Tom Jonard's Consciousness and Mind Page

    The idea that we know how the mind works because we each have one goes back to the 17th Century Rationalists.  For hundreds of years philosophers operated under this assumption:  that through introspection alone the secrets of the mind and of consciousness could be discovered.  In the 20th Century experimental, scientific study of the mind did not initially supplant this introspective philosophical approach because experiments proved difficult to formulate much less carry out.  So psychologists settled for studying behavior and ignored the mind.

    Careful neurological observation first and then experiments involving subjects with abnormal psychology and neurology has slowly opened a window on the mind and shown us the limits of its introspective exploration.  It turns out our self-knowledge is an illusion.  We can not simply see the workings of the mind and consciousness from within.  The nature of these common phenomenon to which we all have access is just as remote to our knowing and counter-intuitive as the true nature of the physical world as revealed to us by Quantum Mechanics.

    We also inherited from 17th Century Rationalism the idea of the separation of mind and body.  Again introspection led to the conclusion that the immaterial mind and material body were fundamentally different.  In this view the key philosophical problem was how to connect them.  But just like the introspection from which it arises this separation of mind and body can now be seen as an illusion.  In it's place a theory of Psycho-Neural Identity has arisen.  Freed of this illusion we are now able to better understand our true human nature and the proper place of the mind therein.

    The mind is stranger than we think.  If you think the last is an odd sentence then I submit that feeling is reflective of our inability to think and talk clearly about the mind.  In fact most of us spend little time thinking or talking about our minds.  Instead we simply use them to think about other things.  What has been discovered about the workings of the mind is in some cases unexpected.  Here are some examples:

    Perceptual Filling In
    Blind Sight
    The Latency of Consciousness
    The Privacy of Consciousness
    The Subjectiveness of Time
    Science has only just begun to study the mind.  Psychology in the past century chose largely to ignore it because it was just too difficult to study for a number of reasons:
    1. It is difficult even to define what we mean by the mind -- what functions characterize it.
    2. Whatever definition one chooses turns out to be too complicated to study as a whole.
    3. There are no convenient animal models in which to study it especially for higher functions.
    4. It is inaccessible being both privately experienced and a function of an organ (the brain) which itself is not easily accessible.
    5. Experiments on the mind and brain are potentially fraught with ethical and liability issues.
    Given the state of the science of the mind the philosophy of the mind still is able to make some contribution to our understanding.  Indeed if mind is irreducible (as I  suggest below) science may never own the mind the way it has come to own our understanding of the physical world.  In any case here are some philosophical thoughts on the Mind:
    The Chinese Room
    The Irreducibility of Consciousness

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Created March 25, 2002, 
© 2002, Thomas A. Jonard