Tag Archives: philosophy of mind

Philosophical triangulation

1.
People ask how can the sensory representation of the physical world be relied upon. They ask how can I be sure that thing I see is there. The question is always framed through the visual sense.

Yet, all senses come into play.

The perceived thing visually will likely be accompanied by sound. If near enough I could probably touch and smell it. And if you are a baby you will likely want to lick (taste) it. In short, verification is never in a single sense dimension.

This kind of sensory triangulation is often forgotten. We do it so automatically that we take it for granted.

Yet the “what if the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow?” question should really be more precise like “what if the sun rises tomorrow and I don’t feel its heat?” The discrepancy between senses should trigger alarm bells.

It could be a dream perhaps. Or am I a man dreaming of being in a physical world, or a man in a physical world dreaming?

Silly question really.

For what elaborate reason would there be for creating this kind of The Matrix illusion?

Give me the red pill, please, and bring on the philosophical sentinels.

2.
The problem then with minds, souls, and spirits is that there is no triangulation other than hearsay. And when there is triangulation to the mind it is always through observation of a body-object.

There is no transference of The Matrix-like I-know-kung-fu data.

Nothing is there … or rather only a movie is there.

The imagination of the brain (not the mind) is what gives us The Matrix (literature and entertainment), Idealism (philosophy), the special theory of relativity (science), and God (religion).

Not only does the brain lead us to astray (as metaphors do), it also leads us sometimes back onto the right path (as metaphors do).

No body, no mind. No mind, dead body.

At the beginning of the internet in the 1980s (mass access anyway) I had started an online persona. It was as though I was a no more than the digital bits. The possibility was that the physical body was of little consequence.

Living online from the 90s my wellbeing deteriorated. Dislocated, I felt lost and insubstantial.

It was during this time that I began to truly ask who or what I am. Is it my body and/or my mind that is the real me? Or is it neither?

Trying all options, I have, by process of elimination, narrowed it down to this — the body plays a huge part as to who and what I am.

The mind supervenes to the body. No body, no mind. No mind, dead body. The mind does not go somewhere at death. It ceases to exist. More accurately, when the physical process ends, being alive ends. The implication is that what we call a mind does not exist as such but is a process of an object, this particular object, the body.

There was an experiment once that tried to observe the change of weight at death as the soul leaves, effectively trying to give the soul a quantitative number. As expected no change was observed. It is like the weight of an appliance with and without the power on.

Some argue that our ability to measure this is simply not sensitive enough. Or it could be it just isn’t there. Given the evidence, the body is more real than the mind. And the mind needs the body to exist.

I play a game of tennis. I do not think a game of tennis.

Mind, soul, spirit

“The official doctrine, which hails chiefly from Descartes, is something like this. […] Some would prefer to say that every human being is both a body and a mind. His body and his mind are ordinarily harnessed together, but after the death of the body his mind may continue to exist and function.” (Ryle, The Concept of Mind, 13. Underline mine.)

Often, the mind (your thoughts or your ability to think, feel, and imagine things) is equated to the soul (the part of a person that is not physical, and that contains their character, thoughts, and feelings. Many people believe that a person’s soul continues to exist after they have died) and spirit (the part of someone that you cannot see, that consists of the qualities that make up their character, which many people believe continues to live after the person has died).

Today, we know the mind resides in the brain. The mental state is created there. Unlike the soul or spirit, the mind can be affected and influenced by diet, sensory input, and thoughts. The soul or spirit is some “thing” that is fixed, unchanging, immortal (in Western culture, at least). The soul seems to have character, thoughts, and feelings. The spirit contains character but not thoughts and feelings. Both soul or spirit are defined by its continuation after death, the expiration of the body’s animation.

So, slowly we are moving away from the notion that the mind equals a soul or spirit.

Today, we are unafraid to ask, does the soul or spirit exist. Religions will try to keep you saying yes. Science tries to convince you to say no.

The better question is to ask does the soul or spirit interact and affect the physical in way after the death. In that sense, equating the soul or spirit with the mind is better since it would suggest that mind, soul or spirit really only interacts and functions with this world when it is animated within the body. After death it has no influence other than through those who have interacted with that mind as a body. Anything beyond that interaction is a conceptualisation.

Philosophical realism

An object exists independent of our perception or conception of it. Michael Dummett is against this stance and calls it “colourless reductionism”.

Interestingly it is, in my opinion, precisely that reality is “colourless” that our minds colour it. It is the necessary part of our being conscious of our reality. And again, it is precisely because we erroneously supplement to the reality with minds that perhaps we need to reduce (remove) what was added to it.

The mind

On the mind. – There is no metaphysics, that is, there is no mind. It “exists” insofar as a concept and as a process. It has no physical existence that can be found other than physical procedural evidence.

Type/token

A type is a word who’s general meaning is derived from its sum token usages. Types are similar to universals and innate ideas which seemingly have a stable unchanging meaning when in fact they are derived categorisations of concepts. This error in understanding has been the root of the problem with Western philosophy from the very beginning. The ground of contention is in thought which is grounded in language. The nature of meaning, form, thought, and communication has to clear in order to understand the problem at hand.

What Phineas Gage can tell us about what the self is

Today, we know a lot about the brain from case studies of brain damage of specific areas and the cognitive functions associated with these areas.

It was not all that long ago that we had no idea what the brain was. Although we must had some clue we were never completely sure. Damage to the eye would impair vision, to the ear, hearing, and so on. Lose an arm and you still function as cognitively. We must have guessed that the “seat” of thinking was in the head. Sometimes the mind has been placed in the heart. We knew the functions of these – the brain and the heart – were vital to life. Often they are confused.

The case of Phineas Gage [warning: gruesome details in link] was one of luck for neuroscience (but not for him). [warning: more gruesome details ahead] In 1848, he was injured in a railroad accident. An iron rod was driven through his prefrontal cortex by an explosion, causing him to severe social impairments. Since then thousands of case studies have been documented to pinpoint the functions of which were affected by the neurological damage. The point being, if we were not physical neurological beings, then the damage to the brain should be no different to damage to the arm, leg, or stomach – our personalities would not be affected.

But how we act and how we think of people ultimately comes down to their brain function. The personality, self, and soul ultimately resides in the brain as a product of the brain. To think that damage to the physical self would not cause neurological change would contradict the evidence. Nothing of the self exists after death, only our thoughts of those who have died remain as our thoughts of them as a self.