Of all the problems that information philosophy may help to solve, few are more important than the question of Mind. There is little in philosophy that is more dehumanizing than the logic chopping and sophistic word juggling that denies the
existence of Mind
, and the human spirit or soul
, free from the deterministic
Laws of Nature governing Matter.
Some of the earliest philosophers saw an immaterial
Mind as the source of eternal Truths about Reality that could not be based on mere physical phenomena - unreliable sensations emanating from Matter.
Forms and Ideas were thought to precede
objects of the physical and phenomenal world.
dramatically reversed the roles of Mind and Matter. He saw his master's Ideal Forms, like the perfect circle, as simply abstractions
of a shared common feature found in nature; Plato's perfect circle simply the abstraction
from so many concrete
But Aristotle saw the Mind, the entity dealing with immaterial
abstractions as itself immaterial
If thinking is like perceiving, it must be either a process in which the soul is acted upon by what is capable of being thought, or a process different from but analogous to that. The thinking part of the soul must therefore be, while impassible, capable of receiving the form of an object; that is, must be potentially identical in character with its object without being the object. Thought must be related to what is thinkable, as sense is to what is sensible...
Thus that in the soul which is called thought (by thought I mean that whereby soul thinks and judges) is, before it thinks, not actually any real thing. For this reason it cannot reasonably be regarded as blended with the body: if so, it would acquire some quality, e.g. warmth or cold, or even have an organ like the sensitive faculty: as it is, it has none. It was a good idea to call the soul 'the place of forms', though this description holds only of the thinking soul, and even this is the forms only potentially, not actually.
reduced the bodies of all animals to deterministic
living machines, but he left room for a non-mechanistic, immaterial
, and indeterministic
Mind above and beyond the deterministic
limits set by the laws of material
renamed the ancient division of sensible and intelligible worlds, locating God
, and immortality
in his noumenal
world, while pure sensation exists in his completely deterministic phenomenal world
. But like Descartes, Kant could never explain the connections between these mental and physical worlds.
Many modern philosophers and psychologists believe that all matter includes a psychic or mental aspect. Pan-psychism
is the belief that all material particles have a mental capacity and some elemental consciousness
These pan-psychists do not believe that immaterial
minds could have emerged
from matter. They simply assume that even the most elementary particles of matter must contain a mind-like element and, moreover, all elementary particles share in a kind of "cosmic consciousness" that is connecting
) everything in the universe.
Information philosophy hopes to show that information
is itself that immaterial
“substance” above and beyond matter and energy that the ancients, Descartes, and Kant were all looking for. And although passive
information structures appeared and evolved in the billions of years before life appeared, it was living things that put immaterial
information to active
use. This was "mind over matter."
And that long sought for connection between noumenal and phenomenal, between mental and physical, is simply that ideas in minds have causal
power, through their effects on the decisions and actions of living agents. With the appearance of living things, agency
entered the universe.
Mind as Immaterial Information in a
Biological Information Processor
Information philosophy views the mind as the immaterial
information in the material
brain. The brain is seen as a biological information processor
. Mind is "software" in the brain’s "hardware," although the hardware is altogether different from the logic gates, bit storage, algorithms, computations, and input/output systems of the type of digital computer used as a "computational model of mind" by today's cognitive scientists.
The “stuff” of thought is pure information, neither matter nor energy, though it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication. Information is the modern spirit, the soul in the body, the "ghost in the machine."
In ancient philosophy, mind/soul versus body was one of the classic dualisms
, such as idealism versus materialism, the problem of the one (monism) or the many (pluralism), the distinction between essence and existence, between universals and particulars, between necessity and contingency, between eternal and ephemeral, but most important, the difference between the intelligible world of the noumena and the sensible world of mere appearances or phenomena.
When mind and body are viewed today as a dualism
, it is because the mind is considered to be fundamentally different from the material brain, though perhaps not another “substance.” We propose an easily understandable and critically important physical difference between matter and immaterial
information. Whereas the total amount of matter/energy is conserved, the universe is continuously creating new information - by rearranging existing matter into new information structures. The total amount of information (a kind of order) in the universe is increasing, despite the second law of thermodynamics, which - counterintuitively - says that the total amount of disorder (entropy) is also increasing.
