Strange Talk in “PLAIN TALK” Series: Infinite and Finite Minds!

Russian Cubo Futurism: “The Knife Grinder” by Kazimir Malevich (1913).

Well, my metaphysical speculations hit a high point in The Details Revised post. Many readers will be happy to hear that ‘my thirst has been quenched’ and we can return to more mundane topics. But first (!), I need to think about what was there said. After all, “Strange Talk” should be made “PLAIN TALK” for that series, or at least what best can be done.

I write this follow-up as much for myself as anyone. Our MetaPhysical situation has always been a strange one, so to write a recap of my position for “clarity’s sake” is as necessary as it may be unattainable. Here goes.

Poet Bill Blake was ‘out of this world’ with talents! “God Blessing the Seventh Day” pen and watercolor from 1805. He created his own mythology.

The Infinite Mind

Well, surely this gets me off to the wrong start, the odds are against me “making sense” of an “infinite mind.” Yet, Physics does have a traditional place for this idea! Physicist Sean Carroll* makes this clear in his use of Simone Pierre Laplace’s famous thought experiment ‘commonly’ known as “Laplace’s Demon.” Laplace knew Newton’s Theories better than Newton himself, contends Carroll, because he was born a generation after Newton and studied and thought thoroughly and solely in the Newtonian tradition. The French thought of Laplace as “France’s Newton” and he contended that this Newtonian Point of View assumed a Grand Intelligence that existed outside of the universe and ‘gazed’ at it knowingly and dispassionately.

“The Demon” was able to know the position and the velocity of all the particles of the universe at any single instant. That indeed was an infinite capacity that yielded an infinite payoff: Knowledge of the particle’s positions For All Time, past and future! And moreso, as if that was necessary, this knowledge rendered the Idea of Time irrelevant. Since all was known at once to this Infinite Intelligence, Time was really not a basic part of it. So, No Time, and Everything Worth Knowing about these participles was known at that instant to this “Mind.” It was a Complete Determinism, and if you should happen to feel that The Future existed, it was all locked in and nothing was new about it! Many of his commentators (physicists and philosophers), then and now, thought it frightening and so the infinite intelligence became known as “Laplace’s Demon.”

“Bombbardamento Aero” by Tullio Crali (1932). Futurist Art often has a focus on a bleak future.

It is worth noting that our access to this exulted Perspective occurs only through Mathematics. Though the mathematical relations were not all that complex in Newton’ s time, they surely represented a New Paradigm and a reframing of the old problem of motion both in the “heavens” and here at home. Today, some highly abstract and very complicated math is almost entirely the means to our understanding of the modern physic’s world. “Picturing it” in our normal everyday categories does not work, it is contended.

Physics does take seriously the universe it presents us (and so do I), and often also acknowledges its Paradoxical Character. Carroll makes clear to us that even among physicists there is great disagreement about how to think about, especially, the Quantum Mechanical Theory that they all agree is “accurate” or “true.” Carroll says his favorite is The Multiple Universe Proposal, that Q-Mech works because there are…?

But even for the classical Newtonian Mechanics, its implications were controversial. Laplace’s Demon was a product of that theory’s implications extended beyond our planet and Solar System to the universe at large. Carroll tells us that there never was, nor will there ever be, a mind capable of knowing enough information about the particles of the entire universe, at one moment, and also having the computational power necessary to analyze it. That if we think of that mind as a computer, it would “have to be a computer as big as the universe itself”, he says!

The value of “Laplace’s Demon” was always the point it made “in principle” about our metaphysical situation. Physics has shown us something “true” about the universe that is very disruptive to much of what we also want to believe is “true”. So, don’t blame only me for my “strange talk” and lack of clarity!

A Finite Mind

A Mars Rover, Designed to function largely on its own in carrying out its mission so far from Earth. It is a Finite Mind, in a certain sense.

But if we play along with this idea of The Infinite Mind and The Universe it presents to us, we then have an interesting contrast that can clarify Our Predicament as “Finite Minds.” What might be our limitations, for surely they exist?

If that expansive mind understood the universe as sub-atomic particles and a quantum wave, then A More Limited Mind such as Ours “sees it and understands it” in a more limited yet still effective way. Why would it still be effective? Why not totally illusion?

…..It Is Still A Perspective

The Finite Mind would still be a perspective on the world, but a more limited one. It is, therefore, grounded and not just illusion. It has a limited scope and is not universal in its purview. It is “an innocuous-seeming but secretly profound idea that there are many ways of talking about the world, each of which captures a different aspect of the underlying whole”, writes Carroll.* It does not have the capacities of the Infinite Mind to absorb all the data and process it, so it must Economize and Rationalize. As a Limited Perspective it must only respond to some things as “stimuli” and not to others, and those are what we call “The Information” that is pertinent to it (contends philosopher Dan Dennett). Limitation is the ability to be automatically Selective! And surprisingly, that becomes A Very Good Thing because Why Should We Be Only Interested In The Most Universal Perspective On Things?

These young ladies are clearly not interested in The Most Universal Perspective on this pizza. Not only are they unconcerned with its atomic structure, but they probably are unconcerned with whether you or I (or Julia Childs) would find it as enjoyable. They like it!

…..It Is From A Different Position

No longer would a Mind have the entire universe As Its Object and therefore ‘stand’ outside the universe to understand it and view it all. A Finite Mind is within the Universe and is, therefore, a Participant in it. First, this means it has more limited Objects apparent to its limited Point of View. Second, a finite mind also has Larger Things of which it is a part. It must function in both of these contexts. Ultimately, the largest context is that of the physic’s world, but there may be other mediate contexts. Persons function in their own ways, but also in the ways of all Biological Creatures, and then finally as physical objects of chemistry and physics. For the Finite Mind to be Effective and therefore Real, it must maintain a variety of compatibilities.

There is even the possibility that from a redefined Religious and Moral Perspective a Finite Mind participates in these larger structures. Morality is our participation in, what I have called, The Human Social Organism. Humans are a herd species by design. This is true not only biologically but culturally. “Persons” are formed in a society and are intrinsically connected to other persons even if they are directly removed from their immediate company.

Religion can be our sense of our intrinsic connection to the universe and to reality itself. As much as we modern, secular, educated individuals have learned to appreciate (and dread) our own irrelevance and insignificance to “things” in the broadest sense, it is not completely true! To think and feel ourselves as irrelevant is to, once again, fall prey to confusion. We are not removed from ‘the world’ and gazing at it dispassionately, we are participants in it and full of passions and poignant with a sense of the direction to go and of activity worth accomplishing. This can be our new found religious sense!

…..It Creates A Phenomenal World

The World as It Exists to Physics is not immediately Apparent or Understood to a Finite Mind. Atoms, sub-atomic particles, quantum waves are hidden to it by Perceptions of its own. Things Look Different to us!

Finite Minds have a perspective appropriate to themselves, Their Phenomenal World. “Allegory of Air” by Jan van Kessel (1661). Kessel married into the Bruegel family and carried on many of its remarkable traditions in painting. No atoms or quantum behavior seen here!

Our scope as minds is limited by Our Size and Our Duration, not to mention geographic and historical traditions. Atoms and particles behave far quicker than we do and are much smaller. Finite Minds live in worlds with “Objects of Their Own.” We are well aware of our world of Macroscopic Objects, but also consider that of the paramecium. It is in most directly Designed to be aware of its other little competitors, consumers, and food stuffs; when a bulldozer covers over its wooded wetland to prepare for a new housing flat, it will only very indirectly and obliquely have a sense of that monstrous machine and the consequences of it. A Finite Mind has a “Phenomenal World” composed of the objects it is immediately aware of, and surrounded by, in its own terms. In biology, this has been referred to as “the Umwelt” (the self-centered world) of a plant or animal by biologist Jakob von Uexkull in the early 20th century and later adopted into Communication Theory.

…..It Is a Designed Object

But living things are not the only objects we can think of as having a phenomenal world. Computers are designed with great sophistication today. They play winning chess against chess masters and write music in the vein of Bach and Beethoven, and can more competently ‘understand’ language. If a computer attains the point of “seeming” to have sufficient Personality, then will it be a Person? That seems like a totally redundant question. I mean, how do you you known that I am not a computer? I sure seem to be a Person, but am I really?

