The Syndrome of the Thermometer: Two Machines for Reading Thoughts


My uncle is obsessed with thermometers. I have seen him, in the street, stop in front of a chemist to check whether there would not be a thermometer in the window. Then he would carefully read the temperature. In his house, every room has its own thermometer (electronic, usually, as these are more precise). There are thermometers hidden in various places in the garden, too. When he is visiting, he often leaves a thermometer somewhere in the house. He may pity his hosts, living without a thermometer at hand. But, more likely, he just wants to make sure that he will be able to read the room temperature next time he comes. He is afraid to be too hot. He thinks that you are more likely to catch viruses when you are hot and sweaty. Apparently that is not true, but it is quite a common belief. However, the peculiar thing about my uncle is that he does not seem to know whether he is hot before he has checked the outside temperature. He is not a zombie, or a robot. He is my uncle. He does seem to have an inner life. It is just that he trusts his thermometers more than himself. I will call it “the thermometer syndrome.”

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