Is “Mind” Phenomenal Or Theoretical Concept?

Usually before we start to explain something, we need to be able to notice that something.
We can notice that things fall when dropped, and call this phenomenon gravitation, and then search for explanation of it. In same way we can see rainbows, and we can describe them or give explanation of what rainbows are. In those cases we have idea (or concept) of the phenomenon before it is explained.
Now, the situation is different with theoretical concepts, as a concept of “photon” for example. Nobody has noticed some phenomenon as “photon”, but it is theoretical concept, whose existence we deduce through phenomena we do notice. It might be specific physical experiments for example, where assuming that such thing as “photons” exist give us nice explanation of why we get specific readings.
What I’m wondering about how much “mind” (and “consciousness” for that matter) as used in philosophy is theoretical concept, and how much it is about something we “directly” notice through our lives in the world.
The issue I’m interested is this: Is there some specific phenomenon that we refer to by using the word “mind”, and if there is, through what kind of ostensive teaching would one teach a student what “mind” is – what kinds of example one would show to the student to contrast presence of mind vs. absence of mind. Or is “mind” something necessarily connected to having a theory of the world?
Now, seems to me that the truth is that today we have a mix of both, the “mind” maybe started to refer to some (more or less) specific noticeable and recognizable phenomenon, but through development of language (e.g. metaphorical usage), and of philosophical theories, the word got new metaphorical and theoretical uses (senses). If one checks for example, it gives 47 ways in which “mind” is used (senses), as a verb and as a noun. Some are theoretical, some metaphorical, and some are “closer” to the direct phenomenology.

Anyway, I ordered Ryle’s book The Concept of Mind, hoping that it might shed some light on my questions.

11 thoughts on “Is “Mind” Phenomenal Or Theoretical Concept?

  1. My personal opinion is that our notion of mind arises in a sort of halfway place between the theoretical and phenomenal. That is it’s a linguistic or conceptual development that never was really strictly trying to be either theoretical or phenomenal although it touched on both. I don’t think one ought to follow Rorty and the eliminativists and say we ought do away with mind. But I tend to be pretty sympathetic to Davidson and the idea that translating mind-talk to other talk (either phenomenal or matter-theories) is probably a lost cause.

    I think there’s a common tendency to take words and language categories and assume they map onto something “pure.” That is a single entity or class of entities. We know when we look at other culture’s folk categories that this is wrong. (Say the notion of Ki (chi) in Japan or China) But we seem quite a bit more attached to our own categories.

  2. Hi Clark,
    I agree with you that we (wrongly) tend to search for “pure” things (entities) to which the words map, and that in most cases it is not the case.
    Because of that I think that case of “mind” (and “consciousness” for that case) is particularly interesting, because they are subject matter of lot of philosophical discussions.
    To contrast the thing with “rainbow” is interesting, because to point to a rainbow is easy, it is also easy to point to the phenomenon of gravitation. It is easy even to describe the more theoretical notions in terms of phenomena in which their existence is implied. (for example for photon pointing to the results of the measurements of photoelectric effect). But in case of mind and consciousness, it seems hard.
    From one side those notions are somehow connected to first-person experience, and we might be told that we can’t know (for sure) if other people have minds, or are conscious. But on other side, as all other words, they have root in inter-subjectivity, so after all somehow others succeeded to point to us something which is supposedly first-person experience.

  3. My point of view would be that humans are ‘rational’ in their character and essence in the sense that they always tend to get somewhat ‘theoretical explanations’ of whatever ‘phenomenon’ they observe in their environment.

    In this way, in my assessment, the falling of an object on ground would be an ‘observed phenomenon’, whereas the idea or notion of ‘gravitation’ will be the ‘explanation’ of the above said phenomenon.

    And the types of knowledge can be classified in two main categories i.e. (i) Perceptional Knowledge and; (ii) Reason Based Knowledge.

    In the above-referred example, the observable phenomenon of a falling object is ‘perceptional knowledge’.

    The ‘Reason Based’ knowledge, in this example, would be of further two sub-types i.e. (i) If we generalize our observation and say: “Objects fall on earth” … This ‘generalized’ knowledge would be the first type of ‘reason based knowledge’ and; (ii) The idea or notion of ‘gravitation’ is also a form of ‘reason based knowledge’, in this case. The idea of ‘gravitation’, basically is a form of ‘analogical conclusion’ which might be the result of comparison of the above referred first type of ‘reason based knowledge’ with other similar entities where other objects also exert some type of attraction on other objects. In this way, what I want to say is that every type of ‘conclusion’, whether it is just ‘generalization’ or ‘deductive’ or even ‘analogical’, can be regarded as ‘reason based knowledge’.

    Now come to the issue of ‘mind’. In my opinion, idea of ‘mind’ is also a form of ‘reason based knowledge’. In order that there be any ‘reason based knowledge’ whatsoever, there has to be some clue in the ‘perceptional’ knowledge for it. It means that we can move towards any ‘reason based knowledge’ only in such way that the ‘reason based knowledge’ has to be completely traced back in our ‘perceptional knowledge’.

