(In “Revising Our Ideas: Mind is Culture”, the Abstract concepts and purposes that are a part of any society became the basis for our belief in Mind. “Emergent” properties and objects “appear” to that society and seem extraordinary. Often, we are right to “see” them (literally) and acknowledge there significance. But our individual beliefs are often and appropriately a matter of Public discussion. It is one of our greatest Values, that our Abstract Beliefs are open to public ratification. Unfortunately too many of us believe that since I believe it and feel it, it must be true. THESE ARE PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES! 4th post in PLAIN TALK series.)
This is what Mind is. The Culture of each Society has Historically arrived at its Abstract Terms and trains it’s members in their application. This is one of the modern ways to think of “Mind”. Mind is more like “a way of life” and this has been an important idea in philosophy but recently reestablished by Wittgenstein.
“Mind” is a collectivity of Brains that are socialized to speak a particular language and function together in a particular society. They form “a higher level” object –“society” — that is “emergent”. It is “more than the sum of its parts”; parts taken as individual humans outside of any culture or socialization. Therefore, this new higher level unit possesses new abilities and an environment appropriate to it. Its individual members are now “Persons”.
The Greeks had their way of life that accomplished many ends and worked well for them in many ways. It was quite different than ours, especially in their approach to nature. They “saw” person-like gods and forces behind natural events.
We no longer believe in that, and have taken the personalities out of much of nature. Today, many of us think nature, in its most abstract and basic form, lacks purposes, feelings, goals, reasons, responsibility or even beauty as inherent to it. It is a contention of our popular, secular and science-based philosophy that these qualities are added to it by ourselves and thus “secondary”. It is only in our operation of ourselves –as minds — that we still rely of these Agency Terms. We think of everyday as having a goal and filled with purposes and the reasons we do things. Curiously, even though physicists and chemists or neuro-scientists will think about the world they discover as lacking Agency, as Persons and decision-making Scientists, they operate by those Ideals.
It is to “Mind” that we commonly attribute the added qualities and abilities to the “material world” as presented to us by science. But even here, in Nature and especially “Life”, we feel Agency and Mind has its roots. The flight of a bird, from the bird’s perspective —we might say, is a process of Function and Design (and thus mind-like) and involving the use of Information. Like the pilot of an aircraft, the bird ‘reads’ and adjusts to winds, light, precipitation, speed and terrain. That we look at Biological Nature and “see” this chronicle of Growing Abilities in its creatures is what philosopher Dan Dennett calls “a deep fact”, the kind of fact “to build a theory on.” This deep fact is the support we need to explain our own enhanced abilities. This “deep fact” is not explicitly recognized for its philosophical implications by the science of biology, even though the purposes and functions they analyze in living things are their initial and obvious data.
As socialized humans, we become aware of the ideas, purposes, goals in different things and experiences, and the logic that inheres in those vocabularies of color words, geometry terms, aeronautical terms, “persons” etc. We begin to Explicitly acknowledge these unique vocabularies and actions, and begin to explore and develop them. But just because you or I may be aware of something or have an opinion, that is not enough. Self-Aware Individuality is an important and powerful new quality and ability that Persons have, but Culture and Society still has powerful input.
The Private and The Public
Our Brain is a private and individual physical thing; it is just, and only, that thing between your ears or mine. Our Mind is both Private and Individual, but also Public and Social! Socially, even for a private and individual decision such as disliking broccoli, we still say to our kids, “Try it again; it’s especially good in quiche” or “It will grow on you.” Even “I see red” will be questioned if the rest of us are seeing purple. “Is it the light or the angle that is causing the difference?” we say, or “Is he color blind?, we ask.
So, when you say “I have made up my mind”, you are acknowledging your ownership of this decision but also acknowledging your participation in our society. You are prepared to give Reasons to Justify it. Many of our decisions are simply let go as that, as “up to us”. Liking broccoli is one of those, but vegetarianism is somewhat similar and often strenuously and publicly advocated.
Individual claims can sometimes overcome public objections. This is a prominent factor in Cultural Change and History. The above examples were of individuals being overridden in there contentions due to the scrutiny of others, the public. The ‘visions’ of an individual can succeed over public objection, too. Elvis’s music eventually was accepted. Dr. King’s vision of equality has made great progress. Picasso’s art is now accepted by all sophisticated viewers. Copernicus’ celestial theory.
When someone says, “I killed him in self-defense”, our tendency to allow a Self-Pronunciation to pass as sufficient is not tolerated. The police will question them; they may end up in court: “Prove it!”, “Was his feeling of being in danger justified?” Now, if the accused can convince us of the legitimacy of that claim by giving us other circumstances Of That Same Kind, then we may, and the police may, let it go as self-defense. “He was my business partner and wanted it all for himself”, “He had threatened me before”, all these kind of statements buttress the validity of the self-report.
Maybe the best cases of Mind and the variability of perception are in illusions that can be “taken” either way. Ancient people stood and looked out at the horizon of the ocean and saw a flat line. Today, we go to the beach and most of us say, “I can see the earth curving” as we look out, but it is we who are mistaken. I’ve tried this on my friends. I have brought a carpenters level and held it up to the horizon: The curvature is too minute to be visible, yet they interpret the visual data in this way: “I see it curving.” (Gee, aren’t I fun at the beach!)
Below are some examples demonstrating the fluidity of interpretation.
CONCLUSION: Both quantum waves and free and responsible persons are real. It all depends on how you are “looking at ‘the world'”. When something is New, it is a new way of Organizing Things, a new way of considering how to experience things together. Science blurs most of life into one Giant Washed-Out Background of Lawfulness. Mind, as Human Individuals in Cultures, focuses on the Information relevant to a particular point of view that is as much ‘in’ the atoms of the world as the duck and the rabbit are in the lines of that famous illusion. “Nature” has accommodated us, and our cultures and histories, in being that rife with Possibility for us. We are right to think their are many levels of events to be seen, understood, and experienced within it.
(The final post in this series will feature the grandest clash of Mind and Matter. Can Mind push around Matter? Sneak preview, the answer is No! But still I believe in Mind and the power of the Reflection of Persons and their Cultures! “Stay tuned, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!)