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concept of mind
december 12, 2011 / may 26, 2012


an academic horizon

To think about mind as such is to think of “mind” as conception in concept or the concept of its conception. One way or another, it’s been with “us” at least since the pre-Socratics because literacy chanced being with ourselves conceptually.

I’m not going to dwell now with an historicality of conception, but it’s fun to note that our sense of legacy is relative to textual resources. The historicality of conception is a story we may weave of generative aspirations, self-positing geneses, and genealogies.

Anaxagoras (c500 BCE) had his conception of “nous” (intellect or mind) as “motive cause of the cosmos” (SEP). Black night becomes a mirror of conceivability. Given a modern conception of human evolution as beginning post-hominid, circa 3 million years ago, but trOped now as 365 days ago, Anaxagorus lived earlier today—8 hours ago, actually. In recent minutes of eonic Time, we’ve outgrown theocentrism, “returning” forward panpsychically (in a sense) by naturalizing philosophy of mind, computationally modeling neurogeny, philosophizing that (“neurophilosophy”), and weaving evolutionary psychology into literary hermeneutics—all told: creative minds unleashed from biology into purely conceptual flourishing of—so to speak—Mind in nature (with a relatively brief episode of theistic displacement), now anchored in professional philosophy.

Academic “philosophy of mind” is not a specifically-given topic, but a discursive legacy of chosen inquirers, i.e., one’s sense of taken-to-be-leading minds on “mind” (itself an “extended mind” or/ and “distributed cognition,” kindred with notions calling for philosophical coherence like collective intelligence and/or global brain that might highly pertain to the university itself as high planetary organon). Academic philosophy of mind is an editor’s community of discourse about a conception. The historical legacy has been metaphysicalist, which still echoes in naturalist pretensions of contemporary work. As standard modes of inquiry go, my pretensions are ethical—no, aesthetic—no, aesthethical, transposing metaphysical enchantments into a conceptual evolutionarity of inquiry participating in our ongoing evolution. This implies a self-incriminating pretension that’s unavoidable, but possibly vindicated in the long run. Time tells.

“Philosophy” about “mind” generally is not philosophy Of individual mindedness, apart from exemplars that become discursive kinds: One may become a scholar of “the” Davidsonian mind or Heideggerian mind. But fascinating questions of conditions for the possibility of conceptual originality dissolve into issues of ontogenic luck, educational chances, individuated aspiration, more luck, and a devoted lot of work. One does the prospecting that one can with the discursive currency one can gather, and a few minds yield a generative regioning (Heidegger might say) with lasting appeal. (A discursive currency is an extant legacy of prevailing conceptual circulations.) Aristotle, Kant, Dewey—who’s your lineage? Whats the evolutionary conceptual promise secured in highly well-formed rhetoric emergent from the evolving conditions for the possibility of conceptual originality? Questioning is easy.

Ask any professional philosopher: What are the most prestigous philosophical journals? Everyone’s list will mirror their prevailing interests, but everyone will include Mind. Yet, a typical table of contents easily shows discursive points in a presumed pointillism with no implied gestalts. Any sense of integrable field is missing, as if unneeded, or a topic is autonomous. (What is the field of philosophical psychology as such? An anthologist’s choices?) There are possible topical implicatures across journals, relative to the focal concepts. A journal is not likely occasion for field integeation, except relative to special topics that figure into the years and might be peak anchors in a fluid landscape. One might derive a thematology that is proffered to be the field evolving. (One might not claim that Mind is anymore a leading journal. Comparably leading journals now aren’t overtly philosophical. They're likely about concepts of scientifically cognitive research, e.g., Behavioral and Brain Science).

An evolving conceptual topic is like a living thing hybridizing across seasons of a land (ergo my perennial caricature of philosophy as conceptual gardening). Discursive inquiry is the busyness of evolving thematics, perhaps in a derivable thematology evolving some way, trOped as a discursive story—a landscape of venturing (with definite horizons derivable).

