The Wikipedia article on the Philosophy of Mind is featured on the online encyclopaedia’s front page today, demonstrating how the philosophy articles have greatly improved during the last year.
The article gives a clear and comprehensive overview of this key field and is beautifully illustrated throughout.
Philosophy has a bit of an image problem among scientists. Some dismiss it as self-indulgent, but nowhere could it be farther from the truth than in cognitive science.
Philosophers now make up essential team members in many neuropsychology research groups, valued for their critical insight and knowledge of how certain types of difficult conceptual problems can be overcome.
I’m most familiar with the work of Professor Martin Davies who works with the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science and usefully makes all his work available online.
This is a good place to start if you want an introduction to how philosophy can contribute to the understanding of brain-injury, mental illness and the neuropsychological function of the health individual.
If you want a general introduction to the field, the Wikipedia article is your first port of call.
Link to Wikipedia article on Philosophy of Mind.
Link to Martin Davies’ publications.
One thought on “Philosophy of Mind on Wikipedia”
Granted, I am an amateur here, and a very old one at that. Still, a few comments left over from my youth: first, and most important, why the dichotomy (horrible word!) between monist and dualist solutions? There is a third possibility, in the words of an old Zen master I used to know in the Bay Area, viz, “Not one, not two.”
How might this be?
Well, suppose that consciousness and the empirical world of matter and energy are like two sides of a coin? I believe the technical term is correlative, though I could be wrong about that; the point is that they are distinct yet not entirely so, in some paradoxical way that we perhaps can never comprehend.
Is that too pessimistic? Maybe. But, then, why suppose the universe — that which contains everything — can be contained? For to comprehend is in a sense to contain; to get your arms around, mentally speaking.
In Feynman’s lectures on physics, chapter 20, volume 1, as I recall, there is a beautiful exposition of the two-slit experiment in physics that, as Feynman says, shows the entire mystery of quantum mechanics in the clearest and most unmistakable way on the one hand, and on the other hand shows why no one understands, or will every understand, quantum physics. Look it up.
Instead, we can only approach the particle/wave duality by a process of analogy and contrast, arriving finally at an utterly incomprehensible paradox.
Using that example as a metaphor, I wonder if the relationship between consciousness and the empirical world will not remain forever equally mysterious and equally incomprehensible?
Here is a more concrete attempt to express the correlative idea: suppose, for a moment, that empty space itself is conscious, a single field of consciousness, but that certain arrangements of matter and energy (corresponding to our brain) in space can create a sort of bubble of interference: a region of space that is “cut off” from the larger field around it, just as the air inside a bubble is cut off from the air without by the walls of the bubble. Now imagine that there are certain “slits” in the walls of the bubble (our senses) that allow, in some restricted sense, communication between, sort of like the pores in a cell that allow molecules to pass in and out. And consciousness being by nature (according the the phenomenologists, was it?) always a consciousness “of” something, we would have a two-way street: the conscious space inside the bubble would be conscious “of” the empirical world of matter and energy without; while the conscious space outside the bubble (brain) would be conscious of the empirical world inside the brain. If we go with our intuitive sense that consciousness can affect, as well as be affected by, the empirical world in which we live, then we might extend that idea to a two-way street (symmetry being always a beautiful hint of the possible) in which the external conscious field of space can also, on occasion, have some effect on the physical events in our brain.
Of course, none of this is scientific, testable, falsifiable — but then neither is the very concept of consciousness itself, at least if we follw Popper (which I do): science deals with facts, and facts are inter subjective phenomena about which independent minds can agree. Consciousness, by contrast, is something only one person can experience; we infer by analogy, and by report, that others are conscious the same way we are, often overlooking the inconvenient fact that this is not a scientific conclusion, but purely an intuitive one.
When a bubble bursts, that which was on the inside looking out, is now on the outside looking in — into what? Into all the other bubbles that it could not see before.
We know that somethings just “are”. Matter and energy for example, or rather, just energy (since matter is a form of energy) just is. Maybe consciousness just is, too, or rather, not too, but is yet another aspect, or side of energy?
All this gets boring very quickly, so on a positive note, let me say that the possibilities of neuro-science are vast: we may never satisfactorily answer the question of what is consciousness and where does it come from, but we will learn much that is of enormous practical value (what else counts?) about the structure of our consciousness, which we call mind, and which is most demonstrably a product of the brain. How memory works, emotions transmitted, what a liar looks like inside, the seats and causes of intelligence, the sources of all kinds of mental illnesses, the list is endless. But we will never, in my opinion, solve the mystery of consciousness anymore than we will ever understand the mystery of matter. Read that Feynman piece.
One final thought. Evolution explores every physical possibility of practical value in the business of survival. Since Maxwell, we know that radio is possible: a physical system can generate an invisible electromagnetic signal that another physical system, if properly tuned, can receive. Why have not animals (and humans) made use of this phenomenon? I am not talking about sight or glowing in the dark, which are public, but something more like a private walky-talky type of communication between closely related individuals of a species. Could it be that there is something about the brain that is impenetrable to such signals, something in the nature of an interference bubble? I don’t know. Maybe the physicists can answer this biological riddle.
Thoughts of an old man . . .