3 poor questions to ask about ‘the’ mind

A Joke

Father: Point to where my left foot is.

Son [points down and to the left]: There!

Father: That’s right. Now point to where my right hand is.

Son [points upward and to the right]: There!

Father: That’s right. Now point to where my heart is.

Son [points to chest]: In there!

Father: That’s right. Now point to where my brain is.

Son [points to the head]: In there!

Father: That’s right. Now point to where my mind is.

Son [smiles, shrugs]

Three Erroneous Questions Based on Category Mistakes

1.) Where is my mind?

There is no ‘where’ to the mind if by ‘where?’ we mean that some thing can be plotted on an X-Y-Z axis. This is because the mind does not occupy physical space. It is also because one mental activity just is providing the conceptual framework whose categories are ‘space’ and ‘time,’ the sorts of categories that allow us to point out hands and feet and to distinguish the placement of your hands from the placement of mine.

So, ‘where is the mind?’ makes no sense to ask.

2.) What is my mind?

The mind is not an entity. Neither is it a physical object (like apple) nor is it a concept (like horse). Not actually being an ‘it,’ the mind is not a substance but a concatenation of verbs.

3.) What goes on in the mind?

Well, nothing actually. The mind is not like a private theater in which various ‘inner’ secret plays are performed. The mind is not a container like a house in which family members do all sorts of things.

The mind just is an array of certain activities: thinking, emoting, proposing, willing, believing, imagining, doubting, disposing, replaying (thoughts, say), worrying, etc. It is not that thinking occurs in the mind; it’s that one is minding when one is thinking–and nothing else. (Better: minding as pondering.) It’s not that emotions take place in the mind; it’s that one’s minding just is the feeling of anger. (Minding as getting angry.)

It’s better, then, to think of mind as mindings, some of which unfold at once (in some cases), others occurring one after the other (in other cases), others happening repeatedly (in yet other cases), and so on.

A Few Implications

1. Minding is not secret or hidden, though various mental activities can be silent, less silent, noisier, etc. One can speak to oneself without saying anything aloud, and that is fine so far as it goes.

2. Minding is not mysterious since it lies ‘open to view,’ provided that we understand it in the proper ways. Well, and one can always inquire of another if one is confused about another’s mental life. ‘What you did there–what in the world did that mean?’

3. I can know my mind as well as other minds if only I learn to inquire properly and come to understand these activities. (About this, more in future posts.)

4. Since mental activities are not identical with or analogous with bodily activities, the former are not subject to ‘illness’ or ‘health.’ (How weird if they were.) Mental activities are performed, conducted, brought off (etc.). Moreover, these mental activities can be performed excellently or poorly, clearly or not, spontaneously or deliberatively, carefully or carelessly, etc. And mental activities also admit of degrees: ‘John’s thinking about the math problem was undertaken in a somewhat sloppy manner.’

5. Mental activities admit of poor habits, good dispositions, and needless repetitions. If Jane worries a lot about insignificant things, then Jane’s mental activity is poor, and she is–with each repetition–making this poverty worse. If Sue inquires quite well about herself over and over again, then Sue is doing a good job learning about herself.