Mike Hosken's

"Hinges and Loops"



  1. The Thing Is
  2. Conventional Dualism
  3. Alternatives
  4. Resolution?
  5. Pain
  6. Attention
  7. Introspection
  8. Coherence
  9. Conclusions
In the party and radio game known variously as "Animal, Vegetable and Mineral" or "Twenty Questions" the questioners are first told only whether the object to be found is animal, vegetable or mineral - or abstract. If MIND were to be the case in point which category would it have to be put in?

I think we can all agree that it would not be "vegetable": very few people find it coherent to consider plants as having minds.

If told that the object is "animal" a good game ploy is to discover next whether it is human-animal or just animal-animal or both. Anyone who has studied animal behaviour in any way at all has to conclude that every animal needs some form of central processor. At least as a starting point, if we are to call our own system "mind" then there seems no very obvious reason for using a different term for the animal-animal case.

But we all also know about alcohol and have at least heard of psychedelic drugs, anti-depressants, and electric shock therapy. So it seems as if mind might finally be some sort of physico-chemical "mineral" system.

Then again, is it a "thing" at all? Or is it as abstract as "Tuesday" or "yellowness"? We ought perhaps to spend a few minutes considering the way we assume that what seem to be "things" really are things without any logical justification. We must be on our guard when we reify - when we materialise abstract concepts into "things".

§7.1 The Thing Is

There is a huge temptation to turn adjectives into nouns. Lots of physical objects can have included in their descriptions the adjective "yellow". So there must be a thing called "yellowness". Or must there? In what sense is a property of something also a thing in its own right? Can IT then have properties? PALE yellowness? ACID yellowness? FLAMBOYANT yellowness? Is there then a thing called "flamboyance"? What might its properties be?

We seem to be in danger of an infinite regress - of having to follow the argument back to deeper and deeper levels without end. But quite apart from that, I find the automatic mapping of adjectives to nouns incoherent, non-hoskentic (defined in Chapter 6).

Where we start with a noun which is part of our ordinary everyday experience we can be happy with the parallels. We may well use the one word for both noun and adjective as we do for many materials - a leather belt is made of leather, a brick building is encased in bricks: silk may become silken; wood is either wood or wooden depending on context (a wood saw may have a wooden handle); and so on. There is a logical as well as an etymological link from noun to adjective. It would be idiotic to accept such a noun and then reject as incoherent the corresponding adjective.

What justification is there, though, for a logical link back in the opposite direction, from adjective to noun? We can have lots of yellow buttercups but we can't touch yellowness. Courts of law seek just verdicts but justice is not a thing which may or may not be present in a particular verdict like some desirable kind of optional extra. Your favourite charity may well be a good thing but you will be unable to demonstrate to me the goodness thing - the thing by virtue of which it possesses the good property.

It is an easy matter of language to go round adding "-ness" suffixes to all sorts of words. My Concise Oxford Dictionary allows it with adjectives and adjectival phrases: its examples include bitterness, clearness, conceitedness, happiness, lovingness and up-to-date-ness. Surely the coining of such a word as "up-to-date-ness" (if it really is a word) cannot be taken as reifying the concept? - as creating some THING named up-to-date-ness?

Is there any better justification for yellowness? or goodness? or for justice for that matter despite its not being a -ness word. They seem to me all to be non-hoskentic - not to fit happily into the logical pattern of the things I think I can know about for sure. I can't demonstrate that yellowness does NOT exist as a thing, but I can get on perfectly well without needing to argue that it MUST exist.

The fourteenth century philosopher known as William of Ockham is remembered chiefly for what has come to be known as Ockham's razor:

"Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity".

This is simply a generalisation to the effect that things (entities) should not be presumed to exist unless there are arguments strong enough to make a "necessity" of the fact that they must exist. This matches one of the criteria for hoskentic propositions: simplicity is one of the virtues of coherent bodies of knowledge.

So what about "mind"? That is obviously a noun in its own right. Or is that a trap for the unwary? Could it more simply be just a property? If mental is an acceptable adjective is it a logical necessity that there must be a "mentality" or "mind" noun too?

