Friday, December 14, 2007

What is an Economy of Mind?

One of my primary interests is philosophy. Implication?: I'm interested in pretty much everything. Well, not everything--but a lot. Philosophy can be considered both the ground of other fields--e.g. mathematics, physics, economics--as well as the overarching sky--the umbrella that provides cover--or even the framework that holds everything together.

My interest in philosophy ignited in my teens. Though even as an adolescent my interest in science fiction--and even horror or the fantastic--often had philosophical overtones. Probing the limits and edges of what is.

I remember in my teens, riding my bike home from the library. I stopped by a friend's house. I'd picked up a few books. Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes, if my memory serves me. His general response: "???"

In college, I remember a guy saying "Why do I care what Plato thought about something?" My response: "The way you think is heavily influence by what Plato thought. Might be good to examine the mental plumbing."

Philosophy is fundamental. And even if not studied outright, for its own sake, familiarity with philosophical concepts is important. Particular if one is interested in truth: what was true yesterday, what is true today, and what might be true tomorrow. And along with that, what we mean by truth. Hopefully we're all interested in truth.

But as pointed out above, philosophy is not only fundamental. It's primacy makes it overarching. One cannot even discuss or learn a particular science, e.g. physics, without a metalanguage, e.g. English, and before you know it philosophical problems are popping up and scattering about like particles in an "atom smasher." Philosophy, like a broom, helps to sweep up the mess (though often under the rug--still lurking for those bold enough to pull it up).

So as I'm considering this issue of truth--and everything else--I happen upon the following distinction: mind, and not-mind. Traditionally, science was considered the field that studies not-mind. (Many of the sciences are considered to have peeled off of philosophy--hence the term natural philosopher for the original scientists, e.g. Newton.)

Truth itself is a product of mind. And one could say that every individual mind--yours or mine--confronts--on a daily basis--the products of mind and not-mind. And our job or role as minds--if we so choose--is to evaluate these products.

What makes this particularly difficult: even not-mind is covered or smothered in the products of mind. Is a quark real? Do protons exist? These are products of mind--other minds, the minds of physicists. Are they real? Certainly there are phenomenon we can measure to influence our opinion one way or the other. But in the end, they are products of mind.

So in the end, one cannot observe the world other than through mind--one's own that is. You can try to convince me otherwise, but your arguments will have to be processed by--you guessed it--my mind.

Some philosophers, e.g. Berkeley, argued that everything is mind. Maybe the mind of some superior being. Highly speculative if you ask me. Might make a good science fiction book, but I'm not sure of the value.

But he was still onto something. As was Kant in his categories: we observe the world through mind. We have no choice. Our minds are busy--day in, day out--consuming the products of minds--our own, or others.

Hence, it's not a leap to say that we live in an economy of mind. And one goal--in accepting this characterization of our world--is to evaluate these products. To evaluate the products of mind.

The internet is an evolutionary--perhaps revolutionary--step in the direction of a true economy of mind. Or minds--plural. Though some might argue that the singular is appropriate. We might be building a global mind. Possibly.

This thinking lead me to call my blog the Economy of Mind: A node in a global brain. A means to produce products of my own mind, as well as to evaluate the products of other minds.

And hopefully--most importantly--to discover a few truths. If not exact truths, then approximate truths. Approximate may be the best we can do. That's good enough for me.

Update: 071214.1: While looking into the issue of technique, I thought of William Barrett's book on the topic. I never finished the book. Will have to get back to it. Nothing against the book. But while looking into a few issues, I came across this comment in a review of it: For better or worse, he writes, philosophers have made the modern world: "If there had not been those early Greek thinkers who created philosophy, there would be no atomic bombs." This is what I had in mind when I told the skeptic he should consider his Platonic mental plumbing.