Apparently, things were getting a little loose in bars as the night went on. Imagine that! So here in Ohio, the Governor recently ordered all bars and restaurants to serve their last drinks (alcoholic) at 10pm and close their doors at 11. Bar owners were furious because 10pm to 1am is their most profitable hours. In the campus area, some of the worst offenses were taking place and some bars were issued citations by the health department. In Columbus we have The Ohio State University main campus, one of the largest single campuses in the nation. Some 50,000 students attend classes and live on campus or in the area. They can party, and they do get rowdy!
But who am I to talk?
Last Saturday night my wife and I were sitting around the house, as usual, drinking wine, as usual, and binge-watching some old TV series, as usual. She fell asleep on the couch and I continued to drink and watch and get increasingly board. Well, the feeling must have been mutual because at about 10:30, someone in the neighborhood began shooting off fireworks.
Fireworks in August is a fairly rare thing. I listened for a few moments and then realized, “What the hell!” I hustled up stairs and into the back of my closet, dug around, and found what was left of some “excitement” I had purchased maybe eight years prior. Nothing big or fancy, mostly just “bottle rockets” and a few strings of “lady fingers.” Soon I was in the back yard “enjoying myself,” I guess I can say, filling the air with very modest “pops” and fleeting trails of sparks. Actually, most of the rockets just fluttered to the ground a few feet from the launch and fizzled or popped among the flowers but causing only minimal damage to them, I hoped.
It did not take long until my wife appeared at the door and ‘sparking’ a bit herself demanded to know “What the hell are you doing?” As if it wasn’t obvious. I guess her question had a different sense to it. She stomped back into the house. I shot off a couple more and then returned to my my wine and television. That night she had me sleep alone. Well, as is often said, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Unfortunately, last week Ohio saw some of its worst disease days, in a way. Reported new cases in a day set record highs with 1500 and then 1700 with every day above a thousand. Fortunately, deaths have not increased proportionately, apparently because these cases are now appearing among more young people. In a small city in the east of the state, a nursing home was infected and has so far reported 11 deaths, 59 residents testing positive and 32 employees also! The Columbus Public School District has decided to start the year on-line and so have several others including my old district. The governor has issued a state-wide mask order and in the last several days new cases a day have fallen back below a thousand. Hopefully they will stay there.
Shocking to say, Florida is a state with almost twice the population (22million) of Ohio. They are beset with a horrible Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, who has constantly down played the virus and done little to slow it. While we were hitting 1500 cases a day, last month Florida topped out at 15,000 new cases one day, 10 times our number! Ohio’s Governor, Mike DeWine, is also a Republican but a moderate one and one not overly supportive of Mr. Trump. He has been one of the most active and decisive leaders in the nation in efforts to contain the virus. It just goes to show, not all Republicans are the same and I appreciate the few that are still moderate and decent public servants. Why, 4-5 decades ago, there were actually Liberal Republicans (!), like New York Governor (1959-73) Nelson Rockefeller who sought his party’s nomination of the presidency several times. Well, good luck to Ohio and good luck to Florida, but sometimes you can help make your own good fortune.
In a surprising turn of events, just yesterday Gov. DeWine tested positive for Corona by a “rapid results test” in the morning, announced the results making state and national news, and then by late evening got the results from a more accurate but slower kind of test that he did not have it. A further round of tests confirmed that he and his family and closest co-workers were fine. Apparently, social media lit up with reaction to the first part of the story. Many sited their belief in the ineffectiveness of masks, and on the other side, some declared that no one should return to work or school until rapid tests are available to all! Both those contentions turned out to be problematic. There are a lot of overly rapid (and very fervid) reactions to “virusy” things these days.
Be safe, and don’t let the boredom, jumpiness and wine distort your thinking! I, too, will try my best.
(Getting ‘deep’ again. I really don’t think it is too ponderous. Only about 25 paragraphs long! And its point is, our most important kind of knowledge is not science, it is our knowledge ofthe ways we Respectfully Participate in our society and the other societies we encounter. “Science” is no slouch, but it is not our primary way to be as social and cultural creatures.)
