The Critical Philosophy and the Phenomenon of Mind Book uri icon



  • With this treatise I invite you to join me on a voyage of discovery into a question humankind has been asking for twenty-five centuries: What is mind? For me this voyage began over forty years ago when I was just a boy. It was for me at first a question prompted by that new marvel of the day, the digital computer, which was then popularly known as ‘the electronic brain.’ I can still remember how that phrase struck me to the core. “How could a machine think?” I asked myself. Of course, I later learned how to design and build them, and thereby learned that computers are not electronic brains and they do not think. Very few people today still call them ‘electronic brains.’ At that time, though, this nickname had all the force of the pronouncement of an Old Testament prophet: Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true. Computers were rare enough in those days to command a mystique, and their role in the then-early days of space exploration added weight and majesty to this mystique. So it was that this original question, which later broadened to the one with which this treatise is concerned, acted as a kind of compass that ended up providing the principal direction that my education and my professional career took. So it was that I came to study the still relatively new sciences of system theory and information theory, and later undertook the study of neuroscience.  For many years I worked entirely within the framework of scientific materialism, an attitude common among most physical scientists. In my younger days I had nothing worthy of being called a ‘philosophy’ and, rather, held to an attitude not uncommon among Americans that goes by the name of American Pragmatism. But as the years went by, and I felt myself no closer to achieving my goal, I gradually, and at first reluctantly, came to realize that those questions within the question that were proving to be the most intractable were questions of metaphysics. What does thinking mean? What does intelligence mean? What does it mean to reason? These were questions that I eventually had to admit my materialism could not answer. In the meantime, I was finding myself confronted by other questions, seemingly unrelated at the time but serving to jog my thinking out of relatively narrow channels and onto a broader plain. The study of physics was required in my choice of college major, and here I found myself having to work with other mysteries. What were these strange entities so common to our modern gadgetry called ‘electromagnetic fields’? Even stranger still was that absurd-sounding yet experimentally undeniable assault on one’s personal metaphysical prejudices known as quantum mechanics. I did not know at the time that these questions were in any way relevant to the questions that were proving so stubborn in the realm of the mental phenomenon. But, as it happens, the difficulties attending both types have a common source – ontological prejudice – and a common resolution in Kant’s Critical Philosophy. 

publication date

  • January 1, 2006