What is "Mind?"


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 27, 2011 - 12:46pm PT
An interesting book review in the NYTimes Book section today of Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow
was interesting in its own right. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his work on the psychology of judgement and decision making... in particular, showing that decisions people make are not "rational" see Prospect Theory. These behaviors, are of course, a part of our consciousness, and they are measurable and lead to insight into human thought and the idea of mind.

On interesting finding of his recent research is one that might be relevant to climbers, that your memory of a pleasant or unpleasant situation determines your future action, not the actual level and duration of the pleasantness or unpleasantness incurred by the body... that is to say, what you experience "in the moment" is lost to you, as your memory revises the experience, that is all that is available to you at a later date.

A delicious bit in this review that caught my attention was a reference attributed to Rafael Malach
who's got to be at the far end of Largo's "likely to be an answer" spectrum of mind... "Our overall aim is to build an experimentally constrained neuronal theory of human perceptual awareness." That is to say, explaining the flow...

What caught my eye in this review was a reference to a study 'when subjects are absorbed in an experience, like watching the "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," the parts of the brain associated with self-consciousness are not merely quiet, they’re actually shut down ("inhibited") by the rest of the brain. The self seems simply to disappear.'

Among probably many results, there is an article published in Science,


Science 12 March 2004:
Vol. 303 no. 5664 pp. 1634-1640
DOI: 10.1126/science.1089506
Intersubject Synchronization of Cortical Activity During Natural Vision
Uri Hasson,, Yuval Nir, Ifat Levy, Galit Fuhrmann and Rafael Malach


To what extent do all brains work alike during natural conditions? We explored this question by letting five subjects freely view half an hour of a popular movie while undergoing functional brain imaging. Applying an unbiased analysis in which spatiotemporal activity patterns in one brain were used to "model" activity in another brain, we found a striking level of voxel-by-voxel synchronization between individuals, not only in primary and secondary visual and auditory areas but also in association cortices. The results reveal a surprising tendency of individual brains to "tick collectively" during natural vision. The intersubject synchronization consisted of a widespread cortical activation pattern correlated with emotionally arousing scenes and regionally selective components. The characteristics of these activations were revealed with the use of an open-ended "reverse-correlation" approach, which inverts the conventional analysis by letting the brain signals themselves "pick up" the optimal stimuli for each specialized cortical area.

in the discussion we find the dense paragraph:
"In addition to the highly synchronized cortex, we also found a pattern of areas which consistently failed to show intersubject coherence. These areas included the supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus, and prefrontal areas. Thus, the "collective" coherence effect naturally divides the cortex into a system of areas that manifest an across-subject, stereotypical response to external world stimuli versus regions that are linked to unique, individual variations (30)."

Which I believe says that the five individuals had measurable experiences that were the same... I'd interpret that in a mechanistic way... the brain acts the same way to the same stimulation, even something that might be a bit sophisticated, like watching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...

So interesting results even if you would posit that this is not the "correct way" to proceed in studying human "mind" or "consciousness"

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Nov 27, 2011 - 02:08pm PT
unfortunately at the point a person has it all figured out; the learning process stops

i never thought i had it all figured out; just trying to process my personal observations and experiences and available information

i don't share my thoughts with you as dogma or as trying to convince you of my personal philosophy; rather as a conversation for learning

i'll repeat again that there is an obvious scientific observation that is rather difficult to perform objectively; yet we all eventually do it:

are we still aware of oneself and physical surroundings after the physical body rots away to water vapor and dirt?

it is easy to make assertions as to the answer; but not at all easy to make assertions that are rigorously scientific

if all your personal experience indicates to you that the answer is no; then it is tempting to claim that you know the answer is no

if you have personal experience that indicates to you the answer is not so simple; then you are thrown into a quandary of some very heavy politics in our bully-managed society that makes the bullies extremely uncomfortable

whatever the nature of reality; i find it very interesting that the bullies are so extremely uncomfortable with the idea

yet the idea is so persistent among so many people that societal authorities tend to promote a centralized control version of the idea; i.e. an omnipotent central authority who controls everyone going either to heaven or hell

Nov 27, 2011 - 02:24pm PT
Riley Wyna -- "Your consciousness is not special."

The symptom of the souls existence is consciousness.

The soul is covered by the gross and subtle material bodies.

The body one has is determined by the consciousness one has developed in previous life.

Thus consciousness is extermely special.

Consciousness is the root of all souls and the supersoul.

Until modern science comes to the understanding of the soul it will ultimately fail in all of its endeavors.

There's no mysticism. What modern science is looking at is only the operating system. Below that is the kernel, below that is assembly, and and root.