‘What the hell are we to do in this world?’ “Scientism” is an important topic because it ‘gets the ball rolling’ on this entire issue. “Scientism” is traditionally a criticism of the idea that science makes the basic contribution to this discussion. These believers in science think that science, “broadly viewed”, is the onlykind of knowledge we, thinking humans, really have.
Therefore, if we want to ‘get a handle on what our life is all about’ we should (and do) practice science (“broadly construed”). I will add that this belief in science — in a more demanding form — contends that onlythe professional sciences (“science narrowly viewed”) are knowledge of the world. I think the two views stand or fall together, and they are mistaken.
But, the term “Scientism” now has two uses. One, Coyne’s side, is “yes, science is the only true knowledge.” This is “scientism” in its good sense, he says. Two, “Scientism” as a pejorative term standing for the above as an overestimation of scientific knowledge. My view is the latter, we have another form of knowledge that is more important than science. It is this other form that is more basic and gets us on a better track to figure out our situation in this crazy world of ours, I believe!
Ironically, I will use organisms, biology, and developmental considerations to illustrate the problem with this overly ambitious estimation of science’s contributions. Biologist Coyne has constantly challenged his opponents to present one case of legitimate knowledge that is not science knowledge. He does that again in his post called “Boudry on scientism and ‘ways of knowing” (7/29/20) on his blog site whyevolutionistrue.com. Boudry is a philosopher who recently wrote an article similar to Coyne’s expansive pro-science position.
First, I do believe that the scientific view of the world is a remarkable and powerful perspective. Science has largely relieved us of the idea of gods (in any traditional sense) and angels, souls, fairies, nymphs, along with ‘places’ like heaven, hell, Valhalla and Nirvana. Science has made possible or facilitated all our remarkable new technology —computers, cell phones, rocket-ships, x-rays, etc.
Coyne calls this “science, broadly construed” and describes it as “the empirical method.” It is to “observe, hypothesize, and test.” Coyne is emphatic about the significance of his qualification, science, “in the broad sense.” It includes a plumber who is seeking to fix a leak. She observes the problem, speculates on its source and cause, then tests a solution and observes the result. This traditionally is thought to be a very piecemeal process, with observation being independent of speculation (‘just pure looking’ with no preconceptions) and testing as equally “stand alone” and thus attaining an “objective” result. Also, the process seems to be very conscious and self-conscious: ‘I will just look, I will then speculate, I will try out a solution.’
Observation—-Hypothesize—-Test: The Empirical Method
I will follow a very prominent school in philosophy that argues against “Empiricism” as an accurate understanding of how we “know.” My example of knowledge that is Not scientific is Our Knowledge of a Language.
We Do Not Learn a Language Empirically!
It is a miss-use of the term “observe” to say that a pre-linguistic child “observes” the world. Our use of the term “observation” usually signifies an experience too clearly demarcated, too specific to apply in this case. An infant lying on its back and kicking about its legs and waving its arms is just starting out on the road toward de-markation — marking off things in the world. Why, this child does not even distinguish itself from the external world! It’s own ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ are a mystery to it that are not being “observed” by it, but probably more accurately described as vague and fleeting aspects of a very vague experience. We should not confuse our perceptions as language users for that of the infant’s.
But the infant does experience some things with more clarity. It is very attuned to forms of its own comfort and discomfort. It needs to eat and desires to suckle. The comfort of eating and closeness to its mother are immediate to it. Faces have been shown to be unusually significant and attractive to their attention. And they do seem to crave human attention and nurturence. They are not “blank slates” when coming into the world but have inbuilt biological orientations and abilities. Language-learning and language-use is one of these abilities. It is a system of skills ready to be specified (French, English, Latin) and deployed.
It is equally misplaced to think of young language-learners creating hypotheses. After all, they have no language to frame such proposals. They are beingconditioned in the use of initial words, relying solely on imitation and reinforcement. “MaMa” is reinforced positively even when said ‘to’ the father, at first. Eventually, of course, its use is pared down more appropriately. It could be said the child tests, but we all recognize it is not responsible for or even aware of the test or it’s result. It is not something the child is “doing” in a straightforward way, but “doing” unconsciously and automatically in a biological sense. A child learns a language more like a young bird learns to fly, not a like a plumber fixing a leak. Infants and birds don’t observe, hypothesize, testwhen learning a language or learning flight.
