Thursday, February 28, 2013

Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner's Guide

Writers deal in ideas. We have to work with words, but writing starts in the mind. We have to have an idea or feeling we want to communicate. It's called intentionality. What is intentionality? It's the purpose behind an action. Why can't we say that a fan has intentionality? Isn't the purpose of the spinning blades to cool the room?  No. A thing without a mind cannot have intentionality.  What is a mind? It's the core question this book tries to answer. It seems in philosophy the more answers we get the more questions we want to ask. And if you're anything like me the big questions are the point, not the answers. That's why I shared this book with each contributor to this blog and why I want to talk about it here.

Is the mind made of something or is it simply the activity of the brain? It doesn't feel like we're our brains. We just have thoughts floating in some ethereal place known as our mind. But when we look at the brain we see is very simple nerve cells that fire eltro-chemical signals in patterns This is known as dualism or the mind body problem. I've always wondered how neuronal activity forms a thought. I don't challenge the correlation, but how does that work exactly? What other forms of activity and patterns could form a thought?

Perception is one of those ideas that's always grabbed at me. Whenever I look into someone's eyes even my cat's eyes, I think what is that  they see? Do they see the world that I do? More to the point are these other people even real? What if I'm just dreaming up all of reality in my head and there's no world out there? This book introduces it's readers to various philosophical approaches to answering these sorts of questions.  Appearance and reality, mind and matter; this book covers the lot of these questions and can sometimes be quite uncomfortable to contemplate.

Minds are not brains, but are brains simply the producer of minds? Minds and brains are like apples and oranges. They are different things. Mind is the subjective experience of neuronal activity. There isn't any way to explain how that subjectivity arises especially when we consider that the brain isn't doing one thing at all. It's doing billions of little processing tasks that all add up to the subjective experience of consciousness. When we think about ourselves we don't think of us as our body, but as our mind. When we think of our mind we don't think of ourselves as patterns of signals in nerve tissue, we think of ourselves as the subjective result of that activity.

The whole point of this blog is to interact with other minds. We have the technology now to really share ourselves with others in ways we never could before. Language makes most of this possible, but now with video and photo sharing we've got tools at our disposal that in the long view of human history could never have been imagined possible. We talk a lot about sex, but after all that's why we're still around on the earth. Guys will be guys, but we're also more than sexual hunters. This is obviously true of gay men since we wouldn't even exist if there wasn't a purpose to life beyond simply reproducing. I think that our purpose might be to expand our minds with the technology in front of us. We can learn so much from each other if we're willing to share and listen.

From Wikipedia

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e. the relationship of the mind to the body, is commonly seen as one key issue in philosophy of mind, although there are other issues concerning the nature of the mind that do not involve its relation to the physical body, such as how consciousness is possible and the nature of particular mental states.[2][3][4]

Dualism and monism are the two major schools of thought that attempt to resolve the mind-body problem. Dualism can be traced back to Plato,[5] and the Sankhya and Yoga schools ofHindu philosophy,[6] but it was most precisely formulated by René Descartes in the 17th century.[7] Substance Dualists argue that the mind is an independently existing substance, whereasProperty Dualists maintain that the mind is a group of independent properties that emerge from and cannot be reduced to the brain, but that it is not a distinct substance.[8]

Monism is the position that mind and body are not ontologically distinct kinds of entities. This view was first advocated in Western philosophy by Parmenides in the 5th century BC and was later espoused by the 17th century rationalist Baruch Spinoza.[9] Physicalists argue that only the entities postulated by physical theory exist, and that the mind will eventually be explained in terms of these entities as physical theory continues to evolve. Idealists maintain that the mind is all that exists and that the external world is either mental itself, or an illusion created by the mind. Neutral monists such as Ernst Mach and William James argue that events in the world can be thought of as either mental (psychological) or physical depending on the network of relationships into which they enter, and dual-aspect monists such as Spinoza adhere to the position that there is some other, neutral substance, and that both matter and mind are properties of this unknown substance. The most common monisms in the 20th and 21st centuries have all been variations of physicalism; these positions include behaviorism, the type identity theory,anomalous monism and functionalism.[10]

Most modern philosophers of mind adopt either a reductive or non-reductive physicalist position, maintaining in their different ways that the mind is not something separate from the body.[10]These approaches have been particularly influential in the sciences, especially in the fields of sociobiology, computer science, evolutionary psychology and the variousneurosciences.[11][12][13][14] Other philosophers, however, adopt a non-physicalist position that challenges the notion that the mind is a purely physical construct. Reductive physicalists assert that all mental states and properties will eventually be explained by scientific accounts of physiological processes and states.[15][16][17] Non-reductive physicalists argue that although the brain is all there is to the mind, the predicates and vocabulary used in mental descriptions and explanations are indispensable, and cannot be reduced to the language and lower-level explanations of physical science.[18][19]Continued neuroscientific progress has helped to clarify some of these issues. However, they are far from having been resolved, and modern philosophers of mind continue to ask how the subjective qualities and the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states and properties can be explained in naturalistic terms.[20][21]

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