What is "Mind?"


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The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Jul 20, 2014 - 07:59am PT

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Jul 20, 2014 - 08:37am PT
Regarding Cintune's note from Scientific American, it makes perfect sense to me that mental notions of distance are the foundation for more abstract ideas like time and social relationships. If we think about Homo sapiens being around 200,000 years old and other hominins going back millions of years before that, and all indications of the invention of language being only 50,000 years ago, it has to be so.We were wandering hunters and gathers for millenia before we had language.

There are many other indicators - that memory is enhanced by physical movement, that children can learn sign language before speech, that people can still sing and whistle when they have lost speech etc. I think our efforts to understand the mind have been thwarted in part because we are applying the concepts of the present rather than trying to understand the situation as it was at the time the physical brain evolved.

And since the brain evolved before language, isn't this also a good argument for seeing what we can to understand the human mind in its motives and workings, by doing meditation which is also non verbal?

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Jul 20, 2014 - 08:59am PT
And since the brain evolved before language, isn't this also a good argument for seeing what we can to understand the human mind in its motives and workings, by doing meditation which is also non verbal?

Jan, meditation is non-verbal for a mind that is already verbal.

Do you think the pre-linguistic mind (historically speaking) meditated?

If not, are we certain these states would have anything in common?

The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Jul 20, 2014 - 09:14am PT
Wonder where meditation would fit into the bicameral mind theory.


Jul 20, 2014 - 09:23am PT
And for jgill, Wikipedia says that the brain area named in cintune's link, the inferior parietal lobule, is 'concerned with mathematical operations.'

Mental representations of time and place go way back before humans. It is important to the survival of any mobile organism to be aware of where it is and what is around it. Nervous systems monitor and regulate an organism's internal environment and they also map the external world. Even ants apparently can integrate the distance they travel away from the nest when foraging and return directly to it rather than retrace their steps.

Keeping track of distance and location is one of the oldest jobs of the brain. And evolution usually builds on and modifies what is already present. Aspects of our social skills and abstract thinking could have a foundation on evolution's early answers to the problems of moving around in the world.

In 1971 a paper appeared showing that neurons in the rat hippocampus fired according to the rat's location.

O’Keefe J, Dostrovsky J. 1971. The hippocampus as a spatial map.
Preliminary evidence from unit activity in the freely-moving rat.
Brain Res 34:171–175.

Subsequent research has made good progress on this question. The story illustrates how scientists also work a bit like a blind man trying to find his way around in a new house. He may bump into walls but how else is he going to learn the layout?

One of the most significant observations in the study of place cells during the past two decades is the discovery that place cells participate in multiple independent spatial representations. Under certain experimental conditions, place cells were found to totally alter their firing patterns in response to apparently minor changes in the sensory or motivational inputs to the hippocampus

From a review in 2008. the abstract is here:


the full article can be got through the above link

This review gives a good sense of the subtlety and complexity of brain function at the neuronal level, and of how much can be learned without super-sized modeling (which may turn out not to be worth the investment).


Social climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 20, 2014 - 09:39am PT
Good morning.

Hey, take it easy guys. Really.

It would be great if you guys could take my comments as I experience the notions I'm trying to point to in my life. When a parent sees their newly born child, they have, I think, the same kind of experience. The child is perfect, and no matter what it does, they love him or her unconditionally. Everything is understandable, lovable, worthy of compassion, equal, and joyous (but not giddy).

There is no reason to think that as the child grows, that the situation changes. Children, adolescents, young adults, and adults are all living in the same reality, observing and learning their way to maturity and demise. What could be wrong? Nothing is wrong. This is the life they came to, and live. Trees, flowers, grizzly bears, and mountains are all in the same boat, yet we don't lament their apparent existences or think that they are broken.

I'm not suggesting anything benign, gentle, or heinous. Things are just what they are, and there is really nothing any of us can do about it. Making changes, creating technologies, killing animals or people, painting walls, passing laws . . . is simply moving chairs around on the Titanic. Nothing is really changing. Reality . . . what it is, how it works, its very essence . . . does not change or move an iota. It's foolish to get over-excited about anything. All it does it make one anxious. I'd say it's a waste of energy, but I don't have to tell this crowd that energy cannot be wasted; it only shifts about, I'm told.

