bodhi wrote:What exactly is mind/consciousness. It is obviously not physical, it encompasses all thay we think and feel and even more. But what is it really and how did it come to be if it isnt a result of physical existence such as the brain.
I will try and answer this in more detail. I have debated this topic at great length on Philosophy forums, mainly against those who believe that "mind is an output of the physical brain", in other words, philosophical materialists, with whom I generally disagree. These debates lead to my reading quite a bit on the subject of 'philosophy of mind'. I have also studied the question via psychology and cognitive science, and of course also through Buddhist philosophy and meditation.
So, my approach to the question is as follows. Clearly in modern thinking, the criterion of objectivity and understanding a subject in terms of what can be measured and assessed in objective terms, is accorded great importance. Through the physical sciences we have come to understand an amazing range of phenomena through the objective sciences using such methods. I don't think that can be disputed.
However the nature of mind is a different kind of question, to the kinds of questions which the objective sciences usually investigate. And I think this is where the materialist approach is unsuitable. They wish to apply the same methodology, to the question of the nature of mind itself. But, whatever else mind might be, it is not really an object of cognition.
An 'object of cognitiion' is any kind of object which we can perceive either through the senses, or even via the imagination, through concepts and mental imagery. An object of cognition is something that exists in relation to us; so it is an object in relation to the subject who observes.
In some fundamental way, 'mind' is never in that kind of relationship with us, because 'mind' is always 'that which is looking', not 'that which is observed'. So the first thing that the materialist needs to do is to deny this fact, and say that it is no different from an object, like the brain, or neurochemistry, or something of that kind. And that is generally what they do - they try and objectify
the question, even to the point of convincing themselves that this is something that can be done.
So even to say 'what is that?' or 'what is mind?' is really to ask an unanswerable question. It is precisely never a 'that' - or not fully a 'that', anyway. We can know our own minds to the extent of having insights into why we think as we do and understanding our habitual patterns of reaction and so on. A large part of meditation is getting clear about that. And if you study cognitive science, you can also become aware of the ways in which the mind automatically creates certain patterns which you know are actually illusory in reality (though for example visual illusions). So there are some things we can know about mental operations and cognition. But there is still always a sense in which the mind is irreducibly subjective, 'that which knows', and never an object in any ultimate sense. It is never fully disclosed by any act of observation.
(In fact there is a school of modern philosophy, rather quirkily named 'the new mysterians', (see here
) which makes a somewhat similar point. However my understanding of this unknowable aspect of mind comes more from Buddhist philosophy.)
Another point, however, is that just because the true nature of mind is not something that can be objectively specified, does not mean it is not something real. HH The Dalai Lama said in September 2011 (see here
,) on the nature of mind, in the context of understanding the mind-stream that underlies the process of re-birth:
There are many different logical arguments given in the words of the Buddha and subsequent commentaries to prove the existence of past and future lives. In brief, they come down to four points: the logic that things are preceded by things of a similar type, the logic that things are preceded by a substantial cause, the logic that the mind has gained familiarity with things in the past, and the logic of having gained experience of things in the past.
Ultimately all these arguments are based on the idea that the nature of the mind, its clarity and awareness, must have clarity and awareness as its substantial cause. It cannot have any other entity such as an inanimate object as its substantial cause. This is self-evident. Through logical analysis we infer that a new stream of clarity and awareness cannot come about without causes or from unrelated causes. While we observe that mind cannot be produced in a laboratory, we also infer that nothing can eliminate the continuity of subtle clarity and awareness.
As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause.
So my interpretation of this point is that 'like comes from like'. First, things arise from causes; but the cause must be commensurate with the effect. So 'mind' which is inherently 'clear and aware' - that is, awareness is its basic nature - cannot have come about from causes which do not in themselves possess these attributes.
Obviously this is a very deep topic and one that is not easy to grasp. However questions such as 'the nature of mind' are like that! So in some ways, that is why it is best to approach such a question with a sense of its mystery, rather than a sense that it is something that has an easy answer, some problem that can be resolved or explained. It most certainly is not that! It is a case where 'to know it, is to know it not'.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas