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Mind as a noun

  1. Mar 24, 2009 #1

    Math Is Hard

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    "mind" as a noun

    If we were all to come to the agreement that the mind is what the brain does (not that I know that we will), would it still make sense to still use "mind" as a noun?

    To try an analogy, "running" I suppose, makes sense as a noun and running is what the legs do. But "mind" and "running" are different kinds of nouns. (someone help me with the linguistics here).

    The kind of noun that "mind" is, seems to imply some sort of substrate, something separate and locatable in space. (We can "lose our minds" or ask "what's on it".) Or we can see it as a collection of activities that can be bound up as a complete concept, which is maybe not that helpful if we can just as easily describe them by the different processes. We don't have a collective concept for "run, walk, step, sprint, etc." for all the various things legs can do. We don't say "leggage" or "the leggage" as a catchall term for all the things that legs carry out.

    What are some reasons for keeping "mind" as a noun in this scenario?
     
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  3. Mar 24, 2009 #2

    turbo

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    It's a convenient way to express the function of the brain/psyche. We don't say "What's on your brain?" unless we are talking about something physical like (heaven forbid) a tumor or something. When we ask "What's on your mind?" we are asking about what kinds of concepts or feelings are foremost in the function of other person's wet-ware.

    Without the concept of a mind (processes) as opposed to a brain (organ), we might never have been treated to such insights as:
    "You take the United Negro College Fund model that what a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is." (former vice-president whose mental talents probably topped out at washing cars) Never mind...

    It could have been worse, I guess. He might have quoted the United Negro College Fund motto at the get-together accurately, but only partially, and had said "A mind is a terrible thing." That would have been pretty appropriate, in a self-referential way.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2009
  4. Mar 24, 2009 #3
    Re: "mind" as a noun

    Mind is an abstract noun, as opposed to a concrete noun, like brain.
    Running is a gerund, a noun form of a verb. Mind can also be a verb though, as in 'to mind the store', or 'mind the gap'.
    Locomotion? Travel? Traverse? Move?

    Running and walking are distinct enough in a physical way, or concrete enough, that there is generally very little need for abstraction. The difference between abstract and concrete can get fuzzy though.

    Mind tends to be unobservable, at least directly. Consider 'justice'. We can't really observe it directly, it can be linked to observed action however. Its an abstraction.

    Math is an abstraction too, as in 'addition' or 'subtraction'. Both are processes.
    And in math, not only can you link processes, but even embed them.
    The word itself, mathematics, is an abstract noun.
    Don't think its much used as a verb though.

    Back to mind, neurons firing can be observed, and fMRIs can measure brain activity.
    But abstractions are on the level of information, or patterns of meaning.

    Ultimately I think we use mind as a noun because we don't know much about it, its really just psychology's equivalent to soul. Although some would distinguish the two.

    The strange part about concrete and abstract is that within science some of the most abstract things, like quarks and atoms, are considered to have the most reality, whereas a baseball, something you can concretely observe is an 'illusion' created by forces.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2009
  5. Mar 24, 2009 #4

    apeiron

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    The obvious reason for having a noun for mind is so as to be able to distinguish between your mind and my mind. So even if it is a process, a verb so to speak, then it is a process that takes place as a particular example over here, then another one over there.

    The proper relationship between mind and brain is another kind of debate - metaphysical rather than linguistic.

    But at a simple level, employing it as a noun rather than as a verb (eg: minding) need only be taken as a claim about it being a general class of something (structure or process) of which there are also specific instances.
     