Ultimately it's 0nly zero and one. The soul and supersoul.

Zero is the cessation of all material activities.

One can go in either direction from zero, to the material side or the spiritual side and still remain ONE.

One side is negative and the other side positive.

This is the free will, which will the soul chose according the consciousness it has taken .....

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 27, 2011 - 05:02pm PT
My point is that our way of describing "the flow" may actually be "3rd person" for that part of the mind that is discursive, that that part of mind may not have direct access to "the flow" and makes things up about it...

...I cannot describe that part of my experience, the "first person" part, it is beyond expression, as you have pointed out many times. I am not unaware of it though.

Now here is where Ed and I converge, I think.

Any formal expression of 1st person phenomenon is a conditioned response to some degree, IMO. Once in a while we have some sense of acting entirely spontaneous, but who knows, really.

It's interesting but Ed's words "beyond expression" are instructional. I would replace them with, "beyond quantifying," but primal experience has been approached for eons via the arts, which are what sustain us. Who has equations hanging on their walls. We have Ed's photos instead.

Still, I think there are ways that we can start to approach 1st person subjective experience with the same acuity that we have framed matter - without confusing it for objective functioning - though the language and methodology will vary significantly because a strictly quantitative approach will never get us beyond what MH2 and others simply cannot get past: 3rd person functional analysis.

It would seem this exercise is not for everyone. The MH2s of the world apparently cannot tell the qualitative differnce between objective functioning and what Ed says is "beyond expression." Or else they commit the basic error of treating 1st and 3rd person phenomenon as qualitatively the same things, whereby your experience of enjoying a Fats Domino tune is the very same thing as a differential equation. The former IS the later - and my Uncle is my Aunt.

Try and tell them otherwise . . .

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 27, 2011 - 05:55pm PT
ah, if you follow my last post, it says "you" aren't even listening to Fat's, but some part of your consciousness is....

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 27, 2011 - 05:57pm PT
and as for hanging equations on walls, there's a very long tradition of doing that...

for instance, a very good, and timely one to boot!

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 27, 2011 - 08:43pm PT
So interesting results even if you would posit that this is not the "correct way" to proceed in studying human "mind" or "consciousness"

I think this is a fine way to investigate objective functioning, and you can measure all kinds of functions that are almost certainly associated with "mind." But the inescapable hard question persists - that experience and objective functioning are qualatatively NOT the selfsame things, no matter how detailed you get with measuring neural processing. Neural processing is, after all, neural processing.

What's more, we didn't need brain mapping to tell us that the "I" is by and large a provisional construct that is almost entirely mechanical. Sufi traditions and all the Eneagram work are geared toward getting past the conditioned "I" an d in many of the (IMO) Cookier "4th Way" groups they don't allow members to use "I" in normal conversation.

Interesting subject.

Now the other part is also curious, but for different reasons.

"ah, if you follow my last post, it says "you" aren't even listening to Fat's, but some part of your consciousness is....

Here Ed is trying to wrangle the whole thing back to a mechanical model - God bless Ed, he can't help it - but his reasoning is not derived from subjective experience but from a computational model. By the logic of a computational model, lest there is an agency (a "self") to receive the input of consciousness, consciousness is only a machine processing stimuli when in fact no one is home. IOWs, Ed's "missing watcher dood" model implies that the mechanical process of experience, once full absorbtion is attatined, is a matter of the machine being on auto-pilot.

This "self" (which brain mapping says is "lost" during absorbtion, so it has to be so - right) is a stand in for the old Homunculus or "little dude" camped out in our heads who consciously watches shite on the Cartesian movie scree.

Unfortunately this is entirely incorrect - the opposite of what actually happens, really - because it is when the false self or provisional "I" falls away that non-conditioned awareness is greatly enhanced. There is no longer an "I" watching, there is simply seeing, hearing, smelling, et al. This goes back to the basic fact that awareness is fundamentally Non-Local and is a universal phenomenon not limited to a provisional "I." Just a little meditation makes that pretty clear to many.


Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 27, 2011 - 10:48pm PT
you are in dialectic overdrive Largo...
...I posted a reference you didn't even look at, which is a measurement that probably supports your contention, you don't need to meditate to get rid of the "I" watcher dood... you brain does it for you automatically, as part of the way it functions...

...but you'd have to relax your need to posit that you cannot measure "it," though it already has been measured, and it already shows what is "on" and what is "off."

I understand that you reject this as being relevant, it hardly matters if it actually is demonstrating the very phenomena that you have used as the basis of your claim. Incorporated into a "physicalist" model of consciousness.


