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Mind And Consciousness - the Metaphysical Siblings

Misconceptions about 'Mind' and 'Consciousness'

The concepts 'mind' and 'consciousness' represent the special fallacy of taking the results of the mental processes to stand for some entities that themselves produce the cognitive reflections, as I will show below. But I argue that we instead should see 'mind' as a merger of the social dimension of life with that of the biological apparatus, as a result of the biological apparatus processing social stimuli; 'consciousness,' in turn, should simply be taken to signify the awareness of sensations and feelings, of which self-reflexive awareness of cognitive feelings represents the most developed and sophisticated stage.

I maintain that it is not correct to refer to 'mind' as if it would be a physical entity, and instead I point out that the mental operations of interpreting the environment by the physical entity 'brain' is what causes the various cognitive reflections to which we refer to as 'mind.' Instead of treating the concept 'mind' as a physical entity we should then conceive of 'mind' as a reference to the phenomena which result from the interaction of environmental stimuli (most importantly stimuli derived from social practices, past and present expressions) with the biological neural apparatus. 'Mind' represents the results of neural (mental) processing of environmental stimuli which we detect in form of social practices, that is, reflections of human behavior (the stimuli from social practices being embedded in the stimuli stemming from other parts of the nature and the physical environment). Further 'mind' represents the reflections, process outcome, that the mental processing of stimuli results in. I will further on in this book account for the various ways we perceive the abstractions that we form of these underlying phenomena and stress that whatever abstractions we may perceive in this regards, we should note that at the end of the analysis 'mind' is a social and linguistic construction, in a way a social fiction, and by no means an object for neuroscience.

Often philosophers (or philosophizing scientists) use the concept 'mental' synonymously with 'mind,' but, as I showed above, we should rather by 'mental' refer to the neural processes that lead to cognition. Thus 'mental' is not the same as the 'mind' or anything else in that metaphysical vein, it is simply a word denoting enormously complex physical, neural processes, which occur in infinitely complex, high-speed, reentrant circuits with feedforward and feedback loops.

Similarly as phenomena connected with cognitive reflections have been reified, and even personified, in the concept 'mind,' the same and adjacent phenomena have been reified and personified in the concept 'consciousness.' Through a series of peculiar linguistic processes that have bewitched thinking of philosophers the concept 'consciousness' has become to denote a mystical entity that brings about human cognition; basically 'consciousness' has in the 20th century literature served as a more academically hygienic successor concept for the more ancient 'soul' and 'mind.' I have in this book attempted a demystification of the concept 'consciousness,' and to return it to its original meaning of awareness (which is the meaning in which, e.g., Descartes employed the concept). In the best sense of the present contemporary use the concept corresponds to what I want to call 'cognitive consciousness,' that is, being self-reflexively aware of cognitive feelings, or yet in other words: being aware of the reflections of mental processing of conceptual abstractions together with the awareness of being aware. But we should note that we may be aware of, that is, conscious of, a variety of sensations. We should think of all the various sensations and organic phenomena of which we may become conscious of on a continuum starting from physical sensations (bodily reactions), such as touch, pain, cold, warmth, light, thirst, hunger; and gradually as we proceed on the continuum we reach that kind of consciousness that corresponds to an awareness of cognitive feelings, concepts, thoughts etc., that is, all those processes that involve the processing of conceptual abstractions (or as some say, 'intellectual activities'). 'Consciousness' thus represents aspects of all these named organic and neural phenomena; 'consciousness' corresponds to the salient features of being aware of the underlying processes. There is no point on the continuum where the corresponding processes and phenomena would be to that degree different in nature that they would merit the separate denomination of 'consciousness' as opposed to the other phenomena which we may identify on the continuum. Correspondingly 'feeling' and 'consciousness' are always intertwined, consciousness always being an aspect of 'feeling.' 'Consciousness' is the awareness of 'feelings', while 'feelings' are products of 'mental processes.' It is when 'feelings' concern the higher order mental processes, processing that leads to the evoking and forming of concepts and the emergence of cognition, that we reach a different stage of complex awareness that allows us to consider, to a certain degree, our own feelings and even manipulate them. But only this last stage is what our contemporary scientists admit to be covered by their sacred concept of 'consciousness.' I would rather refer to these kinds of processes of self-reflexive cognitive awareness by the term 'cognitive consciousness'; this concept represents the fleeting peak aspects of cognitive feelings that possibly may rise through the processes of cognitive recollection and ultimately be expressed (at least tentatively) in speech, and by other deliberate symbolic devices such as gestures, other bodily expressions, writing, objects of art, and symbolic expressions in artifacts. 'Cognitive consciousness' is a condition of 'thinking' but not 'thinking' itself, as will be explained below. The important feature of 'cognitive consciousness' is that it is what enables us to interpret the processes of cognitive feelings, which in turn may lead to cognitive perceptions in the present, thinking, remembering etc. At any given time when we are cognitively conscious of one or another mental process of feeling, there occur in the body (unconsciously) other mental processes which create cognitive feelings. Any of the processes of feeling may eventually emerge into consciousness.

By accounting for consciousness in this way we recognize that there is no specific mystery of 'consciousness' in comparison with any other mental processes. We therefore realize that the research task now becomes strictly biological: that of trying to identify the complex reentrant mental processing circuits and the biochemistry involved in them, while keeping in mind that these processes are about processing environmental stimuli.

Mired in their admiration of the concept 'consciousness' it did not even occur to the 20th century neurophilosophers that there must be another side to the coin, that is, if there is 'consciousness' then there must also be 'unconsciousness.' Tellingly the latter term does not even form part of their vocabulary. This illustrates once more the perverted role assigned to 'consciousness,' not as a juxtaposition to 'unconsciousness' but as a synonym to the hypothetical 'mind.' This does not amount to any small oversight, rather it played a hugely detrimental role in perverting the scientific understanding of mental processes and the role of 'consciousness' in them. When 'consciousness' was not juxtaposed with 'unconsciousness' – as it should have been – it became an independent stand-alone mystical entity. Thus the 20th century neurophilosophers did not conceive of conscious processes as emerging from the unconscious ones (naturally not even fully understanding that the question was precisely of mental processes). They fatally failed to recognize that 'consciousness' merely represented the highest stage of mental processes, the phenomena on the tip of the Lamarckian continuum, or the evolutionary hermeneutical spiral, forming part of a simultaneously occurring myriad of mental processes which run mostly unconsciously. When I return to the more detailed discussion of these issues further into the book, then I will point out that we should, however, not conceive of the processes as rigidly delimited to conscious and unconscious processes, rather we should conceive of them as being blurred in each other on a web of consciousness, which from moment to moment brings ever competing sensations and feelings up to the level of consciousness; but this only for fleeting moments and all the time distracted by the other processes that are constantly assailing the threshold of consciousness.

The considerations which I have rendered above in regards to the nature of 'consciousness' and 'unconsciousness' should alert us to the fact that we cannot validly postulate that mental processes are either conscious or unconscious. 'Consciousness' is not a question of a switch between the positions 'on' and 'off,' rather we experience subtle degrees of consciousness of various processes at the same time. Thus most mental processes go on unconsciously only to pop up as momentary sparks in consciousness. We should simply recognize that there are physico-mental process that we are consciously aware of (to some degrees), and then all the other neural (including mental) processes that we are not consciously aware of.



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© 2017 Jon Hellevig