PLAIN TALK: If Mind is not the Brain, then What the Heck is It? The Mind is Our Society, its Culture and History.

A SYMBOL OF MIND: The Mind’s Eye. “The Eye of Providence”,”The All-Seeing Eye of God”. Is Mind our idea of THE BIG PICTURE?

(This post has been difficult to write. These are murky but important topics. Trying to write Plainly about them has been a worthy challenge. Soon, even more difficult issues will be faced, like the Causal Relations between Matter and Mind, but not yet. That resolution is fairly strange: “Freedom and Responsibility” will exist in spite of our inability to push around atoms and other such objects. This post will help to set the stage for that conclusion.)

Today most of the mystery has been drained from the world. I mean, after all, isn’t it all up to Science? We just have to wait and scientists will explain it. Nonetheless, l did go to a local mega church a while ago and finally we , the congregants, were all standing with our arms and hands raised “to the Lord” and I was trying to “feel his presence” but I guess my tuner was not quite set right and whatever signal I got was hard to understand. Maybe I was just nervous or had a bad vacuum tube, a clue as to how old I am.

Yet, in our regular life, we continually speak of “The Mind” and have no clear reason to do so. Why don’t we just say, “I haven’t made up my brain, yet”? Or, “I can see it in my brain’s eye.” I contend that Life is more mysterious, and even awesome, than is commonly accorded, and this without proposing gods, new wave nonsense, or superstition. The Mind, though often mystified, is very real and important to us.

The Eye of Horus, from the ancient Egyptians, goes back to about 3000 BCE. Horus was The Sky God, with the Sun for his right eye and the Moon for his left.
Symbol of protection for the Egyptian people. Horus protected them from Set, god of the desert. The Eye of Horus was probably the original “all-seeing” Eye in the Sky.

The Tradition of Mind

In the previous post I tried to establish that Mind existed and was more than the brain. The Brain is physical and adds nothing new to a long series of physical events both before it and after it. So, traditionally, Mind was thought of as Non-physical; it was Immaterial and Transcendent — “above” the ordinary world. It was not only able to exist on its own, but was Original and Creative; it added new Qualities and Abilities into the physical world. The Idea (from the Greek “eidos”) was the Essence and Goal “sought” by each kind of thing in our world, thought many Greek thinkers. Plato argued that this Realm of Ideas was then unified by, or culminates in, The Ideas of The True, The Good and The Beautiful. The Ideal is what we (and all things) aspire to; for this point of view, Nature has direction and value, and I will argue that is true.

This Ideal World of the Greeks became the Mind of “God” for Christian Theologians. God was Pure Mind and the source of the positive Meanings, Rules and Purposes in Life. Mind was a “guiding Light” in the material world of “darkness”. It was The Right Way of Seeing Things, the true perspective from which to understand it all.

The Ideal Man for the Greeks: Poseidon of Artemisium.
On the dollar bill: “He approves our undertaking” (at top), at bottom, “A New Order for the Ages”.
Pallas Athena: The Greek Goddess of Wisdom and Justified Warfare. Holding the Owl of Minerva, symbol of Knowledge.

Revising Our Terms

It may be surprising to some that I will contend that much of the above is true, or at least a defensible belief, after revision. In any holistic philosophy, like this one, the meaning or understanding of a thing or a belief can be redefined or re-aligned in relation to the other beliefs that make up The Whole Unit of beliefs or things. It’s like looking into kaleidoscope and then shifting the pattern just one little twist. All the pieces are still there but now their pattern is a little different.

So, to improve our understanding of Mind is to shift our definition of it but also our understanding of many other major ideas. For this kind of philosophy, What is True is the most consistent set of beliefs, the Most Coherent Way of Life. What is true is Not what “Corresponds to Reality”. In our history, few societies have ever let “Reality” get that far astray. A coherent way of living will ‘automatically’ “correspond”, or it will not be selected. Differently stated, this position simply argues that ‘there never was a (totally) false belief’, only better beliefs that came after it and replaced it. (This paragraph is itself, obviously, a major and controversial insight, “a philosophical issue Hidden Right Before Our Eyes” that may be the topic of a future post.)

Truth is the best fit of our ideas and experiences among themselves. This will then virtually assure its selection by Nature. (Granted, this is a tricky statement!)

What is at stake?

So, before we start revising of our beliefs to make room for a modern understanding of Mind, let us consider why the issue of mind is important in its relation to the Matter.

Mind is where we attempt to control ourselves and have responsibility for ourselves. This starts very simply with statements like “I see red” and “I dislike broccoli.” In each case we make clear that something is happening to me; I have a certain ownership of an event. This gets more significant when we say something like “I killed him in self-defense.” In this case we are not only taking ownership of an event, but giving a Reason for our behavior that is meant to be a Justification. Even when we say “I see red”, if such a statement is out of context, others may rightly ask for Justification. This kind of talk only legitimately occurs in its appropriate setting of Mindful Behavior. It is not part of the Vocabulary of Science. To say in a Court of Law, “I killed him because my self-defense pattern of neurons were firing” would be of no help to you. You need to give more mindful and responsible talk to fill out the story, to meet our socially accepted criteria, like “he had threatened me before”, “he reached for the knife.” Even the Experience of Redness, as a Color, is not part of science; we will demonstrate later.

Establishing a Boundary between “me” and the rest of things is a starting point of Mind.

