Sunday, 29 September 2013

The mind is physical

Our minds are physical.  It may be possible to imagine a mind without a human body, but it's not possible to truly conceive of a mind that is not within time and within space.  That's a strong claim, but not too hard to justify:

Everything about our mind and experience involves time.  We could not remember if there was no past, we could think if there was no possibility of progression of thoughts, we could not perform reason or experience emotion if there was no time for beliefs to change and emotions to change.  Our minds are things that continue from time to time, as the stories of our lives play out, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

But what about space?  Consider pain.  We don't just know we have pain, we feel pain within a sense of what we are.  We can recall a toothache in our jaw, a backache in our back, a stubbed toe on the end of our foot - pain has a location.  The location may be phantom, such as referred pain (when a pain feels like it's in one part of the body but the cause is elsewhere), or pain that seems to be in a missing limb, but the confusion only reveals the significance of mental models of location.

Our experiences of vision contain dimension.  It's not possible to imagine seeing a thing without that thing having the mental attribute of size.  When we hear we often can pick up the direction of sounds, and we can imagine that direction.

There are also other dimensions of mind which are not so obvious and yet must involve physicality - the storage and retrieval of memories involves partitioning of some kind - memories have to be kept separate somehow in order for recall of distinct things to be possible.  Any form of partitioning, no matter how indirect, must involve dimensionality.

Our minds are bound to time and space, and anything that we would identify as having the characteristics of mind are equally bound.

Recognising this physicality is not any form of reduction of the status of mind, only revealing the necessary scaffolding that is needed by consciousness.

1 comment:

Quine said...

Indeed. How could one have "running" if you were missing physical legs? You can't have "mind" without a physical brain.