As for carte blanche, Jgill, Socrates said that all men (and women) do what they think is right, no matter who or what. Even the serial killer thinks he or she is doing the right thing. Morality is an illusion. Does this mean that I endorse acts that appear horrendous or revulsive? Ye gods, no. I believe in being a participant in the communities that I find myself a part of, and so I support their mores, practices, and values. I'm playing my role as fully as I can with the personality that I appear to have. It's called psychologically presence.

As a teacher, I see that people lack what Buddhists would call "skillful means" (look up "Upaya"). Of course this includes me. I'm as stupid and dumb as the next person. What I have going for me at this late age is that I know it. So I try not to take anything very seriously or concretely. And that, for me at least, seems to be working in the most wonderful ways. God, I wish I understood this when I was in my 20s. But, . . . you know, this is my life and this is where I've gotten to. No harm, no foul.

In 1986 I lost my business and my marriage in the same day; both were related. I was crushed, devastated, and inconsolable. I cried uncontrollably each and every day for 7 months. I thought I was going crazy. (PTSD was associated with the experience, but never mind.) I had a friend who was a venture capitalist in Phoenix, who offered some advise, and I vehemently cursed him out loud for it: "F*ck You!" I said. He said that something similar had happened to him, and he said he came to understand that (i) it couldn't have happened any other way, and (ii) it was the best thing that could have happened. The same applied to me, he said. It took me 7 years, but when I finally got over all of the last bits of emotional baggage from those events, I came to see that he was exactly right. That's how things always are, it seems to me. For me, PTSD, getting shot up a couple of times and seeing terrible things in combat, two divorces, two failed companies that I started, multiple broken careers, cancer, etc. all constitute my path, and here I am today. Everything makes sense to me . . . Jeez, finally. I feel like I'm floating through my life now. Hell, I don't even know whose life it is. How can this immense mystery that I experience make such sense to me? How can mystery be sensical? ????

I can see that I've miffed some of you, and I'll take that as a signal that I've currently over-stayed whatever welcome I've had for a while. And that's fine, too. I think it was Wittgenstein who said: "when you get the message, you can hang up the phone."

Be well. (No, . . . really.)

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 20, 2014 - 10:01am PT
Tvash said: Largo still can't get his dickskinners wrapped around the concept that one's micro machinery, one's subconscious neural decision engines, 'decide' where one focuses one's awareness - and that one's consciousness gets the memo after the fact.

The most fantastic thing about this whopper is that Tvash actually believes it. Mike and I and others could give him fifty examples to disprove this but he would believe what he believes. Where he violates the trust and integrity of this thread is to present this guess about awareness as a simple fact of truth.

When I say I am not guessing about this stuff, I am saying that in all truthfullness. Forty years of dealing with little more than awareness, attention and focus as a daily practicte gives one a certain view of things.

Basucakky, where Tvash's belief crumbles is when one holds an open focus - and one can experience the "micro machinery" begging you to look at this thought or focus on this sensation or feelings or memory - and you don't. Tvash would say that my brain decided for me NOT to focus on what my selfsame brain was begging me to payu attention on. This sounds lucidrous when stated like this, but when encountered in direct experience, it all gets clear in a flash.

Where people stumble on this issue is that from a mechanical/deterministic standpoint, all things (so the belife runs) come from prior sources, from antecedent causes or factors, somewhere between pure chance and chaos, wherew nothing is predictable, to a direct causal line, like careening billiard balls, where cause and effect are clear. To a person like Tvash, who doesn't know vfrom internal empirical study that focus and attention are not "things" in the normal sense of the word, where would a "free will" decision ever "come from," since all things come from some other thing, one way or another? Except everything, which came from nothing.

The howler in all of this is Tvash's notion that a a lug-headed staunch determinism is something too nuanced for me to get my "dickskinners wrapped around," wedded as I am to some spiritual philosophy that needs free will as a Christian needs Christ. The notion that this is all empirically based is simply not believed because the instrument is awareness itself, and interpretations are not required.

