2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Philosophy

Mind refers to the collective aspects of intellect and consciousness which are manifest in some combination of thought, perception, emotion, will and imagination.

There are many theories of what the mind is and how it works, dating back to Plato, Aristotle and other Ancient Greek and Indian philosophers. Pre-scientific theories, which were rooted in theology, concentrated on the relationship between the mind and the soul, the supposed supernatural or divine essence of the human person. Modern theories, based on a scientific understanding of the brain, see the mind as a phenomenon of psychology, and the term is often used more or less synonymously with consciousness.

The question of which human attributes make up the mind is also much debated. Some argue that only the "higher" intellectual functions constitute mind: particularly reason and memory. In this view the emotions - love, hate, fear, joy - are more "primitive" or subjective in nature and should be seen as different in nature or origin to the mind. Others argue that the rational and the emotional sides of the human person cannot be separated, that they are of the same nature and origin, and that they should all be considered as part of the individual mind.


In popular usage mind is frequently synonymous with thought: It is that private conversation with ourselves that we carry on "inside our heads" during every waking moment of our lives. Thus we "make up our minds," "change our minds" or are "of two minds" about something. One of the key attributes of the mind in this sense is that it is a private sphere with unlimited power. No-one else can "know our mind." They can only know what we communicate.

On Brain-Mind

The understanding of natural phenomena and the origin and mystery of life has been an ageless human concern. Many millennia ago, long before written historic records and language, the human species evolved, survived natural catastrophes, and most likely formed a minimal social life by communicating with one another via grunts and signs. Around 3000 BC, in Western Europe, Asia and China, a social life existed within disparate familial ‘national’ groups in frequent war with one another. In the ‘fertile crescent’ of northwest Africa (Mesopotamia) for example, nations were governed by despotic Pharaohs (Egypt), Kings (Babylon), and Patriarchs who based their rule on differing mythic beliefs in gods and religions. Between 600 and 300 BC in the Aegean islands and Greece, progress in verbal and symbolic written language sparked the beginning of a thoughtful dialectic search (via Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) for a better foundation of existing beliefs on religious, politics, and economics related to human life as well as for rules governing natural phenomena. It was not until 1650 AD, however, that in Great Britain Isaac Newton a man of genius developed a unique ‘scientific’ ability to conceptualize and analyze with mathematical accuracy many natural phenomena (how bodies move in space-time). Two centuries later Michael Faraday experimentally explained the interconnection between electric and magnetic phenomena and James Clerk Maxwell translated Faraday’s concepts into a "scientific" mathematical theory of how electromagnetic waves are excited and propagated in space-time. In a remarkable series of five papers in 1905 Albert Einstein then showed that space and time were related, that light could be viewed either as an electromagnetic wave or as a system of particles. These "scientific" abilities spawned technological inventions with deep impact on the quality of human lives. But efforts to learn and explain basic human behavior did not achieve a level of success comparable to that in the "sciences". Ideas that worked so well in solving problems via “science" methods were not readily adaptable to the more difficult human problems associated with long standing spiritual beliefs. Belief patterns stem from intimately related mind phenomena emanating from thought, memory, and emotion processes within a complex physical structure --the human brain. At birth our brain is almost not there. Brain growth during childhood depends markedly on environmental exposure to parents and schools. Thoughts are cerebral perceptions of external and internal sensory events, from which imaginative abstract ideas associated with memories of these events can be created. Beliefs on the other hand can arise from diverse spiritual exposures or from experimentally verifiable thought patterns, both of which have a profound affect on individual and collective human behaviour. Some individuals have a passion for basing their beliefs on "scientific" thinking while others do not abide by this requirement. A fundamental cognitive understanding of our thought processes has become a focus of psycho-biological, neurological, and molecular-biological studies relating mind excitations to specific physical areas within the brain. These studies offer the hope of discovering the "scientific" essence of mind phenomena and of suggesting novel methods for improving the quality of human life at all ages. Relatively simple meditative methods exist for controlling thought and memory patterns which lead to learning important belief patterns.

