, erroneous, and subjective perceptions and circumstances that the action took place in.

Alice’s Interpretation

Alice interprets that Puppy-Toys has made a threat towards Cat-Snack Corp.

She arrived at this judgement based on the fact that she thought she saw an email on the Cat-Snack Corp correspondence list, with the Puppy-Toys letter-head, making a threat to cancel their partnership contract if certain things were not done.

Carol’s Interpretation

Carol interprets that Sam has made a threat towards Cat-Snack Corp.

Carol thinks that Sam threatened Cat-Snack corp because she heard that a threat to cancel the Puppy-Toys/Cat-Snack partnership contract came from Sam’s email address.

Dave’s Interpretation

Dave interprets that Puppy-Toys has threatened Carol, personally.

He believes that Puppy-Toys in aggregate threatened Carol, in person since he believed that she had made some comments in an email indicating that Cat-Snacks would not honor their terms of the agreement. He thinks that Sam had replied to this email outlining what a breach of the agreement would mean on behalf of Puppy-Toys, with Puppy-Toys letter-head, and CC-ing Puppy-Toys general-council.

Sam’s Interpretation

Sam interprets that he threatened Carol, personally.

He feels that he was being messed with by Carol in an email and he believes that he threatened retribution in a reply to that email.


If you want to analyse a situation such as this, it is important to remember that you do not have the objective truth either, and it is important to draw up all of the likely scenarios that occurred before you perform analysis.

Let’s have a take a step up the ladder and look at the theory of mind of each of our parties. Luckily, since there is only one action being perceived by each, there won’t be the combinatorial explosion discussed in the previous post:

Remember that this is being analysed objectively here, but as an analyst in the real-world, everything here would be a subjective guess.

Feel free to skip to the conclusion if the Theories-of-Mind section becomes too boring…

Alice’s Theories of Mind

Alice’s theories of mind are formulated from her perspective of Puppy-Toys threatening Cat-Snack Corp.

Alice’s Understanding of Alice’s own Interpretation

Alice will no-doubt frame her own interpretation of events as more objective that others, and interpret others contradictory behaviour as stemming from their misunderstandings of reality, but all-other-things being equal, Alice is just as likely to have misconceptions as anyone else. Alice feels even more confident that her interpretation is correct since she believes that she was not one of the parties directly involved in the confrontation.

Alice’s understanding of her own Perception is (A).

Alice’s Understanding of Carol’s Interpretation

Alice knows that Carol has the same information that she does, since they are both on the same mailing-list, but Alice feels that carol may be taking the threat far more personally, since it was addressed in response to her comment.

Alice’s understanding of Carol’s perceptions is (D).

Alice’s Understanding of Dave’s Interpretation

Alice feels that since Dave belongs to the same company as Sam, that he will feel that they have more separation of their identities than is perceived from the outside… Alice feels that they will be are in agreement about directing their threats being directed to Cat-Snack Corp rather than carol personally (the same as her own understanding), but also because they surely wouldn’t stoop to personal attacks.

Alice’s understanding of Dave’s perception is (C).

Alice’s Understanding of Sam’s Interpretation

Alice knows that Sam’s feelings about his own email are very simple. He’s bringing Cat-Snack Corp back in line with the agreement. This corresponds to the same as her understanding of Dave’s perception, since she believes that Sam and Dave are very close friends and share a good working relationship and are unlikely to be at odds in their obviously-occurring discussions of a serious situation such as this. She does feel however that Sam probably believes that although he is representing Puppy-Toys, he’s not making the threat in an official capacity, and is issuing a warning on his own behalf.

Alice’s understanding of Sam’s perception is also (C).

Carol’s Theories of Mind

Carol’s theories of mind are formulated from her perspective of Sam making a threat towards Cat-Snack Corp.

Carol’s Understanding of Alice’s Interpretation

In Carol’s mind, Alice sees the situation as being one where Alice feels empathetic towards her. She knows that Alice has had her back before, and this is why she feels that Alice would probably be interpreting the action as the whole of Puppy-Toys against her. Of course, Alice knows that the reality of the situation is nothing like that, but she knows that Alice will have misinterpreted the scenario in her defence, since they have such a good friendship and history.

Carol’s understanding of Alice’s perception of the situation is (D).

Carol’s Understanding of Carol’s own Interpretation

Carol understands that her own interpretation is not guaranteed to be correct, but knows in her heart that it is the right one. She was on the receiving end of the email reply after all.

Carol’s understanding of her interpretation is, of course (C).

Carol’s Understanding of Dave’s Interpretation

Dave’s perception of events, as Carol understands them to be, is that he and Sam are close friends and have collaborated on the threat. If not officially, then at least in spirit. She knows this, because she knows Dave, who she used to share classes with in university. She knows that Dave is always involved in everyone’s business.

Carol’s understanding of Dave’s interpretation is (A).

Carol’s Understanding of Sam’s Interpretation

Carol feels that Sam has been co-opted by Dave to do his dirty work and present it as an action on behalf of Puppy-Toys, as was referenced in the previous section. However, even though she knows the truth, she feels that Sam misunderstands the situation and has been convinced of exactly the wrong thing - That he was acting personally only, issuing the threat directly from himself towards Carol.

