What is a mind? One of the great mysteries of our time

Professor Mark Solms is the lead educator of the University of Cape Town’s free online course, "What Is a Mind?" Here, he discusses how he approaches this question - one of the great mysteries of our time.

“What is a mind?” is an extremely important question. For what are you if not your mind?

Psychology is of course the science of the mind, and yet graduate students of psychology have great difficulty answering this question. From their replies, you might think that the mind is just a very complicated information processing device. But are you a complicated information processing device?

The mind is not an object

The source of the difficulty is the fact that the mind is not an object; it is not something out there in the world that you can point to and say: “That is a mind; that thing over there is what I call ‘the mind’.”

The mind is invisible. But it is not invisible in the same way that gravity and electricity are. It is true that the existence of the mind, like that of gravity and electricity, can be inferred from its physical effects (For example, “She moved her hand when I asked her to; that movement was caused by her mind, by an act of the will.”) The difference is that the mind can also be perceived directly. It feels like something to be a mind.

The mind can be perceived

So the mind can be perceived, no less than planets and atoms, but this kind of perception – perceiving things like memories, thoughts and feelings – is something subjective. Therefore, you can only ever experience your own mind.

This is the nub of the problem. You cannot experience minds in general. That makes it very difficult to have a science of the mind. For science, of course, aspires to objectivity – to generalizability. We go to great lengths to exclude the subjective from science.

The mind versus the brain

As a result, throughout the history of psychology, there have been serious attempts to exclude the mind from science. We were told by the Behaviourists (who dominated 20th century psychology), for example, that the mind does not really exist. Only its responses exist – its behaviours.

Today, in the era of Neuroscience, we face a similar problem. We are told that the mind is really just the brain. It is an elaborate illusion produced by the brain. So what if I told you that you – your subjective experience – will cease to exist from tomorrow, but that you shouldn’t worry because I will keep your brain alive?

The fact that your brain will be alive but devoid of experiences will be cold comfort to you. Because you – your beloved self – will no longer be there. This simple fact seems to prove that your mind is not identical with your brain.

But now I hear you say: the brain in a coma is just the brain minus the mind. The mind is the part of the brain that is lost when it is in a coma. The question then becomes: what part of the brain is essential to produce the mind? And how does it do it? How does the brain get over the hump from electrochemistry to feeling?

What is a mind really?

This question will be the starting point for our free online course, “What Is a Mind?” Based on the latest discoveries in neuroscience, but also taking account of lived experience (as studied, for example, by psychoanalysts) and of the philosophical wisdom of the ages, we will address one of the great mysteries of our time.

Step by step, we answer this question: What is a mind… what is it really?

Category Learning

Comments (174)

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  • Mohammad Ahmad udubo

    I teaches community mental health and kindly email me literatures pertaining that including what is the mind please.

  • Julie

    How can I developed the mind

  • Bob

    What if I throw spirit and communion with an invisible force into the mix.
    Only playing devils advocate but if we see science as one end of the spectrum what lies at the other end.

    • Leo Njeru

      That opens a whole realm of the universe, cosmos, the past, present, future and eternity. Astrophysicists will suggest that a human is a tiny spec of a HUGE limitless expansive multiverse.

      Probably, in all it’s nuances, humanity and the cosmos seamlessly merge through multiple cosmic realities. That, for instance, after death, the mind transitions to a spirit form. Well, the body decays back to the hydrocarbons, minerals and metals that “FORMED” it. The physiology and anatomy end. But, the mind, the essence of the person becomes spiritual.

      Now the issue is the how exclusive is the corporeal from the spiritual?

  • Javier Santos

    Can’t we really experience the minds of others? what about all those mirror neurons, do they provide a (underestimated) insight into someone else’s mind? Can we have a collective mind?
    These are all important questions to me that I look forward to discuss and hopefully clarify in the “What is a mind?” course.

  • Tina Warner

    The unconscious exposes the true feelings, emotions, & thoughts of the individual, I think feelings came first. Fear is a strong emotion & we are driven to survive. The mind controls our behavior, cognitive neuroscience continues to gather evidence of direct correlations between physiological brain activity & putative mental states, endorsing the basis for cognitive psychology. Did consciousness evolve with the origin of language ? I think it developed more but I believe consciousness existed before language.

    There is Quantum Mechanics, the concept is the mind, ( human or otherwise ) is simply evolved physical scaffold for an entity of electrical & quantum impulses. I like the idea of Panpsychism, the dizzy notion that everything in the universe might be conscious or at least potentially conscious, or conscious when put into certain configurations.

    Stars make the universe fertile, 93% of our body mass is made up of dead stars, from the big bang the universe is expanding, stars create energy, why not consciousness ? when we understand the mysteries of the universe, then I think we might understand the mysteries of the mind.

  • Desiree

    Aren’t we back at Sartre’s essence and existence issue? to do or to be? Essence seems to be detected (not the same as ‘experienced”..or is it?)via the senses. ‘Experience’ is as near to abstract awareness as I can get, but it might also include some physical sensation, like tingling or flushes or tears arising from within…so does ‘existence precede essence’ ? Existential therapy seems to offer more hope for getting side another’s experience? certainly more than Cog behaviour mod.

  • Iftikhar Ahmed

    God has gifted the best mind to humans only to think and feel wisely. So God blessed all revealed prophets with Books of Wisdom i. e Torah. Ingeal (Bible ) and Al Quran. to guide human to the “Straight Path” to have peace of mind and be successful and happy
    Wisdom = Guidance + Knowledge So Wisdom is mind power

  • Carina

    The most throught-provoking article I read in years is the one Prof Solms sugests in his second blog and which I happened on early last year – Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? (from The Guardian). But I’m still lost in trying to talk about mind/brain/consciousness

    • Curt Booz

      It seems to me that the mystery of the mind/consciousness is solvable on an individual basis. Then further via conference and sharing notes. The first step being for each individual to look in the place that they would find results. This being inside themselves, individually. Meditation would be a start…..Ahh, how very unscientific (chuckle) though the answers will be (are being) solved as we experience the convergence of science and what is presently called subjective reality (spirituality).

  • Heinrich

    Mind vs Brain……

    Perhaps “mind” is how the brain perceives itself. Remember, the sum of the parts is greater than the parts on their own. Therefore, every bit of brain, every chemical and electrical interaction plays its role. It is only when the brain perceives “itself” that we start expressing a sense of “mind” a sense of…self.

    Lastly, if there is no brain, there cannot be a mind. I do not see any likelihood of a dualist perspective of brain and mind being separate as being likely to hold true.

  • PETER WATSON

    Lastly (for now), “The question then becomes: what part of the brain is essential to produce the mind? And how does it do it?”

    The brain is an organ, the same as any other unique organ of the body, evolved and gestated by life in the womb, and along with, and in conjunction with the mental and emotional realms. The mind is the overall capacity that embodies our mental and emotional realms, including our bodies with all their organs and sensory perception mechanisms, but is generated by our being-identity, rather than by any of its parts, and is therefore more than the sum of its parts, of which the mind is our furthest reaching capacity-of-awareness, and designed to interface between inner and outer consciousness and the worlds we create in extended collective expression.

