What is mind?

Back on Nov 29, S. Golonka posted an interesting piece (here ) exploring the idea of ‘mind’. She puts in the context of a fairly universal idea across cultures, that of a visible and invisible division.

In a larger sense, the fact that there seems to be a universal belief that people consist of visible and invisible aspects explains much of the appeal of cognitive psychology over behaviourism. Cognitive psychology allows us to invoke invisible, internal states as causes of behaviour, which fits nicely with the broad, cultural assumption that the mind causes us to act in certain ways.

In this scheme, mind is the invisible part. But different cultures approach the invisible part differently, sometimes dualistically and sometimes not. In the scientifically viewpoint, mind is thought, memory, problem-solving, reasoning, maybe emotion, rarely seen dualistically but as processes of the body.

In Korean, mind is translated to ‘maum’, the seat of emotions, motivation and goodness, and the rest is body. Japanese have mind as ‘kokoro’, the seat of emotion and a source of culturally valued attention to, and empathy with, other people and ‘hara’ is the source of will and motivation. Russian has ‘dusa’ associated with feelings, morality, and spirituality and is responsible for the ability to connect with other people. It is often translated as soul rather than mind.

Wierzbicka is quoted:

If we uncritically formulate some hypothetical universals in one particular natural language, for example, English, we run the risk of distorting them by imposing on them the perspective embedded in that particular language; and the same applies to our description of cultural differences.

I think the key is not visible and invisible, but visible and hypothetical. In order to understand ourselves and others we imagine a process. This has to be a relative good hypothesis to be useful predictively but it can miss the mark in reality. We talk about emotions, feelings, will, morality and so on as if they were single ideas and real things, where as they could be extremely different from our imagining. For example, our emotions could be a mixed bag of different sorts of processes, in different places and with different sorts of effects. It is our hypothesis that links them firmly together. The same may be true of morality, of motivation etc. We always have to be careful of the words both that we use and that other cultures use.

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