Matter, along with energy (mc2
), cannot increase. It is conserved, a constant of the universe. Information is not conserved, despite the claims of some modern scientists. As information grows, it is the source of genuine novelty in the universe. The future is not determined by the past and present, because the future contains unpredictable new information. New information is continuously created in the physical and the biological universe.
If mind and matter then are to be considered part of a dualism, it will not be a "material substance" dualism, but it can still be a "physical substance" dualism, since mind and matter are both physical and "substantial," in the sense of having real causal power. We recognize that something immaterial
power also fits the description of metaphysical
The Evolution of Information Structures to Become Minds
How did material substances come to be able to think? Ancient philosophers assumed that mind and thought must be primordial, perhaps even prior to the creation of matter. But we can now outline the creation and evolution of information from an initial state of the universe (with minimal, essentially zero information and perhaps even no material at all, only energy) to the “information age” of today. We call it the cosmic creation process
Information philosophy makes the straightforward claim that human beings, especially their minds, are the most highly evolved form of information generation and processing system in the known universe. Recognizing this simple fact provides a radically new perspective on the central problems of psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind.
In a very deep sense, we are information
The story of evolution from the universe origin to the information-processing brain/mind can be told in three major emergences
Nine billion years in the evolution of matter, some of it organized into passive information structures by external forces. Their components are arranged by quantum, chemical, or gravitational processes.
Four billion years in the evolution of life, active information structures that create and transmit information by natural selection, variation, and heredity. They use information to control the flow of matter and energy through their bodies. Every component, from molecules to cells and their interconnections is arranged by biological information stored in the cell and its DNA.
A few hundred thousand years in the evolution of human minds, which create, store, and transmit vast amounts of information external to their bodies, the basis for human knowledge and cultural/social organization.
With the appearance of life, purpose
entered the universe. The fundamental purpose of all life is to survive, at least long enough to replicate. For most species, all of the information needed to survive is transmitted in the genes and the biological machinery of the cell. To benefit from the experiences of an ancestor, those experiences must somehow be encoded genetically, so they show up as a priori
, built-in capabilities of the offspring.
Konrad Lorenz said that what is a priori
for an individual (ontogeny) was a posteriori
for its ancestors (phylogeny).
The appearance of human minds marks the beginning of significant amounts of knowledge stored extra-biologically. Externally stored information (our "Sum
") needed for human survival can be transmitted culturally between the generations. The development of the highest forms of philosophical and scientific thought would have been impossible without the externally stored information we call the Sum
. Arguably, even language itself could not have developed. A child deprived of its senses for access to human culture would never speak. According to Merlin Donald
, human culture did not develop because humans had acquired language to communicate. We developed language to improve on the primitive communication capabilities (miming, pointing, signing) of pre-linguistic humans.
Humans are conscious
of our experiences because they are recorded in (and reproduced on demand from) the information structures in our brains. We call it the Experience Recorder and Reproducer (ERR)
. Mental information houses the content of an individual character - the fabric of values
, desires, and reasons used to evaluate alternatives
for action and thus to make choices. The information in a human brain vastly exceeds our genetic information. And because human information can be stored and retrieved externally, the Sum
of human knowledge has allowed human beings to dominate the planet, for better or worse. Animals may exceed us in strength and speed, but we have experience, memory, wisdom, and skill (Anaxagoras DK B 21b) that has accumulated over tens of thousands of generations.
Mind-body as a dualism
coincides with Plato’s “Ideas” or “Forms” as pure form, with an ontology different from that of matter. The immaterial
Forms, seen by the intellect (nous
), allow us to understand the world. On the other hand, mind-body as a monism can picture both sides of the mind-body distinction as pure physicalism, since information embodied in matter corresponds simply to a reorganization of the matter. This was Aristotle’s more practical view. For him, Plato’s Ideas were mere abstractions generalized from many existent particulars.