Tvash's belief is in fact a simpleton's accessment taken from the outside, and is posited as a kind of dead obvious Occam's Razor explanation all based on a fundamental mistake that the subjective is the objective and issues in whole cloth from the later. Matter CREATES all higher order "things" entirely, start to finish.

We often run into people locked into this ground up cognitive loop and simply have them do some biofeedback or other top down excercise and have them try and explain how it workds. Another hurtle is what MH2 posited, thinking quite incorectly that I hold onto some little man inside of me (this is tired old stuff from the Cartesian theater model) who "decides," when in fact he simply defaults on the deciding and assigns it to the machine itself. The idea that all of this spontaneously comes from no-thing is never even investigated. Till you run out of road completely. But you have to look at the silence between all that rambling in your head to ever get a glimpse past what your discursive mind is insisting is true and only true, and get into that place where "you might be wrong" is only another evaluation.


Sport climber
Jul 20, 2014 - 10:09am PT

Social climber
I'm Lolli.
Jul 20, 2014 - 10:46am PT
"Age is a matter of mind, and if you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
Substitute "age" with whatever you please.

There's a beautiful book explaining philosophical thinking and the history of philosophy. Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, a Norwegian. It's supposed to be a youth book, but it really isn't. It's for anyone interested in philosophy and the different theories.

Jul 20, 2014 - 12:17pm PT
Jeez, Mike, nobody's miffed.

And we've all been kicked in the teeth I'd wager. Some literally it seems.

It's all in good fun, here.

Jul 20, 2014 - 12:24pm PT
I'm going to take some time off from violating the trust and integrity of this thread and advise an increase in pain meds there, Largo.

Skin it back, brah.

Somebody disagrees with you. Someone who does not accept your "I'm an expert, if you don't believe me, just ask me" at face value. Now, I enjoyed the '80s too, but its the information age now. That can be hard, I know.

I know your world 'feels right' to you, and being a passionate creature - nothing wrong with that - you go with it. But you can be perfectly truthful AND absolutely full of sh#t at the same time. I don't think you're entirely full of sh#t on everything - just a few things. Yes, it's possible, common, in fact, to remain 100% wrong for your entire life, even after much study.

More to the point: why you feel the need to use your felt truths as a bludgeon is, of course, an entirely different matter.


Jul 20, 2014 - 12:40pm PT
Tvash -- "but its the information age now. That can be hard, I know."

Of it's hard because you believe every stupid thing the finite limited "Machine" tells you to put in your limited tiny little head.

After it's embedded into your silly mind you regurgitate it here as some kind of mental speculative "Truth".

If it doesn't fit into your machine text book manual then it doesn't exist.

This is the sum substance of modern gross physical materialists and their silly stupid projections onto the world outside of yourselves ......

Sport climber
Jul 20, 2014 - 12:45pm PT


Jul 20, 2014 - 12:49pm PT
Oh, I'm from Northern California.

Trust me, there's zero new material here.

If I had a nickle for every Seeker who's told me they'd figured it out, I'd buy ya'll an ice cream...

...delivered by Lear Jet.

I'm interested in open musing on the topic, and scientific articles linked.

Not so much interested in hearing about who's alpha or omega or what my brain size (about 1300 cc, I'd wager) is.

FYI: Florensis had a 300 cc brain size - about the size of a chimp. They seemed to do OK wit dat. Science! What can a brother do?

The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Jul 20, 2014 - 01:13pm PT
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Jul 20, 2014 - 01:26pm PT
Another very,very important recent discovery:


Jul 20, 2014 - 01:58pm PT
That's quite a tic you have, JL. We have heard what you have to say 1,000 times, roughly.

Meditation can be an excellent way to learn about your own mind but it will not tell you how your neurons produce the sensations you experience, or how other people's experience and thinking may differ from your own.

Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Jul 20, 2014 - 02:09pm PT
how your neurons produce the sensations you experience, or how other people's experience and thinking may differ from your own.

However ,Neuroscience is beginning to unravel some of those questions. Below is a link to a similar article to the one Cintune posted above:

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Jul 20, 2014 - 03:09pm PT
Well, I had come here to post but this is silly. What a motley crew we have. Between EdH's quibbles (E/R=I, Ohm's Law) and Largo's bloviations and Lapdog's woofs and and Jan's grasping at straws and go-b's c&p, where's one to go or what's to say? This thread's a black hole.