  6. Mar 24, 2009 #5
    Re: "mind" as a noun

    All of you make interesting points, but you are referring to the ambiguous "mind". What about "mind" as a pronoun, where "mind" is equivalent to "I"? It doesn't have this meaning every time it's used, but I feel it's most descriptive when it is. "Mind" is everything we know, believe, and think; it's everything we are. It's interesting to think of a world where "soul" and "mind" aren't separate concept but are one in the same, and everyone knows it. As far as Americans are concerned, the majority holds "soul" to be separate from the physical world, contained within our bodies. If everyone believed that "soul", or "mind", was a very real, physical property, who knows where we'd be today? I'm sure so many of us have experienced that epiphany; that instance of self-realization. It was amazing. For me, it was the moment I began making leaps-and-bounds in my journey to understand myself, my life, and existence. I wonder what the world would be like if this concept wasn't something so many of us have to come across in our late adolescence, but something we experienced from birth.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2009
  7. Mar 24, 2009 #6
    Re: "mind" as a noun

    No, we don't know what the Mind is. For all we know, the Mind is everything, the universe, the stars, the planets, the people... We have no idea what the mind really is or where exactly it is in the brain. It's still by far the most complex phenomenon we have ever seen and it might be so for a few more millenia.

    I'd say we call it a noun because we are so hung up on materialism that we overlook the possibility of there existing a parallel form of complementary immaterial existence.
     
  8. Mar 24, 2009 #7
    Re: "mind" as a noun

    Yes, in the same way that it makes sense to still use "thought" as a noun. These words refer to our subjective, private, perception and processing, our experience, of whatever aspects of our world are presented to each of us. The brain is processing data from the stuff inside as well as from outside our skin.

    If you believe that 'mind' refers to what the brain does, no more no less, or if you believe that 'mind' refers to some nonmaterial or immaterial 'thing' that sort of corresponds to, but which exists separately from, the brain; I still have a pretty good idea what you mean when you say you have something on your mind, or you've lost your mind, or you don't or do mind, or never mind, etc.

    Communication. It's in common use, and it does, for all of us, refer to our subjective, private experience. Of course, we can't taste, touch, smell, or see our thoughts, and we can only sort of 'hear' them. So, some of us attribute them to a nonmaterial or other than physical source.

    I don't think it's a metaphysical debate. Nor is it solely a linguistic one. 'Mind' and 'brain' are a couple of four letter words that we use in certain contexts. Ascertaining the relationship between the two is also a matter of ongoing experimentation, and interpretation of the data.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2009
  9. Mar 24, 2009 #8

    apeiron

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    Having worked in the field, I can assure you that more is needed than experiments and data interpretation.

    We have fantastic machines - fMRI scanners, etc. But show me where the data has advanced understanding beyond the reaction time experiments of Wundt and co.

    It is the quality of theory that is the issue. And this is a meta- problem.

    As another aside, the human mind is socially constructed as well as neurologically developed, so any science of the mind has to include both the biological and the cultural aspects of "minding".

    I guess in that sense, it is also a (neuro-)linguistic problem!
     
  10. Mar 24, 2009 #9

    turbo

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    You may now be impinging on MIH's territory and intriguing her. If I understand what she's doing (from the posts that I may or may not have comprehended accurately) this subject might be right up her alley.
     
  11. Mar 24, 2009 #10
    Re: "mind" as a noun

    I agree. You caught my post before I added 'also'. :smile:
    More data is needed.
    I think it's more of an instrumentation, detection, and data-processing issue. Theories generally progress, and new theories arise, with advances in these things. But I agree that it's not solely an issue of data acquisition and interpretation. Theory development does have its 'meta' aspects.
    It would seem so, and this would overlap with the applied and experimental analysis of behavior.
     
  12. Mar 25, 2009 #11
    Re: "mind" as a noun

    Daniel Dennett made the interesting argument that statements such as "Peter's brain" is really odd on the position that mind = brain.
     
  13. Mar 25, 2009 #12

    Math Is Hard

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    Thanks for the interesting replies, everyone. I have really enjoyed reading them.

    I should clarify that I'm not interested in getting into a discussion of how "brain produces mind" or "what the mind is". This is just a little sidebar. Maybe more linguistic than neuro.

