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Philosophy of mind

(philosophymind,philosophy mind)

Philosophy of mind is the philosophical study of the natureof the mind , mental events , mental functions , and consciousness . These areas give rise to some very difficult problems and questions; there are many opinionsas to their solutions and answers, if any. This article attempts to suggest the scope of the philosophy of mind and indicate someof the important questions, but does not provide answers.


What is the mind?

Is the mind nothing more than a series of particular thoughts, feelings, and so forth, or is it something over andabove those particular thoughts, feelings, and so forth? When we ask that, we are simply asking what the relation is betweenthe mind and mental events. In other words, we could simply restate the question in terms of mental events, like this: Is themind nothing more than a series of mental events, or is it something over and above the mental events that we say occur "in" it?This article does not try to answer this question.

But of course there are other questions we could ask about what the mind is; we might raise the mind-body problem . Are our minds something that goes beyond our physicalbodies? Suppose we think that the mind is a substance of some sort -- a mental substance . We might still ask: Is there some way to explain what the mind, a mental substance,is in terms of physical substance? Or will we maintain that the mind is something totally different fromphysical bodies, and that we cannot explain what the one is in terms of the other at all?

Mental events

Suppose instead that we deny that the mind is some mysterious substance, and we hold instead that there are only mentalevents and that "the mind" designates no more than a series of mental events? We can still inquire about the relationbetween mind and body a different way, in terms of the relation between mental events and physical events . We can ask: Are mental events totally different from physical events, so that youcan't explain what mental events are in terms of physical events; or are mental events somehow explainable as being thesame as physical events - a view known as token-physicalism? For example, when John feels a particular pain P (at aparticular time T), a particular mental event M is occurring (at a particular time T); now is that pain, P, evenpossibly the same as something that occurs in John's brain , such as the firingof some special group of neurons , M?

Mental properties

Another question commonly asked is whether mental properties (or states, or kinds, or [equivalently general term]) just arephysical properties. Is the mental phenomenon we call 'pain' really just, say, firing C-fibers in the brain? This view is knownas type-physicalism (or type-identity theory). A common argument against this view is known as the argument from multiplerealizability: since animals we commonly attribute as being in pain have completely different neurophysiological systems, andthus completely different physical properties, it follows that pain cannot be one particular physical property, i.e., firingC-fibers found in humans. After all, surely dogs, other animals, and even reptiles are capable of feeling pain. (We could go asfar as saying that aliens with utterly disparate physical systems are also, at least possibly, capable of feeling pain.) Thistype of argument is generally taken to be an argument against another related view known as scientific reductionism.


Identifying the mind with physical substances or properties is one direct form of materialism, and claiming that psychologicaltheory (whichever flavor you wish) is reducible to scientific theory is another, albeit indirect, form of materialism. If we canshow that all of psychology is reducible to neurophysiology, and in turn, neurophysiology is reducible all the way (perhaps viaother special higher-order sciences, like chemistry) down to physics, then what we've shown is that mind is nothing above andbeyond the physical. In effect, it's a two step process: i) reducing languages to each other, and ii) then claiming that theontology (or objects) of the reduced science (psychology) is identical to the ontology of the reducing science(neurophysiology).


As alluded to above, many philosophers accept the thrust of the multiple realizability argument and thus reject bothtype-physicalism and redunctionalism wholesale. The argument has motivated another view known as functionalism which holds thatmental states aren't physical, rather, they're functional. A functional state describes a relationship between certain inputs(sensory stimuli), outputs (behavior), and other mental states. A pain is functional in virtue of having a certain causal role.That causal role is determined by certain input stimuli and mental states, and determines future behavior and mental states. Soalthough pain may not be identical to some one (first-order physical property like) firing C-fibers, it's at least identical tosome (higher-order) functional state F. Generally, functional states are specified in terms of Turing machines states, which arecompletely describable by Turing machine tables. And so, one version of functionalism, machine-functionalism, identifies mentalstates with Turing machine states. Arguments such as Putnam's Twin Earth thought experiment, and Lucas' Godelian argument havebeen the forerunners against functionalism.

So far we've presented several different questions that the philosophy of mind asks: What is the mind, a substance or just aseries of mental events? Is the mind somehow reducible to, or explainable in terms of, the body? Are mental events somehowreducible to, or explainable in terms of, physical events? Each of these questions are ways of interpreting the more ambiguousquestions we started with, such as, "What is the mind?" and "What are mental events?"

What is involved in each type of cognitive process?

We can also ask questions about the different specific cognitiveprocesses , and of course we might ask what cognitive processes in general are supposed to be. In that case, we'd beasking what distinguishes a cognitive process from any other kind of process. That is another way of puttingthe mind-body problem. We can also ask a series of more specialized questions, about each individual cognitive process.We can get the answers through cognitive science .

Take perception as an example. Philosophers ask what is going on when we perceive something -- when we see, hear, taste,touch, and so on. But philosophers are not interested in the particular mechanisms that allow us to see -- for example, they donot study the shape of the eye or how the optical nerve carries information to the brain. They are interested in even more basicquestions. They ask: Do we perceive physical objects directly with our senses, or do we form mental images of some sort,which we use to represent physical objects and their properties? These are questions raised by the philosophy of perception . The philosophy of perception isall about how our minds come in contact with the world outside our minds.

Another example is the will, or volition. When we choose to do something we are using our wills, or engaging in volition.There is, of course, one special and very difficult question that philosophers ask about this process, namely, is the will free?If Mary decides to walk across the room, that seems to be entirely up to her; she could have chosen otherwise. But if theuniverse is determined, and especially if our will really is after all just a physical process, then it certainly does seem asthough Mary didn't have control over everything that led up to her deciding to walk across the room. So was she free orwasn't she?

See also: Free will and determinism .

What is consciousness?

We say that there is something it's like to "be watching a baby". When we look at a baby we are conscious of the baby. Is there some way to explain what makes a mental event, likelooking at a baby, conscious? Well, what could we explain consciousness in terms of? If in terms of some physicalprocess, then we face the same old mind-body question in yet another form: Can consciousness be reduced to, or explainedin terms of, mere physical processes? Some people have said, vociferously, definitely not. How could a hunk of greymatter in your brain be the same as the awareness of a pain? Awareness is a totally different kind of thingfrom grey matter in your skull.

But that is only one question that can be asked about consciousness. There are other questions. Indeed there are a lot ofquestions that can be asked about all the other mental functions, such as memory , forming concepts, reasoning , the emotions , and so on.

Frame issues

A final class of questions emerging from this aspect of philosophy concern the validity of the commonsense categoriesemployed. Must it be the case that determinism rules out free will, or is it that one or both of these categories has been poorlydefined? Does the rule against multiplicationof entities force materialists to exclude higher-order entities such as semantic systems, or have we endowed 'material' with unwarranted properties? Is the term 'natural' meaningful ifwe deny that it has an opposite? What precisely is an event?

See also

How the Self Controls Its Brain .For a more science-based model of how the mind works, see: neuralnetworks , reinforcement learning , complex mind

Philosophers of mind

See also


External links

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