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1. What is a Mind?

 

 

 

 

     Between the years 255 and 270 CE the Roman theologian Plotinus wrote Enneads, which is now a part of Catholic canon law. It smothered any chance of a successful psychological science centuries before that was attempted. It did so by separating our mind concept from our body concept. As a result, no psychologist of any religion can answer their own primary question: How do our minds work? As a result of that, we cannot control ourselves, and failing that we also cannot control global warming nor any of our other crimes against plants, animals and other humans. The problem arose at science’s founding setup and has not been solved until now.

The rules for all modern sciences were mostly laid out in the 17th and 18th centuries. As far as we know, all the founding, European scientists were faithful Christians, which allowed the Church to demand that science only probe the physical world, thereby leaving the spiritual dimension for theology. The physical sciences triumphed, but the law Plotinus wrote centuries before placed the mind in the spiritual dimension, which was unavailable to scientific observation, which is the main reason we still have no perspective that shows us our minds. That was not his intention. He hoped to solve philosophy’s mind/body problem.

For those unfamiliar with the mind/body problem, it consists in deciding whether our minds are biological like our bodies or spiritual like our souls. The question assumes that mind and body are autonomous of each other. Today we know better, we believe our brains run our bodies, but Plotinus wasn’t trying to trick anyone. In his time, the division between mind and body seemed obvious. Some seven-hundred years before, ancient Greek, Anaxagoras had identified a concept of nous (consciousness, rationality, thought - mind). He taught his autonomous mind concept to Socrates, Socrates taught Plato, and Plato believed that the nous existed in an ideal dimension above this reality, thereby removing the mind from this world. Plotinus added himself to this progression upon becoming a Neoplatonist, which familiarized him with Plato’s belief that minds exist in an ideal dimension. He wrote, “… [S]oul might be an Ideal-Form in governing contact [with the body] like a pilot …”. (Enneads 1.3) A detailed philosophical examination of the mind/body problem could serve no purpose here. Today, everyone agrees that our bodies are physical, and our souls, if they exist at all, could only be spiritual. Plotinus's problem arose in answer to, “Which dimension houses our minds?” Under the Church’s, still to come Renaissance rule, deciding for a spiritual mind would limit its study to theologians, deciding for physical would open it up to scientific study.

Several observations that were open to Plotinus suggested that the mind was spiritual, and we must examine them because they still shape our mind concept.

Plotinus had an extra helping of bias, he was a Christian and whether knew it or not, choosing a physical mind (brain) over a spiritual one would create a problem for the Church. Christian doctrine holds that resurrection of the body and reunification with the soul would only take place at the final judgement. At the end of each person’s life, only her or his soul goes promptly to the afterlife; their body is buried or cremated (Ecclesiastes 12-7). Logically, a physical mind in its body would have to abide in the grave until the end of days to reunite with its soul. According to that scenario, souls would mindlessly flounder around heaven or hell for the time between bodily death and the end of days. That’s two thousand years and still counting for early Christians. We don’t know if that was Plotinus’s reason for classifying the mind as spiritual, there were others. For example, he may have chosen a spiritual mind based on Plato’s belief that the mind existed in an ideal dimension. Either way, his classifications of mind, soul, and body created a kind of turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck and then stuffed into a turkey). The spiritual mind was a part of the soul, like a horn is a part of a unicorn, and during life the soul occupied and controlled the body, like you’d drive a car or pilot a boat.

Today, we might think that choosing the brain as our mind sounds obvious but, there’s a catch here, we have never been neutral about which way this argument ends. Scientific beliefs keep us comfortably alive but entail the observations and proofs that logically demand a predetermined fate for us and our nonexistence after death. We ignore those repellent consequences, tempted by the freewill and afterlife promised by Christian doctrine. We want to believe that we can have the advances of science while maintaining the comforts of religion – the best of both worlds.

Unintentionally, Plotinus set up a cosmology where our physical bodies could enjoy the comforts of science while our minds and souls stayed magically free according to the laws of God. His law foredestined the physical/spiritual choice for Renaissance scientists by pre-classifying the mind as spiritual. However, while this meant that psychology could not be a science, but he had avoided both the mindless soul and unwittingly pre-allowed us the best of both worlds by assigning the mind to the soul. Can there be any wonder as to why we are, to this day, reluctant to poke at his arrangement? It may help the religiously minded sleep at night, but a spiritual mind leaves social scientists with no physically observable subject.