§7.2 Conventional Dualism

A worthy tradition within philosophy is to think of the body as one kind of thing and the mind as another sort of thing. The body has position and size in space-time: the mind does not. At least, the mind certainly doesn't have physical size. It might possibly have something in the nature of a position by virtue of being associated on an individual one-to-one basis with at least certain types of body.

We should notice that the body-mind relationship is very one-sided, unsymmetrical.
  • There are the obvious aspects -
    • The body can provide the mind with sense-data, not vice-versa.
    • The mind can direct skilled movements of the body, not vice-versa.
    • The body is to varying degrees public: the mind is totally private.
  • and the much more philosophically uncertain ones -
    • Biochemistry can explain all the body mechanisms, at least in principle: biochemistry affects or correlates with some aspects of mind.
    • The body definitely has a limited duration ending in death and decay: the mind may have an eternal life regardless of the (birth and) death of the body.
A major difficulty with such traditional mind-body dualism is the problem of interaction. If body and mind are so totally different how is it that one can affect the other at all? And modern science is not a lot further forward with the dilemma. Thanks to studies of hormones and drugs, of neural pathways and electrical effects, we now do know a bit more about certain aspects of the duality.
  • We know that in normal health many actions are totally mind-controlled - moving, gesticulating, writing, playing, and so on.
  • We know that the link between mind and body is often biochemical. When the mind conceives fear the adrenal glands are somehow stimulated to pump adrenalin into the major parts of the body system: this is "designed" to enhance the fight or flight capability.
  • We know that some nerve pathways are totally independent of the conscious part of the mind. The most obvious case is the autonomic nervous system which is the set of linked nerve cells controlling the heart-beat, digestion and so on. And reflex actions of the nerves and muscles which are normally consciously controlled make sure, for example, that a hand is removed from a flame without reference to the brain at all.
  • We know there are half-and-half cases. Fortunately we don't have to think about breathing, otherwise we should die with our first sleep. But we CAN control our breathing when we need to, as while drinking or swimming, kissing or balloon-blowing. Some would even say that some earlier examples should be listed here: training can make it possible consciously to edit reflex messages, and some advanced cultures can allegedly over-write the autonomic system too.
  • On the other hand, failure of the mind to control the body is by definition ill-health, whether of neural or muscular origin.
  • Many chemicals can affect both body and mind - I'll drink to that! More seriously, when a brain fails to produce the chemical dopamine due to poisoning or Parkinson's degenerative disease the mind remains active but can no longer communicate with the skeletal muscles: in the most extreme cases the body "freezes" in some position or other which no amount of willpower can change.
  • It would be remarkable indeed if anything so complex as even the simplest animalcule could be explained in terms of one-to-one relationships. We are much more often involved in highly complex mind-body interactions. Sex provides a clear case in point:
    • Desire has a body-based, hormonal origin: pity the castrati of earlier times. Conversely, castration is to thank for the docility of the bullock contrasted with the aggression of the bull.
    • But desirability is in the mind of the beholder. Just who does what is a matter of genetically controlled role-play. Perhaps the clearest cases are the fantastic decorations on the males in species such as peacocks and birds of paradise.
    • Desire combines with physicality to inspire the bodies' preparations -
    • - for an orgasmic climax in both minds and bodies.
    • But no such happy outcome can result in the face of interference from physical factors such as cold or psychological discomfort from, say, worry or a knock on the door.
  • Genetic abnormality and its physical realisation in the form of a Downs syndrome individual, for example, is known to set severe limits on intellectual capacity. It is to say the least probable that 'normal' individuals are subject to genetic limits of personality and mental abilities of various kinds. Genetics is a matter of nucleo-protein chains: personality and mental ability are of the mind.
The case for separately identifiable mind and body seems to be positively incoherent when set in a context of the fact that egg and sperm cells evidently carry mind.