Image of “Hal” the almost totally cooperative shipmate in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 Space Oddessy”, until he wasn’t! He spoke a lot more like a Person, than he looked!!!

But to defer the answer to that question, the broader issue is the similarity of a Finite Mind and Any Designed Object. We design and make many functional objects. Each is given its own Limited Perspective of ‘the world.’ Each uses that to Function appropriately and to have a Structure organized to do that. Hell, even my door lock carries out its function rather well! But in the terms of physics, my door lock, and myself, have no particular or significant individuality in the great causal background presented to us by that science.

But clearly, here we are. We are a ‘seeming’ whose reality seems hard to deny. If we are to accept the significance of an Infinite Mind, as physic’s would suggest, then therefore we should accept ourselves as more limited Minds with a world and a mode of operation worth regarding.

For Finite Minds, there is more than One Way to ‘see’ The World!
More of Bill Blake at the! Ya, gotta love it; Sex in the Middle of a Flower! Life is as good as fiction.

Logo by Marty

PLAIN TALK: The Details revised; How Mind and Matter Cooperate by “DESIGN”!

Rene Descartes was no slouch at math or philosophy. He thought the Mind interacted with the Brain through this gland. That was a mistake, but they do interact through a process almost as peculiar!

(Published in PLAIN TALK only. This Post ‘goes along ways’, A Must Read! My sister read The Initial Version and gave it a harsh negative review. Wow, my own sister! She said it wasn’t well organized or “clear” or “plain.” So I reread it and could see what she meant. I’ve reworked it and here it is. Please keep in “Mind,” writing philosophy is not like writing an IKEA manual. Being crystal clear and totally understandable is not necessarily its goal. Being suggestive and provocative could be the best it achieves for some readers and for some parts of it, at least initially. Philosophy is about challenging some of our regular intuitions. For example, THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN FREEDOM is here given an attempted solution! This is one of the most ambitious posts I have ever written, please give it a go. Thanks for trying! Thanks, Sis!)

A Brief Recap

Matter: sometimes we just heat it up and pound it into place! (

“Mind” is an incredibly vague term. So, figuring out what it means to us will be difficult. We often contrast it to Brain, and that is a much more exact term. Maybe we should just use “brain” instead of “mind”? In that context we say things like, “I’ve lost my mind” or “I have made up my mind,” but “brain” does not quite fit as easily. My brain is clearly lodged between my ears; there is no “losing” it. My brain is a physical thing and it is not clear that I control it, so it is hard to say how I could “make it up.” Maybe my “mind” really does control my brain or at least some important parts of it. But then, where is the mind?

Plato’s archetypal chair has finally been realized! Can’t wait to try it. Will it be “ideal”?

“Mind” is often contrasted to “Matter.” “Matter” is almost an equally vague term in common use and seems to represent ‘the resistance of the world’ to us. The world as “hard-hearted,” the material that Mind must struggle to form. I think it is true, humans rarely swerve the course of atoms, or bend the quantum wave, but we have many ways to manipulate matter. Why, lets just heat it up and pound it into shape on an anvil.

The work of scientists has firmed up this idea of the mindless: Matter is anything that takes up space and has mass. In the previous posts in this series on “Mind and Brain,” I have given some examples of how traditionally “Mind” was contended to be rather ethereal in contrast. The Mind ‘contains’ Ideas, we say, and Plato had an idea ‘behind’ or ‘above’ all our even most common things, like the ideal archetype of all “chairs.” Also, “purposes” and “goals” were equally not matter; they are the “point of” or “design of” physical things like my lawnmower.

The “purpose” or “design” of my mower is Not one of its physical parts. It is the organization of them all.

I eventually contended that all these Abstractions — ‘immaterial things’ like ideas, purposes, designs — could best be thought of as Relative To some society of people and their way of life. Each Society has a Perspective on the world.

This is a handy solution, in some ways, because Societies and their Cultures are, themselves, “put together” in particular ways. It is, as if, designs beget designs. We have Ancient Greek society, Medieval society and our Modern Western. The Iroquois had a matriarchal society and built and designed their “longhouse” in coordination with it. Each society has their own artifacts which include their language, their forms of art, government, religion and practical implements like housing, chairs and my mower. All these are Designs and make up that society’s “Forms of Cooperation Between Mind and Matter”; their forms of designing and making. More over, each society makes its own kind of Person and human beings are a representation of a long line of Living Things.

Some times we might wish that the Representations of Ourselves in our environment might be, in some ways, more pleasing. “The Burbs”
The Booth House, built in 1915 by Frank Loyd Wright. In Erie Pennsylvania, overlooking Lake Erie, sold for under $2 million in 2017. But for many, many people in this world The Booth House would not be necessary. For them, “The Burbs” would be heavenly enough!

In fact, the most basic contribution of Mind is the creation of a Perspective and The Making of Representations to Reflect it in the world of matter. Human Societies have filled ‘the world’ with Representations of Ourselves, making it, not just ‘the’ world, but also “our world!” I have argued that even Science gives us a representation of “the world” and not “the world as it exists in itself.” I will argue that that phrase, “the world in itself” is a confusion and we would do well without it. Before humans, other living things got the ball of Representation rolling. All living things exist in a world as represented to them and our planet is now The Living Planet. I think that is fair to say. Let’s get to The Details.

IMAGE OF A LIVING PLANET (original source of image unknown)

The Devil is in The Details

Let me now, shortly and plainly, try to describe Mind: what it is and how it can be effective (Real) without pushing around atoms, in most situations, but surely manipulating Matter in many others. The answer will not be totally surprising, because we are “Starting Out In the Middle” with Living Things. We all “know” that Life is a curious mixture of give and take!

Tiny hair-like cilia respond to “signals”. They are involved in a cell’s or primitive animal’s Meaningful behavior.

Living things are, at least, rudimentary Minds. By this I mean, they exhibit some form of Experience and Design. Many biologists will object even at this very early point. They will say something like, there is no evidence that protozoans or even ants have any kind of “internal life” or “perspective” on themselves or events. Neither of these creatures even possess a neuron. And as for “design” in nature, at best it is only “apparent,” it is usually argued.

A signal is a physical thing with a Meaning.

The response: When a protozoan retracts a part of its body from a noxious material, that is mind. It has responded in terms of its self-interest and self-preservation. Philosophically it is legitimate to regard that self-sustaining response as the most primitive form of Representation. It is not yet saying “Ouch” but it is on its way. When the creature is even slightly more complex, it’s response to some local irritant is even more obviously mind. The locally irritated cells send a signal through its body to some central authority, that evaluates it, returns with a signal to various other parts in the body (say cilia) and they all work in coordination to ‘row’ away from the threat. “A signal”, “a central authority”, “ evaluation”, the “coordination” of distant parts, and “threat”, all are terms of Mind; each word conveys more than a physical occurrence. A signal, for example, is a physical occurrence with Meaning.

It is not yet saying “Ouch” but it is on its way.


Let me clarify, quickly. The above response to toxicity is Both Mind and Causation (Matter) at the same time. To us, humans, the abilities of this protozoan Appear and are Of Interest To Us, and can be analyzed into their causes: the chemistry and physics of it. But from a broader perspective, the perspective of The Universe in terms of its physics, that little creature is non-existent. It is not a significant local event of any unusual interest. It Appears to Our Mind. It is of interest due only to Our Perspective; the protozoan Dis-Appears to the perspective of universe’s massive causal background. Strange to think, that we can trace “Our World” back into causes but we cannot go from a world of only causal interactions (pictured below) and derive Our World, the World as it Appears to Us!

NO PROTOZOAN REACTING TO A TOXIC SUBSTANCE EXISTS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF PHYSICS, nor do humans and any of our societies exist. The above image of reality is an extremely different perspective!

Remember, Mind is simply the having of some Point of View, a Perspective, and that is most reasonably understood today as our best modern ideas that we hold about ourselves and universe. “Mind” is the reality of our Society and our current best efforts at Self-Reflection. Mind is our ability to create Representations of ‘ourselves’ and ‘the world’. There is “a leap” going from Matter to Mind. It involves a very different way of talking than the terms of matter.