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 27, 2011 - 11:33pm PT
Thanks to MH2 and Ed for their most recent contributions. While reading them I was reminded of a study done in Nepal by UNICEF. The hypothesis behind the study was that in a country which was then 96% illiterate, a quick and easy way to teach people was through the use of pictures which could be posted at trailheads and in tea shops in even the remotest areas. In the end $300,000 was spent to survey a broad sample of different ethnic groups from three different regions of the country at various altitudes.

At first the results astounded the the designers of the project. The majority of the illiterate Nepalese could not recognize the majority of any of the drawings or photos shown to them. They were worst at recognizing photographs and best at recognizing simple line drawings done in profile as the person or object would appear in darkness with only a campfire for light. Not surprisingly in retrospect, they utterly failed to understand a sequence of 3 pictures or drawings, looking at the center one first and then to the right and then the left, they failed to understand that arrows indicated sequence, they were confused by the use of colors since red is the favored color there and green was the color used to indicate positive scenes and outcomes by the European testers etc. etc.

The most recognized drawing was one of the crudest - a stick figure with lungs showing x's flying out of his mouth into the mouth and lungs of another stick figure. Why did they recognize that one more than all the others? It turns out a British doctor trekking through a large part of the eastern middle hills had shown that drawing to many Nepalese along the way trying to explain how TB was spread.

Final conclusion of the study? Without humans to explain either photographs or drawings, they are irrelevant to people never before exposed to that media. There is no universal symbolism that everyone recognizes. There is no instinctual way at looking at a sequence of pictures, that too must be taught. Color symbolism is also cultural. All have the same physical apparatus for eyes and brains, but not the same subjective programming.

And I would add, until we do large cross cultural samples, like that of the Good, Bad, and the Ugly, we will not be able to understand what is universal in the brain and what is particular.

Nov 27, 2011 - 11:42pm PT
Nice looking equation Ed.

Too bad I'm just some hayseed yokel and don't have a clue what he's doing with it .......
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 27, 2011 - 11:50pm PT
Just wait until Ed shows you a photo of Dr. Higgs with one of his bosons.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 27, 2011 - 11:51pm PT
Riley, I may be biased in my interpretations, but so are you, and that is my point. We are taking the same physical actions in the ER and giving them different interpretations. I don't dispute your understanding of the science involved, but I do dispute your leap from the science of the physical process to your adamant statements that there is nothing spiritual going on.

I believe this happens often because of the past persecution of science by religion, although scientists were not nearly as badly persecuted as were religious people with non standard views. Still, I understand that the trial of Galileo is vivid in the minds of many on this thread, as are the court cases and school board debates about evolution. I just think it is a pity that this antagonism then colors everything else that remotely might be interpreted as religion.

For example, you state that belief in near death experiences is a religious argument with humans at the center of the universe. In fact, it is an interesting psychological and spiritual phenomenon which gives deep meaning to those who have undergone it. They do not come back thinking they are the center of the universe. Far from it, they see they are part of a whole and they change their lives to be more helpful to their fellow humans. It happens to people of all religious persuasions and none. Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, all have different interpretations yet their accounts of the experience itself are similar. Atheists don't know what they saw in terms of interpretation, but they know it was wonderful.

This is not exactly the same as the sectarian thinking of 2,000 years ago. As for whether my consciousness is or is not special, it is the only one I have, and therefore is special to me.


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 28, 2011 - 05:59am PT

If you've worked to save thousands of lives, then it doesn't much matter what you think about it all, you've got enough good karma for several lifetimes, whether you believe in them or not. I'm also sure you didn't do any of that as a science experiment but out of something much deeper and more profound than that. And if you could feel the spirituality in the Himalayas, you've got it!

That's how I became interested in something besides science - by living in the Himalayas. It was easy to see that no matter how poor and illiterate, they had something we did not. Part of it is better family support systems and tighter knit communities, but there was more to it than that.


An Oil Field
Nov 28, 2011 - 08:57am PT

I think many of us would agree that all of this stuff that we have does not make us happy. Happiness is found elsewhere.

You don't have to study a whit of science to understand that one.

The happiest I have ever been has been when I totally divorced myself from the material world and took some very long walks. Summer long walks.

I have a funny hallucination story from one of my long summers in the Arctic. I was talking to Jonathon Waterman, and he had the exact same thing happen when he kayaked the NW Passage.

We would hear this humming sound. Kind of like a very deep dynamo hum. It was probably the sound of blood flowing through our ears.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A community of hairless apes
Nov 28, 2011 - 11:58am PT
Of course my bone with Jan has been her constant downplaying (if not subliminal dissing) of science as if she's imploring a misguided auditorium of scientistic wankers who just won't change.