A More Holistic Approach
If Empiricism is not the way to think of knowing a language, what is the alternative? It is a more holistic approach in which a system of skills and in-built structural features (inherent connections between the knower and its environment) “kick in”. They are practiced and then mastered. This transition from practice to mastery can be seen as a rather dramatic and even sudden event, somewhat of a “leap”, but there are “steps” to its acquisition so “gradualism” is not completely foregone. In language-learning, this is the burst of acquisition of words and sentence-use that is shown in the data for those early years and even months. Consider a young bird, how long does it take it to learn to fly rather well? Is it an afternoon, two days? It’s a skill built to be acquired quickly because the bird’s life depends on it.
This “holistic approach” to language acquisition and use, as a “system of interrelated skills,” is understanding language as “rule-guided behavior.” This kind of ‘action’ is really the basis of our lives as ‘Persons’, as much as, and even more so than, the physics and chemistry we also know is essential to our existence as physical objects. These two words are in scare quotes because they are new things, emerging at this level of events. Rule-guided action must be a level of design —a level of complexity— in addition to, but compatible with, the lawful behaviors displayed by those sciences.
When computers are designed to perform a task, a “competence model” for that task is formulated by the designers. It is the rules by which that behavior is preformed accurately by humans. Those rules are then built into the structure of the computer’s many layers of processing. It is how computers ‘understand’ words spoken to them or ‘decides’ on a winning chess move.
Importantly, Professor Coyne emphasizes science as our true method for “knowledge of the external world.” My point about our knowledge of language could then be taken, by contrast, to be knowledge of our internal world as language users, persons, and societal members. Rule-guided action is the basis for all Our Representational Endeavors. This includes not only language but also the universe as displayed to us in our science, art, morality, politics, the crafts and even religion (in a way).
Helen Keller Learns Language
The famous story of the experience of Helen Keller is often used to suggest Language-Learning is not an Empirical or piecemeal process. Keller’s progress was documented by her teacher Anne Sullivan and reprinted in Keller’s autobiography and retold on stage and screen in The Miracle Worker. Keller was, of course, a blind child with no hearing. At the age of seven (1887), she was very unruly and able to communicate only rudimentaly with several people through a small number of self-improvised gestures and noises. In her book she described her early experience as “at sea in a dense fog.”
It was then that Anne Sullivan was hired to live at the house and begin the training of Helen in behavior and sign language. She signed words with her fingers into the palm of Helen’s hand, constantly and repeatedly. “I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed,” Keller later wrote. “I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation.”
Within a month or two, Helen had her famous break through. One morning at the pump, cold water was spilling over her hand as Sullivan signed W-A-T-E-R into the palm of Helen’s other. Sullivan reports that it seemed…
“to startle her…she stood transfixed…she spelled “water” several times…Then dropped to the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled “teacher.” All the way back to the house she was highly exited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary. The next morning she got up like a radiant fairy. She flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness….Everything must have a name now.”
The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller; quoted from An Essay on Man by Ernst Cassirer
Helen had ‘stepped inside the world of language,’ we might say. She had caught on to its rule that all must have a name and soon would also quickly acquired its rules of grammar. She eventually learned to speak. She learned to joke and to persuade. In her life she went on to play a significant public role as advocate for the disabled, trade unions, suffrage and socialism.
Knowing and Learning: A different Model
This is the alternative model for learning. Human beings never start out, or continue, in an activity with an unbiased observation. This is expressed in the slogan, “all observation is theory laden.”
Socialization is training in the adoption of a society’s points of view. So,what is known and what is learned is first and foremostwhat has worked for and been of interest to that society. Knowledge is mastering those rule-governed behaviors, like language-use, hunting, farming, child-rearing, cooking, social etiquette.
Societies derive their perspectives by naturally selected modifications of our biologically inherited needs and outlooks. Alteration of these views, or”paradigms”— as they were called in the intellectual “uproar” surrounding this issue in the 1970’s and 80’s, is not the result of new observations, but new paradigms of thought and perspective that bring with them a shift in “the facts.” New facts may now be considered relevant, old facts may now be reinterpreted. An issue is re-framed; an old problem is restated in a new way.