§7.3 Alternatives

Thinkers have not been impotent in the face of such difficulties. There are a number of approaches to the mind-body problem which have won support at various times. We must at least review some of them.
  • Most famously, of course, Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am) made the mind the primary knowable reality. By somewhat devious means he was then able to satisfy himself as to the existence of material substances, including his body. He was forced, somewhat against his will perhaps, to allow a two-way causal connection between mind and body, though without any explanation as to how this might be brought about. I think we are perhaps now more willing to admit our ignorance.
  • Malebranche (1638-1715) thought that God acted as universal messenger between body and mind: what we thought of as interactions were simply occasions on which God chose to cause the effects which we saw - and naïvely attributed to mind-body interaction. Such an approach may be hoskentic for anyone with a strong belief in a God of very detailed human involvement. But it can hardly cohere in other edifices of knowledge.
  • Giving something an impressive name may be satisfying but doesn't really explain anything. Psychophysical parallelism simply states that mind and body work in parallel, without need of any interactive messenger.
  • T.H. Huxley's epiphenomenalism rated mind as a mere secondary or added accompaniment to the biological/molecular activity of the brain: it could not, therefore, cause any other mental or physical events. Such an approach doesn't seem to fit the evidence and never did achieve popular acceptance.
  • Perhaps neither mind nor body "really" exist in the way that we normally (coherently?) think of them.
    • Spinoza saw both as coexistent aspects of the true reality, which was God, or Nature.
    • The idealists, led by Berkeley, discounted matter as a figment of the imagination - physical objects were ideas either of God or of conscious beings created by God. But I'm afraid hoskentic considerations prevent me joining him: I find it difficult to reject matter, easy to reject idealism.
    • Some behaviourists took the other tack: they denied the existence of conscious mind. Actions took place because individuals were programmed to behave in particular ways. If they are right it would seem that I don't have the wherewithal to philosophise!
The list of schools of thought could be extended, back to the classical Greeks and into the finer byways of western thought. No one approach has proved popular: coherence supplies no premium for any particular selection. How then am I to cope with the relevant section of my edifice of knowledge? Are there more and less hoskentic options?

§7.4 Resolution?

"Does it matter?" "Do I have to?" These are legitimate questions.
  • I can't think of any life-or-death decision-choices which depend on having a valid view of the relationship between mind and body. So it's all a bit academic.
  • Why should philosophers always expect answers? (Perhaps they don't, really.) Is it - would it be - almost as valuable to know what the limits are, beyond which philosophy is mere frustration?
Does the CD provide a valid analogy? On the surface of the compact disk is a succession of spots signifying zeros and ones, ons and offs, yeses and noes. It is a digital representation of the piece of music. But of course Mozart didn't write 01001011010100101001, or whatever the pattern may be: he conceived music, and the performers played music to produce the recording. Where in 01001011010100101001 is the melody? Since the whole of the interpretation is in the 0s and 1s, the pathos must be in there somewhere. If "Hamlet" were transcribed into Morse Code all the drama would still be there, somewhere amid the dots and dashes.
  • Noughts and ones, dots and dashes, can carry code to affect the mind. It would seem reasonable to suppose that melody, drama and pathos must relate in some way to the digital pattern.
  • A digital pattern of red, green and blue spots can carry the beauty of magnificent scenery shown on a television screen.
  • A linear pattern of A-G-C-U digits can carry instructions for the cuckoo on how to reach Africa.
  • It would seem reasonably hoskentic to imagine that digital patterns of electro-chemical messages in nerve cells might act as intermediaries between these sorts of message digits and the pathos, beauty or whatever that registers in the mind.
"You're asking the wrong question" is another possibility. Was §7.1 right? Is mind in fact a property and not a thing after all? (And is "property" different from Huxley's "epiphenomenon"?)

Might aware ignorance be preferable to an incoherent intrusion into the edifice of knowledge? Many an architect will agree that spaces can enhance the beauty of structures despite the fact that they do nothing whatever to provide support!

Abandoning any regrets, let us see what we might nevertheless make from such knowledge of mind as we do have. There is general agreement that the later stages of the acquisition of sense data involve the mind, as outlined in Chapter One.