Mind as Design

A Series of Connected and Related DESIGNS. Humans are way out on the right top edge most closely related to Plant, Fungi and, of course, all other Animals.

Then, is “Design” apparent or real? Design has been a favorite topic here at The Nature Religion Connection, and rightly so because it is a good and modern way to understand Mind. That biologists should object to the use of the term “design” about non-human animals, is very problematic. After all, we socialized humans design things all the time, including biological experiments. How could we be that exceptional? We design in a very self-conscious and deliberate way, but it is my contention that the precursor of deliberate and conscious designing is automatic and almost unconscious designing. Mother Nature has created and naturally selected an entire set of closely related Designs. We call it “The Tree of Life.”

One noisy little bird, and constantly active: The Wren. One of Nature’s great Designs.

Just the other day I watched a Wren struggle to fit a long stick into the smaller hole that was the opening to a bird house in my yard. It was designing its nest. It was hard for me to imagine that it was not somewhat conscious of its dilemma. It approached its problem in much the same way I would. It eventually succeeded. It got the stick in. It was apparently conscious, just as I am apparently conscious to myself and others.

So, maybe, Real Consciousness is beside the point! Maybe “apparent” consciousness is as good as Real consciousness. I mean, after all, we have defined Mind as “a point of view”. Real Consciousness is then the appearance of perspective in our way of living. As I said in the previous post, Our Mind is where things are what they seem to be. Was that wren “really” conscious? It appeared to me to have some perspective. It seemed to be, therefore it was!

“apparent” consciousness is as good as Real consciousness.


We need to draw a line somewhere. So, OK, the wren had a smidgen of awareness. What of an earthworm? A very rudimentary ‘perspective’, we might say. The biggest problem then comes with ourselves. And the conclusion should be,“If we seem to have a point of view then we have one! I have already gladly conceded that Mind is not another kind of physical thing, it is an organization of things that serves a function. That function is having a particular perspective of the world as parts, as coming to something beyond themselves. It is a way of ‘seeing’ things together and leading to ‘something.’. Therefore, the appearance of Perspective is itself a perspective; it is Mind. Rene Descarte takes his revenge: “I think therefore I am.” he contended.

( Mind is ) having a particular perspective of the world as parts, as coming to something beyond themselves.


The “hard” sciences pride themselves in having taken the Purposes and Meanings out of Reality. They are perfectly objective, they believe! The problem is that when they think they have done this they leave themselves “high and dry,” with no support: they cannot explain how they ‘sought’ this knowledge or ‘defend it reasonably.’

A Finite Object and Its Environment

For example, every object we design “seems” to be given “a point of view” by us. That is called “its Purpose”, and for it to meet that Goal, we know that it cannot be concerned with, or aware of, everything. After all, it is a Finite object with Finite abilities; it has to economize and rationalize. It must “focus” on a limited number of things, and link itself with “its environment.” It’s parts must be in the same terms as that of its environment. But do not get carried away here, “The Environment” does not have to be that of only physics or even chemistry. There are many more Finite Environments than those; finite environments for Finite, Limited, Creatures.

Finite Environments work real well for Finite Creatures! A Carolina Wren in “its nest in the wild,” but not in its nest in terms of physics.

There are nautical environments were fins, rudders and hulls are all about water. Aeronautical environments where the wings of birds, airplanes, helicopters and whirly-gigs (the seeds of maple trees) are Ideal for “air”. And it is important to add that by “air” and “water”, I do Not mean some subtle combination of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases, nor do I mean the very particular bonding of two hydrogen’s to one oxygen. “Air” and “water”, in their Phenomenal Forms, have been Functioning with and for living things, and changing “life”, long before any socialized human animal eventually “found” or “invented” the chemical elements. Finite Environments are as real and effective as are the more universal ones, even if “suffering” from more limited scope.

Mind only Appears to be True, but from Our Perspective that is Enough !

This is a difficult topic. The point above comes to, I believe, that Evolution –in the broadest sense — gives us the best model to understand this relationship between finite and more universal environments. Each are contexts defined in their own terms that “fit in” or are “adaptations” to the broader or more general contexts ‘around’ them. A squirrel lives in a deciduous forest in the northern climactic zone on the planet Earth: All these are contexts or designs fitting into each other like nested bowls.

A Pyramid Structure: the broadest context on bottom, the most specific is on top but still compatible with that below. In our situation, the Physics Universe is broadest followed by chemistry, then (maybe) biology and at top with the most limited scope is The World of Our Human Interpersonal Society. (pictured categories are not pertinent to our current discussion, they were a curious accident when I Googled “Pyramid Structures”)

When living things first evolved from the slime, it is not that they “learned” or “discovered” how to manipulate the physical elements of chemistry or physics around them or even in them (swerve the course of atoms). But it sure “appears” to us that they did. The fins of fish worked in water, but not in “water” as chemically known H2O. The wings of birds worked in air, not some subtle mixture of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. We must keep our Levels of Things, and Categories, straight!

I am confident that further mechanism on the road from non-life to life will be discovered. Life will probably be recreated in a laboratory, someday; still, Levels of Events and Things will still be apparent to us. Physics will make further advances in understanding all things as related to quantum events and sub-atomic particles, yet Persons will still operate on our own terms and hopefully learn to treat each other with more and more respect.

So, the phenomenal events of life mean nothing new in the broadest sense, but they mean something new to us and for us as we look back; that is why they have “a unique appearance”. What Emerged at that point was a coordination of the physical elements already there, that was a new context significant for itself and for the contexts that may evolve based upon it and after it. Newly evolved and Naturally Selected Contexts do not change what was there before them, but they do reveal what could Possibly Evolve from them. They are new ways of “seeing” how things may fit together. As the philosophers say, they are “The Elbow Room” we need to be the new and complex things we appear to be. (Dan Dennett and the amiable old Alfred North Whitehead both used this term, “elbow room.”)

The appearance of new things from old contexts.

Mind as Freedom

At the level of individual designed objects, Mind is the reality of Information and Freedom.

A Designed Object can be Caused “Rightly or Wrongly”, in a manner of speaking. When that object Functions properly, it is utilizing the information in its environment and its own bodily structure to accomplish its purpose. When that occurs we can say, “It has behaved freely and done what it is supposed to do.” “Information” is a Cause that is within the design parameters. Our object was made to “handle” that type of causal factor. In that sense, my lawnmower does a great job; it mows my lawn well. If it were conscious of itself, I’m sure it would feel free and self-fulfilled (I know I would if I were it!).

A Designed Object can be Caused “Rightly or Wrongly”,…When that object Functions properly,we can say, “It has behaved freely and done what it is supposed to do.”

This aqueduct bridge has stood for over a thousand years in France, and only recently closed to auto traffic. It has functioned well. The Arch is a remarkable design, free to stand under incredible pressures.
This is the kind of causal factor nothing is designed to handle well.

But there are many causes that are not within a designed object’s parameters. This is that object being caused “wrongly”, we can say. If I distractedly step off a curb and get blind-sided by a car, I am not behaving “freely”. I am the victim of a tragic accident. If I absent-mindedly push my lawnmower over a large rocket, that mower will not function appropriately. Its blade will be damaged and it may never again function as well. The blade hitting the rock was not a causal factor within the design function of the mower. If we talked about mowers in terms of freedom, it would not have been ‘free’ in that situation.


From the point of view of physics, each of these events — “my death as the absent-minded pedestrian” and “my mower’s damage”– may have always been predictable, destined to happen, but they were not predictable from my more limited, finite, point of view. Quantum events and sub-atomic particles are invisible from our everyday perspective as Persons, and largely irrelevant to them in those terms. That physics imagines a universal and infinite perspective from which to regard the world is useful to us, but also unattainable in any way but “in principle.” We are finite intelligences, not an infinite one.

Photo of the CERN Accelerator: One of the few everyday contexts in which highly acculturated Persons ‘swerve the course of an atom.’ In most other contexts Matter is far more accessible to us.