  • PETER WATSON

    Second point: — “So the mind can be perceived, no less than planets and atoms, but this kind of perception – perceiving things like memories, thoughts and feelings – is something subjective. Therefore, you can only ever experience your own mind.”

    If the mind (individual) can be perceived, which it can, who or what is doing the perceiving? Well of course it is the in-dwelling being. However, since the individual in-dwelling being comes from the same source – life – as every other in-dwelling being, then although each one is unique, one mind is designed the same as any other mind, and if this is so, and because our minds are designed by and for the same life-purpose, then in true consciousness we are also designed to share agreement. This means putting the minds together, for instance, for furthering creative expression; “where two or more are in agreement, I am” – life expressing — “in their midst.”

    The reason it may have seemed that “you can only ever experience your own mind”, is because the mind has only been functioning on the basis of a conditioned belief in a state-of-separation, caused initially be fear.

    • Desiree

      well put Peter
      It helps me understand how, whenever we have the courage to venture beyond out own solipsistic protections, we can experience love and ‘see;’ god

  • PETER WATSON

    May we review your opening statement Professor: — “What is a mind?” is an extremely important question. For what are you if not your mind?”

    Professor, I have a mind, just as I have a feeling-realm and a body; those are my capacities of expression, but not who or what I am. I suggest that is where the confusion that has contributed to a universal sense of false identity — an identity that claims, “I am only human” — usually to excuse failure, and which is not true else that person would be only human remains, fit for burial. It should instead be understood that we, you, me, everyone, are the ‘being’ identity that inhabits our bodies.

    You go on to say, “the mind is not an object”, but then neither is life, and yet we know there is life before birth and life after death, else we would not be here. However, since nothing exists or has meaning without life, the mind, emotional-realm, and the body must be products of life, since life was present before the mind and emotions, or the body, all of which life evolved and gestated miraculously in just nine months in the womb of our mothers.

    If that is so, then our true identity is life, and not our mind.

  • Shah Alam

    I found it great, full of knowledge. If some thing may be added to it about heart feelings or thoughts of heart than the myth of heart thinking may be cleared and resolved.

  • Poppy Mohlala

    I hope this course will definately help me and answer some of my questions. Question: Is my thinking(the thought) coming from my mind? Example: I changed my mind. Do you change your mind or your thinking?

  • halima

    Leave a comment…I realy a mind is a brain it self when we go back to scientific because when mind it transform the object back it gives u information with deferent people and may be they were gave different answers and this depend on hw they hve capacity of their mind .

  • GRAY

    Really thought-provoking topic (excuse the pun), engaging script, prompted me to sign-up for the course. My 10c worth, although a rhetorical question; “But are you a complicated information processing device?”
    If you interpret ‘basis of intelligence’ (genralisation), as patterns and memory. In my mind, high-probability of being more than less, given the features (Naive Bayes) that we are able to classify.

  • kamal

    Sir is it related to our sub conscious mind or spirituality or more un explained focusing things.

  • Mike

    Why do we talk about mind and not psyche?
    Why feelings – it has so many meanings in everyday language?
    Is there not a better subject term?

  • Glen

    I think it is thought itself that transforms and creates the mind. But more than this it is also our interaction with the world around us – thus learning to play a musical instrument enables greater mathematical ability; juggling is supposed to help one process thought more quickly. But creativity where does that come from? Do we need to free the mind for that? I am really looking forward to this course!

  • Lesley H

    Do you think it will be possible – in the future – to read a mind?

  • John

    Hi Gill,
    I was struck by your thoughts about the link between mind and personality.
    My mother-in-law, when she was losing her memory, would often say, “I think I’m losing my mind.” We would respond that she was just losing her memory. Her gracious, positive view of life remained as strong as ever, so it was clear that she was not losing her personality.
    On reflection, though, I now think that her personality was changing – she was not given to doubting her mental powers earlier in her life, and her loss of memory induced her to become quieter and more reticent. so I’m inclined to think that her mind was changing. And from that I move on to thinking that all of us undergo changes in our minds throughout our lives as we acquire new experiences.

    • Marco

      John very interesting post. An objective experience. Experience is what we need to study brain. Mind reading is already happening everyday but most of us 99% do not see that: social networking facebook posts twitter. Cell phone calls Is mind reading.
      Mind sharing is the future.
      We areso many and thus it is complex to allow anyone to take part to this process many are with good intentions some will come into sharing mind pools with dangerous aims.

      Stay positive.

      World has always been about influencing and working on sharing minds and brains…
      Future is full of huge potentials. Good course

    • Caroline

      I would agree with you John. I think the mind is connected to an awareness of self. My mother had Alzheimer’s and, literally, lost her mind. Sadly, she was no longer the person we had known, and no longer able to understand the effect that some of her behaviour had on my Dad, her husband.

  • Adriaan

    Referring to ‘the mind vs the brain’ section above, why does the ‘simple fact’ that I am more attached to mind than to my ‘alive’ brain minus subjective experience (which by the assumption being refuted is part of the brain) prove that [mind NOT EQUAL brain]?
    Does it not only prove [mind NOT EQUAL (brain minus subjective experience)]?

  • Tumelo

    in the realization of the mind i would pose question ”if i throw my body first will my mind follow or ”is it my mind that convinced me to throw my body first and from that see my reaction

    • Tumelo

      cant we to start learning #mymindmyknowledgetohave

  • Peet

    Isn’t the mind “Energy”? it is in us, it interacts with other surrounding ” Energies” around us. i.e. living things like human beings,, animals, plants, etc. We can direct it – looking and seeing and is directed by it – emotions, etc. Is it part of the Universe’s “Dark Energy”?? or something like it that we don’t presently understand?
    A very interesting subject.

  • Gill

    I am really looking forward to this course and the interactions with others. I wonder about personality – are mind and personality linked? If an individual has “lost their mind” have they lost their personality as well? Another thought on what a mind is – perhaps as adults we are too academic and ego-centric about this, so what do children say about what they think the mind is?

  • Justine

    WOW! What an amazing question. What is a mind? It’s really a question that I’ve never given any thought to and reading some of the comments below I’m a little intimidated to jump in. However, I’ve signed in for this course and I’ve never gained anything before from sitting on the sidelines. So, here I go!
    I wonder if it’s our mind that makes us unique, sets us apart from one another. We all have a brain and for the most part our brains have the same components. So one would think we all have the same potential or ability. Is it our mind that accesses/utilises our brain? Is is the mind that makes one person smarter than the other and not the brain. Some have commented that our mind gives us the ability for rational thought, I personally have made/had many irrational thoughts but consider myself to still have a mind. The saying “Are you out of your mind”, comes to mind 🙂 I have a lot of questions firing. I wonder if we are born with our mind set, or if it is something that develops over time and experience. Is our mind inert or innate?
    Do we think we our minds, or do we think with our brains? I don’t know, it feels a little like the chicken and the egg!

  • bollymer

    To my own understanding, I believe a MIND is the ability for rational thought,it is a non material substance.There is a saying that says”the way you think,is the way you are” from this I can say the MIND is the real who we are.it carries larger percentage of our doings like feeling,thinking,imaginary things and will….