What made Isaac Newton the genius he was was not some new observation; it was his revision of the statement of the problem. He tied together the Movement of The Planets with the falling of An Apple from its Tree. He decided that what needed to be explained was the change in motion. “Inertia” was his new concept that made all the difference: what is in motion will stay in motion, what is at rest will stay at rest. No longer will it be presumed that “the natural state” of all objects is rest. And interestingly, this truth of inertia is counter-intuitive, contrary to our everyday experience and observation! Here on earth, all moving objects tend to stop.
Some theorists (the Deconstructionists) argue that issues of social power play a significant role in our social knowledge structures, even if “rational” considerations are still in play. There is some truth to this, but I believe that “rational considerations” can still be seen to play an important role in the history of most societies and especially, hopefully. our own. Our social and cultural history is The Narrative of how we have gotten better and what prospects the future holds for us as a society; just as The Personal Narrative ofeach of us is the story of where they have come from, how we survived, and –hopefully– made the most of it. In each case, the logic of This Narrative Form contains values and a future where hope is the desideratum.
Science is the second most important form of knowledge. Our knowledge in Human Cultural Practices is primary to it. Our knowledge of Language, for example, is acquired and used in a context in which “observation, hypothesizing and testing” are thoroughly oriented toward language mastery. We Participate in the learning and use of Language; we do not stand apart from it to know it from The Outside! We do not “observe” it, or make independent speculations about it, or “test” it as if there was some other solution might be better. We get “inside” it and find out who we are and what the world is inherently in relation to us and from our social and cultural perspective.
So, if you want to figure out “What the hell life is all about?”, don’t stand off and study it “objectively.” Participatein as many of our cultural forms as possible: read some great novels; learn some science and history; experience some variety of religion, poetry and visual art; immerse yourself in being healthy in your family and interpersonal relations; work hard at a useful job. Then, taking as much of this into consideration as you can, weave it together and honestly construct a Narrative of your life and yourself that includes the way society should be for you –that “self” you have created– to prosper.Then, you will share that narrative with other persons, at various times and in various pieces. That is our “way of knowing” that is prior to and primary to our knowledge of “the external world.”
Reader Mark commented: “Ohio listens to money – seems to be true in most states.”
GWW: In my mind, it is not so muchthe $money$ that shocks me, though there was a lot, it is the audacity and the hypocrisy involved. See Householder campaign ad: “I am a Christian Conservative.” He is armed and ready to fight for his rights!, he tells us. His rights to what? Steal and cheat the Ohio people he is sworn to serve?
How did these men (all men, no women) think they were going to get away with it? Maybe I’m just out of the loop, maybe there is far more corruption than I realize, so that it is possible, and likely, to do this sh/# and get away with it.
Or is it that personalities like Householder (and Trump) don’t see things accurately, but just thru their own eyes thru which they can do no wrong and get all they want?
Thanks Mark for the comment. All comments welcomed!
On Tuesday 7/21, my wife and I were tuning into the Governor’s twice weekly Coronavirus update. We were surprised by an unusual face, that of U.S. Attorney Dave DeVillers. In an energetic and almost nervous style he was discussing “Company A” and it’s provision of funds to “Generation Now.” On the bottom of the screen I read, “Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder charged with corruption.” I laughed and clapped in surprise and amazement. What a suitable fall for a man so overblown with himself and his own high-jinx. See his infamous campaign add below.
Householder is a Republican, and here in Ohio you can say, “of course he is.” Republicans have Ohio state politics wrapped up. They hold every state-wide office and control the majority in both legislative houses. All they want to do is cut taxes, limit abortion, get re-elected, and expand gun rights.
For the last two decades they have achievedthis control through the ‘skillful’ drawing of voting districts. They play Ohio’s rural conservative voters off against our Democratic leaning big city populations. They isolate and concentrate Ohio Democrats in as few a districts as possible while assuring Republican majorities in most. It’s called “gerrymandering” and has been ruled unconstitutional and ordered corrected but not before the upcoming election. After all, Ohio does pretty much split 50/50 in all Presidential elections, and voted for Obama twice! Yet, Republicans have state politics in their pocket.
