The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Friday, 14 January 2011

Mind and Consciousness

It seems to me that the mind/soul/personality is very different from the consciousness/spirit/person/hypostasis. The mind of itself is not conscious: hence the ready possibility of conceiving of "the unconscious mind" - whether or not such there is any such.


It seems to me that the mind is a central aspect of the life/soul (synonyms) of a creature. The life/soul is the set of processes (chemical, electrical and mechanical) which cohere with the effect of maintaining themselves in dynamic stability.

Life is "constancy maintained in flux". Life is not any mystical reality or substance beyond the complex behaviour/motion of organised matter. The soul is not a principle which exists apart from the matter which it informs - except as a form; but then it is not active, being outside time, and activity/motion is the basic reality of the soul.

The animal mind is identical with the higher biochemical functions of the brain and is that part of the life/soul which reacts to and learns from external stimulae on the basis of internal (somewhat) adaptive models the external environment.

The mind consists of information and processes which continually manipulate this information in order to produce more information: that is, the mind consists of ideas and models and "utilities" available to be patched together as models. It is entirely possible that a non-living entity (such as an android) could have a mind; though it is uniquely life that would generate mind as part of life's self-definition as "self-sustained persistence" and Darwinian selection.

The human mind is reasonable, analytic and reflective because it has evolved to be so as a result of dealing with the physical world over many generations of selection of those individuals most able to respond successfully to environmental necessities and change.

It seems to me, that the life/soul/mind itself is easily understood on the basis of today's science; to the extent that one can begin to clearly envisage its Form in specific detail.


Consciousness is a different matter entirely from mind. Mind is the object and content of consciousness. One is conscious of one's ideas and the outcome of one's thought-process; but one is not conscious of the operation of those processes themselves - any more than the processes that enable one to ride a bicycle.

Just as I grasp a spanner in my hand; I grasp the idea of a spanner in my mind - and I am conscious of both; or, rather, in the second case I am conscious of the sense-data represented in my mind as sensations which I interpret as the "idea of holding a spanner". The "I" which I constantly reference is, to an extent, the idea that I have of my spirit/consciousness; but it is also the idea which I have of my overall unity - which is NOT at all (obviously) the same thing!

It seems to me that a complex, rational, analytical, reflective, emotive mind could exist that was not at all conscious: that the idea of mind can be fully described and accounted for without any mention of "consciousness" or "personal, subjective experience". This central aspect of human reality is entirely transcendent and ineffable. The consciousness or spirit is the principle by which I am conscious - the raw ability or potential for awareness as opposed to the content of awareness. It is that by which I am conscious not that of which I am conscious - the latter is, in my account, the mind.

While the consciousness, spirit or person is the basis (understanding, foundation or hypostasis) of all that makes us truly human and seems to be what gives objective value and worth to human existence, it is not easy (or, perhaps even possible) to analyse it, account for it or describe it. Hence, it is not possible for me to even communicate to you what it is in my experience.

First, the consciousness is entirely unlike any thing I can speak of; so the typical programme of deliniating a thing's being by saying what it is like (and how it is so) and what it is unlike fails. The consciousness is simply unlike all things and somehow seems only to be "like" God - another ineffable being. In particular, it seems to have no parts and be entirely singular.

Second, it is unclear that I have any experience whatsoever of my consciousness. It is rather by virtue of my consciousness that I experience all that I do experience. Hence, it would seem that to discourse of the consciousness would involve the impossible task of accounting for something which is beyond and beneath all experience (its foundation or hypostasis) and yet is the basis of all comprehension and understanding. All that I have to go on is the idea which somehow exists in my mind of "consciousness" - and how that idea got there, in the absence of any experience of consciousness for it to correspond to is a fascinating point in its own right!

Hence, if you have any understanding of what I am writing; this can only be because you yourself are a conscious being (or at least have an idea of "consciouness" in your mind) and are somehow recognising the incommunicable reality which I am "talking around" but not directly of.

Reality and Consciousness

Consciousness seems to be the bedrock, foundation and substance of reality. If there was no conscious being, then the distinction between "possible existence of the world" and "actual existence of the world" would be difficult to make. Although reality is objective, the idea of objectivity could never arise unless there was a subject to distinguish its own subjective and personal experience from the objective reality which gives rise to that experience in the first place.

I wonder whether it is this truth which is at the bottom of the persistent troubles in Quantum Mechanics. Modern QM obliquely recognises the importance of measurement and subjectivity, but gives no account of how the observer is involved: only that they are so.

As a Catholic, I hold the doctrine that the fundamental basis of reality is PERSONAL - that is "spiritual" and "consciousness". Hence the idea that reality is founded on consciousness does not surprise me, though I admit to having little understanding of its meaning or significance.

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