In many situations, Mind does very well in adjusting to matter, very well in learning to cope with it, and even molding it into forms useful to us. This is Mind’s role in relation to all the more limited and finite environments that make up ‘the meat and potatoes’ of our normal lives. Mind is our Society, its History and its Coordinated Action and all that it has accomplished through these Representations. In these, Mind has discovered its boundaries with Matter and is constantly working at these compromises. This is Mind in its most profitable modern interpretation. It is when we set Mind over beside our most abstract modern representations of the external world, that we ‘see’ Mind as The Limited Perspective that it is. A perspective that we cannot escape and should be glad not to.

For THE LOVE OF PIZZA, It’s Good to be A FINITE CREATURE! Enjoying pizza is Not in the terms of atoms or the experience an infinite mind.
SMOKE’N HOT here at THE CONNECTION. Making Meaning is like Dancing on Flames of Fire. (Drawing by Marty)

PLAIN TALK: The Philosophical Issues Hidden Before Our Eyes

Your Favorite Philosopher?

I’ve tried and, yes, I have failed. I have been unable to convey to others the issues and their significance as I see them. In recent conversations, and in the my daily statistics, I sense the fatigue setting in. A hearty band of readers have given me a chance and ‘the product’ has not sold.

Will I give up? I lay in bed the other morning and I told my trusty wife that I had no ambition to leave it. Of course, she laughed. I spoke to my trusty neighbor, Ray, and he confided to me that “no, he had not read recently. Too much like a lecture. Over my head.” My brother, Mark, “honestly, Greg, I don’t understand much of it.” And finally, this incident:

We were FaceTiming our four year old granddaughter, her mom —my step-daughter— and our son in law. He confided that he had been reading one of The Meaning of Life posts recently, but couldn’t get through it. He said, “I don’t have a degree in philosophy,” to explain his inability. My step-daughter quickly responded, “Neither does Greg.”

Dan Dennett, my favorite contemporary philosopher. Teaches at Tufts U. Previous picture was the enigmatic Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Now I do realize there are several ways to take this. I laughed, and said “That’s true.” But I did wonder, Why am I out here on this limb? I am no trained and certified philosopher. Why am I Trying To Explain This? Maybe there is Nothing to explain. Maybe there is nothing to offer! After all, Who is your Favorite Philosopher? You don’t have one? No shit! What do professional philosopher’s do? Are they like this little family that is inbreeding, just for the sake of making a few more philosophers, to fill a few more cushy university jobs?

But, I do feel that philosophy has something important to offer. And, I have no philosophical reputation or job on the line. For me, it’s been a persistent hobby, an avocation and not a vocation. I can say what I believe and hope, and what my readings and studies have led me too. No threatening ramifications, only that I may not be read or understood. Which is, largely, where I am.

John Dewey is a good one. Not only important as a philosopher, but was a noted reformer of Education.

So, what do I do? I ANNOUNCE A NEW POST SERIES: “PLAIN TALK: Philosophical Issues Hidden Right Before Your Eyes! It’s goal will be to Introduce Issues of Curiosity to wet and stimulate The Imagination. Issues of philo significance in ordinary life and talk. I will Not try to solve them, as I have done in previous post series, just point in a direction to their solution. That may avoid some of the bog.

And I should say, not all philosophers have avoided ‘the fray.’ Dan Dennett has written books arguing against the existence of God, promoting Evolution, and even opening philosophical problems to common scrutiny —his book “Intuition Pumps.”

So, here I go again; trying to make ‘it’ transparent.

FIRST TOPIC: Why do we talk about both Brains and Minds? A Brain is that grey matter between your ears, but What The Hell is “A Mind?” Let’s try to point out why both these ‘things’ are real, like we seem to believe they are! That would be A Philosophical Issue Hidden Right Before Our Eyes!

Another on of my favorites. His Science and The Modern World is a classic. Great intro to how Science, as we take it today, is a one-sided view. (From As I look at these photos, It occurs to me how philosophy is too much for the white man!
Hannah Arendt: the most famous woman philosopher I know of. Hung out with that French crowd: Sartre, Camus… Been a while since I read her The Human Condition.

See the following: “Why do we talk about Both Minds and Brains?” in PLAIN TALK: Philo Issues Hidden Right Before Our Eyes.

STILL DANCING TO AVOID THE FLAMES! The Nature Religion Connection. (Drawing by Marty!)

PLAIN TALK: Why Are There Both Brains and Minds?

THE BRAIN: What Is It Good For?

“Brain” or “Mind”? Wouldn’t just one do the trick? Isn’t this redundant? We know the Brain exists, but what the hell is your ‘mind’? Where is my mind? Oh yes, I know, “I’ve lost it,” But certainly that doesn’t mean, I’ve lost my brain. All the time, we talk of both Brain and Mind, but why?

Norman Bates has “lost his Mind!” “Psycho” (1960)

We say, “Make up your mind”, but never “Make up your brain.” Do we ever say, “My mind has a disease?” Well, we do think of Mental Illnesses and even believe that Talking to someone may help it. What kind of real disease is cured by talking? But we do not say, “I have a mind ache; I need some aspirin.”

So what is the point of these two words and how do we use them? Are they ‘pointing’ to some ‘deeper’ issue? Is it a philosophical problem, right before our eyes? Could it really be ‘deep’?

Some ancient cultures thought “thought” occurred in The Heart, but Now We Know That Feeling Originates In The Heart! Yes! Very sweet! (thanks to

Mind-talk goes back a lot further than brain-talk, though this post will not become a history lesson. An early and prominent belief by the Egyptians and Greeks was that The Heart was the site where thinking occurred. That is the ancient source of our phrase “to know (something) by heart.” For Aristotle, the brain was for cooling the blood, and because humans had bigger brains, they were not as “hot blooded” and thus more in control of their behavior than other animals. “Mind” for the Greek philosophers was close to what they called “Logos”, which was something like a transcendent logic or order or pattern that the ordinary things and events in our world aspired to emulate.

The Brain started to be understood as controlling behavior when early ‘doctors’ observed battlefield injuries to the head that resulted in aberrant movements in other parts of the body. The first anatomists, like Galen during the Roman Empire, discovered nerves running from the brain to muscles and organs throughout the body of animals. They thought of these as tubes or pipes carrying fluid (hydraulics) or air (pneumatics) to expand and contract the muscles, causing movement.

One of the early and most influential thinkers in this area was the French mathematician, philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes. He connected the Greek view with that of the anatomists. Mind existed and so did the working brain and they were connected through the Pineal Gland in the brain. The immaterial and transcendent realm —which took up no space or time — was in this way connected to our material and earthly realm. For a long time anatomists did not know what this gland did; Descartes hypothesized it did this extra-ordinary job!

Hey, maybe it doesn’t connect The Immaterial World to The Material World, but it does help regulate Sleep!

Why did Rene go to these great lengths? Well, he liked the idea of the body as a hydraulic machine, but he didn’t see how the push and pull of fluid (or air) pressure could Explain logical thinking in mathematics or his own self-awareness. After all, he did invent coordinate geometry and during a war with Russia, as a young, cold and lonely soldier (so the story goes), he curled up inside an abandoned stove to stay warm and thought that the only sure proof of his existence was his self-awareness at any moment. Thus, his famous argument based on self-awareness: “I think, therefore I am.”

So let’s get to today, and to the point. Descartes is right in thinking that something like hydraulic-caused motions in the brain could not be An Explanation of the character and logic of mathematical thinking. The two are just too different. “You cannot get blood out of a turnip”, it is said. And that position remains true today even when we now know that Neurons are firing due to electrical charge. The things — neurons, electrical charges, and thoughts — are too different to have one thoroughly account for the other. We understand “causation” and “an explanation” most clearly when the cause and the the effect are very close to the same kind of thing, like one billiard ball colliding with another explains the latter’s movement. That is a Clear case of explanation. Neural firing ‘explaining’ geometric theorems, is not! The one may accompany the other, but logical mathematical thought is Really its Own Kind of ‘Thing’.

This is “red” as a color, as it appears to us!
Here red is shown “to be” an electro-mag wave frequency of around 700 nanometers.

