Mind, Brain, Self
The following thoughts have not been submitted to Ryerson's LIFE Institute, but it is my intent to continue developing the ideas to the point where a proposal for a Fall 2019 course can be submitted. Stay tuned if it sounds interesting ...
I have begun to read in Cognitive Science. The connections between what the mind experiences and activities in brain have been strengthened enough that it's now reasonable to argue for an embodied mind. The evidence goes further. It's possible to identify ways in which the material of the brain strongly influence both what and how we think. The mind really is embodied.
A new discipline has come into being - Cognitive Science. A graphic from the Wikipedia article high-lights the key disciplines upon which Cognitive Science draws. Philosophy has been asking questions about mind and brain since at least the time of Plato and Aristotle. The questioning continues, but now needs to be informed by how much we have learned about the other 5 corners of the diagram. Of particular interest to me are the connections to AI and to Linguistics. I started out working on computational complexity and there are direct connection between the abstract work I did back in the 1960s and current thinking about both AI and Linguistics. Offering a LIFE course on Cognitive Science might just be a good way for me to develop a better appreciation for this new and emerging science.
But a LIFE course that was about Cognitive Science is unlikely to draw an audience. The material need to be packaged somewhat more directly. Which led me to the working course title of "Mind, Brain, Self". In a strong sense this is all about understanding our selves, what and how we think and the implications of those brain limitations, or perhaps it should be those brain enabled cognitive capabilities.
Lurking just below the surface of Cognitive Science (for me) are the patterns we invent and exploit in language, art, music and architecture. I almost have a pattern fixation in music. For me, the musical patterns found in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach are some of the most sublime and meaningful thoughts that can be found in music. Had he found a way to tap into the musical patterns which our brains bias us to find more pleasing and rewarding? I may not have the answer, but questions about patterns and how that can resonate at some deep mental level I find both interesting and important.
The mind can be said to come into existence because it is situated in the human brain. In a parallel way, the self can be said to come into existence because it is situated in a human social context. We may be constrained by what nature and our brains allow. But our sense of self, our self if you will, is strongly shaped by the social context in which we grew and developed. An interesting idea has been put forward about the degree to which human evolution is closely linked to the abstractions which have been developed in the arts and science. Abstractions are social and play an important role in allowing us to strengthen our reasoning power.
All of which leads to an improved understanding of self. It does not, however, directly answer any questions about how we (our selves) find meaning and personal satisfaction. The social grounding of self suggest that meaning could come from contribution to the social realities, the communities, which shaped us and which sustain us. I don't know if such thoughts about self and meaning can ever be proven to be correct. But the connections between self, comunity and meaning resonates in me. Has my brain constrained my mind in such a way that the idea of contributing to valued communities works for me? Might it work for you?