§7.5 Pain

Many people take pain as being the most definite of our sensations. But I beg leave to doubt whether it is typical. Our traditional score of five or six senses can be arrived at only by excluding pain and pairing off some others.
  1. Sight.
  2. Hearing.
  3. Touch.
  4. Smell must be combined with taste.
  5. Heat - the sense that enables us to enjoy sunshine and the radiation from a glowing fire - must be combined with the sense of temperature whereby we feel hot or cold according to prevailing conditions and our own body temperature. Recall that we can be aware of the sun's radiant heat while shivering because of the cold air or a feverish body.
  6. In fact we all also have a sixth sense, the kinaesthetic sense - knowing where our limbs are without looking.
There is no room on our list for a separate sense of pain. A sound may be painfully loud, a light painfully intense. In both cases there is a pain threshold: it is an analogue matter rather than digitally on or off, so there are cases close to the threshold where it is meaningful to wonder if one actually is in pain. The case is similar with touch - a too-tight shoe, perhaps. One might even argue that a smell can be painful. In fact many a pain is simply an over-stimulation of some (other) sense. And many malfunctions cause pains of a nature different from those of a cut or a toothache: think of a grumbling stomach ache for example. And yet it is difficult to think of toothache or a cut finger in terms of any of the listed senses.

Again, it is possible even with toothache to be distracted - to have one's attention transferred to or distracted by something else. Certainly on more than one occasion I have been deeply involved in some d-i-y chore which has become more complicated when red stuff mysteriously appeared. Only as realisation dawned did pain from the wound claim attention - in that order, not pain first then realisation.

I suppose some difficulties could be avoided by a closer definition of pain: it might be defined as an attentive consciousness of that type of discomfort. It is never easy to distinguish a clear boundary between discomfort and pain: it is impossible for me to do so in respect of anybody else - particularly if that other body is a baby or an animal. (It is not hoskentic even to enquire about plants!)

At all events, it would seem as if pain must be some aspect of mind.

§7.6 Attention

My own contention is that insufficient notice is commonly taken of the matter of attention. Sense data fail to reach consciousness much more often from lack of attention than due to fog or being hard of hearing, say. It is indeed vital that this should be the case: if we were programmed to devote full attention to our environment the whole time we should have no mental capacity left for more useful activities.

There can be arguments to the effect that attention has bodily as well as mental aspects. We are all creatures of habit. Some life forms come 'hard-wired' with a range of fixed instincts, enough to cope with nearly all the normal problems of their lifestyle: insects are probably the prime examples. Humans have very few instincts on arrival: instead we have giant economy sized memory chips. These we utilise in learning language, social behaviour, life skills and so on.

But we don't just learn them: we overlearn them which means that we can call them up without conscious effort, almost as automatically as in the case of the ant when it does its ant-like things instinctively. The learner-driver has learned how to drive and by dint of great concentration can actually do it: some of us overlearned it years ago and haven't actually thought about how to change gear for as long as we can remember. With clear meaning but total lack of technical accuracy, we say that we have learned to drive "instinctively". Overlearned sequences monopolise great chunks of memory, and are accurately called "habits". It is virtually certain - and totally coherent to consider - that memorised habit is a physico-chemical matter of neural pathways, of nerve inter-connections.

We don't need to assign more that minimal or zero attention to our habits and so it is very easy for modifications to introduce themselves: we develop bad habits. But the payoff is that we can accommodate lots of habits simultaneously within a single span of attention. I know for a fact that besides automatically breathing and heart pumping and so on I can maintain an upright sitting posture (which I couldn't do at age zero), effectively control a tractor and plough, whistle a tune, and self-consciously realise that I am carrying out a line of abstract thought - all at once. But either the thought or the whistling had to stop when the ploughing got tricky and judgements were called for in finer control of the machine. Or if the tune had been merely learned rather than overlearned then attention was needed in order to recall it. But if the thought was particularly engrossing I could find myself going in the opposite direction, having evidently turned at the headland completely "on autopilot". It's the same for you, of course: when you and your passenger are chatting the only evidence that you drove round a recent roundabout the right way is that you have safely arrived at your present position!

