20 December 2006

How can a man be out of his mind?

Our ability to understand this concept is based on our sharing a number of key aspects of the phrase that are normally only implicit and unconsciously evoked. Consider the parallel construction, “a cup can be out of its cupboard.” This is a literal concrete case that illustrates the logical relationships involved in both concepts.

We know, by the use of ‘its’, that cups belong in cupboards, which are bounded regions in space.

We implicitly know that cupboards are a feature of rooms, which are also bounded regions in space, therefore we know by logical inference that cups belong in rooms.

We know that in this instance we are considering the cup as a location even though it, too, is a bounded region in space.

We know that the cup-as-location has the possibility of being in specified relations to (out and, by logical inference, in) the cupboard though in only partially specified relations to the room (we do not know from this phrase if the cup can be out of the room though experientially we know it can.)

Returning to what we know about “a man can be out of his mind”-

Minds are what cause the behavior of creatures.

A man is the kind of creature that has a mind which is an important aspect of his whole self.

A mind can be understood as a bounded region in space, presumably within the space that constitutes a whole self. Thus, a mind is logically equivalent to the cupboard and a whole self is logically equivalent to the room in which the cupboard is located.

A man’s true self is another distinct part of the whole self and the true self can be understood as a location that has some relationship to the bounded region of mind. Thus, the true self is logically equivalent to the cup that is supposed to be in the mind which is located within the whole self.

While a mind is only one aspect of self, it is distinct from a true self which is the locus of will and a person’s will must be present as one behaves to be held responsible for the consequences of those actions. We make exceptions to important rules for social behavior based on this normative conception of what it takes to be held responsible for our actions.

Under some circumstances the true self is not the cause of a man’s behavior.

When the true self is located outside of the bounded region that causes his behavior then we can say, ”he is out of his mind” which implies that he is not behaving normally and is not strictly responsible for what occurs as a result of those particular behaviors.

Note that a mind does not literally occupy space. We cannot literally perceive minds in any concrete way. Minds are a concept we use to think about the causes of people’s behaviors, this is the literal core meaning of the concept of a 'mind.' Since we also conceive of a person's behavior as classified into separate groups, normal behaviors and abnormal behaviors, then we use the metaphor of boundaries within the space of mind to understand different type of behavior. There is a literal core, but the ways we think and reason about minds are mostly metaphorical. A man can be out of his mind because of the ways we understand the logic of literal spatial relations as applied to the idea that a mind is the cause of behaviors.


P@ said...

I don't see that the use of 'its' means that we know that cups belong in cupboards - rather there would appear to be an implication that cups possess cupboards. This has a stronger parallel with a 'man' and 'his' mind - there is some form of posession involved (pun vaguaely intended). There is much work being done to try and isolate the minimum neural substrate of the mind, so it would seem a little early to rule it out. It is normally considered to be within the brain, although I would argue it is entirely feasible that that should at the very least be extended to the whole of the nervous system.
There are also reasonable arguemtns put forward suggesting that our immediate environment may also form part of our minds. Choosing what to wear for the day sets us in a frame of mind, for instance. If one accepts this, and the more I consider it, the more reasonable it sounds, it has the interesting knock on effect that other peoples actions can have a direct effect on our individual minds. Now, spilling red wine on the brides dress is something which may very well be considered a possible cause of her going, temporarily, at least, out of her mind.
Does this require us to consider the mind as being spatially bounded? I do not think so. Much of what our minds are involved with is pattern recognition, and often this is on a temporal basis. I strongly suspect that 'being out of one's mind' is more akin to being 'out of step' - not spatially related at all, but related to the temporal regularities to which we grow accustomed. This has a close parallel with the way neurons are believed to work, with frequency of firing relating to information content - causing neurons to miss a beat will hardly upset much, but causing sufficient of them through sudden physical or psychological shock can make them appear to malfunction, and make us 'out of our minds'

Don Berg said...

I was not trying to assert that the mind is literally spatially bounded, in fact any understanding of mind is almost entirely metaphorical, not literal. There is a literal core understanding of mind (from Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson) as that which "thinks, percieves, believes, reasons, imagines, and wills. But as soon as we try to go beyond this skeletal understanding of mind, as soon as we try to spell out what constitutes thinking, perceiving, and so on, metaphor enters." We are not required to consider the mind according to any particular metaphor, but once we choose a metaphor then we need to look at whether or not it is apt for describing the phenomena it is applied to.

So much of what has informed my writing of the story and the commentaries has been exploring various concepts from the perspective of embodied realism which has be most thoroughly presented in Philosophy in the Flesh.

"[I]solat[ing] the neural substrate of mind" requires a precise definition of what a mind is, so that whenever a neural substrate is examined it can be tested for the prescence of mind. But given the literal core of the concept it is impossible to achieve such an outcome.

I am personally convinced that the human mind has both internal and external components. I think of the mind as a kind of shell, like a clam shell or a snail shell. Animal shells arise in environments where there are significant external threats, like pounding waves and predators. But animal shells are also flexible enough to grow and to be transformed by the life experiene of the animal. Every animal shell is different and unique to the life experience of the animal that grew it. Knowledgeable examination of the shells of animals gives siginficant information about that animal and it's life.

The mind is an emergent psychological structure that has grown in a way that protects vulnerable parts of ourselves from harm and yet has flexibility and permeability sufficient to allow us to interact with and grow within our immediate environment. This metaphor has the benefits of accomodating the effects of internal dynamics that arise from the cognitive unconscious, external dynamics that arise form the cultural and social context as well as the uniquely individual structuring of the mind at the boundary between the other two sets of dynamics. Examining your mind is a way of examining your life and the ways that you have reacted to it.

I find this conception of mind to be useful in my considering the deeper implications of education theory and practice. The dominant conception of mind in education is basically as a recepticle for knowledge, skills and information and this conception does not privide adequate accomodation of cognitive and cultural factors that are significant for creating a system of education that is focused on having passionate teachers teaching enthusiastic students in joyful schools (which is my goal.)

P@ said...

Cool, that all makes sense - thanks. My objective (currently delayed) is a simulation of the emergence of mind in agents in a communal setting.