Nice post, tvash, however many back. "Keep the charge" I suppose.

Good luck.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 20, 2014 - 03:23pm PT
The funny thign here, Tvash, and others, is what we are really talking about here once more is scientism. I never said these were simply my ideas, or that I came to the conclusion because they "felt right?" And that going on these fuzzy feelings, as I do has long been usurped by "facts." Nothing I have ever said here was not empirical data. And here we have MH2 sounding off again with no idea about what is going on whatsoever. He takes a crack at meditation, but what I ma basically saying is:

Free will is a question of whether or not a person consciously chooses an action or non-action unfettered from mechanically imposed constraints. It is pretty easy to find our for yourself how this all works, but you have to be willing to do a lot of quiet empirical observation and for many on this list, not only is this impossible or at any rate beyond them, they don't trust any observation sans measuring instruments. However the measuring instruments cannot answer all of the questions because if free choice does or does not exist, it all hinges on the inner workings of an agency, be it consciousness/intelligence, or mechanical physicalism. One way or another, something is doing something. Since the interior is cut off and is unobservable from the outside, an inside view must be arranged to have any hope of seeing that side of things.

But first, because this is a tricky question, we need to look at a few things and get clear on what is probably hazy in many people's minds.

First, for a "staunch determinist," or hard physicalist, they are going to view human beings as simply a complicated stimulus response robot compulsively and unwaveringly action out impulses imposed on it at an unconscious level. Awareness - itself mechaniclly procuced - is no more than a passenger on a bus whose driver calls EVERY shot per EVERYTHING EVER DONE on that bus. The great illusion, this thinking goes, is that the aware passenger thinks HE excerts some little choice as to what he does IN the bus, and with the bus. But all of these choics, EVERY ONE FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME - were merely imposed on him by way of his biomachineray.

Again, as mentioned, to the staunch physicalist, every decision or action that the human does is the result of a stimulus response entirely preordained by the biomachine. A "free choice" implies that a choice came from what, exactly, if it was not provided by our biomachinery. Would this not be entirely impossible to the staunch physicalist? Since every action is the response to an unconscious stimulus, how can we can that an action was NOT the response to a stimulus? From whence would a free choice arise? Would we not be saying that an action was taken sans stimulus? Or what?

We can easily see that a staunch physicalist position can never admit nor yet fathom a free choice because it would not, perforce, be biologically/mechanically imposed. What's more, because ALL actions are based on preordained stimulus and uncouscious decision of the bio robot, stimulus and decisions ALL originate at a strictly biological level far below conscious thought. What'ds more, conscious thoght is totally incapible of influencing the biological level, because the direction of influence only goes up, starting at the atomic level, and lofting up to the conscious mind. In other words, thinking can never affect biology because the biology because there is no such thing as thinking. Thinking is really - according to this view - us watching the brain do it's thing with no input from "us" whatsoever. When I write a story, I am not writing at all. I'm observing my brain work out what it decided to write about long before I was aware of takingona "new" story. There is only biology with a mechanical predetermined blowback (cognition) that stirs thoughts.

Now, why is this a total impossibility as described? No bludgeoning. Work it out for yourself. The clue in in awareness. And the fact that determinism is only in play per a decision to do something. A decision to observe rather than act on an impulse is NOT an action. Likewise the decision to detach from all doing and allow yourself to drop into being, is also not an action. What is determined or imposed in these experiences. Put differently, is it possible for you to imagine that all experiences are not the direct result of unconscious decisions per what to DO? What does this put you, then, in relationship to staunch determinism? Watch the nuance here.

Second, describe the experience of "observing" or being aware of your own process, WITHOUT having any preference as to what comes up or not. You are simply observing, and not acting on any impulse at all. Is it possible to observe the thought: My brain is telling me to observe like this? What happens when you stay with this process?

Few have the curiosity to probe the process at this depth, and instead accept the staunch physicalist position because it totally makes sense - from that perspective.

Ironically, the notion that our biology determines EVERYTHING down to the smallest decision is almost entierely correct, sans work. What is incorrect is the belief that this must always be so, and that conscious action is not possible.

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