THE MIND

In the study of the mind there is a popular distinction between the ‘hard' problem (the mind-body problem, qualia) and ‘easy' problems (perception, memory, sensory-motor control etc.). However, even ‘easy' problems do not seem to be fully understood with the methodology that psychology and neuroscience use at present. As Barbara Churchland (herself holding strictly materialistic views) puts it:

It is important to acknowledge that for none of the so-called "easy" problems, do we have an understanding of their solution... It is just false that we have anything approximating a comprehensive theory of sensorimotor control or attention or short-term memory or long-term memory. Consider one example. My signature is recognizably mine whether signed with the dominant or nondominant hand, with the foot, with the mouth, with the pen strapped to my shoulder, or written in half-inch script or in 2-ft. graffiti. How is "my signature" represented in the nervous system? How can completely different muscle sets be invoked to do the task, even when the skill was not acquired using those muscles? We still do not understand the general nature of sensorimotor representation. (1998, p.112)

So, it may be worthwhile to consider some major faculties of the mind in more depth. A dominant approach at the moment, cognitive psychology, has been a huge improvement to its predecessor, behaviourism, but still does not go far enough. Firmly embedded in a materialistic paradigm, cognitive psychology has been enthusiastic about modelling the mind on the principles that govern computers (assuming that the brain is a very complex computer). Serial and parallel processing in such models can account for some brain events, but this does not say much about experience (e.g. of pain or colour), affect, humour, creativity, insights, understanding etc. The philosopher of the mind Ronald Puccetti and neurophysiologist Robert Dykes write:

...it appears that the more we learn about details of brain function, the greater the difference between these and the known qualities of sensory experience. (1978, p.337)

Furthermore, processes in a computer are of a mechanical nature, so a computer is completely passive. In other words, it is not aware, and does not have the self and agency. Excluding these essential factors from the study of mind can provide at best an impoverished picture, so a broader approach is needed. In this part, several subjects will be discussed: the role of mental constructs; experience, information and meaning; and some sources of experience and information (perception, memory and auto-generating processes such as dreaming).