Re: The Mind (off topic, but then, is anything off topic on this list?)

From: Eric Hawthorne <>
Date: Sat, 28 Dec 2002 13:05:45 -0800

John M wrote:

>your proposal sounds like: "here I am and here is my mind" .
>What gave you the idea that "the two" can be thought of as separate
>The fact that we differentiate between a bowel movement and a thinking
>process in philosophy ... does not MAKE them separate
Eric's first law of abstraction: (known variously as the trivially
profound law or the profoundly trivial law:)

"Every two things are both the same and different."

Bowel movements and mental processes. They are both physical processes
in the body, it's true.
The difference is that a mental process is
in its essence a process of representation ("re presentation") of
reality and similarly
structured potential realities. That is, it is a process of using some
aspect in the brain as a stand-in
for some aspect of the external world. And it is a process of doing so
in a way that is flexible and
general enough to allow the generation of representations (mental
stand-ins) of new hypothetical
or counterfactual states of the external reality, as well as of actual
states. Thus we can think of how
things we have not directly apprehended might be, and how things that
haven't yet taken place could be,
if only this would happen, or, sadly but instructively, of how things
might have been.

Models of the mind:
Back when 90% of the world and its behaviour was unknown and attributed
to God, the mind and soul
was thought to be an earthbound, temporarily trapped part of the greater
mind of God.

During the early industrial age, the mind was thought by some to be the
process of operation of
a machine comprised of cogs and gears and things like steam power.

And today, we believe that the brain is a computer and the mind is
The conventional wisdom is that this theory is as naive as the earlier
theories; that we are similarly
deluded by our present-day fetish with computers. But I think this
dismissal of brain-as-computer, mind-as-software
is facile. I think our theories of mind have been improving over time.
The brain IS a form of machine, as the 19th century
people thought. And much more specifically, the brain IS a form of
universal computing machine, as we think today.

Let me ask this. What category of machine do we have that can hold in it
symbolic representations
that have correspondences with aspects of the external world? What
category of machine do we have whose
representations of the world are manipulable and malleable in ways that
can correspond to changes in the
state of the external world? The computer of course. What part of the
computer stores the representations
of the world? Well I guess we could say its disk and memory. But what
part of the computer performs the
manipulations on the symbols which sometimes correspond to the formation
of hypotheses about the state of the
external world? It's not really part of the computer at all. It is the

The historical thinker who came closest to understanding the nature of
the mind was undoubtedly Plato,
who first understood a world of abstract concepts, his world of ideals.
The only thing he didn't know is that
you could build a machine (the computer) capable of holding inside
itself and manipulating those ideals, and that
in fact we already had a particularly sophisticated form of that type of
machine on top of our shoulders.
Our brains. Where is Plato's world of ideals? He didn't know. We do. It
is the representative and asbstracted
representative information about the world stored symbolically in our
manipulated by the cognitive software running on our brains.

The brain-mind duality is solved (and now officially boring). If you can
say that you truly understand:
   1) the distinction between computing software and computing hardware,
   2) issues such as what makes one piece of software different from or
the same as another
   versus what makes one piece of hardware different from versus the
same as another,
   3) What the relationship of computing software to computing hardware
   4) How the essential particulars of high-level software gain
independence from particulars of computing hardware through
the construction of hierarchies of levels or layers of software process
with emergent behaviours at each level,

and yet you claim not to know what a mind is with respect to a brain,
then I would say you're just not thinking
hard enough about the issue.
Received on Sat Dec 28 2002 - 16:03:43 PST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Feb 16 2018 - 13:20:07 PST