Mark Solms – What is the Mind?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by Stefan Kohlhauser

Mark Solms

Mark Solms

This paper attempts to characterise the essential features of ‘the mind’ from a psychoanalytical standpoint. The perspective of psychoanalysis is a subjective one (first-person, introspective). This perspective can only be used in relation to minds. What is unique about the psychoanalytic first-person perspective is that it infers unconscious subjective events where discontinuities occur in the flow of conscious subjective experiences; in other words it fills the explanatory gaps in mental life with inferred unconscious mental experiences. This conceptual innovation generates a complete causal sequence of purely subjective events, and thereby renders possible a natural science of the mind.

This paper then considers from the psychoanalytical standpoint the relationship between (a) mental events and (b) brain events. It concludes that these are different observational perspectives on a unitary part of nature. The underlying substrate of both brain and mind is an abstract entity called the ‘mental apparatus’. The mental apparatus has the same ontological status as other natural kinds that are inferred from empirical observation but cannot be observed directly, e.g., ‘gravity’, ‘electricity’, ‘quarks’. Attempts to artificially engineer such things are best conducted at the same (abstract, functional) ontological level.

Lastly, and to this end, the cardinal functional characteristics of the human mental apparatus are identified. They appear to be: (1) consciousness, (2) intentionality and (3) agency. These characteristics are deeply interrelated, in that they all reflect the demands made upon the mind to perform work on behalf of the body, to maximise the chances of the body surviving to reproduce. An artificial mind must possess analogous characteristics, in the service of analogous values. To monitor the performance of the apparatus in these respects, it should also ideally be equipped with a capacity for reflexive (quasisubjective) report.

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