It is for these sorts of reasons that I treat with the greatest suspicion any special pleading for consciousness or self-consciousness as component "things" of the mind "thing". It may provide a neat and tidy structure to categorise various things as mind processes and states of mind but no such ordering can be hoskentic without having first arrived at an acceptable solution of the reification problem - of the mind being a property or a thing.

§7.7 Introspection

It seems quite clear that in compiling his "Philosophical Investigations" Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was relying on introspection rather than any academic study of psychology. There are, of course, special philosophical problems with psychology, arising from the totally private nature of mind. Indeed, Wittgenstein's famous "private language argument" derives from just that property. Its essence is as follows:
  • I can never get inside anyone's mind other than my own. I can sympathise with my wife's pain when she gives some outward signs of it but I cannot feel her pain. I can correlate my word "yellow" with objects which she, too, seems to correlate with her word which sounds to me like "yellow" but I can never know how she feels the mental quality of that apparently yellow property. She may feel hot while I feel cold, particularly if one of us 'has a temperature' in the clinical sense: but neither of us can know the extent of the other's discomfort.
    • To quote from Wittgenstein at his §272: "The essential thing about private experience is really not that each person possesses his own exemplar, but that nobody knows whether other people have this or something else. The assumption would thus be possible - though unverifiable - that one section of mankind has one sensation of red and another section another."
  • The ONLY public evidence of mind consists in aspects of behaviour. The actual feelings in the mind are totally private: sensory "qualia" are incommunicable.
  • It therefore follows that my "pain", my "yellow", my "hot" and so on may well be different from those of my wife. This might seem to be an argument to the effect that when I use these terms I am using an essentially private language, untranslatable into my wife's private language except by inference, supposition, and parallels of behaviour.
  • But I can't even know that mine is a private language worthy of the name. The only possible connection between my yesterday's pain and my tomorrow's pain is memory. There was nothing against which my yesterday's pain could be standardised: the same will apply to tomorrow's. So I cannot know that using the word "pain" on successive occasions is a valid procedure. As Wittgenstein says in his §258, "In the present case I have no criterion of correctness".
So what it boils down to is that individual internal self-inspection - introspection - is the only possible source of knowledge about mind. Being individual and internal such knowledge is not cross-checkable even in principle.

The rather worrying extension of such a realisation is that to a large extent the same applies to ordinary, everyday "public" knowledge. If you yesterday showed me a cow and I came to associate C-O-W with the sound "cow" and with a rather bulky creature wrapped in leather, smelling bovine and occasionally conversing with moos of rather unclear meaning - if all that happened yesterday then all I have today is my memory of it. I could be mistaken. If ten years ago you showed me a (or some) Hylocomium splendens I would not at this current time be prepared to swear that it was a herb or a moss or a lichen - or indeed an error or figment of my imagination or memory.

This is contrary to what a lot of people hold to be the case.
  • They admit that if you had merely described something to me - a black hole in space, say - then it is easy for me, the hearer, to get hold of the wrong end of the stick: it would be unlikely that I would have exactly the same "image" of a black hole as you had intended to convey to me.
  • But they then contrast this with what is called ostensive definition. These are the cases where the thing in question can itself actually be demonstrated instead of having to make do with a verbal or written definition.
    • It is the way children learn most of their nouns. It is also the way an adult would learn the nouns of a foreign language if no interpreter and no dictionary were available. If a Frenchman says "pan" when he points to bread it would be reasonable to conclude that "pan" means in French what "bread" means in English. (At a later stage it will be necessary to refine this elementary piece of knowledge, learning that the required spelling includes a non-English "i": "pain" in written French. If the boot were on the other foot the Frenchman would have to learn that "bred" actually had an "a" in it!)
    • So such ostensive definition carries no guarantee of total accuracy. Nor does it guarantee accurate retention in memory.
In drafting these pages my sole authority for the selection of words and their translation into letters and thence to key-strokes on my word processor is my memory of the publicly accepted meanings and spellings: it iz possi bull that i mite bee rongsum thymes. The only language I can use is my error-prone private language.