Let us expand this line of thought. It is not only “thought” and “self-awareness” that seem hard to explain mechanically, how about the simple experience of seeing “Red”? We are told that “Red is an electromagnetic wave frequency of 650 nm.” But is it really? Seeing red is associated with that frequency but ‘redness’, in itself, is not ‘electromagnetic-ness’ —so to speak; it is a color. It has A Unique Quality that is more effectively contrasted to other Colors, like green and blue, and we have talked, used and experienced “color” in this basic way long before we knew of electromagnetism. When my little grand daughter says, “pink is my favorite color”, she does not mean some wave frequency!

This is what Mind is, as opposed to the Brain. The “Mind” adds something new to ‘The Physical’. The Mind is how the physical is “taken by us”. Electro-m frequency 650 nm is Experienced As “red” or “rouge” or “rojo”. This then adds to the ‘realm of mind’, Language and it’s societal variations and “meaningfulness” is a product of Mind, not of Brain. The Mind is The Having of a Particular Point of View — French, Spanish, Medieval Western, Ancient Egyptian, Modern Western, Islamic ways of living. It is ‘a take on things’, as seeing ‘red’ is Our Representation of the electro-m frequency of 650. The Mind makes “Representations Of” the occurrences in life. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Occurrences of Life do Not ‘strike us’ all in the same way. Different Cultures and different Times have different “takes”. And interestingly, we all kind of know this, but are unclear of its implications. And the implication is, Mind” is real and important; it is different than “brain”.

“Mind” is our faculty of Representation. Here, Joan Miro is in the act of depicting The Occurrence Of Life!

The Brain, it adds nothing new. The brain’s activity is one more additional set of physical events — though admittedly an increasingly complex set that is hooked into a long line of causes that, really, can be said to originate with The Big Bang. It is a rather vulgar simplification, but still essentially true: this chain of causes is like a long line of billiard balls, one hitting another, hitting three more, and so on, and so on, and so on, to today, to us. For this Point of View, things are a collection of billiard balls (atoms) that have electrical charges, that are forms of electromagnetism that electrically stimulate visual receptors that electrically stimulate neurons…that send an electric signal to the muscles of the vocal cords, tongue, mouth and lungs and ‘sound’ is emitted. In this context, if we then say, “It is red” or “C’est rouge” and think of the experience of red as color, we are making a mistake. We are Not being consistent! What comes out of our mouths, in the physical terms we have been using, is not words that have meaning, but sound waves with varying frequency, volumes and speeds; in other words, more physical stuff! Only what we have traditionally called “The Mind” ‘takes’ the physical and hears and sees and understands it as ‘words’ with ‘meanings’ and an ‘experience’ that they are ‘about’. “I see red”, we say and we mean it!

This is The Brain, just one more set of (complex) dominoes, in a long line of dominoes. It adds nothing new to life, in a Qualitative Sense. In contrast to physical qualities, subjective qualities are Quite Different!

So, we need both these concepts, Brain and Mind, because we have two widely different sets of objects and experiences that we have traditionally classified in these two different ways. And the stakes are large because on the Mind side of this spectrum lies our supposed ability to be Free and Responsible. But, I have not really been very clear about what ‘The Mind’ might be. If it is not The Brain, then what the heck could it be? I do Not want to make it too mysterious. I don’t believe it is God, or even Immaterial. So?

I think it best to stop here for now. I believe we have opened up A Philosophical Issue that is In Plain Sight and Significant. In the following PLAIN TALK post, we will discuss “Mind” as understood historically and what I believe is our best shot at understanding it sensibly now.

DEPICTING THE CONNECTION! Thanks Marty. DOES THIS POST HELP, Joelie? Is it comprehensible?

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).


PLAIN TALK: Revising Our Ideas to Bring Mind Back to Earth as Our Culture

(This is the third post in in the PLAIN TALK series on Mind and Brain. In the previous posts Mind was contended to be Our Society, Culture and Its History. In this post, some of the traditional mystified language used to describe Mind will be revised into language more suitable to today. TRYING TO KEEP IT PLAIN. I hope I didn’t stray too far in post two! Persons are as Real as atoms. )

Let us get to the some of the details of how Mind can be de-mystified and brought back from its immaterial, even Spiritual, Other-Worldly Realm and return it to our participation in Our Society and Culture. This is the modern way to think of Mind.

Revising Our Ideas

An early idea of Transcendence and the creation of new abilities and creatures. ‘God’ as a non-physical ‘person’. God Creating the Birds of the Sky and the Fishes of the Seas, painting by Maerten de Vos (1600) — nice looking fish!

Mind as “non-physical”, as “immaterial and transcendent” becomes Not some kind of place and not a “Spiritual Substance” that rivals “Material Substance”, but the reality that certain qualities and abilities seem to present themselves in only certain situations and appear to us to be more than, qualitatively different than, what was previously perceived to be present. Mind is certain “Emergent” properties and even objects that appear to exist not only beyond the physical, but other baseline contexts. Mind, in this way, is “Original and Creative”; these new qualities and objects simply “appear”. They have a uniqueness and context of their own. They may be associated with some physical events, and especially increasingly complex physical events, but they are not clearly explained in those terms. The status and limitations of this term —Emergence— will be discussed later in this post, but first some examples of it.

Examples of “Emergence”

The qualities and abilities of Life from Non-Life are an obvious case of emergence. We know very well the physical components of life: “CHNOPS” — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. Yet mixed together in very remarkable circumstances new qualities and abilities seem to appear. Living things reproduce, repair, modulate themselves. Even the development of simple living things like protists and bacteria into creatures with an organization of three trillion cells and the ability to visit the moon rightly seems miraculous. Multicellularity may be as remarkable as life itself.

One of the most amazing additions attributed to living things is what we call “Experience”. Non-living things lack experience, though we now have some speculative cases of highly sophisticated computers talking, playing great chess and even having self-interest. In the previous “Mind and Brain” post I called experience “the having of a perspective”, “a point of view” and even “making a representation”. These all seem to us to be Emergent Abilities not present in the non-living.

The “Redness” of red. Red as ‘the experience’ of a “color”.

A standard example is our experience of red. The ‘redness’ of red, its color, is traditionally spoken of, and “known”, in relation to other colors. “Color” is a consistent language of its own that we use to characterize and operate in a wide area of our lives. Color forms “a kind of its own”, we say; it is “a different experience” than that of the electromagnetic wave lengths science has discovered or the activity of neurons color can be associated with in the brain.

Pain is similar to color in many of those ways. It is Our Representation of many kinds of situations, but I think it also fair to say that my dog, Nika, feels pain without having many of the other ‘Thoughts or Words” we would have when in pain. I might think, “I am injured” or “I am sick” or “I should not have eaten that large pizza all by myself!” or “I may die!”, but I do not believe Nika does. Her experience of pain is even less articulate than ours; less connected in her awareness to any broader aspects of her life and its prospects.

Having an Experience may no longer be confined to Living Things. Complex artificial circuitry may some day replicate the neural circuitry of the brain and experience may be achieved if a computer is Given Ample Cultural Context within to work. “Hal”, the soft-spoken computer, rebelling against his commanders in 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubric.

It is important to note the idea of “a kind of its own”, and the particular vocabulary with which we speak and act in reference to that kind of thing. “Living things” are “a kind of thing unique unto themselves”. We speak of them as forming a particular context, highlighted by all sorts of “agency” terms where animals and plants have “needs”, “wants”, and even “reasons” for what they do. “Color” is also that kind of context “for us” and it is full of The Information we need to operate successfully using the terms of “color”. The terms we use in connection to”life” are a “road map” of Information to guide our behavior and experience in this area.

The Lawn Mower defense of the Transcendent. A thing that Functions has an Idea behind its parts and their organization. That Idea is what gets the job done through its realization in the parts.