  • Marlene

    As a Business Coach one methodology we use is the term living Above or Below the line. Below the line is living through Blame/Excuse/Denial and Above the line is taking Ownership/Accountability/Responsibility. So if one chooses to live Below the line their behaviours will be attracted/influenced by anything/one in those 3 areas conversly if one lives Above the line they will have an opposite outcome.
    My belief then is it is up to how we choose (our mind) how we want/need/have to live. So if we make our mind up that we will have a good/bad day then that’s exactly what we will have. It’s like planting weeds in our mind and then keep watering it (Below the line).

  • Christa Knellwolf King

    I am speaking as a humanities academic who has for some years specialised on the interpretation of literary representations of emotions.

    When I first came across the statement “the mind is not an object,” I was spontaneously fascinated. What is required (in my view) is that we finally learn to get beyond the Cartesian dichotomy between mind and matter; material and immaterial “entities”. I have come to the conclusion that “mind” might be a kind of system, or perhaps an ability, which forges links (or relations) between individual people and their world and which retains in largely accessible form the sum total of these relations. – This explanation might square with the statement that “we do not have a mind but that we are a mind”. Our ability to imagine ideas is pushed to its limits with this formulation, but it is necessary that we are challenged in our established ways of thinking about who/what we are. – In any event, it is inspiring to think of myself as a mind, an embodied mind, even if I am not sure that it is possible to explain what this means in language.

    My website: http://cognitive-theory.univie.ac.at/

  • Katalo Abraham

    Mind is the ability to think and imagine things

  • Renée Rios

    Perhaps the mind is like the holograph of the brain.Or the brain is the hard and the mind the software. One has no sense without the other. The mind is the programme we have access to and can modify! We can´t modify the brain! Crazy and mysterious thing ,indeed!

  • lmk

    Perhaps, just as one has a soul, one has a mind.

  • lmk

    I have 2 TBI’s (Traumatic Brain Injuries)& so I am of the impression that the brain does control everything. However, eventhough I understand that the brain’s functions create my reality, I also actually do believe that there is a higher being enveloping my brain- my mind. Like air, I can float on my mind.

  • Richard Epworth

    “..very difficult to have a science of the mind”. However we can take a “black box” approach to the problem and measure what goes in and out, ignoring what goes on inside. When we measure the learning performance of minds in bits per second, we find that competitive individuals exhibit remarkably similar bit rates. This suggests that the limiting capabilities of human brains in integrating completely new information, are similar to the limits of our physical performances (c.f. comparative 100 metre sprint times). http://www.humanbottleneck.com/index/chapter-5/ and http://www.humanbottleneck.com/index/images/

  • ARUOTU SUCCESS

    my understanding of the human mind and behaviour requires multiple approaches and involves a variety of academic disciplines. The articles in this cover story come mainly from psychology and associated disciplines with approaches ranging from the biological and genetic to the social and cultural. Each has something to offer our understanding, and none in itself is complete. Rather, we get the best understanding of mind and behaviour by looking at different approaches together.

  • Piotr

    Try for a good example: Dr Eben Alexander’s two books [religious view of the brain/mind] Proof of Heaven and The Map of Heaven – not as good a second book as the first. Fascinating insight [againbite of inwit] into a neuro-scientist’s view of an ‘after-life’ but here present, as it were.

  • Kagisho Moretlo

    Fascinating topic really. There seems to be infinite possibilities in exploration of what the mind really is. I think feelings, thoughts, the will, emotions, my physical body even my brain are all controlled by my mind. I can only control my mind. My mind and I are not mutually exclusive.

    A case in point – Romans 12:2. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind tells me that it is up to me to change or transform my spirit, soul and body through my mind. The “HOW” of the renewal and recycling of my brain cells is up to me (my mind). I believe every 60-63 days our brain cells get recycled and that process is enabled by my mind.

    My choices in life are subject to my mind. Hence we say “make up your mind!” Meaning – decide/choose! So the mind controls me or do I control the mind?

    As a Life Coach, my fascinitation with the mind is this: how do I help my clients to transform their minds? There has been many approaches…neuro-linguistic programming, neuro-science, psychology, hypnosis, etc. What are the effects of these approaches on altering the mind?

    What informs our minds? Previous experiences? The sub-conscious?

    • Laurie Rauch

      Love this verse (12:2) by Paul in his letter to the Romans – I have spent much time reflecting on it. The thing that kept tripping me up is the duality of ‘your mind’, i.e. who is the ‘your’ in ‘your’ mind?

      Even your own statement ‘I can only control my mind’ speaks to this dicotomy. Who is the ‘I’ that controls the mind? Clearly ‘you’ and ‘your mind’ are not the same thing as you are trying to say.

      From 2 Timithy 1:7 we see “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” that having a sound mind is given us via the Holy Spirit, rather than the mind being the actual living person we are.

      It is our (the living person/soul) experiences that shapes our minds, both those that are conscious and those that are subconscious.

  • Gerry Downes

    I’m looking forward to this course. As to the issues raised Mind/Brain, subjective/objective, I hope these will feed into my planned course Exploring Philosophy with the OU.

    I once asked a friend where he thought he did his thinking; he pointed to his heart, and I think it is quite common to place the ‘sense of self’ in the heart, not the head. Bertrand Russell thought he had phisically damaged his brain by thinking too hard when he wrote Principia Mathematica – can that be possible? Can you strain the brain as you can strain a muscle?

  • Julie Clark

    “Looking at how the mind has been visualised in arts or popular culture is another way to explore the topic of this course. Have depictions of the mind resonated with your understanding of what a mind is? We would be very interested to see your images illustrating the mind. If you use social media, please find or create an image that represents your understanding of the mind, and share it using the hashtag #FLmind. You may also wish to respond on the course’s FutureLearn blog post.”

    Really looking forward to this course and in response to above I think these images by Igor Morski illustrate aspects of a mind beautifully:

    http://myscaleddownlife.tumblr.com/post/90932829872/companioncube0-the-brain-by-igor

  • Satyajit mondal

    I am just waiting for this class. I hope this course definitely clarify my doubts regarding MIND.

  • Peter Faure

    “So what if I told you that you – your subjective experience – will cease to exist from tomorrow, but that you shouldn’t worry because I will keep your brain alive?
    The fact that your brain will be alive but devoid of experiences will be cold comfort to you. Because you – your beloved self – will no longer be there. This simple fact seems to prove that your mind is not identical with your brain….you – your beloved self – will no longer be there. This simple fact seems to prove that your mind is not identical with your brain”.

    This argument begs the question. The indivisibility (phew, count the i’s in that) of brain and mind will live to fight another day. Can it be anything more than assumption to say that the brain in a coma is devoid of a mind, when the mind is entirely subjective?
    Separately, can one justifiably conflate “mind” and “self”?

    You may have inferred I am look forward to your course, Prof. Solms. Thank you for running it!

  • Althea Stevens

    I am looking forward to this class, particularly as I have just finished ‘The Mind is Flat’. That raised lots of questions, and I hope some of this course will help clarify my understanding of this most intriguing question.

    • Kagisho Moretlo

      Hi Althea. I have just started this one and my next is the “Mind is flat”. I hope after I have answers on what the mind is really-will put things in perspective and provide context for the “mind is flat.”