Carol’s understanding of Sam’s interpretation is (S).

Dave’s Theories of Mind

Dave knows that he is the only impartial and objective party in the situation. This is because he has an inside understanding of the issuing action, but wasn’t biased by being the party to issue it.

Such as his objectivity stands, Dave interprets the situation as Puppy-Toys issuing a threat directly to Carol.

Dave’s Understanding of Alice’s Interpretation

Dave knows that Alice tends to take things personally. This comes from past experience, so he knows that it is accurate. As such, he feels that Alice’s interpretation of the situation will be, as usual, Alice centric. He knows that Alice will think that it is Puppy-Toys attacking her even though it, of course isn’t.

Dave’s understanding of Alice’s interpretation is [X]… An arrow that exists nowhere else.

Dave’s Understanding of Carol’s Interpretation

Since, in Dave’s estimation, Carol is being attacked by Puppy-Toys, he feels that Carol will no doubt be under the factual impression that she is under attack. However, he feels that Carol will have misconstrued her attacker! Dave thinks that because convinced Sam to pen the letter, that Carol will feel that Sam is the attacker, even though it was really a Puppy-Toys endeavour…

Dave’s understanding of Carol’s interpretation is (S).

Dave’s Understanding of Dave’s own Interpretation

Dave’s understanding of his own interpretation is that has a nuanced and sophisticated edge over the other people involved that let him see the real truth, a more subtle truth that takes into account group actions, and doesn’t attribute actions to the issuing parties as a matter-of-face, since, all actions are a consequence of another action, as Newton said so well. As such, even though he persuaded Sam to write the response, and Sam wrote it, the action was really due to the collegial atmosphere that had developed at Puppy-Toys over the years, and was therefore a Puppy-Toys action.

Dave’s understanding of his own interpretation is, of course (D).

Dave’s Understanding of Sam’s Interpretation

Dave knows that Sam knows that Dave persuaded him to do what he did. But Dave also knows that Sam feels that he must take responsibility for his own actions, and will therefore claim responsibility for this one. Poor naive Sam… He also knows that Sam has the aptitude to see the broader impact of his action.

Dave’s understanding of Sam’s interpretation is (C).

Sam’s Theories of Mind

Sam wrote the threatening reply. Of course Sam knows what he was thinking at the time. Sam knows therefore, that he can be the only objective party in this whole situation…

Sam’s Understanding of Alice’s Interpretation

Sam feels that Alice was the only party who wasn’t involved. He also knows that even though Alice wasn’t involved she still has a strong opinion about what occurred. In Sam’s opinion, Alice believes that Puppy-Toys attacked Carol. He’s reached this conclusion because Puppy-Toys is a very cohesive unit, unlike Cat-Snack Corp, and any action emanating from one of its employees will be perceived as being made by the whole organization. He feels that Alice will think that it is Carol being attacked because Carol wrote the email that solicited the threatening response, she certainly wouldn’t feel attacked herself in such a situation.

Sam’s understanding of Alice’s interpretation is (D).

Sam’s Understanding of Carol’s Interpretation

Sam wrote the email to Carol. This much is fact. Sam knows Carol, and he knows that she will feel very much under attack after receiving his email. She will be under no illusion who sent it either. Sam.

Sam’s understanding of Carol’s interpretation is (S).

Sam’s Understanding of Dave’s Interpretation

Sam’s colleague and close-friend Dave is, in Sam’s estimation, a manipulator. He feels that Dave thought he was persuading him to write the threatening reply, but that was besides the point when Sam began penning it. Sam know that he had to defend Puppy-Toys from breach of contract and so did what the situation demanded, regardless of if Dave was pushing for it or not… Still, Sam knows that Dave thinks that it was all Dave’s doing. A manipulation of himself, but in reality an orchestration by Dave, against Cat-Snack Corp.

Sam’s understanding of Dave’s interpretation is (Y). An arrow seen nowhere else.

Sam’s Understanding of Sam’s own Interpretation

Sam knows that he and Carol are the only ones who really understand the state of affairs. He wrote the threatening email, Carol received it. The interaction was between the two of them and they both understand that. No beating around the bush here. It’s perfectly straight-forward.

Sam’s understanding of his interpretation is the same as his understanding of Carol’s interpretation. (S).

What can we Learn from this Hypothetical?

Don’t focus too much on the details here. The lesson that I’m trying to impart is that confusion and misinterpretation is very easy to construct. It does not need to be done purposefully, through deception, but can arise just as easily through carelessness and imprecision.

Through our actions we project many things. Values, respect, etc. But possibly more importantly, these actions are perceived not necessarily as emanating from the party that issued the action. This can also actually be a reality, not just an interpretation, since a party could very well be acting on behalf of an aggregate collection, such as a business, group of friends, or even a whole country. Then again, they could be acting in isolation, but have that be misinterpreted. Or vice-versa!

Taking our previous equation…

N = A * E ^ (L - 1)

N: Number of Descriptions
A: Actions
E: Entities
L: Level

… and allowing for ambiguity in interpretation actions by the number of entities, effectively raising the level by one. Giving the more elegant, and exponentially more complicated N = A * E ^ L.

Be clear, or face a great combinatorial explosion of doubt!