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  genealogy of ‘mind’
gary e. davis
June 21, 2017

Is “mind,” then, nothing more than what one chooses it to mean, relative to its range of common meanings of ‘mind’?

I mind (verb) that the notion of mind (noun) is possibly trivial.

What anyway causes a person to presume that there is such? mind: Knowing that there’s mentality of oneself (knowing that “I” am here, amid all that’s there), I’m amid it all as knowing I’m amid it all, minding myself as being here (or there): “having” a mind, being minded, reflective of oneself.

Is sense of self the same as “mind”? Might philosophy of mind—stripped of the ideologies of metaphysicalist history (“soul,” etc.)—be philosophy of self?

Neuroscience may cause one to worry about the difference between a brain and what the brain does: minds itself.

So, it’s that classical “can of worms” (philosophers say), a tired subject that has exhausted every possible approach to phenomenalities of “mind.”

I couldn’t possibly have anything new to say. I won’t claim that I do. And I’m not going to burden you with tedious scholarship.

But one point’s usefully obvious: There’s much history there—much genealogy of the notion, the concept—the terms (verb and noun)—from folk notions to academic notions, stretching across centuries.

There is etymology, so called. Well, not really: Etymology is a kind of inquiry. What the terms have is an etymography that partakes of genealogical narrative.

Or do they? Words have a discernible history of use (geneagraphy, so to speak), but who knows about real origins? The root ‘etymon’ pertains to claims about origin, but that’s ultimately fiction because all knowledge of beginnings are through textual traces (presumably long after oral uses have changed and changed and changed).

‘Etymon’ is Latin for “origin of a word” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged online), derived from Greek: “literal meaning of a word according to its origin,“ from etymos and eteos: “true.” So, the Greeks had a notion of true origin, which the Latins adopted, and the Roman Empire brought it to the Anglos; and here we are, like so much of being here inwordly, so to speak: having echoes of there being origins that we certify to be true, i.e., as authentic. Yet, the Greeks were a relatively late blooming renaissance (c800 BCE?) after centuries of dark ages between them and earlier Bronze Age civilization throughout the Mediterranean that died out, around 1200 BCE. Millennia of concern with self and soul preceded any sense of linguistic relativity in textual traces.

No one can know how notions originate (except relative to recent coinings). We’re the species that may appreciate that, in a lineage of coinings that go on, in light of what’s been retained from what’s been forgotten.

“Appreciate”! There’s a notion.

But the Golden Aged Greeks wrote about it first (as far as the history of English is involved). What we have is retentions of their establishment of certified presence, their sense of The Beginning, their certification of there being at least their sense of Beginning. In the beginning (of the certified story) and once upon a time, there was authentic origin. Let it be enough. Then the gods blew Ulysses home.

Mind you, ‘mind’ was first used as a noun (as far as records show) in the 12th century, becoming a verb two centuries later. Minding things derives from there being minds to mind, i.e., actors to enact themselves, attentive selves caring. But the “proof” of mind is that we enact ourselves! By minding, caring, we have sense available to reflectively indicate: a mind minding.

Indeed, that 12thC first known written use was about “the state of remembering or being remembered,” then becoming a term for the commemoration of the deceased—not the act of commemorating; rather the occasion of commemorating, being about remembrance, re: there being in mind that which is brought to mind, rather than the bringing to mind.

So, you may see easy ambiguity of the difference between doing and indication that the doing is in attention.

The overt verb sense of ‘mind’ pertains to “attending to (something) closely,” in a sense the same as perceiving. But the noun is simply about the enacting, the attending.

It’s implausible that two centuries would pass before a noun about doing would become a verb of doing. The “first known use” is simply the first available written example of something “originally” about attending to importances of others (commemoration, remembrance): minding that others have been memorably important, bringing membrance of others to importance as highly worthy of being membered again, brought into belonging with one.

To mind is primarily to give attention to importance of others, appreciating their belonging, and mind (noun) is that which gives attention to others’ belonging.

So, a change of meaning (or additional meaning) of mind (noun) as “that which reasons: the doer of intellectual work” (M-W: 3 a) echoes the interests of modernity associated with cognitive examination: “3 b (1): the element or complex elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons (2): the aspect of a biological organism that is not organic in nature.”

But the verb form changes in senses of caring or attending, not correlate with verb forms of the changing noun: thinking enacting itself, feeling actively, reasoning, perceiving. There’s a splitting of noun (objective) and verb (enactive—I won’t say “subjective,” because the verb sense stays with responsive senses of overt doing, associable with one’s own intentions, rather than receptivness or subject-ivity).

Historically—in the most literal sense of lasting import—caring was transposed into reasoning, and enacting care was objectified as a meta-organismic activity. Etymography shows that a sense of belonging with others is concealed in modernization of ‘mind’.

One doesn’t need Being and Time to obviate such a point for English.


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