Another example of an Emergent Property is the Purpose of a thing. Things that work are very Mind-like. Anything that functions (my lawn mower) has parts that work together to accomplish that goal, but that goal (cutting grass) and the arrangement of those parts (that Design) is Not one of those parts itself! The parts are The Real Physical Things (four wheels, a blade, a motor, a handle), but Their Purpose and their Design (how they are put together) is Not a real physical thing, it is the arrangement of them; it is “The Idea” ‘behind’ all the functioning parts, or maybe we should say, ‘above’ them. The function or ‘the point of it’, Transcends it (my mower), ‘transcends’ all its particular parts and is a unity of them. In this way, it is more Ideal than Real, we might say. Nowhere can you point at it and say, “There, right there (in front of that back wheel) is “The Meaning-of-It-All Part”, or The Purpose Part of any functioning object!” “Functions”, “purposes”, “goals” are Not as Obvious as the physical pieces that work to “carry them out”! Thus we can think in terms of a “Mind” versus “Matter” distinction, and understand that the goals of things, their purposes and the idea behind them “transcend” them. They are an Emergent aspect of the more concrete object we are trying to understand or use.

There are other such examples of Emergence (if you need them, otherwise go the next section).

The Transcendent Laws of Circularity: D=2r. A good example of what occurs with the help of neurons but not in the vocabulary of neurons. Geometry is its own kind of thing, with a logic in its own terms.

We think it ‘rather common’ (or some might say, “a convenience”) that our concepts of things are as Abstract as they are, but our early ancestral thinkers marveled at these abstractions. For example, Plato, and his fellow Greeks –like Pythagoras– knew very well the mathematical definition of Circularity, and could see for themselves that no potter, wheel-maker or artist ever achieved it in reality. It was an Ideal, from its Greek root,”eidos” meaning “form”, and toward which every one of these crafts-persons strove. They wanted to achieve the ideal circle in one of their products, but also the early Greek mathematicians explored this idea and developed a unique set of terms and discovered the Lawful Relations that constitute Circularity.

Has Plato’s Ideal “chair” finally been created in Reality? I do believe so. Can’t wait to try it!

Plato also considered more common things like “a seat” or “a chair”. Maybe we should be more impressed by these Abstractions, as he was. Around my house, I count about ten sets of objects that could be Classified as “seat”: two rather different couches, a “love” seat, an over-stuffed arm chair, dining room chairs, kitchen stools, folding chairs in the closet, deck chairs …, but nowhere do I, nor did Plato, see the Prototypical Seat, the Grand Archetype of them all, or The Rules that distinguish a seat from a non-seat. It is in the Realm of Ideas, concluded Plato. For us, “chair” is a very human abstraction but it can, in general, point us in the direction of all our various Abstract Abilities To Represent to ourselves the Occurrences of Life. Those are what we call “Mind”.

Plato, like modern scientists, believes we only see “images”or “shadows” of what is Real. His famous “Analogy of the Cave”. (original source of cartoon unknown,

These Abstract Concepts and our other Representational Practices, like Language, Math, Science, Art, Politics, challenge the traditional scientific context. We can view these abilities as another instance of Emergence and a further development of Mind. Animals, and even plants —as designed and functional objects — have Mind to a limited degree, an incipient Mind. They “do” complex things, and not everything seems to just happen to them; they have some control. But, they are not aware they do them. Our children are somewhat similar, but Not for long. Socialized and responsible adults participate fully in the way of life of their society and culture. They are normally “held” to be fully responsible and mindful. They need to have Reasons for themselves and be ready to discuss them.

“Emergence” is Jargon

“Emergence” is a term of philosophical art representing our awareness that not all things should be spoken of, and interacted with, under the same set of terms. The living and the non-living; a plant and an animal; selfishness and morality; feeling and thought; a person and a thing; the practical and the theoretical; art and science: All have vocabularies of their own that are seemingly incompatible with the very things we, in our modern western society, contrast them to. “Mind” is a term that is not jargon and is frequently used and commonly accepted. It seems to Represent our intuition that emergence is not only real but that there is a way to bring all these contrasts into an order and live with them. That is what our society and its culture provides, a “road map” through this thicket. But Mind is also our intuition that we keep changing, and often based on these very contrasts. In these posts, I hope to convince you of a more satisfactory organization of these contrasts that preserves the idea and practice of Mind as the emergent phenomena we call Human Society and Culture and its History. It is our primary reality.

(Tomorrow’s post will describe how we try out new things, and we have a dynamic relationship between individual Persons and their society and culture. New things do happen and new things (qualities and abilities) do appear—“Emerge”. Reality should be spoken of as occurring at different levels!)



PLAIN TALK, Mind and Brain—We Try Out New Things: The Private and the Public

(In “Revising Our Ideas: Mind is Culture”, the Abstract concepts and purposes that are a part of any society became the basis for our belief in Mind. “Emergent” properties and objects “appear” to that society and seem extraordinary. Often, we are right to “see” them (literally) and acknowledge there significance. But our individual beliefs are often and appropriately a matter of Public discussion. It is one of our greatest Values, that our Abstract Beliefs are open to public ratification. Unfortunately too many of us believe that since I believe it and feel it, it must be true. THESE ARE PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES! 4th post in PLAIN TALK series.)

ADVANCES IN SOCIALIZATION: The Invention of the Modern Classroom. Ya gotta love a good caveperson joke! (thanks to CARTOONSTOCK)

This is what Mind is. The Culture of each Society has Historically arrived at its Abstract Terms and trains it’s members in their application. This is one of the modern ways to think of “Mind”. Mind is more like “a way of life” and this has been an important idea in philosophy but recently reestablished by Wittgenstein.

“Mind” is a collectivity of Brains that are socialized to speak a particular language and function together in a particular society. They form “a higher level” object –“society” — that is “emergent”. It is “more than the sum of its parts”; parts taken as individual humans outside of any culture or socialization. Therefore, this new higher level unit possesses new abilities and an environment appropriate to it. Its individual members are now “Persons”.

ANCIENT SPARTA:”They were not as close to their children as other Greek women…but a mother had pride in her son’s stature as a courageous and strong soldier. “Come home with your shield or upon it”, they told their sons.(from

The Greeks had their way of life that accomplished many ends and worked well for them in many ways. It was quite different than ours, especially in their approach to nature. They “saw” person-like gods and forces behind natural events.

We no longer believe in that, and have taken the personalities out of much of nature. Today, many of us think nature, in its most abstract and basic form, lacks purposes, feelings, goals, reasons, responsibility or even beauty as inherent to it. It is a contention of our popular, secular and science-based philosophy that these qualities are added to it by ourselves and thus “secondary”. It is only in our operation of ourselves –as minds — that we still rely of these Agency Terms. We think of everyday as having a goal and filled with purposes and the reasons we do things. Curiously, even though physicists and chemists or neuro-scientists will think about the world they discover as lacking Agency, as Persons and decision-making Scientists, they operate by those Ideals.

“Flaps down. We are beginning our approach to runway 3C, over.”

It is to “Mind” that we commonly attribute the added qualities and abilities to the “material world” as presented to us by science. But even here, in Nature and especially “Life”, we feel Agency and Mind has its roots. The flight of a bird, from the bird’s perspective —we might say, is a process of Function and Design (and thus mind-like) and involving the use of Information. Like the pilot of an aircraft, the bird ‘reads’ and adjusts to winds, light, precipitation, speed and terrain. That we look at Biological Nature and “see” this chronicle of Growing Abilities in its creatures is what philosopher Dan Dennett calls “a deep fact”, the kind of fact “to build a theory on.” This deep fact is the support we need to explain our own enhanced abilities. This “deep fact” is not explicitly recognized for its philosophical implications by the science of biology, even though the purposes and functions they analyze in living things are their initial and obvious data.

Edsel Ford thought he had some great ideas. He differed from his father, Henry, in his support of the arts, philanthropy, and left-wing political causes, but his line of autos did not do so well. The “Edsel” lasted three “model” years: ‘58, ‘59, ‘60. It did not sell!

As socialized humans, we become aware of the ideas, purposes, goals in different things and experiences, and the logic that inheres in those vocabularies of color words, geometry terms, aeronautical terms, “persons” etc. We begin to Explicitly acknowledge these unique vocabularies and actions, and begin to explore and develop them. But just because you or I may be aware of something or have an opinion, that is not enough. Self-Aware Individuality is an important and powerful new quality and ability that Persons have, but Culture and Society still has powerful input.