As science progressed, the Church lost its dictatorial power and medical science became aware that the brain controls the body. Average Christians appear to have missed the implication that their souls would be mindless until the end of time. The words brain and mind became synonymous, and today both atheists and believers equate brain with mind, using the two words interchangeably. The concept of mind with all its spiritual attributes has now become the concept of brain. The swap was complete but ignored three mistaken assumptions.  

Choosing to examine a bodily system over spiritual mind gives the science of psychology something in physical reality to observe. Yet how are we to observe behavioral control systems when all but our own is invisible to us? How can we proceed scientifically when our only data is completely subjective? As it turns out, some of the evidence that suggests that mind is spiritual also suggests that we can see objectively. In fact, objective observations are impossible even for the hard sciences. Our belief in objectivity is the result of the three illusions discussed next.

Many readers already know that the first of these illusions is a mistaken belief. We trust objective data because we have believed that everyone has sense organs that can sense the same things accurately. Immanuel Kant (Critique of Pure Reason, 1781) tells us we are mistaken. Like the turnstile that counts one person regardless of age, height, or education, our sense organs only perceive what they have been designed to discern. Because of these limits, we cannot be sure what or how much we have been missing. Our sense organs cannot detect atomic radiation and we have been unaware of its existence for most of our history. Even with organs of the same design our observations cannot be all inclusive. We must remain aware that our scientifically observed data may well be skewed or incomplete.  

We also believe our brains see what other brains see in the places that we and others see them. This is the second illusion, the result of learning to see in three-dimensions. Babies must learn to see in 3D; adults no longer see in 2D the way that babies do. All animals with two front facing eyes naturally benefit from learning to use their crude two-dimensional perceptions to see depth. We do not notice this acquired skill much as we do not notice reversing our view in a mirror, that is, we do not notice until we cannot easily read the reflection of written words. Memories of both 2D sight and the reversed reflection are superfluous and have been edited out. Our brains automatically edit on the fly. They are willing to go through several thinking matches or steps to get to an answer. The first time they perceive A and then think through the steps B, C, D, E, and act with F. The next and subsequent times they perceive A they jump the steps and respond with F. This automatic edit helps with survival but ignores the history of the decision. We cannot remember 2D sight because it has been edited out. We use 3D sight for the depth perception that guides muscles while touching, grasping, and aiming. Without it, we would find life nearly impossible. We know that we have learned to merge the raw sight perceptions from two eyes because when impaired we forget how to see in 3D and how to control our muscles. If you have ever experienced drunken double vision, reason will tell you that each newborn starts life with double vision, seeing two views - one from each eye. Drunks also forget how to walk efficiently. An adult's drunken sight and movements are impaired; babies have not yet learned to coordinate sight and movements. Within six weeks of birth, the mind's algorithmic learning rules naturally coordinate the two pictures, merging twin, 2D views into one that provides depth perception. You can prove this to yourself by straitening up your fingers and holding them against your nose between two open eyes. Your fingers nearly disappear. Yet, closing either eye proves that each eye sees your fingers fully but ignores that data when both eyes are open. This effect is due to the learned skill of 3D vision. Babies’ brains learn to merge their two eye's current data, and thereafter they re-see a single, 3D view a fraction of a second later. Only with effort can sober people revert to double vision. Unless impaired, our 2D sight is edited out, and our two eyes ordinarily see the single 3D view for the rest of their lives. Although it takes years instead of weeks, the same algorithm teaches muscle control, and thereafter, desire is all we need to guide our sober actions.

