Posted On 05 Oct 2009
What is the nature of the human mind? What is the essence of mind? Which qualities or abilities constitute having a mind?
Are nonhuman minds real? If so, which qualities or abilities do nonhuman animals minds lack that we have? How did minds come to exist? From what did minds come to exist?
It’s not at all clear to me that we should agonize thinking about such questions. Conceptualizing is endless. It’s important to master some spiritual practice or other that enables us to set aside incessant conceptualizing.
Still, such questions are able to increase our wonder. Taking them that way, thinking a bit can enrich our sense of wonder.
In a helpful article written thirty years ago (“Mind and Changes of Mind”), Annette Baier discusses 9 capacities of mind. Of course, she wasn’t the first to discuss any of them, but her list may be helpful to increase our amazement.
(1) Reflexiveness: a mind is aware of itself as a mind.
(2) Heteronomy: a mind is aware of a better mind (in comparison with which its own thinking may be imperfect and whose reassurance it needs to combat self-doubt).
(3) Representation: A mind contains “ideas” that are supposed to have “objective reality.”
(4) Intellect: A mind discerns truth (and the relations between and among its “ideas”).
(5) Will: A mind accepts or rejects truth-candidates—or postpones such decisions.
(6) Versatile Expressive Speech: A mind is able to express its thoughts linguistically.
(7) Response: A mind can respond appropriately to what is said to it.
(8) Convention & Custom: A mind has learned a natural language and its ability to respond depends upon the linguistic conventions of that language.
(9) Versatile Intelligent Problem Solving: A mind can use its reason in all sorts of challenging situations.
Notice that, if different kinds of mind (for example, prelinguistic human minds and linguistic human minds like our own) have different capacities, then those capacities may have emerged at different times. Was there an evolution of different kinds of minds? Are there different mental levels?
What is the relation between the concept of mind and the concept of consciousness? Is everything mental accessible to consciousness?
Again, unless, perhaps, you are a philosopher who specializes in the philosophy of mind, it is not a good idea to become endlessly enmeshed in theory about the nature of mind.
On the other hand, a little wonder can do a body good!