Meditative control of thought and memory

Awareness of one’s mental state is a quintessential requirement for improving the thinking, learning, and remembering processes that form the basis of our belief systems. Involuntary stray thoughts, however, are major impediments to willful control of awareness, but are genetically inherent in the human psyche. They often play an important role in creative thinking but can also give rise to obsessive (semi-conscious) beliefs that cause fatigue, especially if associated with unpleasant emotional states. Meditative methods, of which there are many, afford an effective means to break the clutch of discomforting mindsets. Meditation comprises a mix of intentional and non-intentional mental processes that can be correlated gainfully with the natural autonomic rhythm of breathing environmental nutrients essential to life. A prime intent of meditation is to remove disconcerting mindsets by intentionally creating a relaxed state of awareness. An effective first step is to focus on the rhythm of one’s breathing, until annoying mindsets are submerged via this act of concentration. One can then shift, to simply observing one’s natural breathing. A troublesome task if the mind is being buffeted by emotionally charged feelings! Interrupting and removing discomforting mindsets can also be achieved by mantra-like (eyes closed) meditative breathing. One focuses rhythmically on an in breath and out breath for a sufficient, but not an extended time, which should permit a gradual shift into a natural breathing state of relaxed awareness. Very individual and not simple tasks, but very rewarding if successful! On achieving (eyes open) awareness, one can progress to intentional thought tasks that set off a pleasurable meditative flow of mental activity. Meditation requires periodic practice in moving smoothly and quasi-simultaneously between rhythmic breathing and focus on pleasurable tasks. One must guard against drifting into an intensive non-flowing mental state that breeds mental fatigue. Meditation is best pursued by experimenting with either a visual or verbal flow of pleasant thought patterns. Potential creative elements may emerge if the flow evolves into a semi-intentional free wheeling sequence linked to a novel view of a task. One of the benefits of meditation is its ability to induce sleep. One can set a natural base for transition to a sleep state, especially when tired, by concentrating solely on the rhythm of one’s natural breathing. This should permit a gradual drift into an unfocussed flow of pleasant thoughts and ultimately into a sleep state. The ability to control thought and memory flow and to relax into simple awareness is indicative of successful meditation. Overall, meditative exercise serves to improve mental life and, as we shall document below, can defer the aging atrophy that results from lack of mental exercise.

On Psychobiology of Thought and Memory

Within the vast spectrum of life forms, the human species possesses a unique ability to think and remember. Thinking represents a unique interplay of thought and memory, captured by the aphorism: thought begets memory, and memory begets thought. Thoughts are mental processes that arise either from a complex of direct sensory perceptions or from abstract higher-level mental associations. Direct thought perceptions are associated with cerebral activity in the outer human neo-cortex and in the mid-brain, whereas abstract emotional thoughts are primarily associated with activity in the brain stem and thalamus; lower animal species do not have a neo-cortex and hence display minor mental capability. An omni-present mix of thought and memory patterns reflects a pleasurable or troublesome state of mind, depending on one’s ability to learn how to control the flow of thinking. Controlling the flow of abstract thoughts and memories is a quintessential human asset that requires intentional mental effort. Cognitive science studies reveal that the ability to learn stems both from specific inherited areas of brain structure as well as from environmental experience. In our conscious state the natural autonomic flow of mental activity is frequently interspersed with a pestering miscellany of non-intentional thoughts. The latter, a rather chaotic activity, often prompted by emotional instincts, complicates volitional mind flow, engenders mental distractions, but plays an important role in human creativity. Instinctual moderated free-wheeling streams of consciousness utilize a non-intentional mix of states that link the many verbal and visual associations characteristic of creative mental states. Recent mathematical developments in chaos theory suggest that free associative thinking is a random nonlinear mental process from which self-organizing activity representative of creativity emerges. One relevant aspect of free thinking is that it is less exhausting for the mind to wander freely within a forest of ever-changing thoughts than to fix on embedded thoughts. Obsessive thought fixation and resulting mental blocks are evident sources of psychobiologic mental fatigue. Psychological studies of individual and collective behavior have long been subjects of extensive efforts to document experimentally the laws that govern our behavior. In recent years these studies have begun to explore behavior in terms of the cerebral electro-chemical network being developed in the cognitive sciences. Related developments in pharmacological medications, affecting properties of the cerebral electro-chemical network, are currently sparking effective methods for modifying human behaviour. (text missing) open psycho-biological problem revolves about measuring the physical nature of thought and memory excitations generated by structures within the brain. In physics the concept of a field suggests an interesting and metaphorically related clarification of the problem of measuring mind phenomena. Current neuronal research on the molecular structure of the brain and its mental properties represents an important step along the road to understand how to deal with our mental beliefs about religion and ethics.

