Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mental Things

States of mind begin physically, and physical they remain. They can be revealed only when an equally physical construction called the self becomes available and does its witnessing job. The traditional conceptions of matter and mental are unnecessarily narrow. The burden of proof does rest with those who find it natural for mind states to be constituted by brain activity. But endorsing the intuitive mind brain split as the only platform for discussing the problem is not likely to encourage the search for additional proof. (Self Comes To Mind, Antonio Damasio)
Right after writing a science fiction story about computers becoming conscious I decided to see what the state of the art was among the serious people of the world who concerned themselves with these important matters.

Antonio Damasio teaches at one of the schools I briefly attended a few decades ago. I found him mentioned in the Google + post of a connection who'd +d an episode of my story.

What did Damasio mean by saying states of mind are physical, from beginning to end? That they were constituted by brain activity?

Did he think our intuition that the mind is different is an illusion, like the way a straight stick seems to bend when it is seen breaking the surface of water and going under? Were our feelings of love, joy, laughter, sadness like that?

When we say the bending of the stick is an illusion, we mean that it is the wrong sight. We would call it right if we bent the stick a little. There is nothing about what we experience itself, the particular sight, that causes any problem. That is not the case with our mental world of feelings. They are experienced nothing like we experience physical things, and no action we take will change that.

If our mental world is not an illusion, what did he think it is?

Damasio in fact gives us the answer in his last sentence: seeing mental things as different from physical things gets in the way of research, and he is a researcher. Pragmatism, pure and simple. If you can't use it, it isn't real. Damasio say in another note he is a big fan of William James.

And me too. The difference is, I can use mental states. What do I know that Damasio doesn't?

Scientists beginning with physical things have a problem with mental things. Do people who begin with mental things have a have a problem with physical things? No, they do not!

Why do people like stories? Stories give us a good idea what to expect from life. But then, why do we like unreal fairy tales, fantasy, and science fiction? They teach us something else: how to keep continuity during change.

That may not seem like much. But take a look at the world the physical scientist lives in. To do that, we have to become sort of scientists ourselves, and build a model.

That model will include both mental and physical things. We will assume mental things really exist. We do this for the same reason Damasio didn't do it, as "likely to encourage the search for additional proof" of the fundamental, not illusory reality of the mental world.

Love, play, beauty share the characteristic of openness, lack of limit. This is our experience, and it has a place in our model. The opposite to open is closed, and the characteristic closed has its place in our model too. Physical things can be defined, they are closed off by their definition from other physical things.

We add to our model two other terms: movement, and stability.

Then we add two more terms: self, and world.

Open, Closed. Movement, Stability. Self, World.

Here's the model:

Science Of Mental Things:
Action: self defined, world open
Contemplation: world defined, self open

Science Of Physical Things:
Action: self open, world defined
Contemplation: self defined, world open

In Damasio's physical science, if we stop and think contemplation, we do see the mind and its mental states, though the causality of the world, however much determined, is undermined by its failure to establish a connection to the mental states self defined, world open. But if we look at how things work in the world action, how they change, we can talk with confidence about movements in the world, in the brain for example, but again, without knowing anything about how mental states are involved in that causality self open, world defined.

In the world of mental things, when we rest in the world's beauty contemplation, our selves are invisible world defined, self open. When we are solving a problem action, we take into account that the world is unresolved, is open. We are not open to ourselves, however, we are defined to ourselves by the new tricks we try, we are there, but disguised self defined, world open. We live in a fairy tale.

It is a long time since I created this model (1). It explains what is a story and what is not. It seems complicated, but it really isn't.

To describe consciousness, self and world have to share between them open and closed: they can't be both open, because that describes nothing, or both closed, because that can't move.

When you think physical things are real, self is one of them, but it is impossible to understand the movement and change you observe.

When you think love and beauty are real, you can account for change and movement, by telling a story, but physical things, including your self, are not real.

When mental things are real and we begin with them, we can follow how the mental thing love, how the sense of beauty changes to a feeling of betrayal, changes to watching over yourself and your various experiments with different kinds of actions, and finally returns to the mental state of being at home. You stop attending to your mental states only when you stop moving, but then story stops too and no sense of continuity is lost.

But there is no continuity of self, no story, if all you can say is you now are looked at here, now looked at there, and nothing in between. That is what the science of physical things gives us. Our mental states, not precisely illusions, are things we can think about in isolation, when we're at rest - we're allowed that - but have no place in the world of movement. We can't see them. We certainly can't see them move.

Self is significantly different from world: if we will a movement of our own body, it happens. If we will a movement of the world, it doesn't. Rest is associated with beauty, satisfaction with the way things are. Motion is associated with our intention to change the world.

In their relations to self and world, and movement and rest, mental and physical things are fundamentally different. The relative importance you give to mental and physical things affects the kind of life you live. The life that is based on physical things, which we have seen is intellectually incoherent, is also morally unacceptable (2).

(1) Actually Parmenides created it a long time, about 2,500 years, before me. See Mystery Clear And Beautiful.

(2) Different kinds of self inhabit the different worlds of mental and physical things:
Stories told of mental things:
In creative action, feeling that your love has been betrayed, you choose to exercise specific habits acquired in your own history of action, in a world that is unstable and seemingly unreal self defined, world open.
Succeeding in returning to a world of wholeness and love, the sight of yourself as a separate individual can have no place self open, world defined.
Stories told of physical things:
Acting intoxicated, seemingly uprooted from yourself, believing yourself to be weak, you work to rearrange the things of the world to a form in which a new self, reborn out of intoxication, will have more power self open, world defined.
Thinking of yourself as having power to keep to the same actions in response to the same parts of the world is known as vanity, an overestimation of power to act achieved by disregard of the world to be responded to outside that which reflects power of self self defined, world open.
Vanity and intoxication are bad character.
Loving and creativity are good character.