Back Goldfinch looking backwards

Preface to the argument. Definition.

When first talking over this topic with a friend, I stumbled on the convenience of distinguishing mind and consciousness. Whatever we meant by “mind,” it was clear that we could more readily agree on consciousness. We each supposed we had it and knew what it was. I kept this distinction in mind when I began making some personal notes on whether I might to my own satisfaction prove that mind had a real existence apart from matter.

Because I am a great fan of the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake, and he is a big fan of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, when I went home to think things over I naturally picked up the basic book that Sheldrake recommended by Bergson, Matter amd Memory. This is a book too difficult for me to understand, at least at present, but I’ve been giving it a go over the past couple of years, and it is the platform from which I launch my own amateur thinking. Thus I will begin by quoting the first paragraph of his introduction to that book, because it sets the stage for my own approach to definition in this matter.

This book affirms the reality of spirit and the reality of matter, and tries to determine the relation of the one to the other by the study of a definite example, that of memory. It is, then, frankly dualistic. But, on the other hand, it deals with body and mind in such a way as, we hope, to lessen greatly, if not to overcome, the theoretical difficulties which have always beset dualism, and which cause it, though suggested by the immediate verdict of consciousness and adopted by common sense, to be held in small honour among philosophers.

Modern philosophers still pay scant honor to what Gilbert Ryle famously called “the dogma of the ghost in the machine.” But some do, and so do I. Like Bergson, I appear to be a dualist of some sort. And like him, also like philosophers of old such as Locke and Hume and Berkeley and Kant, I am aware that consciousness is where all our thinking begins. There is no way we can argue, as those philosophers agree, about matter and mind without concurring with Descartes’ first principles, that thinking is our indisputable existence, and that clear and distinct ideas — that is, perceptions or images in consciousness — are the truth upon which we build all the rest of our thinking.

Cutting that very, very long story short, however, I only wish to explain to my audience that this is why in what follows, I distinguish consciousness from mind. Mind is by no means a clear and distinct idea. Consciousness is. We agree that we have consciousness. Consciousness is where shape and color and odor and heft are in the first place found. All talk of light rays or photons, of neurotransmitters and endorphins, or of microscopes and delicate microbalances in the laboratory, all this depends on consciousness in the first place for each individual doing the talking. Truth begins with learning language at home, bumping into things, getting feedback from the shapes and colors around you — and all that. Consciousness.

Chapter one of Ryle’s book was available here on 20120831. The ghost idea is at the botton of page 3 and passim. He presents the same line of thought I do here, albeit with a certain natural negative slant, in order to refute it by claiming a category mistake in that reasoning. My take on his category argument is here.