The” mind of philosophy is Simply an issue of “philosophy” as cohering conception of evolving discursive inquiry. Yet, as institutional endeavor (where one must be eventually practical, i.e., teach), “philosophy of mind” is not primarily about what mind is, rather how to be well-minding (e.g., reasoning well, being ethical, understanding validly, gaining analytical acuity). I have my own pragmatics, involving preferred terms like “psychality,” interpsychality, intrapsychality, and transpositional interest in each as conceptual waystations into ambitious topics (venturing highly through a fiction of textual intimacy). Conceptual practicality at best presumes (or invites exploration of) a higher-order conceptuality appropriable to invited lives, even when expressed interest is so far heuristic. Prospects of conceptuality have their own merit, appreciable in terms of conceptual practices for whatever else (e.g., theoretical practices in professions), provided that conceptual inquiry is attuned to leading work (thereby possibly providing to practice durable orientations). Prospecting leading minds surely begs questions like “Leading to where?” “For the sake of what Importances?” And “Who says?” But a prospective appeal is edifying. Though one fails to find Shangri-La or The Fountain of Youth, along the [presumptuous] way there may be found so much—yet only by sustained venturing. Promoting values of this and embodying ventures as best one can ought to be integral to a conception of our humanity, thus a conception of mind, even as, say, “the” Mind of nature that we may grow to express (through our little, metonymical lives). Efficacious trOpology doesn’t have to be metaphysicalist.

I want to advocate a conception of evolutionary efficacy to which individual conceptual venturing can contribute. The likes of this makes “philosophy” (so defined) integral to our evolving.

prospective engagement as framework for interest in reconstruction

So, understandably now (I hope), I like to understand philosophy as conceptual policy research.

An appropriate, comprehensive philosophy of mind is prospective and reconstructive (or genealogical), yet prospective work should prevail. But professional philosophy of mind is typically reconstructive, which is professionally safe (good for contract renewals). Highly regarded is searching for biological roots of behavior, theorizing implicatures of computational modeling, and theorizing behaviorized mentability. That’s important work. Yet what prospects for advancing human potential are entailed? To what constructive humanistic community of discursive prospecting does reconstructive work contribute?

I know that those are impossibly vague questions. That’s about the ethos of the academic community, e.g., the Site of discursive consilience across humanities and sciences. It’s not always the business of microtheoretical research to anticipate its broad-scale relevance.

But attending to an implied telos to academic venturing can be worthwhile for the self-understanding of domains, especially because the reality of (intended by) an academic practice is interdomainal (usually called “interdisciplinary”). Inasmuch as we can make sense of that in academic life, we should want a disclosed telos to be progressive, in some high sense of human potentiality and aspirations. Or so I’ll “argue” (or flesh out).

Anyway, it’s indisputably valid to wonder why one cares to do reconstructions, like historiography or developmental theory, apart from an intrinsic appeal of curiosity (and showing high competence in a marketable specialty). Though one does care highly, let’s presume, about the promise implicit in reconstructive work, wanting to give prevailing importance to progressive values in appreciating (or criticizing) reconstructive research may seem to be ultimately literary venturing. But so what? As long as the venturing is epistemically mature and ethically admirable, prospecting progressive engagements should (I will argue) belong to the selfidentity of reconstructive research.

For some years, I’ve enjoyed occasionally claiming that “The” question of “Being” has evolved into questions of our evolving. A key weakness of metaphysicalist history (a legacy of academic folklore) was its lack of promise for understanding evolutionary explanation. Now, “cognitivist” philosophers and psychologists are elaborately immersed in evolutionary explanation, which is fascinating in itself, but also culturally edifying and therapeutic. I can’t overestimate the importance of this work. But echoes of metaphysicalism persist in scientized notions of innate mind. Even so, that is obviously very important work.

Though the evo-devo landscape is vastly unknown (and innateness becomes moot, it seems to me, for any ontogenic view), the base of the vortex is known well enough to make traditional questioning of our “being” a merely psychological issue of the questioner (“How is it that you ask?”) and an educational issue, no longer a contemporary philosophical quest—unless one wants to inquire into a conceptuality of our evolving as such (i.e., our evolutionarity inasmuch as that’s conceivable)—which I’ve intended in recent years (or broadly begun) to do without pretenses of singular Telos or Absolute Concept.

