Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Origins of the Mind
Willem DeVries


Summary by Gabriel Dorfsman-Hopkins

Origins of the Mind

What is the mind? Before a discussion on the origin of the mind the following fundamental question must be answered. Perhaps the discussion of the origin and values of the mind begins with the definition of the mind. The mind is terribly difficult to define. This ‘thing,’ so familiar, so instrumental in our daily lives is so vague. How do we define it? Is it something that can be studied? Something with physical manifestations? However, we can only experience the mind from the first person perspective and cannot ‘look’ at the mind. On one side we cannot objectively investigate the mind, and we have trouble defining it and yet psychology as a discipline does precisely that. Perhaps it will be easier to just think about what has a mind.

So, what has a mind? Living things. Okay, any living thing? Complex living things. Okay, then how complex? We think that we can recognize what has a mind. Humans? A resounding yes. Higher mammals? Sure. Rocks? A resounding no. Plants? Probably not. An Amoeba? Doubtful. A duck? We cannot tell. Where do we draw the line? Without defining it we cannot see what else has it, yet we cannot define it. only being able to experience it from the first-person perspective.

This leads us to different people’s definitions of the mind. Aristotle defined three types of ‘souls’ (Psyché). The vegetative or nutritive soul, responsible for feeding, growing and reproducing. The animal perceptive and motive soul, which one perceives and moves; and the rational soul, which cognizes eternal truths, reasons, uses language, etc. These are three levels. They separate perception and movement from cognizance and decision-making. But again, from the third person perspective, all we can see is the movement. Even though we can interpret signs, which imply decision making, we cannot see decision-making.
Another modern definition of the mind:

The Sensory Capacities: Recognize pleasure and pain. Feel and react to the world. Have something like an inner life.
The Ratiocinative Capacities: Can make and recognize representations. Make decisions. Can plan ahead.

One thing that is interesting and distinct between these two capacities is their ability to make decisions. The ratiocinative capacities lead to the ability to make mistakes i.e. to judge incorrectly. Meanwhile the sensory capacities cannot. Senses are what they are. The question becomes, can we read them right?

So can we see if something has a mind? Does a mosquito have planning capacities? It seems to be able to find us, drink our blood, and that seems to require decision making, planning. But then again, it could be the instinctual following of CO2 patterns in the air which leads them to us. Mere instinct is not necessarily indicative of a mind. Bees can tell each other where food is; they can learn. Is this evidence of a mind?

But how can we tell that we are not just reacting instinctively to our environment. We feel like we recognize truths, plan ahead. But can we? Is it just an illusion? This leads us to the question of where the mind is. Is it in the brain? Is it elsewhere? Some “thinking stuff” disconnected from the body but running through it? Is it natural or supernatural? Is it an it? All of this thinking is subjective, and yet it is the mind that allows subjective thinking. It allows for judgments, and for mistakes.

There is evidence for the location of the mind being in the brain. If there is damage to the brain, it is damage to the body, because the brain controls the body. Damage to a certain area of the brain may, for example, with no other hindrances prevent recognition of a sensory input. Some guy could be the same as always, but his wife could be standing right in front of him, and he would not for the life of him recognize her. This is a problem of the mind. Still, it could be said that this is not the mind, but the brain. In this sense the brain is the tool of the mind, so while consciousness is elsewhere, it is filtered to the living world through the brain, and damage to the brain is damage to the mind’s tools. So we are back to square one. Is consciousness in the brain? Or elsewhere? There is no empirical set of tests to define if a body is something we have or something we are.

The world has an effect on the mind (cognitive system). The mind can think about how the world is. The mind can also have an effect on the world (conative system). The mind can think about how the world ought to be.

To study some of the aspects from the scientific side, let us take an approach to the mind called functionalism for a moment. Functionalism says that something is defined by what it does. It is defined by its task. Mostly everything in our body can be defined through functionalism, since our entire body has developed through evolution, which for the most part, develops functionally. An eye is defined by sight, etc. There are many functionally defined parts to the body.

Keeping that in mind, let us put consciousness to the test. Can it be functionally defined? Or is it “the something inside that does nothing at all” as it is put by the Gammians, who supposedly do not have it. Imagine the thought experiment called “inverted spectra.” You and someone else may look at something and both call it green, but that other person may see what you consider red. Different people may see completely different things for color, but call them the same, because they have learned from the community that something “that color” is green. So, to define the sight of color by the conscious mind functionally, well, we cannot, because there is no functional difference between these two people, even if they see completely different colors.

Taking that thought a step further, is it possible to imagine beings that are exactly like humans, and indistinguishable from humans, except for the fact that they are not conscious? Is this possible? Well, if these “zombies” as they are called are indistinguishable from humans, we couldn’t tell if they were conscious or not. In fact, they could be everywhere and a “conscious” human being could never tell. In fact, all a human has as proof of consciousness is for him or herself, and everyone else could be a zombie, or perhaps not? Perhaps it would be easy to tell, perhaps there is a certain something that makes having a ‘mind’ evident. But again, we can’t even define what a mind is. So are we all zombies? Am I the only conscious one? This thought experiment questions the functionality if not even the existence of consciousness. This being said, the mere fact that we think we can conceive them is not sufficient to justify the existence of these ‘zombies,’ but it is something to think about.

If there were a molecular duplicate of myself, would it be conscious? If there was a zombie that was a molecular duplicate of myself, then wouldn’t that prove one of two things? Either that consciousness is supernatural, or that it doesn’t exist? On top of that, if consciousness is not functional, how do we evolve to have it? Can we imagine