  • Bonnie

    I have no problem believing that there is no “mind”, but the brain imaging itself. I believe that thinking that there is this something “extra special” about having a mind is human egocentricity. I look forward to this course to see if it can change my mind.

    BTW, I don’t believe that the “mind” is not there with coma. There is too much science and anecdotes to think that the brain is completely unaware during at least some comas. Either the brain is dead or it isn’t. The brain can be damaged, of course and then the ‘mind’ becomes something else, ie: “He is just not the same since the accident!”

  • Phil Jones

    Tononi argues that consciousness necessarily implies an entity with a large number of highly integrated yet differentiated states. His theory posits that the amount of integrated information that an entity possesses corresponds to its level of consciousness. A corollary of IIT is that all systems that are sufficiently integrated and differentiated will have some degree of consciousness associated with them. This would include the whole of the animal world, and flora too. At heart, of course, this is not a new concept. The theory that consciousness, to one degree or another, is a property of everything (animate or not) is generally referred to as Panpsychism. The theory has previously been ascribed to philosophers such as Leibniz, Plato, Spinoza and Thales. There are also parallels with certain aspects of Eastern philosophy. Equally, it is not too far removed from the concept of the Omega Point, which – according to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – is the maximum level of complexity and consciousness to which the universe is evolving.

  • Phil Jones

    Is there a difference between “mind” and “consciousness”? I ask because a possible association of complexity with self-organisation and, ultimately, with consciousness, has been considered by Giulio Tononi, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin. He has developed what he calls an integrated information theory (IIT) of consciousness. His theory is based on two postulates: firstly, that conscious states are highly differentiated and information-rich (i.e. One can be conscious of many things, both simultaneously and sequentially). Secondly, that data in conscious states are highly integrated. No matter how hard we try, for example, we cannot force ourselves to see only the left half of a field of view and not the right. Specific memories can often be evoked simply by sounds or smells.

  • Nicolean

    Wow so excited to be apart of this journey. I cant wait to learn about the mind and to delve into the science into what makes us who we are. I’m looking forward to this new experience.

  • Francoise

    I like Alan Watts’ description of a mind : it is like a chauffeurs inside your own body. this description gives some substance to something that is otherwise intangible. a sort of mental image of what a mind is.

  • John Hirst

    The ‘mind’ is most probably somewhere in the brain. One might assume that all the regions of the brain that control the many bodily functions could systematically be ‘switched off’ and still demonstrate that a ‘mind’ remains. Further ‘pruning’ of more regions of the brain would, at some stage, take away consciousness, and that region might therefore be the seat of our ‘mind’. This is probably too simplistic an approach and even if it told us where the ‘mind’ resides, it would still tell us nothing about what is a ‘mind’ anyway. I’m looking forward to the course (or at least my mind is).

  • JACOB KAMOMAI

    i want to join

  • Eileen Procter

    I have yet to make my mind up!

  • Kate

    Really interested to hear about what we know, what we expect and what are the possibilities of what the mind is. I feel that the body has a huge role in the make up of the mind. Gut bacteria seems to be a growing area of research – which somehow relates too. Very interesting and exciting.

  • Martin Harris

    I think ‘mind’ is the interface between body/brain in the universe. Differing body/brains produce differing experiences of ‘mind’, i.e between the life experience of a human or a dog, or a slug. I think the universe has several electromagnetic radiances, such as the spectrum of light, radio frequencies, etc. Consciousness is just another of these radiances. The interesting thing for me is the possibility of evolution of ‘mind’ in species, and here I’m thinking of the potential for us say with meditation practice to produce a more ‘consciously’ aware mind. Interesting subject though, and am looking forward to hearing what the experts say.

  • Ulla Bjerström

    For me the concept of mind started when a cell with a cellmembrane appeared. The one cellular organism had an outside and an inside a me and a not me.
    During evolution things got more complicated. For me “the heart of mind” is the affective consciousness (Mark Solms The Conscious Id)
    Look forward to the course to learn more!

  • John Page

    Really looking forward to this course. I don’t have the language or intellectual foundation to articulate anything fresh on the “mind” but is the brain not just so complex that “consciousness” is just what emerges in terms of heightened awareness/perception from that complexity?
    I would like to find out how this sense of “consciousness” develops in the growing human child

  • Ulla Bjerström

    The start of the concept of mind is ,for me, during evolution, when a cell with a cellmembrane came up. . Then the first one cellular organism appeared. Then you got an inside and outside, a me and not me.
    The “heart of mind” is for me the affective consciousness ( Mark Solms The Conscious Id)
    These are my starting reflexions. Look forward to the course.

  • Mel

    Taking Liz’s lead, lets put down a marker.
    From an uninformed perspective I see the mind as a system. Drawing from and being fed by all areas of the brain, it’s purpose is to analyse and rationalize. The system creates a construct, a reference point, a story board from which, the story can be expanded and refined as new information is presented.
    For me one of the interesting questions is how? Is it a network which opens and closes connections based on the frequency of previous associations? How can we, or to what extent, are we able to consciously or unconsciously guide the system?
    I look forward to sharing colleagues ideas and perceptions over the next few weeks.

  • Carole L.

    I am looking forward to the course and hope it will sharpen my appreciation of what the mind is.
    I guess there will be no definitive answer. At present, the mind is for me the interaction and integration of a person’s physical, mental and spiritual characteristics. Sorry if that sounds a bit insubstantial – hope to do better at the end of the course!

  • Liz Hundy

    Before starting the course, I would like to set down what I believe at the moment so that I can see if my opinions change.
    Mind is an internal map of the external world (including past experience) which allows us to make better decisions, and so has developed by natural selection.
    Consciousness is the link between the inner map and the incoming sensations. This allows us to construe the sensations as the existence of an external reality.
    Pain is a signal that something is wrong so that we can hopefully put it right and stay alive. Things that cannot die or cannot put things right have no need of pain, and so will not have developed the capacity to feel pain.

    • neil howell

      Hi Liz. As a complete beginner in this field your starting definitions seem a good basis for exploring the issue of ‘what is mind’. One question. If “Mind” is just an internal map then what is the name you’d give to the capability of decision-making (or is that also part of mind)? Or is that intelligence?

  • andrew ganley

    Epistemology on the nature of ‘mind’ is especially vulnerable in my view to how it is presented for learning, in terms of the questions we ask about it and the way we go about understanding it. We have to be acutely sensitive to how we delineate the limits of what constitutes mind and what cognitive operations are ‘not mind’. Lets be careful for example of overplaying apparent dichotomies like conscious and non- conscious processing as seperate and somehow parallel phenomena. I think that we will become lost in an ontological black hole if we start down the road that our consciousness operates seperately to our other cognitive operations. Thought experiments / ideas for example zombies as conscious -less people (see article) seems to me to be creating more confusion and overlooking the fact that brain function is hyper -integrated. The danger in learning / teaching is that the necessity to reduce and simplify (which I need please) runs the risk of setting up false pathways which then lead to the hard problem – perhaps the problem is hard because we are asking the wrong questions ! – I think Wiggenstein might have said something like this about the limits and nature of language.

  • David Yule

    MIND (noun) is not a thing. It is a process. A function of the brain.

    It is how the conscious self becomes aware of thought processes. How opinions are formed and stored. How events and judgements from supposed facts are formed and decisions stored. It is closely associated with memory.

    Incidentally, memory is what makes us uniquely the individual self.

    • Sarah smith

      Liz has made a great point about stating what we believe at the outset of this course. I agree with David that ‘mind’ is not a thing but a process but I do not agree that it is simply the function of a single brain. I see mind as an emergent high level process of shareing meaning among interacting/communicating brains.

      • David Ross Robson

        Hi David & Sarah, I believe your thoughts close to mine. There is a layer of processing that links memory (the past), with current thought processing and is open to higher sources of spirit and information (??Akashic records). How often does a problem get resolved during sleep and on awakening is delivered?

        • Sarah Smith

          When the answer seems to come to you while daydreaming or waking it may be because your normal neuronal pathways making up your beliefs are not fully ‘on line’ making it easier for novel thoughts or connections to be made.

  • Rita Smith

    John Kehoe, author of Mind Power & Mind Power into the 20th Century, says ‘the mind is a sending and receiving station of thought.’ So is the mind the energy that sculpts and directs our individual, physical forms through life, and which also connects us with everyone and everything else throughout the universe? If everything that exists is made up of energy, surely this must include the mind; the extension of ourselves that makes us part of the whole. And could it be that this bond strengthens the closer we get to others, i.e. couples who have been together for a long time thinking the same thoughts at the same time or thinking of someone we haven’t seen for a very long time, and they suddenly show up again. Do we have the freedom of mind to think for ourselves, or are we guided by a higher intelligence? Could you descibe the mind as the spiritual side of ourselves?

  • Victoria Goodstein

    After reading these posts I’m even more excited about starting the course. I think this is the “question” of our time, one we are all searching for an answer. Will we find that answer though? Without my mind I am nothing, without my brain I have no mind, therefore without my brain I am nothing. So closely linked are these two, but so completely different at the same time. Can’t wait to start.

  • sue belcher

    I used this question of mind for a thesis in the late 80’s and am looking forward to updating ideas and questions. Not that I think there is one answer, or even several, that are knowable. But, my own thinking is along the lines of not ‘what is mind’, but ‘what is influential in creating mind, ie, what is behind the mind?’ I hope to enquire about ‘deep mind’, which in my view synthesises aspects of mind throughout the universe….. now there’s a thought!

  • Ricardo Rego

    According to Spinoza, the mind is one of the two attributes (Extension and Thought) of God (or Nature) perceived by the human mind.

    • Phil Jones

      Hi Ricardo — Well, that might be a working hypothesis for those who believe in a deity, but it’s not much help for non-theists!

  • Nicole Fernández De Castro

    Hey! I just read the blog, and scrolled down for the comments a little bit. English is not my mother language so, feel free to correct me If I have any mistakes please. What do I think a mind is? That’s a very deep concept for me. For me, a mind is some sort of energy, which is connected and attached to the brain. One cannot work properly without the other, and they depend on each other in order to be in armony with your body, and your thoughts. I’m not saying that what we call “Mind” and “brain” are the same concepts. I’m just saying that in my opinion, they are connected and work together as one. However, there are lots of mysteries involving both concepts, and I really hope that we can understand them better with this course.

    Have a great day 🙂 sorry for my long post.

  • Kees Rijsenbrij

    The mind is the storyteller who combines my experiences and thoughts into an continuous and consistant thread. By hindsite.

  • Cigdem Calkilic Taylor

    The mind is the subjective end of the constant processing of all the bodily functions within social and physical environment. We are more than one on this planet and have language to talk to each other then there must be a survival value for this to help us feel who we are.

  • Jean Mason

    The mind is some sort of energy – When I die, my mind dies too. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

  • Søren Wenstøp

    The ‘mind’ is something among a vast rang of things that the brain does, with critical implications for our ability to sustain sense of ‘self’ in various gradations.

  • Pat. C.

    It would appear the “mind” includes also the memory held in the body ie cell memory. Would it also include the “universal conscious”?. In Jim Holt’s book “Why Does The World Exist” the observation is made that Mathematics: as the explanation of everything that exists, including the ‘Big Bang’, exists itself only in the mind. Thus before there was Maths, there was the mind.
    What a mind-boggling idea!

    • zeynep

      But of course, isn’t mathematics a way/tool(s) for the mind to explain or make sense of the world? 🙂

  • Pauline Auger

    I’m looking forward to this course, which is clearly going to be very different from the psychology paper I did for my BA degree back in the 1970s!

  • Stacey

    I think the mind is the culmination of thought processes and emotions combined with schemas and experience. But what is it to be conscious?

  • Jan

    I have never read a blog before. I have been trawling through the comments and their subsequent replies and now wonder if I am up to this course.

    I have been using the words brain and mind more or less interchangeably but now I am forced to think what I mean by them. I think the brain may control the mind but who knows? It’s tempting to think of the brain as being in charge of the hard stuff (information)and the mind is where the soft stuff is – the emotions – the unquantifiable. Where is thinking in this? Is the brain thinking or is the mind? More importantly what is this course going to do to me? I already I cannot turn my mind and/or my brain off.

  • dorothy Ismail

    I am looking forward to trying to work through this problem. It’s a bit of a semantic nightmare : speaking personally, I need to try to understand what the mind is NOT, as well as what it might be. It seems we are using the words “brain” “mind” and “consciousness” interchangeably, and we need to be able to differentiate.

    Roll on the course!

  • Neil McLellan

    I think I gree with Mark Solms. I see the mind as being a bit like a storm lantern – the mind being the glow and the paraffin or kerosene being whatever structures, powers and initiates it. And yet there is subjectivity. Choice and volition. Surely not chance and necessity? So what makes our individual glow, glow as it does – that it originates in ourselves? Maybe something more than the brand of paraffin or kerosene? But what….that’s why this course interests me.

  • Paul Karlsberg, M.D.

    “The mind is what the brain does for a living:. I believe we know what a ‘mind’ is, especially as re our own. The major problem ever since Descartes is how does a brain (a three pound mass of nerve and supporting cells) produce such a subjective component as a mind. What are the biological components of, and how do they produce ‘minds’? This is truly the “hard question.”
    Neuroscience has come a long way since Chalmers’ question, but the problem still remains unsolved. We do know that an intact cerebral cortex is necessary, but “how” is the major problem.
    Looking forward to the course.

  • Dorothy

    I’m really looking forward to trying to understand this. I am not sure we all have the same thing in mind (no pun intended ) when we use this word. I am keen to work out what I mean by it: what is might be, and most definitely what it is not.

    It’s all a bit of a linguistic jungle, isn’t it? What do we mean by “consciousness”? Is it the experiencing of things, or is it the consciousness of self? Words are pretty inadequate things through which to try to explore this area, but they’re all I’ve got……..

  • Alan Hudson

    The mind is the functioning that goes on between sensory inputs and resulting actions. The inputs can be received from outside, eg touching a hot surface or self generated, eg “I’m bored” An analogy.
    An essay which has been marked and graded.
    The essay is the input, the marking is the mind and the output is the grade.
    The essay (not the research) is the input the assessor receives. The assessor reads and assesses the work (the mind) and produces a grade, eg C+.The input,(the essay) and the output (the grade) are simple to appreciate, what is not simple is how the actual grade was arrived at. That is the result of many strands, interpretation of mark scheme, style, readability, irritation with colleagues, etc. But as far as the student is concerned it is the C+ that is important. The electrochemical firings in the brain, resulting from the essay, equate to the considerations leading to the grade,the output of the mind. I guess this will be the main concern of the student (Did I pass?)
    That a simple output can result from a vast array of complex considerations should not stop us thinking that it is beyond our understanding that the mind is a brain-based electrochemical process.

  • Stephanie Youell

    My mind is the totality of me -every thought, memory, experience, feeling, since I first was born until this moment. It is in a state of constant flux,changing second by second as I interact with my environment. It is who I am and it is impossible to see or touch or find in any physical way consisting as it does of just millions and millions of interconnecting neurones and neurotransmitters. Magic!

  • Wolf

    That is a very interesting read. I have been thinking about the mind for as long as I can remember and I have come to the believe that the mind is the “data” that connects the body to the universe. All of the billions of thoughts that are happening every nano second in every brain in every living creature in existence is the universe learning. I realise this is a very abstract concept, however, I believe that the mind is an abstract concept.

  • John Cullen

    * A belief system,
    * A value system,
    * A collection of reasoned thoughts, of a living creature at any given time.
    * Filtered views/understandings of a datastore of all that a living creature has experienced,
    * A cognitive presence.

  • Maurice

    Please advise,respects.

  • Maurice

    Does the mind, accept, reject or formulate the responses from the Brain to stimuli

  • annie gore

    mind is self

  • eric

    The mind is a closed door that will never be opened.

    • norman

      Surely this door has windows allowing us glimpses of what is going on inside?

  • alan spence

    Mind and brain and how does thought and thinking fit into these?

  • Ben

    “what if I told you that you – your subjective experience – will cease to exist from tomorrow, but that you shouldn’t worry because I will keep your brain alive?”

    That strikes me as rather a silly thing to say. Like saying the food in your freezer will cease to be frozen from tomorrow, but don’t worry, we’ll keep your freezer working. It’s contradictory. We can wonder and waffle on about the mind as much as we like, but one thing is certain: The mind is something that the brain does. If the mind stops existing, the brain must be, in some way, broken or not working properly.

    • Matt

      I don’t think that it’s silly. He was using an analogy to point out that we can imagine a brain existing without a mind. He didn’t say a fully functioning brain. An analogous analogy is a car that would last forever but would no longer run. Mostly we care about the driving and not the car itself. I could use your analogy to point out that we don’t care that much about the functioning of the freezer but the frozeness of the food.

      I also don’t think that this quote implies that its author would disagree with your statement about the mind depending on the brain to run. We separate things that are in a causal relationship all the time. The TV and the TV show for example. We can talk about the TV show without denying the relationship between it and the TV.

      Hope I didn’t miss your point somehow. Thanks for reading.

      • zeynep

        Uour remarks made me think of a patient in a coma for years on end. The brain is there, functioning we could say, but the mind is not, is it, since the patient isn’t conscious. Noone knows what’s going on. Is the person/self still there, really “living”, or not? Some patients are kept alive and “wake up” after many years. Some aren’t. It’s a bit like the brain being kept alive without the subjective experience.

  • knowlesie3@talktalk.net

    Does the brain rule the mind or is the mind in charge, if it is the former then the mind is part of the brains function. I hope to meet you on the course.

  • David Strudley

    If mind like breath is no more at the moment of death, whither the soul? I shall very much look forward to joining this course.

  • june sperber

    Before signing on to this course I listen to Mark Solms intro. to the course which was marred by a droning ‘music’ backing for the 3 and a half minutes he spoke. It was really disturbing. . Can we expect this throughout his lectures?

    • Pendraig

      Agreed June. Let us hope they are sensitive to this.

  • Paul Wilkinson

    For me, the big question is who/what perceives the mind? Who/what is aware of the metacognitive processess? who/what witnesses the flow of thoughts and emotions that come and go? We can describe our minds as ‘busy’ or ‘focused’ or ‘calm’ but who/what is making that judgement?

    What distinctions can be made between mind and consciousness? To what extent are our thoughts and actions inflenced by the subconscious (and with recent experiments revealing that decisions are subconsciously made before they have been cognatively decided upon – does conscious free will even exist?)

    To what extent is the mind created (through socialisation and education) and how do changes in our mental perceptions and awareness affect the landscape of our lives?

    Looking forward to some mind expansion 😉

  • Dakota Cimo

    I wonder if the mind is perceived subjectively but exists in a relational field and is influenced by the past, present, and perhaps future. It is a perceiving being but limits our subjective experience of what is(consciousness) in an attempt to experience perception, increase our survival and perhaps not overwhelm. I am interested in the relationship abilities of the mind and the location of the mind. Is it within an individual, are we within it. Are there many minds or one and is the mind plastic. Do we create mind as we perceive mind and become more conscious? Does the mind use the brain or does the brain perceive the mind? These are some of the questions I have. I look forward to learning.

  • Linda Stuart

    I think, therefore I am” doesn’t really answer it, does it? I believe popular culture and my own mental health related experiences may have influenced me too much. I really want to find out what this course has to say.

  • nozy

    firstly the mind is the opposite of the brain
    i discuss in my opinion the difference between them in simple comments
    the mind is set of knowldge ,faculties,thinking,memory acharacteristic of human but the nature of mind have relation to physical brain
    but the brain is an organ of body ,center of nervous system
    the brain as a biological computer

  • Jean Cosway

    I have just completed the course…The Mind is Flat… by Prof. Nick Chater of the business school at Warwick University.

    It was very thought provoking but not entirely convincing. Let’s see if this course is more so

  • Graeme Inglis

    I don’t have any useful explanations/comments about the mind that is why I am tackling this course. However I have a few questions. Are the brain and mind one? Can the mind exist without the brain? What happens when some one has dementia Is the mind unchanged?
    Study of the mind could be like astronomers studying the stars or black holes, really can’t see them. There scholarship is all by inference through scientific instruments.
    On death does the mind die?

    • Dave Foddy

      “On death does the mind die?”
      Forgive me, I simply do not understand where such questions come from. Death seems somewhat final for all the other bits. One thing of which I am certain is that the “mind” is a component, a consequence of the existence of physical thing. Soul, transcendence, spirit are the stuff of poetry, philosophy, theology, they ain’t science. Science attempts to explain, it sticks with observe, theorise, predict, test, confirm or deny.

  • jane winthorpe

    .I would say that the mind is the part of our complex brain that thinks and feels, and that language is a key factor in this.

  • Dave Foddy

    “This problem cannot be answered by a purely scientific understanding of the brain, nor by a purely philosophical or psychological approach.”
    But can it be answered with a scientific approach? If not then it is philosophy or waffle, but then i repeat myself. Seriously, qualitative assessments do not help. Descartes started it, Newton advanced it, the twentieth century and several brilliant physicists gave is quantum mechanics and cosmology. Apply science, “everything is stamp collecting”.

    • Steve Lewin

      The problem with applying science to “things” is that it gets quite difficult unless you know what the “thing” is that you’r studying. Science needs focus. So if you already know what a mind is you can use science to see how it works, what it can and can’t do etc. But first you have to know where to look.

      BTW Rutherford actually said “In science there is only physics, everything else is stamp collecting”. So he wasn’t a fan of any of the sciences that are most likely to provide answers about minds.

  • jez

    Can the mind only exist with language? Do animals have ‘minds’ or are they merely concious; working on an instinctive, necessity level? I realise some people will want to say that their pet is really clever or has special gifts but I don’t believe that it is actually thinking and planning its actions like we appear able to do.

    • Russell Andrews

      Do children not have minds before they aquire speech?

      • Neil Mclellan

        Yes, as I think you perhaps agree, they do. Not yet contaminated by real world input but nonetheless valuable for that.

      • zeynep

        Yes babys definitely have minds, don’t they, and a sense of self long before they have language. I also have a feeling that my Golden Retriever has a sense of self and a mind.☺

  • Jerry Herlihy

    Interesting.

  • Valerie

    My mind is the embodiment of my soul

    • Dave foddy

      Your semantics don’t align with mine. You are using a random word generator.

  • ivan arango

    I have been looking for this course to continue understanding Dr. Solm´s developments on the role of emotion as consciousness and it´s participation in the construction of the mind epiphenomena.

  • Anne Whitcombe

    This course sounds really interesting. What indeed is the mind? It does not have physical existence, yet we can talk of a ‘mindless’ comment or someone ‘losing their mind’ indicating a state in which we are unable to function coherently. With the ever increasing incidence of Alzheimers and other forms of dementia (does ‘dementia’ imply lack of mind?) I personally am extremely interested in trying to understand more about the mind and how we can preserve its funcionality,

    • Mark Solms

      Dementia implies generalised cognitive decline, which can ultimately lead to lack of mind, but the diagnosis is made when the decline affects multiple cognitive domains — without necessarily obliterating any, let alone all of them. Observing what is lost in dementing illnesses helps us to understand what we mean by ‘mind’ in all of its richness. I have also learned a lot by playing close attention to what friends and relatives of such patients notice in this regard; they often observe things that shed far better light on the nature of the mind than the things that we ‘experts’ see.

  • Sue Kretzschmar

    I´m not a Psychology student nor a psychologist. As a commom human being this question really made me think about something I´ve never stopped to deeply analyse. For me my mind is one of the most precious things God gave me. Without it I´d never be able to be writing this message, thinking, learning, walking, loving, teaching, etc. I really value my mind when I meet old friends or relatives affected by Alzheimer. Without my mind I´d be out of the world, I´d be just a living body unable to be useful in any sense. Therefore, my daily prayer is that God keeps my mind healthy. How it works, I have no idea. I´m looking forward to this course.`

  • Carol Coombe

    Ah, this is the course I’ve been waiting for, and it’s right around my corner here in Cape Town. I believe we have two ‘things’ that can be compared: the mind and the brain. My brain is a collection of cells, neurons, synapses, blood etc, which are purely physical/biological in nature. A primary function of my brain is to keep messages touring my body to make the autonomic system work, to make this body as useful and healthy as possible. I can weigh the brain.

    But I cannot weigh the mind. My brain makes it possible, through my senses, to communicate with my environment and all those in it. The senses create a bridge between the two. The mind is ethereal. It has no physical existence. Somehow (the big question perhaps, or one of them) ‘mind’ is able to make sense of the messages it receives from inside and outside, so that I can create a comprehensive understanding of ‘me’ in my environment. I picture my mind as a mental landscape, full of cupboards and architectures, created by me/Me. It is unique: I cannot well understand The Other’s mental landscape because it is too easy to assume The Other’s ‘mind’ is just like mine. Big Mistake.

    • Mark Solms

      Philosophers speak of ‘the problem of other minds’. This refers to the fact that you can only experience your own mind. So, not only do you not know what it is like to be another mind, you cannot even be sure (in an absolute sense) that any minds exist other than your own! (PS: I am not a philosopher.)

      • Carol Coombe

        That is One Big Thought. I have heard it before, but I continue to stand in awe of it. Thank you.

      • zeynep

        What you said made me think of mirror neurons and mentalization. We seem to be hardwired to make inferences as to the intents, thought processes, feelings of others. We don’t know what it is like to be another mind, but we certainly try to infer it, don’t we? How does the other feel, what does s/he think, why does s/he behave so, etc. And then we also do psychotherapy, where two minds come into direct contact so to say..☺

  • Woody Hopper

    Okay, I try not to complicate things. For me things quickly get that way on their own. I may not know what a mind is, but I do know that a mind on the sideline is nothing at all. So, until my mind interacts with another mind, it is simply playing a very long game of solitaire. The addition of another mind allows for a game of chess. The addition of yet another mind allows for a game Rock, Paper, and Scissors. And now you see how complicated it must get when you see eleven guys lined up on each side of a football.

  • Jan Russell

    Here’s a theory: People with a religious faith often describe the human being as the body, soul and spirit. The mind is what religious call the spirit Without that unique consciousness the brain is just a functional collection of tissue like the heart or the liver. The soul, meanwhile, is the spark of life that animates the body. So the mind (spirit) is to the brain what the soul is to the body.

    • Mark Solms

      It is interesting to look at the comparative etymology of words like ‘mind’, ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’. They mean different things at different times, and in different languages. In German, for example, ‘Seele’ means both ‘mind’ and ‘soul’. What we need most is an understanding of the things that are denoted by these words, of the things themselves that lie behind these words. In a sense, this is what the science of the mind is striving for.

      • Dave Foddy

        Semantics. If you don’t have the mathematics, you don’t understand.
        God. Soul. Not interested. Show me equations.

        • Carol Coombe

          ???

  • Edward Clough

    It is interesting to look up the dictionary definitions of the word mind (in this case, as a noun). The concise OED under 5 gives “way of thinking and feeling” and under 6 gives “seat of consciousness, thought,volition and feeling”. This suggests that mind is the term used to describe what a person’s brain produces – and of course we all have a mind of our own.

  • tumala dhungana

    Dear sir,
    I recently came to know that we can measure the hidden potential of our mind through some technologies like dermatoglyphics multiple intelligece test(DMIT). As i felt it is the right place where i can keep my quaries. I would like to know how reliable and accurate its results are. They claim that they have patent cirtificate. How authentic is that certificate to rely on it for its use? Please, help me to understand it.

    • Mark Solms

      I don’t know that test but from the name alone I would be very suspicious. Sounds like a modern form of palm reading!

  • Berris

    If the mind is particular to each person, it must be connected to memory. Is it also the part or parts of the brain that we do not want others to control?

  • Philip

    Second attempt: I find it easier to look at these things functionally. I am a being (I exist). This ‘me’ is capable of observing and reacting to my environment, using eyes, hands, etc., and also capable of considering my environment, feeling certain reactions, making decisions, re-acting, and so on. The thinking and considering is done by ‘me’ with the help of my brain. Unless I am merely an actor in someone else’s story (a la Sophie in Gaarder’s book) I am real, self-aware, alive. My mind is the central aspect of my personality. Cogito, ergo I am ‘me’. Which is a bit tautological…

  • Philip

    I put down, at length, some brilliant thoughts. Posted them. Then the programme said that I had not put down my name. The programme then erased my contribution, and this brilliant mind has forgotten what I wrote!

  • Gwilym Lewis

    Is a mind the physical embodiment of consciousness ?

    • Dave Foddy

      No.

      • Russell Andrews

        I gather you’re an athiest Dave ?

    • Carol Coombe

      How can mind be a physical manifestation? I keep thinking I cannot weigh the mind (as I can the brain), and so it is surely not physical/material/biological. What is consciousness?

  • Lorna Robson

    I’ve recently watched my father die from vascular dementia over the last 4 years. His mind slowly disappeared. The person we knew, his ‘normal’ mind went dramatically after an initial bleed but his mind still functioned in many ways. It felt like a trapped mind to us. I’m completely flummoxed as to what the mind is.

    • Mark Solms

      This moving comment reminds us how deep the question that we are considering here really is. It is not only a philosophical or scientific question, it is a very personal issue. It concerns the very essence of what we are and what matters most in life.

  • Ronald King

    Minds are what brains do. (Marvin Minsky http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Mind)

    • Mark Solms

      And respiration is what lungs do. But surely there is a category difference between a mind and a bodily function?

      • Roger Turner

        Daniel Dennett on the “surely” operator: https://medium.com/science-and-technology/how-to-spot-a-weak-argument-83dacb1fe14c

      • Bob Ritchie

        Probably not. The mind should be a verb, for the mind is what the brain does (among other things). In the same way that the lungs produce respiration – a physical organ producing a physical effect – so the brain causes the physical effect of consciousness. Take sight as an example. My eyes receive light from the computer screen in front of me. This light is focused on the retina, from where by certain physico-chemical operations in my brain it results in various neurons firing. The mechanism by which I turn those firing neurons into a picture I recognise requires the firing of other ‘memory’ neurons, but nothing more. That is the total mechanism of sight. There is no separate ‘non-physical me’ – a spirit or soul – inside my brain looking at the picture the neurons create. The neurons are me experiencing the picture.

    • Matt

      Work is what workers do. I still don’t feel like I know much about work. Probably I could learn about the worker by learning about the work and vice versa.

      I also don’t think this explanation explains how the concept of mind can include the experience of things, how they seem to us at this moment, and the concept of brain, which I don’t think usually includes that.

  • Andreea Rusu

    Really looking forward to this course.. I’ve been hoping that one day neuroscience would open up and start looking at subjective experience, and I’m happy to see that thanks to people like prof. Solms that time is coming.

    For me, the mind is who I am really, I think perhaps I live a bit too much of my life in it…

    • Mark Solms

      I guess most of us would agree that our mind is who we really are. We do, in a very profound sense, live in our minds rather than our bodies. Few of us would be reassured if we were toild that we will fall into a deep coma from tomorrow, but we needn’t worry because our bodies will be kept alive. This simple facts illustrates the point you are making.

      • Carol Coombe

        It is outside the basic remit of this course, but the question needs asking: if our minds are ‘who we really are’, where do we put ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ or all the other ways in which we might identify ourselves?

        I have been told I live fully in my mind (accusation mostly rather than observation). But I know that my ‘mind’ does not signify who I am… at least in the culture in which I was raised, and now that culture within which I am an adult. My mental landscape – which is built up out of my experiences, memories, knowledge, relationships with other people etc – exists, and I might say it is the real ‘Me’. But that cannot be because inevitably perhaps my soul and spirit are embedded in that mental landscape, like a photographer with troops on the ground.

  • Gerry Cooper

    I have to admit to being an atheist, and I think the mind is the thinking bit of our brain that has developed over thousands of years as a result of surviving and education. Once the brain is dead, there is no mind.

    • Ronald King

      The problem here, Garry is that nobody has actually found this thinking part of the brain. Does this mean that it is not physical?

      • Gerry Cooper

        The brain takes input from touch, smell, sight etc and provides output as well. I see the mind as an area working in a similar manner.

        • Mark Solms

          We are able to find the thinking bit of the brain but the problem remains: it is just the thinking bit of the brain, it is not the thoughts themselves. This is the difference between what David Chalmers calls the ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ aspects of the mind body problem. It is easy to identify the neurological correlates of the mind but it is hard to explain how those bits of the brain actually become the mind.

  • David Green

    I have just finished reading “Conciousness and the Social Brain” by Michael Graziano, in which he posits conciousness as a schema of attention in the brain. Attention used in the sense that neuroscientists use it. It is a very interesting theory, with a lot of existing research supporting it. It is falsifiable, and Graziano outlines how it might be falsified. It is well worth a read and it altered my views. So, I’m really looking forward to this course.

    • Mark Solms

      Definitions of consciousness, of course, do not coincide with definitions of the mind. Much of the mind is unconscious. This raises interesting questions about what a mind is: what is it about the unconscious part of the mind that renders it mental? What is it that makes the unconscious mind mental and a computer not?

      • zeynep

        I think feelings differentiate the unconscious mind from a computer. And maybe a sense of self?

      • David Green

        I have just read the article at the link in your latest e-mail on the mystery of consciousness. Please, please, please, do yourself a favour and read the Graziano book to which I refer above. Of course his ideas might never get exposure, and aspects of the ideas may be profoundly wrong. But, I believe that this book has the potential to be as paradigm shifting as “On the Origin of Species”.

  • Gary Viljoen

    The ‘mind’ is ‘what it feels like to think’. Otherwise I dunno?

    • Mark Solms

      That’s a pretty good starting point. I recognise the mind you describe a lot better than I do the one that most graduate students of Psychology describe. They seem to think the mind is some sort of complicated information processing device. It seems the more you study Psychology, the less you know about what the mind actually is! And yet Psychology is the science of the mind.

  • Diane Wagner

    I think the mind is that tiny spark which causes us to generate thoughts, actions, feelings, emotions and finally action. Some will say its beginnings are from God, others a electrical impulse. I don’t really know and think maybe we will never be able to definitively put our finger on the exact answer. It is just good that we keep the question going.

  • Ronald King

    Towards the end of 2013 I submitted a Masters dissertation in which I attempted to examine the relationship between phenomenal consciousness and memory hoping that it might shed some light on David Chalmers “Hard Problem.” The dissertation earned me my degree but I’m not sure how far it went in helping to understand the philosophy of mind.
    I do feel however that problems of this nature can only be resolved by a multidisciplinary attack nibbling away, as it were, at areas that seem open to a particular approach.
    I , therefore , look forward to an introduction to the psychology of mind.

    • Bob

      Very interesting comments. I too look forward to this course.

  • Maria Copley

    What I am going to say may not coincide with the scientific theories but I believe mind is like space, universe, stars, unlimited expanding all the time. In the infinitude of energy and space. We are space within us space all utility and purpose is space. Scientist want a tangible model to base on and find the truth of things but it is not about that. Mind is all over the body, the guts, the heart, the head particularly the spine.

    • Mark Solms

      One of the main problems about the mind is precisely that it does not occupy space. It is not a thing. On just this basis, Descartes made his famous distinction between mind and matter: res cogitans and res extensa. But you also say that us scientists want a tangible model of the mind. For most of us (nowadays) the starting point for this is the fact that the mind is somehow intimately bound up with a material thing — the brain — the so-called organ of the mind. These are the two starting points for what I want to say in this course.