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The question “what is the mind?” is closely related to the history of philosophy and metaphysics. This page offers a brief introduction to the question. A pre-introduction to the way in which this question is asked here is given in the course “Metaphysics”.
The full course* “Metaphysics” can be found here https://www.udemy.com/metaphysics/
* For access to the course please get in touch ssantos – at – theopeninstituteofmind.org
This course is an introduction to the question of metaphysics and philosophy.We do not provide a historical discussion of neither metaphysics nor philosophy.Rather, we centre the course on asking the question itself as to what metaphysics, including any attempt to abolish metaphysics, is.
In what is sometimes stated to be a critical historical event leading to a “philosophical divide” between the continental and the analytic schools of thought, the theme of the “nothing” was raised by Martin Heidegger. We centre the discussion on the “debate” that took place between Heidegger and Carnap. Carnap proposed to eliminate metaphysics fully by invoking logical formalism and the scientific method.
This historical discussion allows us to centre the question of metaphysics with respect to:
· The foundation of mathematics, including the program of David Hilbert
· Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem
· Tarski’s theory of truth
· The computationalist view that the mind can be emulated via computation
· The opponents of computationalism, such as Penrose
· Self-reference and paradoxes such as Russell’s paradox
· Some of the latest claims of quantum mechanics such as the subjective fact
· Self-reference and identity
· Meta-theories such as realism and the views of Karl Popper in method
This course is also an introduction to our Open Institute Of Mind that centres on the question “what is the mind?” It is also an introduction to our book “The Fabric of Consciousness”.
This course is an introduction to the Open Institute of Mind (OIoM) that opens by formulating the question “what is the mind?”. It is not an introduction in that it is a simple or elementary course, but rather in that it is basic and seeks to ask the question formally. We also discuss the relevant and current questions and answers regarding what the mind and consciousness are according to the most relevant theories and fields of research. How this is to be done however is not obvious at the outset.
In the simplest form of preparing ourselves to be introduced into the question of the mind and consciousness, we could rush at once into the list of available theories. We could proceed and discuss these theories in the form of a listing and then analyse the main topics in each theory and how these relate amongst theories. Such methodology, however, would not mean asking the question “what is the mind?” in its basic form. It is the most common form of providing introductions, but they more readily seem like a product delivered over to someone. This maintains the person, that is, the enquirer, outside the enquiry and as an observer even if it provides “knowledge” in the form of listings, topics and themes. It is not our objective to get so involved in the technical details of a theory that the question dilutes to become a “story” of the brain that discusses mechanisms or findings, no matter how sophisticated these might be. Neuroscience, for example, claims that consciousness might be triggered by a set of neurons and their processes in what has been termed Neural Correlates of Consciousness NCC. Such “stories” are “interesting” but it is precisely such interest that more readily resembles entertainment that we are to avoid. As soon as we follow what is interesting, we lose sight of the question by focusing into the sophisticated mechanics of “the mind” as if it was a puzzle to be solved instead. We live in a time where “stories” abound in a way that our attention rapidly moves from one interesting story to another. We are told to see the problem with perspective. What perspective means here however is obscure. Are we to watch or give a look at the mind and describe it from the outside, “with perspective”, as in the form of a storyline or a movie where we, from the outside, put ourselves in character as the main hero? Or are we rather going to put ourselves in the centre of the question with us, as the performer of the action, describing what the mind is from the “inside”, so to speak. Losing site of the central question is at stake. We are to penetrate into the question “what is the mind?” Our aim is thus set,
“we are to penetrate into the question “what is the mind?” in a way that the question itself becomes central and leads directly into the main fields of research by placing the enquirer into the enquiry.”
How are we to set the question into motion?
The question is now just a sentence, namely “what is the mind?”. So far, we have provided no proximal clue as to where or how to start our enquiry and as to how to center the question in a way that it becomes a question to be asked centrally. More formally, we have not indicated how the enquirer is to enter the question. If we manage to place ourselves into the question “what is the mind?” the fields should easily unfold in front of us as what becomes essential to this question. Only that which is essential about the mind will become the theme of the mind rather than just a topic in the form of a listing. The question is to become central. Correspondingly, the question requires a guide, so to speak, so we do not lose sight of what it is that we seek in our investigation. The question is to be centered, so we do not fall into the trap of “storylines” but become the enquirer instead. The enquirer is that who enquires from the center of the question, not from outside the question, as if describing a story. Thus, a guide is to be provided at the outset. Only then will the purpose of something such as “asking what the mind and consciousness are” will come into view as a meaningful question that talks about something. More thoroughly, we are to learn about the mind, as what the mind is. On the other hand, this question is merely a sentence if we do not clarify at once what it is that we seek to find through this question and what it is that guides the question. The stage is now set to put the question formally:
What are the mind and consciousness and what is it that makes us say that we are conscious?
It is said that the mind is to enable us to “be aware of the world” and experience the world by thinking and feeling, by being conscious of “things” and conscious of “thoughts”. The Oxford Online dictionary says that the mind is:
“the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.”
The world and what we experience of the world is thus to provide the proximal clue. That is, the world and our experience of it is what is closest to what we understand of the mind and therefore our most immediate connection to the question of the mind. If we are to look rapidly and without thinking, we could see most immediately that the world is advancing technologically and that the first entities that will think artificially might be developed very soon. There are many things of interest in the world and we are understanding most of it very rapidly. The world is said to be “advancing” in its understanding of the world. Who is saying however that such advance is happening and what is it that we mean with the words “advance” and “understanding”? If we look closely, we hear some say that “humans are triggering a mass extinction on a similar scale to that which wiped out the dinosaurs — but at an unprecedented rate”[1-3]. If these claims are to be reconciled with what we call “advancing”, i.e. to move forward in a purposeful way, it would seem like the purpose of the mind and the terms “advancing” and “understanding” more readily coincide with destruction. A problem has already become clear:
“how is being aware of the world and the way we experience it to be thought about in view of the challenges that we are to face and in view of our comportment to the world as a whole?”
If we are to understand being aware of the world, our experience of it, and what we do to it, to us and with it, it rather seems that we are still to understand what being aware and conscious of being in the world is. For this we need to understand our mind and what being aware and conscious of the world is. Storylines in the form of what we term “knowledge” are not to replace our paying attention to our comportment in and to the world. This is unless we acknowledge at once that we are in fact “not conscious” of our experience of the world yet. To be aware and conscious of the world, that is, to think it with the mind is the task ahead. Only once we learn to “have a mind” as “the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel” we will be able to claim that we “have a mind”. The “mind” is to enable the becoming aware of the world and the experiencing it, not knowledge of storylines in the form of a listing. Only if we manage to have a mind, we might be able to determine what the mind is “as a mind”, i.e. to think it and feel it. This will prevent us from a mere description of the mechanics of the “mind” in the form of a storyline. This brief introduction sets the stage to asking the question “what is the mind?”.
1. State of the Planet. In. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_the_Planet 2019.
2. The state of the planet is scary – but that’s just the start. In. https://neweconomics.org/2017/08/earth_overshoot_day 2019.
3. Gray P. The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders. In. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/freedom-learn/201001/the-decline-play-and-rise-in-childrens-mental-disorders: www.psychologytoday.com 2019.