There’s an ethos to cognitivist work that’s exhilarating, which I can’t fairly sketch briefly, but... Once upon a time (mid-20th century), computational enchantment imagined wholly-efficacious “artificial intelligence,” which was doomed to failure (given its totalistic/egoistic conception of intelligence), but which led to componential work and distributed processing models which could be algorithmically netweaved into specialized software machines which could be aggregated into functional regions of capability (expert systems packages)—work which preceded the Internet as we know it now, but work which has been inestimably accelerated by the supercomputing potential of the exponentially evolving hyperNet. But no degree of software engineering imaginativeness has yet matched the algorithmic efficiency of biological processes. So, for nearly two decades, biological research has been trying to capture the biosemiotic and bioglyphical efficacy of cellular machines, not only for biomedical products (and for the sake of purely-scientific interest—there is that, e.g., among “Reports” in any issue of Science), but also for biocomputational modeling. The inevitable outcome of biocomputational work (as humanity tends to actualize what it can imagine—which has often made science fiction prescient) is that cognitive neuroscience becomes more successfully cognitive computing, which can become globally distributed (i.e., the entire Internet as singular computational “organism.” Note how quickly these days the most arcane Google search yields results! Imagine the “data farm” as the entire planetary hyperNet—mobile and not), such that a notion of global intelligence becomes an inestimable netweave of engineering and imaginability. Indeed, The Singularity seems near because there is longing for this kind of conception to become actual.

embodied mind as living topology: a “spirit” of scientific humanity

Interneted notions of “The” Global Brain have become common, of course. Considering planetary humanity as a singular community long ago outgrew notions of a global village. Like the omni-oceanic plankton which works as a singular organism for atmospheric regulation, we are somehow, emergently, a planetary organism, but too complex to be comprehensible except indirectly through statistically-emergent trending. However, we’ve evolved from a singular physics through a singular biology into a singular scientific humanity whose nature is to want to design its nature (trOped in notions of universal freedom, cosmopoly, enhanced flourishing, etc.).

Wanting to enact intentions, wanting to actualize imaginability, is integral to human minds, and theorizing this is, I think, a leading trend in cognitivist philosophy. Yet, understanding how self comes to mind, how inner presence is also biological, how an imaginative universe of consciousness emerges from matter is all ultimately an horizonal preface backgrounding what minds can do in gathering understanding into cultural heights evolved from those vortexual horizons (i.e., background limit conditions), which we know by originating vast stories of biogenic efficacy. The biogeny of that cannot explain our autogenic capability to design; nor does a vast evolutionary story destine our capability for venturing.

I think that any scientific conception of “mind” (as biogenically-evolutionary story) easily dissolves into deeply/highly/broadly conceptual issues. The vortexual continuum from biogenic to autogenic processes is ontogenically and self-formatively such that any resulting topo-temporal organon of mind can only be appreciated conceptually, with reconstructive scientificity enriching conceptual potential, but not explaining it (analogously as scientificity does not explain mathematics). Our self-designing nature will be “explained” by appreciation of its unpredictably emergent exemplifications. (That claim isn’t self-evident, of course; it’s an unvindicated validity claim. But it’s a claim I intend to vindicate.)

Antonio Damasio, a leading neuroscientist who also heads the “Brain and Creativity Institute” at USC, surmised—aren’t we the surmising species?—some years ago that Literature evolved for the sake of impassioning creativity. We want to be impassioned to great ends lastingly. In heights of that, in prospecting an excellent scale of interdomainal consilience of the kinds of things we can do, there lives the evolving nature of Mind’s self-conceiving (I will elaborate), which is purely conceptual, yet “ontologically” open in its conceptual netweave of inquiries concertable as evolving inquiry in some singularly prospectable sense that makes an at-least-literary sense of this worthwhile, maybe even philosophically so.

Next: section 3 of “philosophy of ‘mind’: a love story.”


  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis