Our minds aren’t in our heads

Yesterday, I finished reading Alva Noë’s Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness. The book is mainly a critique of research programs in the scientific study of consciousness and perception, and in this respect it does not intend to set out a full-blooded account of what our mental life is and is like. Still, it gives us the proper orientation we need in order to understand the layout of our mental lives.

With  Noë, we can say that

1.) The brain does not think, feel, or create of its own resources alone a picture of the world; it is the mind that thinks and feels, and it is the mind for which a world ‘shows up.’

2.) The brain enables mental activities but so does the environment. So, the brain is no more than a necessary condition for mindedness.

3.) The mind just is the dynamic interaction or interplay of brain, body, and lived environment.

A few implications for philosophizing as a way of life follow.

4.) Mental disorders or mental illnesses do not exist (an ontological claim), though brain illnesses and body illnesses clearly do. With Gilbert Ryle, we can say that we can mind what we do. We can do things attentively or inattentively, carelessly or carefully, heedfully or heedlessly, etc. Our mental lives can be disorganized, scattered, or disjointed, etc., or focused, concentrated, and integrated, etc.

5.) Quite naturally, philosophers have no business studying the brain, but they do have reason to investigate what our mental life is and is like, with a particular focus (or so I think) on the ‘fitness’ of clear thinking, feeling, and engaging.

5.) It is vital, therefore, that philosophers who wish to lead a philosophical life cultivate the mental life excellently and beautifully as well as teach others to cultivate the mental life excellently and beautifully.

When the mind is clear, we read in the Daoist works, then we wei follows. Wu wei means ‘doing nothing’ in the contemplative life, acting spontaneously in the active life. But how does philosophy as a way of life bring us into contact with wu wei? How does philosophy teach us to come to as well as remain true to this style of thinking-acting excellently and beautifully?

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