Saturday, September 18, 2010

Prologue to A Theory of Mind

Psychologists commonly use theory of mind, or TOM for short, to designate our ability to empathize with others and put ourselves in their position, realizing that their insights can be different. By contrast in my series of mini-monographs, I use theory of mind to examine the fundamental ingredients of our mind and how they bestow us thought and consciousness.

Some may have preferred to call such endeavor a philosophy of mind. However, I am a neuroanatomist and more accustomed to using the scientific method to dissect the brain and examine its functions. The scientific method requires theories grounded in hypotheses derived from observations. These theory must be experimentally testable. They may be verified or refuted. They must be mutable. That is, they must provide opportunities for adaption and expansion according to new insights. Scientific theories that provide useful answers, sufficiently explaining our environment, evolve and survive.

However, traditional philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer would not have approved applying scientific theories to matters of the mind. They believed that the mind can be only comprehended using the humanistic method, in German geisteswissenschaftliche method as opposed to naturwissenschaftliche method, distinctly and deliberately separating mind and body. By contrast, I set out to explore the mind with the help of the neurosciences, identifying mental abilities grounded in known brain structures essential to and prerequisite of a theory of mind.

In his acclaimed treatise "Sein und Zeit", Martin Heidegger reasoned that a sense of time bestows a sense of being. Consciousness cannot exist without memory, that is without remembering our history. We recall events in images and stories. Heidegger suggested that history is impossible without language.

Furthermore, Heidegger notes that language comprises more than everyday-usage to describe our actions and the world around us. He cites Goethe's claim that poetic language plays a particularly crucial role in our mind as a tool of expressing our deepest emotions. 

Guided by Heidegger's thoughts, I have therefore begun my theory of mind portraying the significance of language (part I) and memory (part II). Moreover, because we are a social species that would not survive without cooperation and collaboration, empathy plays a crucial role in our ability of maintaining good relationships and would be impossible without our feelings. Hence, part III will explore some fundamental aspects of emotion:

You may wish to listen to Heidegger speaking on language and thought here:

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