Monday 21 August 2017

Mind-Thinking versus Brain-Thinking

The major psychological concept of thinking is the 'cognitive model', which states that thinking is a kind of information processing done by the brain: let us call this model Brain-Thinking.

Brain-Thinking is an automatic, computer-like processing that has either been learnt, or else is instinctive (i.e. built-in by natural selection, on the basis of evolutionary history).

But reflection informs us that Brain-Thinking is a model; and being a model it necessarily leaves-out a great deal, consequently is partial and distorted. Furthermore, if Brain-Thinking has validity, the theory cannot itself be merely a consequence of Brain-Thinking - because Brain-Thinking is merely a consequence of learning experience or selection for whatever is reproductively-expedient.

If thinking is to be potentially valid (as I am assuming) then thinking needs to be true; and to be true the thinking process must be directly tied-to reality - without any steps in between where there may be errors or misunderstandings of communication.

In other words, thinking needs to be reality.

In other words, thinking cannot - ultimately - be regarded as merely 'thinking-about, nor 'a-picture-of reality', nor any kind of secondary 'representation' of reality - because any picturing/ representing process is uncertain.

For instance, if thinking is supposed to be derived from perceptions, then there are errors and distortions of the perceptual apparatus and of the stages of processing of raw perceptions into comprehensible representations - all of which detach thinking from reality. Or if thinking is derived from memories, then there are all the problems of making a representation from sensory perception, plus all the processes by which memories are made, stored, located and read...

No - for thinking to be valid, thinking needs to be actually real in-and-of-itself, unmediated, directly.

In sum, thinking must itself be reality - at least potentially. But clearly this cannot be the base for Brain-Thinking, as it is understood by Psychology - brain thinking is not regarded as itself-reality, but at most about-reality.

If Brain-Thinking is an automatic process - causally-determined and therefore without possibility of 'freedom' or 'agency' or genuine creativity; then Mind-Thinking is (by contrast) conscious, willed or purposive, creative and free.

A Mind-Thinking capable of being understood as actual reality therefore needs to be conceptualised as qualitatively different from Brain-Thinking. If Mind-Thinking is reality it cannot be a material process - therefore it must be immaterial; it cannot be 'in' the brain - because reality cannot be subjective/ unique to one person - therefore must be objective/ accessible to many persons, simultaneously.

Indeed, Mind-Thinking needs to be reality itself which is not merely 'accessible' but itself the world of reality in which our own personal thinking participates. Thus, as we think, we are actually engaged-with and participating-in reality as it unfolds.

In other words, with Mind-Thinking, any single person thinking is actively engaged in making reality - objective, permanent, universal reality - as well as knowing reality.

This is only apparent if we become aware of the nature, constraints and limitations of the mainstream psychological model of thinking; and take accounts of the pre-requisites of valid thinking.

Of course, we might try to contend that thinking is not valid, but is arbitrary and unlinked with reality; but then this would undermine the thinking which contends it, since it rules-out any possibility of validity in the thinking which led to the contention that thinking is invalid.

If thinking is indeed non-valid, and has no necessary relation to reality; then there is nothing to be said - nothing to be said about anything...


Robert Brockman said...

The Chan / Zen concept of "The True Mind" seems to correspond to your concept of Mind-Thinking. Similarly, the Zen notion of "ordinary mind" with wandering thoughts and such seems to correspond to your concept of Brain-Thinking.

In this context, Brain-Thinking has all sorts of noise that makes it not line up with true reality: evolutionary biology based biases, personal corruption, mass media garbage, simple cognitive errors, etc.

The Zen claim is that the True Mind / Mind Thinking is like a perfectly clean mirror that reflects reality with perfect fidelity -- the True Mind IS reality. Zen goes on to claim that fortunately we all have access to the True Mind, but unfortunately there is a lot of "dirt" on our interface that needs to be removed. Apparently many strategies for removing this dirt exist, what works best differs from person to person, but unfettered personal access to the True Mind is possible for humans.

I'm pretty sure that your idea that Thinking has reality independent of the brain is on the right track. This would seem to imply that Thinking was happening before brains evolved, thus suggesting the existence of a Mind before that time.

The big question now is: what is the nature of the interface between Mind-Thinking and Brain-Thinking? Assume that your recent Thinking about Thinking is true and that the source of these true ideas is Mind Thinking. These true ideas somehow made it into your brain and then out over the internet to me, even though these systems have lots of noise.

Or did they? For me to know whether or not your words are True (and to distinguish them from the rest of the Mass Media noise), I would have to compare them to my own Mind-Thinking -- which, being reality, is directly connected to your Mind Thinking. In this model, the words move through the brain / internet, but the *information* (understanding? insight? wisdom?) moves between Mind(s) directly.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Robert - On metaphysical principle, I think I must be saying something different from Zen Buddhism - which would surely regard my-real/divine-self as an illusion; whereas I regard it as eternal and (to some extent) uncreated.

Robert Brockman said...

The C'han / Zen monks I have been interacting with seem to consider the True Mind / Mind Thinking to be real and Brain Thinking / biological perception / biological cognition as illusory. They also make the interesting claim that although all individuals possess the ability to manifest the True Mind, each instantiation of True Mind has some distinctiveness: there is a sense in which each Mind is the same, but also a sense in which they are different.

These monks definitely consider the True Mind to have persistence, operating both before and after death. I have not encountered any Zen teachings regarding the creation or destruction of True Mind, indicating that they may consider it to be uncreated.

Bruce Charlton said...


But, my understanding is that if they say:

"They also make the interesting claim that although all individuals possess the ability to manifest the True Mind, each instantiation of True Mind has some distinctiveness: there is a sense in which each Mind is the same, but also a sense in which they are different."

Then what they *mean* is that insfar as they are different - they are living in illusion: there is only one True Mind. That is the basis of Buddhism and of Zen - all individuality is illusion, ultimately.