What is the mind?

Anders N Weinstein andersw+ at pitt.edu
Fri Dec 4 17:34:32 EST 1998

In article <3667f8d1.0 at ns2.wsg.net>, Ray Scanlon <rscanlon at wsg.net> wrote:
>Anders N Weinstein wrote in message
><7452d2$lrm$1 at usenet01.srv.cis.pitt.edu>...
>>In article <3665c939.0 at ns2.wsg.net>, Ray Scanlon <rscanlon at wsg.net> wrote:
>>You need to understand that behavior can be described in many ways.
>I'm of the opinion that I do understand that. (Possibly a delusion?) My
>favorite way of describing behavior is that of neural activity. I find no

For the most part I would't call a description of neural activity a
description of behavior at all. "He shot her a conspiratorial glance"
might be an example of the sort of description I have in mind as 
in the right terms for understanding how mind can be manifest. The
neurons inside don't really enter into this level of description. It's the 
meaning that can be found informing the overt expression that counts.

>need of soul or whatever word (mind, intelligence, mentation) is presently
>popular among the wordsmiths. Signal energy flows in through sensory
>neurons, filters through the interneurons, and exits through motor neurons.
>I find no need for a little man, sitting in the middle of the head, watching
>a TV screen, and punching buttons. To call this little man soul (mind,
>intelligence, thinker, whatever) is just to shuffle words until people think
>you are saying something meaningful.

I said nothing about a little man inside. I am interested in the big
man or woman, the person who can on occasion present aspects of his or
her mindedness for dsiplay via expressive behavior (sometimes without
wanting to, as when an expression betrays an emotion.) 

>>The event of, say, one person snubbing another one dead is perfectly
>>observable, but it has both a physical and a meaning-giving description
>>as expressive behavior. Just because you can describe it as a motion
>>fo molecules or whatever does not mean you can't describe it in other ways.
>Of course you are right. But there is a world of science and you are not of
>it. To give life meaning you must turn to religion. The basic questions of,

You seem to be stuck on the idea of exactly two domains, the knowable
world of science and the world of mysteries addressed (in some fashion)
by religion.  But the ordinary everyday environment, the world of
relevance to the ends of living organisms, the world in particular of
human meaning, goes missing if we allow this dichotomous thinking.

>You are so clever with words, too clever by half. By "minded" possibly you
>mean "ensouled". One of the tricks of the wordsmiths is to use an uncommon

I could say "ensouled", sure. Or "animate", for that matter, where
rational mindedness is one particular form of animation. But I do not
believe in a separate soul apart from the human being we can see and
interact with.

>word with a twist of new meaning and chant that they are using the "common
>language". Stick to neurons when you talk about behavior.

I mostly use common words, and I try to stick to behavior when I talk 
about behavior. If A snubs B dead, the snubbing is not an event in the
neurons, it is something in the open that anyone might see.

>You remembered? Why did you remember? I hypothesize that a memory is the
>activation of a constellation of neurons. An examination of the situation
>would produce a triggering event. Possibly the sight of the convenience
>store sent a burst of signal energy flowing through your interneurons and
>excited the constellation that you call "a memory of the need for milk". But

This is all possible. The question is what makes this event constitute
a memory of the need for milk, or another constitute a weighing of the
costs and making of a decision, This question is not -- cannot be --
answered by neuroscience.  For the answer depends on relations to
things outside the body that are not the purview of neuroscience, for
example the existence of various institutions.

>Naturally this is a most abbreviated version of what actually went on among
>your neurons because there were ever so many involved. Probably you won't
>see this reduction as other than babble because your mind is made up. Pity.

No. In philosopher's jargon, I see it as a perfectly possible token
identity of particular events, but I see no basis for a claim of type
identity with respect to the semantic content properties of the
events.  I suspect you do not understand the difference. 

Merely to say that a mental event is the same event as a neural event
is not to reduce the specifically mental properties of the event. But
these go to giving it the explanatory force it does; in those terms one
is shown why this sequence involves a *rationale* for my going to the
store, one which you can now judge good or bad.  If you tried only to
give the explanation using terms of raw neural description, you would
not duplicate that function of an intentional description. For in those
terms neither one could not decide if my reasoning was good or bad: it
just happened as it happened like a meteor shower or any other event in 
the natural world, no right or wrong can attach to it under that description.

I could point you to some philosophical sources on the difference
between type and token identities if you were interested: Fodor's
"Special Sciences" reprinted as a chapter in his _Language of Thought_,
also , I believe, in Block, ed. _Readings in the Philosophy of
Psychology_; or Donald Davidson's theory of "anomolous monism"
reprinted in a volume of his collected papers dealing with mind.

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list