"What is a mind?" - Mark Solms, futurelearn com course,

I started this last week, I doubt it’s too late to join if anyone wanted to.

It has a fairly simple start, though additional reading list, and the side trips they encourage - get overwhelming in a hurry. But, the course is structured in a way as to accommodate different levels of student. The smarter you are the more you’ll get out of it, but includes plenty for us simpletons.

What is a mind?

One of the great mysteries of our time



Professor Mark Solms is the lead educator of the University of Cape Town’s free online course, “What Is a Mind?” Here, he discusses how he approaches this question - one of the great mysteries of our time



“What is a mind?” is an extremely important question. For what are you if not your mind?

Psychology is of course the science of the mind, and yet graduate students of psychology have great difficulty answering this question. From their replies, you might think that the mind is just a very complicated information processing device. But are you a complicated information processing device?

The mind is not an object
The source of the difficulty is the fact that the mind is not an object; it is not something out there in the world that you can point to and say: “That is a mind; that thing over there is what I call ‘the mind’.”

The mind is invisible. But it is not invisible in the same way that gravity and electricity are. It is true that the existence of the mind, like that of gravity and electricity, can be inferred from its physical effects (For example, “She moved her hand when I asked her to; that movement was caused by her mind, by an act of the will.”) The difference is that the mind can also be perceived directly. It feels like something to be a mind.

The mind can be perceived
So the mind can be perceived, no less than planets and atoms, but this kind of perception – perceiving things like memories, thoughts and feelings – is something subjective. Therefore, you can only ever experience your own mind.

This is the nub of the problem. You cannot experience minds in general. That makes it very difficult to have a science of the mind. For science, of course, aspires to objectivity – to generalizability. We go to great lengths to exclude the subjective from science.

The mind versus the brain
As a result, throughout the history of psychology, there have been serious attempts to exclude the mind from science. We were told by the Behaviourists (who dominated 20th century psychology), for example, that the mind does not really exist. Only its responses exist – its behaviours.

Today, in the era of Neuroscience, we face a similar problem. We are told that the mind is really just the brain. It is an elaborate illusion produced by the brain. So what if I told you that you – your subjective experience – will cease to exist from tomorrow, but that you shouldn’t worry because I will keep your brain alive?

The fact that your brain will be alive but devoid of experiences will be cold comfort to you. Because you – your beloved self – will no longer be there. This simple fact seems to prove that your mind is not identical with your brain.

But now I hear you say: the brain in a coma is just the brain minus the mind. The mind is the part of the brain that is lost when it is in a coma. The question then becomes: what part of the brain is essential to produce the mind? And how does it do it? How does the brain get over the hump from electrochemistry to feeling?

What is a mind really?
This question will be the starting point for our free online course, “What Is a Mind?” Based on the latest discoveries in neuroscience, but also taking account of lived experience (as studied, for example, by psychoanalysts) and of the philosophical wisdom of the ages, we will address one of the great mysteries of our time.

Step by step, we answer this question: What is a mind… what is it really?

“us/me simpletons,” I don’t mean that to be self-derogatory. It’s more a reflection of how tiny I feel when I spend a few hours getting into the complexities that these scientists and doctors eat up like candy on a daily basis. Fortunately, the outlines and contours are accessible to all who are curious and honest.


Here’s the sign up page link

It’s free online 6 wk course.

There is one critical point which has been mentioned only by Anil Seth. The brain’s primary function as the control center that keeps the body alive.

Hence the ability of the paramecium to learn to avoid obstacles without eyes or a brain, but by kinetic cellular memory.

The brain and neural network is a highly evolved sensory survival mechanism in a world full of dangers and opportunities. It seems entirely logical that increased sensitivity and identification of the environment is an evolutionary ability that all complex living organisms experience to some degree.

The entire body acquires sensory awareness. A brained organism acquires sensory identification and long term memory of the causality. As with all acquired physical abilities the brain has evolved for survival purposes only, nothing else.

guess you’ll love this guy

As with all acquired physical abilities the brain has evolved for survival purposes only, nothing else.
That's putting it rather crudely, and I'll admit it's a great logo to put on the laboratory wall, but then you look around at what life has accomplished on this planet, and somehow it seems rather hollowed out. Sort of like the ME FIRST thinking of our colleagues across the isle. Sure we all think about our own welfare first, but is that really all there is.


Again this is where I believe a sober explicit recognition of the Physical Reality ~ Human Mindscape divide would really help human clarify our thinking.


There is one critical point which has been mentioned only by Anil Seth.
That quote makes me think you haven't done near enough homework with Mark Solms.

I’ve found it in exactly the terms I think of it, but I call this the “it’s just” fallacy. The closest named fallacy I can find is the one about “components”, if you break something into components then say that it is those components. “Love is chemical” is my favorite example of the fallacy.

You can make a very good case, with logic and evidence, that we are what we are because of the evolutionary processes that led us to procreate for the purpose of continuing the existence of all these non-thinking, non-purposeful, gooey things inside us. However, with each step in that evolution, new properties have emerged. Our desire to explore, to know more, to speculate on our origins, to believe in a higher power or some ultimate destination, might all just be functions of a cell dividing so it will continue, or they might have other functions that we are not yet aware of.

I completely agree and it seems that every evolutionary step allows for additional “emergent” qualities to manifest, each a more refined and sophistication of prior abilities but with additional “associative” cognition and symbolic representation.

I am convinced that some form of associative thought led to the invention of gods, unseen sky beings that controlled mighty forces . This must have been a direct emergent awareness of the “fight or flight” response as hearing , smell, and vision improved and a more accurate understanding of seen and unseen potential threats allowed for better decision making.

Perhaps the answer lies in the emergence of two superpowers of cognitive thought .

In a fractal world , what is a requisite ability for cognition?

Cognition of fractals inherent in all things is actually very natural. Our brans are fractal , the neurons we use for cognition and thinking are themselves fractal.

What is a fractal pattern in nature?

How do we analyze these patterns"


Is it any wonder why we should be so good at recognizing fractal patterns?

A mind is a set of cognitive faculties that allow an organism to interact with its environment. These faculties include perception, thought, memory, and emotion. mamc

Welcome to one of our longest conversations

First , welcome to CFI and this topic in particular.

We all agree with your concise assessment, but seek to probe a little deeper in both the physical substrate from which the “mind” emerges and the qualities of that mind as it relates to the evolutionary association or disassociation with the environment that spawned and shaped it.