Householder is from a family farm in the area of Glenford, just east of Columbus. No one ever hears of Glenford and here is why: population 175 and has experienced a 30% decline in the past decade. He once quipped in response to “social distancing”, that from where he comes, people been “doing it all their lives.”
“Company A” is Akron, Ohio based “FirstEnergy.” They are a power company that serves customers in six states, from Ohio and to the east. They are ranked as about the U.S.’s 200th largest corporation by Fortune magazine with revenue of over $14.5 billion in 2016. They have two aging nuclear power plants in northern Ohio along Lake Erie. These plants are no longer profitable in this era of cheap natural gas and coal. FirstEnergy (now renamed Energy Harbor) threatened to close these plants costing Ohio 1,400 jobs, 15% of Ohio’s generated electricity, and loss of these non-carbon polluting energy sources. They approached Ohio legislators seeking relief. No one, yet, from this company has been charged with any crime, but the investigation is on-going. and “more charges will be forthcoming.”
It is not clear to me, from information so far released, how the initial contact and proposals started with “Team Househoder”, the name for The Speaker’s campaign group. In 2017, a social welfare non-profit named, “Generation Now“, was started by a “Team” member and began receiving the first payments from FirstEnergy. They came to total just over $60 million by time of the indictment. It is “the largest corruption and bribery case in the history of Ohio” said U.S. Attorney Devillers. He almost chuckled, it seemed, as he reviewed the scope and audacity of the scheme. A single hidden source channeling money to multiple dummy recipients and then on to Generation Now and “not a dime was spent on social welfare” the investigation so far has revealed, DeVillers claimed.
An exact account of all the spending is unclear. The 60 page indictment contends about $400,000 went to Householder personally and was used to pay off credit cards and make payments on two of the three homes (one in Florida) he owns. A significant portion was used to contribute to not only his own re-election but also the election of his personal supporters around the state who were pledged to support his speakership. This included attack ads against Democrats and unfriendly Republicans, and these possibly without knowledge or coordination of benefiting campaigns. The charges include racketeering and money laundering, with four accomplices to Householder so far indicted.
A vicious battle ensued around the state when the bail-out bill — called “House Bill 6” — was proposed, eventually passed and then challenged with a revoke by ballot petition. Stories circulated in the news that signature-gathers for the recall effort were being threatened, and some being bought off to quit and return to their out-of-state homes, return ticket provided. In the indictment it is reported that $450,000 dollars was used by Householder to hire 15 signature-gathering firms to not do anything! They were hired to not be hired by the pro-recall supporters!
Interestingly, the bail-out bill would cost “most Ohio residential users” 85 cents a month. Why, I drop $0.85 a month into the lining of my favorite couch, but state-wide and over a year it was estimated to come to around $170 million, plus there were some other beneficial strings attached to benefit FirstEnergy.
Such is politics in the O-H-I-O!
Happily, I can report that thus far our sitting Republican Governor, who I like, has not been shown to be involved. He is a Moderate Republican and a sincere public servant (it seems), and that is a dying breed worth appreciating, in my opinion. He has done very well in his Coronavirus efforts and attempted Gun Regulation following the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio —the home townof my wife and I!
Throw the Bums Out!
THIS IS A CHEER WE LIKE TO DO AT OUR FOOTBALL GAMES. Football (American style) is big in Ohio! “Go Buckeyes!”
(This is the fifth post onMind 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.)
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.
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.
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 “runningthe 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.
The second and last context to be considered is Death and Dying. Here we see, experience and understand the dissolution of organizationand 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.
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.
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.
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 NotScientifically, 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.
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 “avirtuous 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.
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.
Some other “Virtuous Circles”
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.)
(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!)
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”.
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.
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.
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 Brainis 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.
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.
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.
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 Possibilityfor 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!)
(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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 AbilitiesTo Represent to ourselves the Occurrences of Life. Those are what we call “Mind”.
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 adultsparticipate 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!)
ART OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: New Things Can Happen.
(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 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.
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 Mindis 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.)
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.
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 what makes lifeworth 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.
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. ButMind 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.”
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.”
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.
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!
See the following: “Why do we talk about Both Minds and Brains?” in PLAIN TALK: Philo Issues Hidden Right Before Our Eyes.
“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?
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’?
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 toemulate.
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!
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’.
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”.
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!
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.