The Private and The Public

Our Brain is a private and individual physical thing; it is just, and only, that thing between your ears or mine. Our Mind is both Private and Individual, but also Public and Social! Socially, even for a private and individual decision such as disliking broccoli, we still say to our kids, “Try it again; it’s especially good in quiche” or “It will grow on you.” Even “I see red” will be questioned if the rest of us are seeing purple. “Is it the light or the angle that is causing the difference?” we say, or “Is he color blind?, we ask.

So, when you say “I have made up my mind”, you are acknowledging your ownership of this decision but also acknowledging your participation in our society. You are prepared to give Reasons to Justify it. Many of our decisions are simply let go as that, as “up to us”. Liking broccoli is one of those, but vegetarianism is somewhat similar and often strenuously and publicly advocated.

Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy arrested in Birmingham, Alabama. Their vision of Equality for all unfortunately still has a way to go.

Individual claims can sometimes overcome public objections. This is a prominent factor in Cultural Change and History. The above examples were of individuals being overridden in there contentions due to the scrutiny of others, the public. The ‘visions’ of an individual can succeed over public objection, too. Elvis’s music eventually was accepted. Dr. King’s vision of equality has made great progress. Picasso’s art is now accepted by all sophisticated viewers. Copernicus’ celestial theory.

“Perry Mason” publicly debunked the claims of many a witness. Their contentions were revealed to be false through his skillful cross-examination.

When someone says, “I killed him in self-defense”, our tendency to allow a Self-Pronunciation to pass as sufficient is not tolerated. The police will question them; they may end up in court: “Prove it!”, “Was his feeling of being in danger justified?” Now, if the accused can convince us of the legitimacy of that claim by giving us other circumstances Of That Same Kind, then we may, and the police may, let it go as self-defense. “He was my business partner and wanted it all for himself”, “He had threatened me before”, all these kind of statements buttress the validity of the self-report.

Maybe the best cases of Mind and the variability of perception are in illusions that can be “taken” either way. Ancient people stood and looked out at the horizon of the ocean and saw a flat line. Today, we go to the beach and most of us say, “I can see the earth curving” as we look out, but it is we who are mistaken. I’ve tried this on my friends. I have brought a carpenters level and held it up to the horizon: The curvature is too minute to be visible, yet they interpret the visual data in this way: “I see it curving.” (Gee, aren’t I fun at the beach!)

Below are some examples demonstrating the fluidity of interpretation.

The famous Duck-Rabbit illusion. Perspective is real and a powerful metaphysical force.
Shifting points of view are the basis for all the individual objects we understand in Nature.

CONCLUSION: Both quantum waves and free and responsible persons are real. It all depends on how you are “looking at ‘the world'”. When something is New, it is a new way of Organizing Things, a new way of considering how to experience things together. Science blurs most of life into one Giant Washed-Out Background of Lawfulness. Mind, as Human Individuals in Cultures, focuses on the Information relevant to a particular point of view that is as much ‘in’ the atoms of the world as the duck and the rabbit are in the lines of that famous illusion. “Nature” has accommodated us, and our cultures and histories, in being that rife with Possibility for us. We are right to think their are many levels of events to be seen, understood, and experienced within it.

(The final post in this series will feature the grandest clash of Mind and Matter. Can Mind push around Matter? Sneak preview, the answer is No! But still I believe in Mind and the power of the Reflection of Persons and their Cultures! “Stay tuned, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!)

“Da, da, da, da….Da, da, da, da, Batman!” And Robin, “The Boy Wonder!”
Logo by Marty

PLAIN TALK: Does Mind Push Around Atoms?

(This is the fifth post on Mind and Brain in the PLAIN TALK series. The earlier posts established the strange ways we talk about Mind and the different way we consider our Brain. But Mind has been mystified in its early history, and —really— with some good reasons that ‘we’ now overlook. Mind makes all the difference by comparison to matter. It is “Our Perspective” on things and the immediacy of our concerns. In this post, Matter, as the brain and beyond, makes its comeback and sets a stringent bottom line to Life and Mind.)

Throwing the curve ball. Can “Mind” bend the course of atoms? (image from

Mind is Our Culture and Society and Its History. Science is a vital part of our current culture. It has taken on the role of unrelenting analyst. The Atomic Relations of the world are the reductive residue created by scientific effort from our cultural objects as data. Now, are these atoms “created” or “found”? In the end, I will argue both are true. After all, Mind is our ability to make Representations, and apparently better and better ones. Science is an important representation of ‘the world’. It is, also, a human cultural creation.

We Do Not (Normally) Push Around Atoms, Though We Do Push Around Chairs

The unrelenting analysis of “the occurrences of life” has displayed to us a solid bottom line. The world as Physics and Chemistry is a stern task-master and we understand this in our lives in many ways. Resources are limited, complex organization is hard to find, entropy builds even if you do get something going. The Egyptian pyramids wear away; you and I die. Maybe American Democracy is falling apart, right now, under the pressure of a pandemic, bad leadership and a flagging economy. Material events do limit us, and often do so significantly. It seems that “Mind” is not able to dictate neural patterns in our brain nor swerve the course of atoms.

We rightly do not think of this “chair” as “atoms”. As atoms, this chair loses its individual identity.

Talk of “atoms” is a way we represent some aspects of ‘the world’. It is important to be clear in what contexts this “view of the world” is appropriate.

In my dining room, when I pull in my chair to eat, that chair is not atoms. I am not moving atoms by moving my chair. Nor is the food that I will eat atoms, or my feeling and evaluation that that food tastes “Good!” —as it almost always does at my house. None of these should be thought of as atoms. Of course, they usually are not, and that is appropriate. Our everyday cultural milieu allows ‘chairs’ to be chairs and ‘food’ to look and smell and taste like food should. Additionally, “me” at that table, I am not atoms. I am a Person in that context and when I compliment the cook, I hope they take it personally with, what we call, “a sense of pride and satisfaction.” Also, when I “make love” to my wife, atoms should be the least of my interests.

But there are some other, rather attenuated, ‘everyday contexts’ in which “atom-talk and action” are appropriate. At the CERN Laboratory in Switzerland, persons who are scientists adopt the the talk of atoms and have learned to create, with the use of high technology, environments where atoms Appear and Behave. In hospitals and medical labs, radiation of various kinds are studied and used to understand and cure cancers. These too utilize the perspective of scientific analysis and high tech equipment to alter our everyday environment and bring it in contact with the world as understood as atomic. After all, that is what the atomic bomb is all about! These “levels”, the everyday macro-level and the atomic level, do interact, but in a controlled and limited way.

Mind at the borderline of the macro and atomic levels. The “Fat Man” atom bomb.

At the CERN and in these hospitals, it is fair to say That Mind Does Control Matter. Mind and Matter each need to be given their due within their appropriate “logical space”. When scientists and engineers create atomic circumstances, they do so as parts of our modern society and culture. “Mindfully” they Design and Organize contexts where new things occur. They swerve the course of atomic and sub-atomic particles, though I do not when I pull in my chair in my dining room. Someday, science and technology may advance to the point of Brain Reading Machines, and even equipment to alter the firing on neurons.

I offer two other contexts in which it is appropriate to talk of a notable interaction taking place between the levels. In Contemplation and Decision, I think we can appropriately understand an interaction. Our society is Designed to have many Decision Points throughout each day, each hour. This design has been Sanctioned and Successful; it has been Naturally Selected, after all, if it weren’t how could we be as successful as we are?

At each decision point, I think it fair to characterize the situation as “waiting for input” or “waiting for things to fit together.” The decision-maker pauses, and her “mind” is “running the problem” as basically characterized by her and the social setting: “I am choosing my outfit for the day.” Something “clicks”, a “light comes on”, an “idea comes bubbling up” into consideration and is approved. We acknowledge this blind spot, a hidden moment of intervention . “My decision” is made and my understanding and introspection of it has rightly been limited and comes to an end. From the macroscopic level, I made that decision, and I can only describe it in terms of its own and will defend it in those terms also. I am fine with that; I am free and responsible for it.

In Promises, each party takes the other to be Free and Responsible for it abidance. A promise is at the level of persons. A brain injury would be the intrusion of a “lower level occurrence” into the grounds of “The Promise”.

