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Is the Mind Circular?

  1. Sep 5, 2005 #1
    If, in fact we have to rely wholly on sentience in order to interpret our world, why should we deem sentience circular? If so, then our attempts to define who and what we are -- or, for that matter, anything -- is worthless. And, while we may stress the need for "empirical evidence," who or what is it that stresses it? Is it anything other than what we observe personally, inside our own minds?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2005 #2
    Reason is circular, but mind also include feelings and emotions. Many people think feelings and emotions are as important to understand reality as reason, if not more so. There certainly seems to be a lot of "truth" in certain works of art and, dare I say, religious myths.
  4. Sep 5, 2005 #3
    Yes, but why does reason have to be circular? It's none other than the means by which to explain cause-and-effect is it not? Is that to say that all scientific investigation which, "must" be observed via a reasoning mind, comes to naught? At what point does our examination of the evidence not become circular then?
  5. Sep 5, 2005 #4
    For the same reason a dictionary must define all its terms: completeness.

    Reason is a strange thing. I find most things I do, I do best if I don't have to think about it. As far as I can tell, reason is a by-product of language; we reason too much simply because we need to talk to each other. And since words don't have intrinsic meaning, the only thing we can do is communicate their intrinsic relationships; that is, what a word means in terms of other words.

    I suspect we can only do science because we are not fully rational. A fully rational being can easily find a simple explanation for everything. At a minimum, it can be argued that science does not make perfect sense, except perhaps the personal science of crackpots.
  6. Sep 5, 2005 #5
    It's funny how people hold on to the idea of an objective reality. I would support an actual reality of existance, but to me this reality is necessarily unexplainable, because it doesn't concord with any species of reasoning or logic. In my own theory of consciousness, objective reality takes the form of a principle I am bound to. This principle does not extend to the machinery of the brain. To say I am decieved by the brain would be appropriate, but that doesn't mean I can't 'shape' my thoughts over time. Once the body serves consciousness, rather than its own representation of reality, circular reasoning is obliterated.

    Just my thoughts.
  7. Sep 6, 2005 #6
    How do you know ? Isn't physics the application of reasoning to reality ?
  8. Sep 6, 2005 #7
    I don't think physics in it's present form (it's need for objective evidence and falsifiable thoeries) is capable of handling ontological questions. And I don't think physics is necessarily applying reason to reality. It's applying reason to epistemic names and concepts, which may or may not correspond with reality - I highly doubt it.

    Science deals with the HOW, with causality the major assumption. The WHAT is a different matter, I think at its root it is an appeal to an intentional subject. Try and describe WHAT something is, and eventually we start to say that it is a device that allows us to... it is a thing that let's us know.... It seems that the only way we can define objects is by giving them volition. This is very telling in my opinion.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  9. Sep 7, 2005 #8
    I think perhaps you're wrong on this one. The circularity of reason shows up in the fact that dictionaries do not and cannot define all their terms. Dictionaries must contain undefined terms just as formal systems in mathematics must and for the same reasons. To define all the terms in a system is impossibly self-referential so where the circle of reasoning returns to its start there must be a gap. Reasoning is circular, but the circle cannot be completed, which is something like saying that mathematics cannot be axiomatised. For more or less this reason Hawking argues that physics cannot be completed.
  10. Sep 7, 2005 #9
    Godel, right? :smile:

    But I had something slightly different in mind.

    I will say you are wrong here, and I won't even say perhaps; good dictionaries do define all their terms. I do get your point though.

    That is not the right way to state it, because it's really not true of dictionaries. But I think you are addressing a slightly different issue: you must

    know a certain number of words before you can look up a dictionary, and you can't learn the meaning of those words from the dictionary itself.

    I think you are arguing that reason is not enough to understand or describe the world, with which I may agree. My point was simply that reason is always striving for circularity, for having all concepts defined in terms of each other.

    What is impossible about self-reference? Many people suspect reality is self-referential at some level.

    I don't think we are actually disagreeing. But a statement like "reasoning is circular, but the circle cannot be completed" is a bit puzzling, don't you think? Doesn't it imply reason is invalid, since it cannot fulfill its purpose?
  11. Sep 8, 2005 #10
    Yep. He crops up everywhere.

    I'm not a mathematician so won't make my own argument, but here's what I meant expressed by someone more competent.

    "…since every word in a dictionary is defined in terms of another word… The only way to avoid circular reasoning in a finite language would be to include some undefined terms in the dictionary. Today we must realise that mathematical systems too, must include undefined terms, and seek to include the minimum number necessary for the system to make sense."

    Leonard Mlodinow
    ‘Euclid’s Window’ (144)

    In other words, either we use undefined terms or end up with a tautology.

    I agree with you here. We strive for circularity but we cannot achieve it, as Russell and Whitehead found. Have you read "Goedel, Escher, Bach" by any chance?

    I also suspect it, and would argue that this is why we cannot understand it by reason alone. Reality can be entirely self-referential, (thus the principle of 'nonduality' in mysticism, the use of 'Tao' as an undefined term and so forth) but reasoning about reality cannot be since it becomes tautological and ceases to refer beyond itself to that reality. Strictly formal reasoning, as usually defined, inevitably ends up going around in a circle to end up face to face with its starting assumptions, not able to derive them from within the system without turning the system into a tautology. This doesn't matter too much in our everyday affairs but it is a real problem when we reason about reality itself via metaphysics, ontology and so forth.

    I agree that we're probably just coming at the same conclusion from different angles. But I don't see why that comment should be puzzling. We know from mathematicians that formal 'Boolean' reasoning has limits. When we reason about reality we find that as our system of formal reasoning nears completion contradictions and paradoxes arise, caused by self-reference in the system.

    In this way, when we reason about reality, we always find ourselves bumping into barriers to knowledge, divine mysteries, explanatory gaps, ignoramibuses, contradictions and paradoxes, most often in the form of undecidable metaphysical questions. So I'd say yes, in this sense reason is 'invalid', or inadequate to its task. One only needs to examine the literature of consciousness studies, quantum mechanics or quantum cosmology, where researchers have to get down to the nitty-gritty concerning reality, to see the truth of this. The 'hard' problem of the mind/brain relationship is IMO a paradigm example of the inadequacy of reason by itself as a means of grasping the truth about reality. Perhaps the inability of analytical philosophers to decide metaphysical questions is the most obvious evidence of the circularity/self-reference problem.
  12. Sep 12, 2005 #11
    So, is it possible that the mind does not arise from the brain itself, and exists within its own continuum (another dimension), of which all things become manifest, even that which is "physical?"
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2005
  13. Sep 14, 2005 #12
    What does it mean to "describe" the world ? What is a description ? What aspects of a description are you interested in or you want to focus on? Description is vague and deals alot with how you intend to use the description. Do you just want a pretty picture ? Do you need a precise description to build that bridge ? The same applies to "understanding". These always end up in philosophical - metaphysical realms because they are vague, it is not at all clear what the person is looking for or wants to do or wants to feel.
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