Three-dimensional sight helps us survive but invariably leads us to mistake where we see things. We assume that we’re seeing things where they exist because that’s where 3D sight directs us to reach for them. Believing that we see things where they exist falsely convinces us that others can see what we see. We don’t make the same mistake with our other sense organs. Did you hear that? Do you like that taste or smell? How does that feel to you? Experience has taught us that others sometimes experience sound, taste, smell, and touch differently, but we are suspicious when others claim that they cannot see what we see. It’s right there for anyone to see! In fact, we don’t see the same things, nor do we see them in the same place. Where do we see them? Incredulously, we see things in our eyes! We are incredulous because the 2D sight that would have made the location of sight obvious has been edited from our conscious experience. We do store memories of sight in our brains. Those memories are sent to eyes where they recreate sight. You know that’s true because your eyes move while you are dreaming. It’s called the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep period. If you are to see your remembered dreams your eyes need to look around. 3D sight convinces everyone that our brains see things where they exist. Where every brain can see them. The belief that we share a vision from the place it exists jacks up each report’s creditability. If we could all see things where they exist, we would be looking at the same thing, wouldn’t we? If we all objectively saw it, it must be true. Again, it turns out that we don’t see things where they exist. We can only see in our eyes. No two people ever see the same thing. Yet, while we cannot share the same view, when checking with others we find that they confirm much of what we sense.

How can we not notice that we do not share the same observation? We get an unexpected answer to this question from philosopher, Edmund Husserl (Logical Investigations Vol I & II, 1900, 1901). He invented the science of phenomenalism to investigate how we observe. Like all animals, you the reader, took your natural experience at face value. Equating mind with brain led you to believe that everyone’s brain is in charge and "naturally" sees the world, where it exists, as it exists. If brains are minds, then assuming eyes, as parts of the body, must serve the brain in the same way the body served the mind and soul. If that were true, we must all share the same sights and our observations would be objective. All of science would have it so, but we will consider Husserl’s insight.

The third illusion appears to confirm the first two. The eyes of two people sitting across a table at breakfast see completely different colors and words from the front and back of the same cereal box. As Husserl explained, we see different views of the same thing because the reflected light comes from different perspectives, but that does not fool us into believing that we see different boxes. Language provides a common anchor for our various points-of-view. We dismiss sight and focus on word symbols like box that provide labels to identify our perceptions. Husserl noticed that individuals, seeing the same object, like a cereal box, from different sides, still use the same word label to identify it. We taste, smell, feel, hear, and see differently from each other because each of us has exclusive sense organs that sense from our specific perspectives. Nevertheless, we have all learned to label our own perspective on taste, aroma, and sight with the same words "cup of coffee" (Husserl’s example). That is the essence of learning language. Even when alone, we jump past our unique phenomenal view and substitute the common word label. Verbalization turns subjective perception into objective symbol. Unless specifically mindful of raw perceptions, we ignore the sight and aroma by jumping to "cup of coffee". Husserl held that while each person's five senses give us a private (subjective) view of reality, our brains preconsciously edit out those basic, raw feelings and replace them with conscious universal concepts (facts and reasons) labelled by words. Our brains are willing to go through several thinking matches or steps to get to an answer. The first time it perceives A and then thinks through the steps B, C, D, E, and act with F. The next and subsequent times it perceives A it jumps the steps and responds with F. This automatic edit helps with survival but ignores the data necessary for a decision. The edit from sense to result, in this case a word, standardizes the concept, thereby suggesting shared experience. In fact, we only share a label for the approximate shape and color of light entering our eyes. We share the same language but cannot directly share our raw perceptions with others. We can only experience raw sight feelings from our own perspective. Your eyes might see the decks of a boat from an airplane above; mine might see the hull of the same boat from a submarine below. Our eyes experience vastly different sights from each perspective but we both report seeing a boat because we edit to the same word label "boat", and if we were scientists making notes on an experiment, we would all write, “boat”. While we consciously share an objective universal language, our sensory experience remains subjective. You can see a river run downhill, but unless you move over and let my eyes exactly replace the spot your eyes occupied, we cannot see the same scene. Even if my eyes exactly replace yours, I will find that Heraclitus was correct, “no man can [see] the same river twice.” It moved on during the shuffle.

Speakers of any one language use the same words to describe their perceptions; using the same labels combined with the illusion of seeing things where they exist appears to confirm that others see exactly what we see. Preconsciously editing out subjective raw perceptions leaves us with an objective experience of the world. Using the same language confirms that we are seeing what others are seeing. Therefore, we incorrectly concluded that objectivity is not only possible but inevitable.