§7.8 Coherence

Nevertheless, I have survived for a number of years in the hurly-burly of life: in practical terms my private version of language seems to work alright most of the time. If I am to follow Wittgenstein the whole way and accept that all language is more or less uncertain then it must cast doubt on the whole idea of my being able to communicate effectively. That seems to me to be going rather too far to be hoskentic. After all, much the greater part of my edifice of knowledge is built up of words: without reliable words it is doubtful whether I can either construct or judge the coherence of knowledge at all.

Some people maintain that thought itself is impossible without a language by which the ideas can be represented. Although this may be true in a broad sense it is certainly not so in detail: many and many a time I have a notion in my mind but have difficulty finding the right word(s) to express it.

I may be able to think without words but I can rarely pass thoughts on to others without having a public language of public communication. There are those who believe that all language is essentially and exclusively private. But if they wish to convince me of the fact they will, paradoxically, need to use at least a common if not a totally public language to do so! Thoughts can be transmitted only if both author and reader, speaker and hearer, share at least very similar understandings of what "hot" and "yellow" and "toothache" and so on are all about.

In short, of all the options open to me in this regard, the most hoskentic option - the option with the greatest attractiveness, conformity and coherence with my knowledge of both life and philosophy - the best option is to take it that my language is the public language, most of the time at least. Nevertheless, as a dyed-in-the-wool coherentist I am aware that this is a subjective judgement: in default of any absolute standard it is the best and most sensible conclusion I can reach. For the time being, that is. Like all substructures within my own edifice, it can be dismantled and reconstructed if and when better raw material comes along, capable of forming a more productive or more reliable matrix, or of improving the beauty of that edifice.

§7.9 Conclusions?

This Chapter hasn't solved the mind-body problem: neither you nor I really expected that it would manage that in defiance of twenty-four centuries of uncertainty. So we are left with two options:
  1. Forget the whole thing. Write the mind-body problem off as being insoluble. Go and tackle something more useful.
  2. Do the best we can by mustering the most hoskentic insights we can manage.
The following may help.
  • Mind may not be a noun at all. In §7.1 we agreed with William of Ockham that we should make do with adjectives to describe what goes on rather than presume there is an entity there that we can't logically justify.
  • Mind and body may be parallels rather than opposites.
    • Body is the analogue of a C.D.
    • Nerve cells are the analogue of digital dots.
    • Mind is the analogue of melody.
  • Quantum physics accepts that electrons and photons exist but denies that they are "things" as normally understood. The nub of the mind-body problem is a matter of a "non-thing" mind interacting with a body "thing". But if we can happily accept that electrons power our word processors and photons bring the sun's energy to the world why should we even find it difficult to think of mind-body interactions? The problem simply dissolves: it requires no solution.
  • Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. (Proverbs 6, 6.)
    • One ant is a pretty powerless kind of semi-automaton.
      • One nerve cell is a pretty limited kind of electro-chemical relay.
    • Tens to thousands of ants can make up work teams capable of achieving feats which, in relation to their size and intelligence, are staggering by human standards.
      • Tens to thousands of nerve cells can make up reflex arcs and other communication systems capable of achieving results which are, in relation to their degree of consciousness, of immense survival value.
    • A colony of ants is a single entity with properties greater than the sum of the properties of the individuals making it up. One of those bonuses is the ability to build, in the case of some termites, air-conditioned structures seven metres high.
      • A brain with associated central nervous system is a single entity with properties greater than the sum of the properties of the cells making it up. One of those bonuses is the ability to function as mind.
  • Although necessarily private, human minds seem to have enough in common for communication to be achieved fairly effectively through publicly shared languages. It is interesting but not productive to speculate what the outcome would be if that commonality extended to, say, dolphins and the great apes - let alone termites.

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