If every time I walked into, let's say, a community workshop I went out of my way to point out the limitations of the hammer, it would be counterproductive I think and I'm sure it would grow tiresome after awhile in the ears of those making use of it.

To those who are experienced in science, its limitations are clear, they speak for themselves and they don't always have to be made explicit in near every conversation.

At the same time, I suppose it makes sense that one's passion for science or one's passion to express it will always be mistaken for "scientism" by some portion of the public that by and large doesn't share in it.

Nov 28, 2011 - 12:37pm PT
from Werner

What modern science is looking at is only the operating system. Below that is the kernel, below that is assembly, and and root.

Ultimately it's 0nly zero and one. The soul and supersoul.

Zero is the cessation of all material activities.

I love that.

Sounds a little like Thomas Pynchon in Vineland saying that life and death are God's binary code.

Also a little like Andy van Dam in '68 telling us that computers were like onions. Many layers.

And thanks again to Jan. A different perspective is precious in an increasingly homogeneous world. Anthropology has great appeal but it must be sad to consider what we've lost.

The more I hear from Largo, the more I wonder whether he understands his own question. He keeps talking about "your" experience when we are trying to go below the level of "you." The insistence on 1st "person" and 3rd "person" seem to prevent him from getting where he wants to go. How can you understand "Mind" if you aren't willing to get outside of it and have a look and kick the tires?

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Nov 28, 2011 - 02:05pm PT
Do other animals have this so called "Mind"
1st/3rd person

And if they do have this "mind", and then lower animals will just have smaller portions of this so called "mind", all they way down the scale to no "mind" at all.

Wouldn't that just prove that the Mind came from the evolution of the physical nervous system, and is purely a by product of an ever evolving awareness/consciousness for the survival of the species.

Couldn't it be said, that millions of mice live and die everyday, all with this so called "Mind", that lives and then dies, without a trace left beyond.

forget any idea about 'lower animals'

that idea is just an indicator of chronic human hubris and basic misunderstanding of the subject

body size and type are not valid indicators of mind awareness/consciousness

in spite of all the mythology of our 'Homo Hubris' species

if you learn Lipan Apache tracking skills; you will learn to read in detail what animals in the wild are doing and will quickly dispel any notion that animals are short on intelligence

just track a fox around for a while... and struggle to maintain the same level of awareness for yourself

and go out in a big grassy meadow and use SimCity to map out a mouse city

or if you want to be ambitious about it; model all the interacting trails of all the creatures in an area

animals are a lot smarter than most people think

and city-raised humans are a lot dumber than most people think

i recently saw a door mat that seemed about right:

A cat lives here
Along with its housekeepers

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Nov 28, 2011 - 03:46pm PT
Lower animals like ameobes and sponges
not cats.

They don't have what would be called a Mind
Or do they???

i am well aware that most people would say they don't

if you are asking me; i will maintain that yes they do

also the plant kingdom

and the geological kingdom

and most especially, the astronomical kingdom

decades ago studying anthropology; we were taught that many primitive societies believe in primitive religions that were called 'animism'

decades later i learned that primitive doesn't mean retarded


Animism (from Latin anima "soul, life")[1][2] refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle.[3]

Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical[disambiguation needed ] (or material) worlds, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment.[4] Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names, or metaphors in mythology. Animism is particularly widely found in the religions of indigenous peoples,[5] including Shinto, and some forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Pantheism, and Neopaganism.

Throughout European history, philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others, contemplated the possibility that souls exist in animals, plants, and people; however, the currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".[5]

According to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, animism shares similarities to totemism but differs in its focus on individual spirit beings which help to perpetuate life, whereas totemism more typically holds that there is a primary source, such as the land itself or the ancestors, who provide the basis to life. Certain indigenous religious groups such as the Australian Aborigines are more typically totemic, whereas others like the Inuit are more typically animistic in their worldview.[6]
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A community of hairless apes
Nov 28, 2011 - 04:32pm PT
I have little doubt that cats and birds have perception systems - in other words, minds - similar to ours. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to carry out the extraordinary feats we see them do. Example: a cat walking the top of a 6' fence that's only an inch wide for 50 feet that would put champion gymnasts to shame.

The question remains: how does brain pull it off to produce intention and perception (e.g., 1st person experience) that collectively we call mind? Will future analytical bio-engineers ever figure out how brain circuitry generates perception (e.g., the visual field with its colors and depth, the pungent smell of HCl, the lust for Captain Kirk's women)? I'm holding my breath...

Nov 28, 2011 - 06:49pm PT
Word and idea junkies.

Words and concepts are constructs, abstractions, imaginary creations. They don't exist except in the mind.

No thing has independent existence. No thing exists by itself.
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