On the neuronal view of Thought and Memory

The human body is composed of sensory organs, a central neuronal-nervous system, and an autonomic circulatory blood system that provides nutrients essential to life. The electro-chemical neuronal network within the brain conveys sensory stimuli to a complex of cerebral cortical areas from which thought and memory excitations originate. Animal and human studies have shown that the act of learning initiates growth in the number of dendrite and synaptic constituents of cerebral neurons in areas specific to the learning process. This growth process appears to be subject to willful control. Distinctive thought and memory excitations involve a complex of distinctive neuronal areas. Since each area has a distinctive neuronal packing topography, it suggests that topography may distinguish these areas as sources and receivers of measurable mind excitations. As evidence for this suggestion, reentrant and oscillatory neuronal electric firing patterns in brain areas have been observed and correlated with memory excitations in a number of recent studies. These suggest the possibility of using ultra-sensitive (sonar or piezoelectric) spectral analysis techniques for physical measurement of the essence of thought and memory excitations. Sensory stimulated electro-chemical events are propagated throughout a neuronal network at approximately 100 meter per second speeds depending on the local topography of the network and on whether these signals are of an electrical or a diffusive biochemical nature. Differences in the arrival time of such signals from a sensory source to different locations in the visual, verbal, etc cortex give rise to different thought patterns that help to clarify phantom limb and blind sight phenomena. Biochemical and electrical activity, associated with neuronal signals, are observable and measurable at neuronal synapses. Neuronal electric potentials, measurable as alpha, delta, and theta waves by electroencephalograph (EEG) techniques, furnish information on cognitive as well as diseased (epileptic) areas of the brain. Functional magnetic resonance imagings (FMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), as well as optical brain imaging and microscopic needle cranial methods, provide information on areas of cerebral activity that correlate with different mental excitations. In particular, left or right brain activity, associated with analytic or artistic abilities, is linked to cortical areas whose locations vary markedly from individual to individual. Recent magnetic encephalography (MEG) has shown that complex sensory stimuli result in coherent electrical oscillations, but it is unclear as to whether these are indicative of signaling activity within the neuronal network or of mind excitations. A weeklong patch over one eye of a young kitten causes dendrite atrophy in its visual cortex and permanent retinal blindness in the patched eye. Learning experiments on birds and animals, using invasive techniques, indicate an increase of dendrite numbers in cortical areas associated with learning. Many recent observations appear to show neuronal replication in animals and humans, especially in the young, but also at all ages. Studies of areas of neuronal atrophy caused by cortical injuries and organic disease have shown that mental and physical exercises can invigorate neuron growth in neighboring cortical areas. This plasticity of cerebral neuronal structures is a major reason for mental and physical exercise at all ages. Fast functional magnetic resonance scans and optical brain imaging have shown that electro-chemical blood activity in specific areas of the cortex is correlated with specific types of thinking and learning. Related neurological research on memory imprinting and forgetting has led to an awareness of important neurotransmitters and receptors, released by electro-chemical processes generated within neuronal synapses. A vast body of research on electro-chemical activities at dendrite and axonal synapses has led to an era of pharmacological chemical development that has had a profound effect on medical treatment of mental disorders. Cell research at the molecular genetic level, a deeper level of neuronal study, offers further promises of correcting many mental and physical diseases.

In Summary

The developing understanding of the cerebral neuronal network, and of the diversity of dendrite structures involved in higher levels of conceptual reasoning, is one of the exciting open areas of neurobiological research. Current neuronal experiments show that learning and physical exercise engender neuronal plasticity by increasing dendrite and synaptic growth in different areas of the cortex. These observations add credibility to the importance of the nurture side of the “nature versus nurture” debate and thus emphasize the importance of mental exercises that heed the “use it or lose it” paradigm. Increased knowledge of the neuronal structure of the brain and of the nature of mind field excitations points a way for the modern exercise of the Socratic dictum “Know thyself”. The end of the road is not clear but the effort involved in traveling the cognitive science road, which leads to methods for control and flow of thoughts and memories, merits the journey.

Nature of the mind

Philosophers and psychologists remain divided about the nature of the mind. Some take what is known as the substantial view, and argue that the mind is a single entity, perhaps having its base in the brain but distinct from it and having an autonomous existence. This view ultimately derives from Plato, and was absorbed from him into Christian thought. In its most extreme form, the substantial view merges with the theological view that the mind is an entity wholly separate from the body, in fact a manifestation of the soul, which will survive the body's death and return to God, its creator.

Others take what is known as the functional view, ultimately derived from Aristotle, which holds that the mind is a term of convenience for a variety of mental functions which have little in common except that humans are conscious of their existence. Functionalists tend to argue that the attributes which we collectively call the mind are closely related to the functions of the brain and can have no autonomous existence beyond the brain, nor can they survive its death. In this view mind is a subjective manifestation of consciousness: the human brain's ability to be aware of its own existence. The concept of the mind is therefore a means by which the conscious brain understands its own operations.

If we follow the pantheistic view, Mind is synonymous with Soul, and emanates (since it is non-dimensional, or trans-dimensional) from the Spirit (the essence that can manifest itself through any level in pantheistic hierarchy/ holarchy - as a mind/soul of a single cell (with very primitive, elemental consciousness), a human or animal mind/soul (with consciousness on a level of organic synergy of an individual human or animal), or a (superior) mind/soul with synergetically extremely complex and sophisticated consciousness of whole galaxies involving all sub-levels). Spirit (essence) manifests as - Soul/Mind. And the (non-physical) Soul/Mind is a 'driver' of the body. Therefore, the body, including the brain, is just a 'vehicle' for the physical world (if we, for example, have a whole planet as a 'body' then its brain is the synergetic super-brain that involves all the brains of species with a brain on that planet).

History of the philosophy of the mind

According to Neo-Platonism, nondual Spirit manifests as Soul or Mind. Mind is synonymous with Soul, and emanates from the Spirit (the essence that can manifest itself through any level in the cosmic hierarchy/ holarchy, from the mind/soul of a single cell (with prehension – very primitive, elemental consciousness), a human or animal mind/soul (with consciousness on a level of an individual human/animal), or an oversoul, with consciousness of whole galaxies involving all sub-levels. And the (non-physical) Soul/Mind is a 'driver' of the body. Therefore, the body, including the brain, is just a vehicle for the physical world.

A leading exponent of the substantial view was George Berkeley, an 18th century Anglican bishop and philosopher. Berkeley argued that there is no such thing as matter and what humans see as the material world is nothing but an idea in God's mind, and that therefore the human mind is purely a manifestation of the soul or spirit or similar. This type of belief is also common in certain types of spiritual non-dualistic belief, but outside this field few philosophers take an extreme view today. However, the view that the human mind is of a nature or essence somehow different from, and higher than, the mere operations of the brain, continues to be widely held.

Berkeley's views were attacked, and in the eyes of many philosophers demolished, by T.H. Huxley, a 19th century biologist and disciple of Charles Darwin, who agreed that the phenomena of the mind were of a unique order, but argued that they can only be explained in reference to events in the brain. Huxley drew on a tradition of materialist thought in British philosophy dating to Thomas Hobbes, who argued in the 17th century that mental events were ultimately physical in nature, although with the biological knowledge of his day he could not say what their physical basis was. Huxley blended Hobbes with Darwin to produce the modern materialist or functional view.

Huxley's view was reinforced by the steady expansion of knowledge about the functions of the human brain. In the 19th century it was not possible to say with certainty how the brain carried out such functions as memory, emotion, perception and reason. This left the field open for substantialists to argue for an autonomous mind, or for a metaphysical theory of the mind. But each advance in the study of the brain during the 20th century made this harder, since it became more and more apparent that all the components of the mind have their origins in the functioning of the brain.

Huxley's rationalism, however, was disturbed in the early 20th century by the ideas of Sigmund Freud, who developed a theory of the unconscious mind, and argued that those mental processes of which humans are subjectively aware are only a small part of their total mental activity. Freudianism was in a sense a revival of the substantial view of the mind in a secular guise. Although Freud did not deny that the mind was a function of the brain, he held the mind has, as it were, a mind of its own, of which we are not conscious, which we cannot control, and which can be accessed only though psychoanalysis (particularly the interpretation of dreams). Freud's theory of the unconscious, although impossible to prove empirically, has been widely accepted and has greatly influenced the popular understanding of the mind.

More recently, Douglas Hofstadter's 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning book " Gödel, Escher, Bach - an eternal Golden Braid", is a tour de force on the subject of mind, and how it might arise from the neurology of the brain. Amongst other biological and cybernetic phenomena, Hofstadter places tangled loops and recursion at the centre of Self, Self-awareness, and perception of oneself, and thus at the heart of Mind and thinking. Likewise philosopher Ken Wilber posits that Mind is the interior dimension of the brain holon. That is, that mind is what a brain looks like internally, when it looks at itself.

Quantum physicist David Bohm had a theory of mind that is most comparable to Neo-Platonic theories. "Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us..."(Thought as a System, D. Bohm, 1992)

Current research

Stan Franklin has proposed that action selection is the right perspective to take in understanding the role and evolution of mind. See his page on the action selection paradigm.

The debate about the nature of the mind is relevant to the development of artificial intelligence. If the mind is indeed a thing separate from or higher than the functioning of the brain, then hypothetically it would be much more difficult to recreate within a machine, if it were possible at all. If, on the other hand, the mind is no more than the aggregated functions of the brain, then it will be possible to create a machine with a recognisable mind (though possibly only with computers much different from today's), by simple virtue of the fact that that such a machine already exists in the form of the human brain.

The Mind/Brain/Behaviour Interfaculty Initiative (MBB) at Harvard University aims to elucidate the structure, function, evolution, development, and pathology of the nervous system in relation to human behaviour and mental life. It draws on the departments of psychology, neurobiology, neurology, molecular and cellular biology, radiology, psychiatry, organismic and evolutionary biology, history of science, and linguistics.

Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind"