Many attributes we attribute to the mind and the self are really features of their environment which serve to shape and mold them, or with which they interact closely.
Similarly, many of the questions which we ask about mind or self, turn out to be questions about peripheral things in their environment, or about the aggregate system in which they participate.
And some of these questions are really about things which compose the mind or the self, their building blocks. There may be certain requirements or properties these building blocks need to have, to play their role in creating the things “mind” or “self”, but we must distinguish requirements of the building blocks from attributes of the things. This may sound like an overly technical philosophical distinction, in a casual exploratory discussion of mind and self, such as I am conducting now, but it is an essential distinction for discussing these ideas clearly and in simple terms.
Mind and self are two different things. Self is a virtual construct, the cumulation of all referent information, and knowledge processes, connected to a particular identity, both internal and external to the entity identified. Self is an idea. We all think about selves, and participate in creating each other’s selves, as well as aggregate selves such as communities, states, nations, sports teams, etc.
Your body is not your self, and your mind is not your self. Self is a knowledge representation created that describes an entity. We assert that this knowledge representation belongs to that entity. In this sense belonging can be described as an extension and generalization of the legal abstraction of ownership, it’s about culture and social processes, or “rules”, in the same way ownership is about legal process. (This conceptual relationship is perhaps more accurately framed as ownership being a particular instance or realization of belonging).
Some of these rules are socially established, or socially determined, meaning that they are subject to renegotiation. We can change who we are and what that means!
Some of these rules are biological, “We” usually can’t change them, but they can still be changed through biological processes. I say usually because it is possible to master and manipulate biology.
Finally, some of these rules are physical, and no social or biological processes can alter them, at least to our knowledge with our capabilities. Whether physical rules can be modified at all is a highly speculative metaphysical question.
But not only does your self belong to you, it literally is you. The word “You” is a linguistic reference to a virtual thing, the “idea” that is you, but this virtual entity is closely connected to, bundled with, and dependent on, a physical thing, that thing being your body or biological organism. (your environment is also important)
Self is tricky, but I feel that we understand self and how self works in the modern world, based on our experience creating, using, and manipulating information systems. For example, your facebook profile both a part of, and an extension of, your self, depending on whether you are using an inclusive or restrictive conception of self for a particular exercise.
However, mind is a subject we have yet to comprehend thoroughly.
The mind can be described as a special kind of executing program employed by biological organisms, running in the brains of these organisms. The challenging question we are struggling with philosophically and intellectually, is whether the mind is literally a computer program or only comparable to one by analogy.
To establish that the mind is not a computer program, we would want to look for some feature, attribute, or capability of the mind that isn’t possible of computer programs running on a computer system. (I can’t really say if differences are possible without distinguishable features. That’s a tricky question, but either way identifying a distinguishable feature will establish two things are different)
This question has implications for biology, religion, philosophy, etc. The answer could literally(I mean figuratively) blow your mind!
That being said, there certain things we can say about mind. Particularly, mind is not the aggregate of all functions performed by the brain. I don’t think that subconscious functions are part of the mind. I would describe mind as a process directly orchestrating conscious activity and/or recording conscious experience. We still aren’t completely sure of the extent which consciousness is one or the other of these two things: recording and/or performing. We are just starting to engage in exciting and interesting direct research into this phenomenon.
I don’t have a fixed idea or expectation for what the answers to the nature of mind will be, as well as some of these peripheral questions I mentioned at the beginning. But I’m very excited that we are learning more about this.
This is a unique area where introspection, philosophy, psychology, and third party scientific processes are all important to use to get accurate answers.
Is mind “The kernel of self, the seat of will”? That is my best attempt of a description. Does this description even make sense? Only in time may we tell.
Note: The title of this piece, “What kind of thing are minds?”, is something I have heard elsewhere, but I can’t find a particular source for attribution.