Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Mind" is a Heterogenous Concept

By "heterogenous concept" I mean one that turns out, under analysis, to refer to multiple, distinguishable things. All I mean by "analysis," that I am not using in any sort of technical manner, is thinking about the meaning of the term (semantics and metaphysics often come to the same thing). Examples of heterogenous concepts from outside of philosophy of mind are value terms like "ethics" or "beauty," or for that matter very many abstract nouns such as (opening the dictionary randomly) "resemblance" or "reservoir." Heterogenous concepts are common (I'm not sure I even like the word "concepts." To me it feels like I'm just thinking about words). We can understand the continuity of meaning between "That man's reservoir of good will" and "The city's reservoir of water," but if we are thinking metaphysically (in the sense of our ontology) about reservoirs the two uses are different enough that (I would say) it makes most sense to say "'Reservoir' is a heterogenous concept," meaning that it is a word that refers to multiple, distinguishable things.

Once we are alert to the possibility that one concept-word can turn out to refer to distinguishable things we can sometimes clear the smoke away a bit from philosophical arguments. For example ethical theorists (not the best ethical theorists, but quite a few ethical theorists) might see themselves as involved in some sort of partisan contest: are the rights theorists correct (or better or what have you), or are the consequentialists getting it right(er)? Or maybe virtue theory is preferable to both? But wait: people can be "ethical" at a civil, legal sort of level (respecting others' rights), and "ethical" at a phenomenal, qualitative sort of level (minimizing felt harm), and they can be "good" people in the sense of being an example of a well-realized person. And in fact real good people (that is, good people when they're not doing philosophy) use Kantian-style "golden rule" reasoning and Millian outcomes-based strategies and they make Aristotelean evaluations of themselves and others, all at the same time, because "ethics" turns out to be a heterogenous concept. The intentions of self-aware beings and the phenomenal experiences of conscious beings and the health or pathology of living beings are all different things, such that there turn out to be not so much differences of opinion among "ethical theorists" as there are changings of the subject.

"Mind" is a heterogenous concept. Specifically, when people use the word "mind" they are sometimes referring to (using these words in their philosophy of mind sense) the intentional (beliefs, desires, hopes, fears), which is about persons and sometimes to the phenomenal (pains, tastes, sensations, tingles), which is about bodies. Thus we can use the same strategy that I just used to try to sort out "ethical theory" to try to sort out "theory of mind." Operationalist theories (such as functionalism) are addressing the problem of intentionality while materialist theories are addressing the problem of phenomenology. And both approaches work in their respective applications. Thus we can cut the contemporary gordian knot of philosophy of mind. That's why I am calling this project The Mind/Body Problems, plural.

One more point, about why it has been so hard for so long for people to realize that "mind" presents us with (at least) two metaphysical problems, not one. (Gilbert Ryle got this point right.) That is because most cultures and thus most persons have deeply internalized the ontology of the soul: one body, one mind. The body indisputably is something, some one thing, a very fancy physical object. The grammar (as Wittgenstein would say) of the word "mind," suggesting as it does that it refers to some one, individuated thing, combined with the idea that the mind is something separate from the body, creates a strong intuition (a wrong one) that there is one metaphysical problem here. And that has led to a great deal of heat and not much light at all.


  1. The heterogeneity of the mind consists that the “content” of the mind is not uniform upon variances in the circumstances. The mind lacks a homogeneous conclusion/output/understanding when confronted/input with different variations of a single situation. This can be exemplified by the following situation X: “Joan’s car ran out of gas,” which the mind analyzes and interprets based on the differences of situations such as (A) “Joan’s car ran out of gas at home”, (B) “Joan’s car ran out of gas on the freeway” and (C) “Joan’s car ran out of gas on a desert road.” Situations a, b and c are all different but have a common root which is the problem, so the mind would not reach a same solution for all three situations. Only according to each situation does the mind produce intentional and phenomenological properties, with a common denominator. In all three situations, for example, the mind could produce an intentional state of fear and hopelessness, while a phenomenological state of anxiety and hyperventilation may also be produced so that the intentional and phenomenological states of the mind both respond to that situation. But for situation B the fear may be due to the fear of being crashed into and getting hurt and physical anxiety of not being able to get out of the car if Joan is claustrophobic, while in situation C, the fear may be due to being bitten by a snake in the desert and the physical anxiety and hyperventilation be due to lack of food and strenuous exercise. This illustrates the variability and adaptability of the mind which supports the conception of the mind as being multiply realizable and the rejection of a mind which would reduce situations A, B and C to the original situation X (as Jaegwon Kim discusses in his essay concerning the topic).

    Mara L. Alvarez

  2. Every person is in fact, a different world, well that’s my opinion, but I also think that this is one of the reasons that makes difficult for us to give just one meaning to a “Word”. I think that ethics is a good example of a heterogeneous concept/word. What is right for me, may not be right for you, but that’s one of the reasons we have laws invented by some “ethical and correct” persons to “protect the rights of us, the people”, in our society. I also think that the concept mind is a very ambiguous one. I think that most of the people think of mind as the place where, you have the memories, the knowledge (the intentional properties). I think we have a brain, a body structure just like the heart where occurs all the mental process (and the thoughts about a lover, do math, have memories, and regulate our movements. I don’t believe that the mind is equal to the soul; I actually don’t believe there is a soul.

  3. Juan G. RIos Filo4147 (20)April 22, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    Mensaje de Juan G Rios clase Filo4147(20)Metafisica de la filosofia del comportamiento. Segun lo que lei el hombre no cambia lo que ocasiona estos aparentes cambios son las cosas que lo rodean(naturaleza.) Estoy de acuerdo con este commentario ya que pienso que si existe una norma que dirige el comportamiento humano. A mi opinion el comportamiento humano es dirigido por el deseo de satisfacer sus necesidades basicas y de desarrollar al maximo su potencial.Creo q ese deseo esta en todos los humanos y que los cambios en nuestros comportamientos se deben a nuestras experienciasy como estan afectaron nuestra manera de pensar.

  4. This is a very nice argument. I like much argument there, concept of mind. All of this involves. I think that is an issue that all people should know whether intentional or physically. The problem that takes the concept of mind. I believe this issue is and will be discussed by the different ways people think, to comment on the soul, mind and which surrounds it.

  5. Alberto J. Goyco de VeraApril 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    I agree with the heterogeneous concept that you are giving to the mind. It has been often used as a singular “functional” concept, but in fact it has many ways to think about it. The mind is not always the same thing for everyone even dough there is scientific and psychological definitions to what a mind may be. On the other hand, Does it really have to be merely one thing? I think that the mind apart of being a structure of a body it’s also a cognitive tool to give sense to all of what we encounter in our everyday life. Being this way we can consider to have a “multidisciplinary Mind”. For example one thing is giving meaning to things and the other is having conscience of what we experience. So having this dual functionality concept of the mind, we could say that it is heterogeneous.

  6. And the mystery remains! Being the mind an heterogenous concept, in other words having more than one meaning and use, it seems that that one of the problems of this deep concept, relates to grammar or language. The time I've been taking FILO class one thing is certain for me, words are finite. They only can describe average(common) charasteristics and can define average meanings. Also they express more than things and accounts, they express the capacity, the abstraction of an intention or the complex nature of energy.

    Language is a tool, instead of using signals or drawings with meanings, we have arrange symbols and sounds to communicate with each other. But more than just a tool, language is like a mirror that tries to reflect the truth of being.

    "Language, by naming beings for the first time, first brings beings to word and to appearance. Only this naming nominates beings to their being from out of their being. Such saying is a projecting of the clearing, in which announcement is made of what it is that beings come into the Open as. Projecting is the release of a throw on which unconcealedness submits and infuses itself into what is as such. This projective announcement forthwith become a renunciation of all the dim confusion in which what is veils and withdraws itself" (Poetry, Language, Thought, Martin Heidegger)

  7. What do you think of Robin Dunbar's views?

  8. Although I have not read the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it may be relevant to state that i do not subscribe to the "social intelligence hypothesis" developed by Humphrey, also known (in the book by Byrne and Whiten) as the "Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis." The idea that mind develops through the need to read the minds of others strikes me as circular, in the same way that the Chomskian thesis that language is necessary for thought is clearly backwards, on my view. Generally I think that no natural historical account can diverge from the axiom of continuity of psychological/behavioral traits. I am an "anti-humanist." Very fancy animal, yes. Exceptional or miraculous animals, no. That mice are conscious looks to me to be a plain fact in no need of any defense whatsoever. Forget primates until you understand sea slugs. (Forgive this rough and hurried comment.)

  9. But I would say there is such a thing as a mind. One interlinked indivisible whole more than the sum of its parts. At the very least you have to think about the direction in which mind is travelling: towards ever increasing integration, or into a series of increasingly specialised interlocking functionalities.

    What is interesting to me about mind is how intentionality and consciousness and a sense of identity, brings mind together, so to speak.

  10. You say:

    "Generally I think that no natural historical account can diverge from the axiom of continuity of psychological/behavioral traits."

    So no switch is thrown? But the ability to "entertain" a thought, to entertain an idea of self is perhaps related to the ability to entertain and manipulate symbols, to conceptualise.

    Now I think that possible a switch was thrown there in a kind of looping self reference. Awareness of awareness. As Hofstadter suggested.

    That's not gradualism. The difference between a human and an ape is not a difference of gradation, it is a qualititave leap.

  11. Phil, My overall programmatic view is a kind of naturalism: integrating our theory of human nature with our theory of nature in general. So, as to the first of your last two comments, I think that we are unified "psychologically" because we are distinct bodies: it is the body that is "continuous." As to the second, I disagree: no qualitative leap. One point there is that I don't think we need exalt humans over the rest of nature. But hopefully we will be able to discuss this further in the future.

  12. Well that's actually very interesting, Anderson. I was listening to the recounted experiences of a stroke suffererwho said that one of the problems she had was knowing where she ended and the world began. That would seem to accord, somehow, with your view.

    Of course I disagree with you - to the extent that I understand you correctly. I think there is a clear and obvious difference between humans and the rest of nature. The evidence is all around us.


  13. Yes the mind is sometimes felt to be a collection of thoughts feeling as other such things. However the mind is very distinctly its own, it does not work for integration into the body it is integrated. What with think of as working towards integration is the brain which is constantly making new neural connections. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories are all relative they are not the determining structure of the mind the mind is constant. We just tend to relate the mind to these thoughts and emotions because they are the most readily accessible part of the mind.

  14. www.spectropoetics.com

    i agree its hetero-autoaffection divded into infinity.