Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Mind and its Place in Nature
Willem de Vries


Summary by Justin Ykema

The Origins of the Mind: Inconclusive Conclusions


D. Papineau “The causal closure of the physical and naturalism”
“Strange Behavior”

Part 1) Definition Problem
First we started with the mind.  What is the mind exactly?  What does it have that makes it unique and different from other objects?  When science was evolving, psychologists were involved in studying the mind.  It is actually a recent phenomenon to use science to study the mind.  The mind was first studied in psychology labs in the 1880s; until then psychology and philosophy were not clearly distinguished fields of study.  Then further study was done to decide what types of things actually have minds.  If these other organisms are found to have minds how complex must they be in order to have that mind? Can only complex things have minds?  What does it mean to have both a mind and a consciousness, and is it possible to have one and not the other?  There was an ethical balance needed to study this in humans. 

Part 2) Imposing Distinctions
            The modern philosopher, Descartes, thought that only humans had minds, and that animals did not.  To Descartes the mind equaled reason, and this was only found in humans.  Aristotle thought, however, that it is not the case that just humans had minds.  He thought that there are three distinct kinds of psyche, or souls.  This is where the class started to ask a lot of questions about the distinctions.  The distinctions are the following; the first form of soul is the vegetative or nutritive soul.  This is the kind of soul that plants have.  It is only there to shape plants in order for them to feed, grow, and reproduce.  The second form of soul is the animal or perceptive soul.  This soul includes the characteristics of the vegetative soul as well as shaping the organisms to perceive and move around.  The third type of soul is the rational soul.  This is the soul only humans have.  It allows us to reason, infer from the world around us, use logic and mathematics, and recognize eternal truths.  An analogy of software was used to describe what these souls really did with the matter they were in.  They did not control the organism, but yet allowed matter to take a certain shape and function according to the soul. 

Part 3) What Do We Look for in a Mind?
            The question was posed with no conclusive answer as to how we find out from the outside if something is self-aware.  But the main idea is what would be in a mind or what would a mind consist of?  Is there anything else similar to a mind?  What is ‘something it is like’?  What makes the mind the mind?  Is it sensory and does it feel pleasure and pain?  One term used to describe the mind was ratiocination, meaning the mind has a process of exact thinking, or that the mind has a reasoned train of thought.    This seems to be the idea that the mind is a tool to get organisms to their goals.  The idea of subjectivity unified this point of view with the inner life.  But the issue with our ratiocinative capacity was how it came to be.  How did the mind develop sensory capacities?  Here the class stalled for a long time as many became hung up on terms of what a mind was again.  We also dealt with teleological terminology, i.e., whether the mind evolved because of something or the mind evolved so it allowed some organisms to thrive.  When we resumed we entered into a discussion about whether folk psychology can actually make sense of behavior.  Another school of thought that was discussed was functionalism, which is a theory that is an attempt to say what it is that our concepts of the mental are actually doing.  Because this theory tries to explain that our mental activities as only constituted by their functional roles.  This theory could tell us in a more detailed way what the assertions and explanations available in folk psychology really amount to.