The second and last context to be considered is Death and Dying. Here we see, experience and understand the dissolution of organization and its active “Functioning”. I have had close contact with a major death four times: my parents, my trusty dog Nika, and an elderly neighbor. Peculiar how, in the latter case, I found her sitting on her couch, in front of her television as I had seen her so many times before. This time cold (literally), grey, statue-like. It was not evident from her expression that any pain had wracked her and her body showed no sign of outward trauma. She just sat there, all the parts seemingly in place but no longer “working”.

Death and Freedom

This very brief consideration of death has re-enforced in my mind the close relation of the concepts of “experience” and “function”. Any kind of functioning that involves some kind of constant or persistent movement of parts has “experience”. Well, almost.

And, our Idea of Freedom is really quite constrained. It is, as if, we have already discovered the reasonable boundaries of “Mind” and “matter”. Most of us do not hope to levitate ourselves, or have ‘psychic powers’ to read the brain (mind?) of others, or even have a “flying carpet”, or live forever; now, some of us merely wish to freely make any decision and be Responsible for it. What do we control about ourselves, really? Must we be like the ancient Gods (the gods that some believe in still) to have any freedom at all? Our idea of Mind is closely aligned with our idea of freedom. It seems we have a real conflict between our various representations of our “selves” and our universe. Yet, I will argue for a very interesting compatibility between Mind and Brain, Mind and Matter.

The interaction of quantum particles. In very specialized circumstances, Persons as scientist and engineers do control the appearance and behavior of these forces. “Mind” can swerve the course of atoms! (thanks to The York Festival of Ideas for the image)

Starting in The Middle

Starting with the world as shown in Physics or Chemistry is not an ideal place to start. In the terms of these sciences, there is no such thing as mind or human culture or life. From the point of view of theoretical physics, an object is not discernible as alive or dead! Philosopher Dan Dennett has commented upon the lengths to which prominent contemporary theorists are going in their efforts to ‘explain’ consciousness and experience. Physicist Roger Penrose is speculating about unique quantum occurrences in the microtubes of neurons. Philosopher Galen Strawson has turned back to the idea of Pan-Psychism, that reality — at its most basic level — has a psychic element to it.

THE NEURON CELL: Do Unique Kinds of Quantum Events Occur Within Them?

I will follow Dennett in contending we need not go to those lengths. In the middle of these issues of “consciousness” and “experience” we have the science of Biology with its keystone, Evolution, and our experience of living creatures. The concept of an organism starts our self-reflection down the road to the idea of “A Designed Object”.

Today, we design and build many things to accomplish many goals. With our modern and fairly sophisticated Common Sense, we can be satisfied to understand, and experience, Goals, Purposes and Designs (an organization that is inherent to its parts) existing in the Biosphere and Human Society. The power of “design” and “organization” should not shock us today.

An Astronaut and the lunar lander, “Eagle”: Two Well Designed Objects.

So, I will start in the middle with the the origin of life and work outward toward the universe as presented to us in physics on one side, and our cultural experience as modern-day persons on the other. As already noted, to start with the objects of physics and chemistry as The Most Real is to already beg the question of “Mind”.

We “know” we are persons with responsibilities and commitments, with purposes to fulfill and goals to try to achieve, with experiences that we have — some private, some public. We know we participate “Mindfully” in these (for if we didn’t we would be said to have “lost our mind” and our social status would be seriously down graded). We know these things Not Scientifically, but Practically. It is The Way We Operate everyday as Persons. In philosophical terms, we would call this Phenomenological Knowledge, not scientific knowledge. It is a description of how we are (the phenomenon) and a defense of its character.

“Flaps down, landing approach initiated!” Our Practical Know-How is endorsed by the Evolutionary Process. It has been Naturally Selected for its effectiveness in reality.

A good example of this Practical Knowledge is our ability to use a language. We really have very little scientific knowledge of how this happens. We do not “know that” (as if pointing) speaking a language involves these specific neurons, in these specific patterns, under these specific conditions, in these specific parts of a brain. All this would be Scientific Knowledge. We are more like a bird flying; we have “know-how”. We experience and actively participate within the use of language by understanding it in its own terms: its labels, concepts, grammar, contexts (its Pragmatics—as Persons participating in a joke, a reprimand, a lecture, a sales pitch). This is the Information of Language and we use it as a participant, just as a bird uses the Information of Flight to fly. To speak a language and to fly, each involves Our Participation in these Structures to Function. We, nor the bird, take an external (scientific) view of the process.

In the Virtuous Circle of Our Personhood, Our Goal is Agreement

I just criticized the “physics over all” position as begging the question of Mind. Ironically, my position assumes the reality of Our Mind, and so is Circular and marshals arguments in support of mind. What else could you Reasonably want? From the point of view of a reasoner, Reasons and reasoning are mindful activities; they are Not “really” causal events in the brain or some causal event even more obliquely related to the physics of the universe! The contrary position attempts to use good reasons to argue for the non-existence of reasons. It takes one set of representations as Un-Represented Reality, and then uses it to declare representation does not exist. That is self-refuting; my position is self-supporting. My position tries to give good reasons for the metaphysical and practical value of good reasons. Dennett has called this argument “a virtuous circle” as opposed to an uninformative or unproductive circular argument.

“To make sense of our lives”, we need to stay within the Virtuous Circle of Our Personhood. This is “Our Selves” as responsible social members in communication and interaction to create our way of life; a way of life much of which we should highly Value. Within this Circle, atoms don’t usually push us around, nor do we usually push them around; they are largely irrelevant. When we “pull in our chair at the table to eat”, that is not In The Terms of Atoms. But our modern and highly sophisticated Representations of “The Occurrences in Life” have created and found situations in which we “know that” ultraviolet wave lengths of light cause cancer, and situations (The Cern Accelerator) in which sub-atomic particles are controlled by us using the terms we take to be appropriate to them. So, in some highly specialized contexts, we do “swerve the course of an atom” and maybe someday we may be able to alter and control neural firings. We do these things For The Sake of Our Advancement — the Purposes we and our society of communicators and participants hold dear; hopefully the progressive trends in that will always be the case, though that is not assured.

League of German Girls dancing at Nazi Party Congress. It is not assured that our cultural institutions will always be used for what many of us, now, would call “The Good”.

Our social and cultural context as Persons is our primary reality. We create contexts that reveal to us the Potential, the Possibilities, available in the particles evolving from the Big Bang. In the Doing of science, religion, art, craft, morality, and philosophy, our goal is to agree with our fellow social and cultural companions. From this position in the middle, human agreement and coordinated action is our most valuable asset. Working within our cultural assets, true beliefs are the ones that most of us agree to.

The “Founding Fathers” of The United States. They had some very good Reasons and some we now wish would have been better. Our Self-Reflection today holds them to some higher standards than even their revolutionary ones! They “made” world history: will we, today, achieve anything of that magnitude? And yet, some of us criticize them for not being more than they were and clamor to pull down their statues.

Some other “Virtuous Circles”

The Nitrogen Cycle: once established tends to be self-perpetuating. Each part of this cycle functions in reference to the others.
A specialized component in the Virtuous Circle of Persons. Virtuous Circles are Self-Reflective in the continuation of their process.

THE KREBBS CYCLE: a self-catalyzing reaction used in the Respiration of each cell. It is at the borderline of life and non-life.

Post seven in this series on “Mind and Brain” will provide “The Details” of these contentions. Matter pushes us around, frequently, but it does so in terms highly appropriate to us: ”wind”, “rain”, “death”, “illness”, “injury”, “hunger”, and “ignorance”. But, Mind has its way with matter upon many occasion. Against the rain, we have raincoats. Against illness we have medicines and hospitals. The truly paradoxical situations are when all characteristics of us are drained from our representations, as in physics and chemistry. It is there that “Mind” stands over against “Matter” in its most startling manner.

(I am not satisfied with this post in several ways. Please allow it to be suggestive, as opposed to ‘air tight’. The following post will try to clarify and more consistently coordinate the distinction of Mind and Matter.)

Plato’s Ideal Chair finally Realized in Our Material World! I can’t wait to try it!