So, the stakes are high. Mind is where Red is Red — the color, and not neural firings or a particular wave frequency. My dislike of broccoli is the shudder I feel when I taste it (not a bunch of chemical reactions in my mouth) and my commitment to avoid eating it. The stakes are high because Mind is where, in today’s world, the things we Perceive, Live With, and Use are simply what we say and experience them to be. They are Not Really or Primarily something else. They are Not Scientific Objects and Laws; they are Human Cultural Objects and Our Reasoning about them. These two Perspectives — science and the rest of culture — display, for us, what is most reasonable to think of as two different “Levels” of “Emergent Reality”.

The “hard sciences” have done a bang-up job of describing our world and ourselves in terms of the Causal Relations of Objects not directly apparent to us in our ordinary lives. But, science is itself a part of the Larger Cultural Context where children are Socialized to speak language, accept Roles in society, and consider and reconsider (Reflect Upon and Justify) both themselves and other Persons within the various ways we interact. Science “pictures and gives us reasons” to believe in its hidden but real world. The rest of Our Culture and Society “pictures and gives us reasons” to raise persons to do many things, including be scientists, and to believe “the world” to be many ways and many different things. The latter — Culture and Society — are Mind, and the former — Science (it’s doing and findings) — is both Logically and Chronologically dependent on Mind, on the rest of Culture and Society.

And speaking of ‘stakes’, if you are savoring the taste of a juicy steak, that unadulterated enjoyment is in the realm of mind. If you are learning Geometry, that form of logical discussion and demonstration is Mind. If you are apologizing to your wife in a heart-felt or even deceitful way, both those are still Mind; you have other mindful motives and details around your apology to buttress it and to give it its appropriate and unique context. If you are trying to understand the meaning of this post, that is Mind, not causation. If you are explaining why you support Donald Trump, you do not say “…because I am not an educated person and I am a White American who feels insecure”, that is a dismissal of your Mindful Belief of Support, a dismissal in terms of causes. You instead say, “Because he will make America great again!”

Mind is as real as Baseball. We play baseball because we enjoy it, understand its rules, and relish its skillful execution and rivalry. It ‘rises above’ mere Causation. See physicist Sean Carroll’s short and excellent article “Free Will is as Real as Baseball” for a supporting position.

Mind is what makes life worth living, or even why life may feel so bleak. Matter and Science give us an account of the physical conditions of existence but adds no salt or pepper to it. Physics can, in principle, explain all the movement in the universe including ‘our own’, but it is only Mind that Represents This or Adds the Perspective that includes a rich array of Quality and Value to this movement.

Heck, from our point of view, Mind is what ‘connects the dots’ that even puts “us” — as persons with feelings and reasons — in the universe, let alone makes it seem interesting in relation to all our other concerns. For physics and chemistry, “we” are a collection of molecules driven by its relation to every other molecule in the vicinity, or some indiscernible relation to The Universe as one massive and timeless quantum wave. For physics and chemistry you and I don’t really exist in any clear way. We are dissolved into the massive background of universal causation.

Reality according to Physics. Where am I? Where is the Baseball Game? (image thanks to National Geographic)

What “Transcends” matter and is “Immaterial” in its larger organizational character is our Human Societies and Cultures. This is what Mind is; it is the participation of individuals in these encompassing social and cultural units. Mind is our Representational Facilities like language, art, craft, politics, religion and science that each culture has developed and carries forth. Mind is our society and each of us Functioning in its terms.

This is Mind, or what we should now come to understand as Its More Limited Character. It is one Culture by comparison to another culture; or, on a smaller scale, one person’s perceptions and beliefs compared to another’s. But Mind is also an Ideal for us; it is the ideal of An Overall and Unqualified Correct Perspective. In this sense, Mind is like the idea of the perfect circle (which is Never made actual in our imperfect world), or the ideal chair (that “chair” that all worldly chairs are like); it Transcends all our individual beliefs (or instances) and brings us to seek Unity and Coordination among all lesser perspectives and objects. (More on “The Ideal” circle or chair, later.)

Science has progressed nobly toward this Ideal of The One-Overall-Correct Perspective. Unfortunately, it has had to strip out all the more complex Qualities of ourselves and our world to do so. Philosophy is science’s equally universal, but far more empathetic, “counter-weight” or Perspective. A good philosophical position seeks an overview that includes the most complex Qualities and Abilities that we ‘see’ in ourselves and our world.

This is why we should accept Mind as real and important, and understand it as Our Human Cultures and The Goals they have come to seek. The Philosophical Position I am trying to advocate supports itself, and all our rational and representational efforts — including the doing of science itself — by presenting Evidence and Reasons as real things. Ironically, in the universe Science tries to show us, “evidence” and “reasons” don’ t exist. “Mind” is real because it is where and how we do all the things we ordinarily love and hate to do. If we take the Scientific View as our starting point, we need to say, “Mind is the Emergent Reality, for us.”

Democracy is a Worthy Goal. It exists as a part of Mind, that is, Our Society and Culture which is not depicted in the Representations of Science. Persons are as Real as Atoms!
The Equality and Rights of All Persons has also been a Goal Worthy of Attaining and still being striven for. Equally, not a part of the scientific world view!

MAKING MEANING HAS SORT OF A MAGICAL FEEL TO IT.. Matter is a stern Task Master; we pay our bill to it constantly, and finally it takes our tole. In the meantime, We Try to Make Sense of It All, hopefully having some Fun doing so (drawing by Marty).


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