    The reason I was thinking about the question I asked is because I was listening to an interview with Patricia Churchland, and one of the things she was talking about was the concept of self. Similarly to "mind", the idea of "self" arises very early out of our social interactions and our folk psychology, and it is very useful in communication. At the neuroscience level, however, it is more difficult to pin down. In our spelunking of the brain, it's been very difficult to find neural correlates that correspond specifically to our idea of self. As she was saying, we're not likely to discover, "oh, there it is, tucked under the anterior insula!"

    What we're likely to find is the interplay of many complex processes such as knowing where are bodies are in space, and knowing that our memories are our own, and understanding that others can have different perceptions and intentions than our own., etc.

    I think that communicating without the concept of self is impossible. That would be a big mess. I am not as sure about the concept of mind. I think that is more work-around-able. If you're wondering why I might suggest such a thing, I want to refer back to my hypothetical scenario. Let's say we've gotten to the point that idea of "mind" seems about as plausible/useful as the idea of "animal spirits" or "life force". I think there's some possibility that we might have a paradigm shift and discard the idea of mind, and maybe our language, reflecting our ideas, would follow suit.

    "Mind" as a noun (in my futuristic scenario), may conjure images that are unscientific, too far removed from what we observe. If we continued using mind as a singular hypothetical and colloquial construct, we might be doing so with dishonesty, and may be pushing inaccurate ideas onto the ones we teach. Labels carry imagery, and in my own image of "mind", I seem to have an image of a 3D transparent bubble surrounding the brain where thoughts and memories and computations and motor commands fly around. That's a tough image to override. It could be all the years of using it in social interactions, or it could be genetically hardwired into me.

    The concept of "thought" I can see hanging around indefinitely. There's not a good way to simplify it, as far as I can tell. It seems more basic than the idea of mind. We could get more traction on what it is and what produces it, but I don't know that it would be useful to eliminate that as a concept.
     
  14. Mar 25, 2009 #13

    apeiron

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    This is not Churchland's view (she is much to biological), but a social constructionist approach would say the self is the socially constructed sense of being a locus of control.

    Much written about this with Vygotsky and Mead being the historically important cites.

    So self would be different from mind in that one points to the learnt understanding of a self as separate from the world, and so able to be held accountable (by a society) for its actions.

    The mind would be a more general term that connects to the ancient apparent dualism of physical body and a mental world with awareness, a located point of view.

    So we can say a monkey has a mind, but not a self. Or at least start that argument....

    If you are really interested in the creation of psychological jargon here, a really entertaining read is Kurt Danzinger's Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found Its Language.
     
  15. Mar 25, 2009 #14

    Math Is Hard

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    I'm only going by her comments on folk psychology, but I could be misinterpreting. Perhaps she means that folk psychology is strictly inherent rather than having any social or learned basis. But I think it would be a little weird to assume that she entirely discounts social learning as input to concept formulation in our folk psychology.

    Yes, I've read some of both. I've always thought that Vygotsky only got part of the story, perhaps wasn't biological enough.

    And thus, "mind" might be more easily discarded. Self can take on the "located point of view" as well.

    I think the jury is still out one that one, but it gets more difficult when we talk about apes (and certain other species that have passed the "mirror test").

    Thank you. I'll look for that.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2009
  16. Mar 26, 2009 #15

    Pythagorean

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    physically, I think we might even be able to say that our "mind" is the logical state (or dynamic system of logical states) of our brain's physical circuit (not quite an electrical circuit, more of an electrochemical circuit).

    What about "Athletics"? The implication being that perhaps the mind isn't comparable to the legs. Instead, it's comparable to the body. The mind and the body are collectives that have smaller parts that make them up.
     
  17. Mar 26, 2009 #16

    apeiron

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    Re: "mind" as a noun

    On Churchland: I was talking about her championing of neural net approaches rather than the folk psychology stuff - gee, that sounds like a blast from the past now!

    On Vygotsky: he wasn't a neurologist, but then he had Luria for that!
     
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