Form without matter is empty, matter without form is inconceivable, unimaginable. Kant rewrote this pre-Socratic observation somewhat obscurely as “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”
But there are other characteristic differences between the mental and the physical that modern science, even neuroscience, may never fully explain. The most important is the internal and private first-person point of view, the essential subjectivity of the self, the “I” and the “eye” of the mind, its capability of introspection and reflection, its intentionality, its purposiveness, its consciousness
The mind records an individual’s experiences
as internal information structures and then can play back
these recordings to compare them to new perceptions, new external events. The recordings include an individual’s emotional reactions to past experiences, our feelings
of pleasure/pain, of hopes and fears, of good and evil. The reproduction of recorded personal experiences, stimulated by similarities in a new experience, provides the core of “what it’s like to be” an individual. Without the context provided by past similar experiences, the new experience would lack all meaning and significance, though it would be duly recorded to provide meaning for future experiences.
The external and public physical world, by contrast, is studied from the third-person point of view. Although putatively “objective,” science in fact is the composite “intersubjective” view of the “community of inquirers,” as Charles Sanders Peirce
put it. Although this shared subjectivity can never directly experience what goes on in the mind of an individual member of the community, science is in some sense the collective mind of the physical world. It is a pale record of the world’s experiences, because it lacks the emotional aspect of personal experience.
The physical world itself has no sense of its history. It does not introspect or reflect. It lacks consciousness, that problem in philosophy of mind second only to the basic mind-body problem itself. We see consciousness as based on a highly evolved Experience Recorder and Reproducer
(ERR) that even the lowest organisms may have in the form of experiences recorded in their DNA .
, in his Book III, Parts IV and V, of De Anima
(On the Soul), perhaps the most controversial and confusing part of his entire corpus, says that the soul (psyche
) or mind is immaterial
. He was right. For Aristotle, Intellect (nous
) is that part of the soul whose active thinking gives it a causal (aition
) power (dynamis
) over the material (hyle
) body (soma
). This claim appears to anticipate the mind-body problem of René Descartes
- how exactly does an immaterial thing (substance) or property exert a causal force on the material body? [We shall see a similar puzzle in quantum mechanics where the immaterial wave function influences the motion of material particles, albeit statistically.]
It is important to note that Descartes made the mind the locus of undetermined freedom
. For him, the body is a deterministic
mechanical system of tiny fibres causing movements in the brain (the afferent sensations), which then can pull on other fibres to activate the muscles (the efferent nerve impulses). This is the basis of stimulus and response theory in modern physiology (reflexology). It is also the basis behind connectionist theories of mind. An appropriate network need only connect the afferent to the efferent signals. No thinking mind is needed for animals (or computers where inputs completely determine outputs).
The popular idea of animals as machines included the notion that man too is in part a machine - the human body obeys strictly deterministic causal laws. But for Descartes man also has a soul or spirit that is exempt from determinism and thus from what is known today as “causal closure.” But how, we must ask, can the mind both cause something physical to happen and yet itself be acausal, exempt from causal chains? This is the problem of mental causation
Since Immanuel Kant
, this problem has become even more severe. The freedom in Kant’s noumenal world
- outside space and time - has no apparent connection with the deterministic phenomenal
world. For Kant, causality
is a category of understanding applicable only to the phenomenal world. In the twentieth century, Gilbert Ryle
called the concept of Mind a “category mistake.”
Information philosophy hopes to solve the mind/body problem, the problem of mental causation, the “hard problem” of consciousness, and the problem of other minds, not by postulating a non-physical world, but instead a world that answers to the ancient description of metaphysical, because it is non-material. This world is the locus of everything Aristotle included in his first philosophy, the laws of thought and today the laws of physics.
The world of information is abstract, not concrete, intangible, yet with causal power as Aristotle thought. The material world is made up in part
of information structures. (We shall see that most of the matter in the universe is chaotic and contains little or no information.) Material information structures can be perceived and their abstract information content represented
as information structures in the mind/brain. To the extent that the information in the mind is isomorphic with the information in the object, we can say that the subject has knowledge
of the external world. Information philosophy is a correspondence theory
. To the extent that information in other minds is isomorphic to that in our minds, we have intersubjective
shared knowledge, something impossible to show with words or logic alone.
Information philosophy goes “beyond logic and language