    In this way, knowledge of mind i.e. a ‘reason based knowledge’ is also completely traceable to our perceptional knowledge. We can observe many observable and apparent differences between humans and other animals. We can talk in terms of many theoretical concepts. We can produce literature, poetry, philosophy etc. The ability to talk and the physical existence of such things as literature, poetry, science and philosophies etc. ultimately lead us to the conclusion of the presence of ‘mind’ in humans. The concept of ‘mind’ helps us in accounting for the presence of literature, poetry etc. in the way that now we would consider these things as ‘products’ of mind. It is just like that the idea of ‘gravitation’ helps us in accounting for why objects fall on ground. And again, just like it, the idea of ‘photon’ also helps us in accounting for various types of laboratory experimentation readings.

    And so in my opinion, for the cases of both ‘falling objects’ and ‘mind’, first entity has to be ‘perceptional knowledge’. In the case of falling objects, the first entity is the observation of individual falling objects. And in the case of ‘mind’, the first entity is the physical existence of such things as literature, science, poetry, philosophy etc. For the case of ‘falling objects’, the second entity i.e. the ‘reason based knowledge’ would be the idea of ‘gravitation’ and in the same way; the second entity for the case of existence of literature, poetry, and science etc. would be the idea or notion of ‘mind’.

    And the existence of such things as literature, poetry, philosophy etc. is the proof of existence of ‘mind’. On the other hand, the complete absence of these things would be the proof of non-existence of ‘mind’.


  4. Hi Khuram, you got me thinking if I maybe was wrong in using “gravitation” to refer to a phenomenon.
    I guess you would say that we have multiple events, which each for itself would be called a phenomenon, and that based on those multiple events through analogy we build some conclusion that “things fall”, or build a concept of falling.
    I’m more inclined though to see the whole of this repeating as a phenomenon itself.
    So to say… whenever I have in my life released a thing (or saw other person release a thing) it fell.

  5. hmm. Yes I have considered observation of individual falling object as ‘perceptional knowledge’ whereas the generalized observation i.e. “objects fall on ground”, as ‘reason based knowledge’. Actually I am ready to call both of above entities i.e. (i) individual observation and; (ii) generalized observation as PHENOMENON.

    Just ‘generalization’ cannot be regarded as ‘explanation’. Generalization is actually the first step towards the way of getting the ‘explanation’. And ‘generalization’ is not the ‘analogical’ process. The process of ‘analogy’ would come at the ‘explanation’ stage in this case, through which we shall reach at the concept of ‘gravitation’. In this ‘analogical’ process, in that stage, we would compare our generalized knowledge of “objects fall towards earth” with some other similar ‘phenomenon’ where some other objects also exert some kind of attraction upon other objects. In this way, finally we shall arrive at the concept of ‘gravitation’. Please see my this article where I have tried to elaborate the process of analogy.


  6. Khuram,
    I think we agree that both individual events, and the repeating events (or events in their repeating nature, so to say) can be (or are properly) called phenomena, and that both of those aren’t theories (or explanations, as you say).
    I did use “gravitation” word to refer to this phenomenon of things falling when you release them, but I guess I used the wrong word, as it is as you point usually used for a set of much more wider phenomena which we consider as having same cause – i.e. gravitation as in physics.

  7. Yes agree that individual events and events in their repeating nature, both can be regarded as ‘phenomena’.

    At first we ‘perveive’. In this way we notice a ‘phenomenon’. Then we strive for getting some proper theoretical explanation of so noticed phenomenon.

    I have briefly described the process of taking notice of any new information regarding any phenomenon and then of finding the necessary explanation etc. in my essay: The Knowledge Explosion in the Modern Times

    I have discussed similar topic in my article on “Animism and Mythology” also. Link to this article is available on my side bar ‘categories’.


  8. Hi Pete,
    I tend to agree with you, though I assume that before philosophy “took over” the concept (of mind), it wasn’t clearly theoretical (and still in the common speech).
    I think one of most of prominent examples where this distinction is confused can be found in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. There Kant uses the word “mind”, as if it is word with clear meaning, but what he presents is highly theoretical “something”, and which is hard to relate to common usage of the word “mind”. For example in common speech mind is something which is belonging to the subject (“did you lost your mind?”), while Kant’s “mind” is something which “holds” the whole phenomenal world.

  9. Hi Pete,

    I should explain myself a bit, so I don’t get misunderstood. I expressed my assumption that there was a pre-philosophical concept of mind which was later appropriated by philosophy very vaguely. Here is more formal sketch of what I had in mind:

    There was (once upon a time) a word m1 (predecessor of “mind”) which refered to phenomena M1
    Through metaphorical usage the use of m1 changes to add other uses/refering to different/simmilar phenomena M2, M3, etc…
    Then (here is the philosophical/theoretical part) also comes the theory about M1 and connected phenomena (M2, M3… which are all now connected in a vague concept with lot of uses), and which gives rise to a mix of phenomenal and theoretical meaning in the new concept MX.
    Of course in the same time the word itself through time is changed from m1 to m2, … to mx=”mind”.

    So what I’m assuming is that before todays mx->MX (todays word “mind” referring to modern concept of MIND), there was history of words referring to more phenomenally clear concepts (traces of which are probably still present in the common language usage of the term “mind”, for example looking at the etymology of the word, says that it was used for memory, thinking,intelligence, and so on).

    I am aware that this contains account of language that is too naive (giving some starting clear but simple word-phenomena reference at the start, and then languge “degenerating” in some kind), but take this merely as a rough idea.

    Anyway… coming to the issue of evidence. I don’t have any.

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