The Other-Minds Problem

From: Head, Phineas (
Date: Tue Feb 25 1997 - 13:12:12 GMT

Dear Kid-sibs and Stevan,

I'm afraid I have some difficulties with the following.....

1. The first is with the so called "Other Minds Problem", the gist of
which runs thus: I can (probably) prove (at least to myself) that I
have a mind, (what ever that is) but YOU can never prove to me that YOU
do. And vice-versa.

It seems to me that this argument, while not DISprovable, fails because
none of us, if we are absolutely honest with ourselves, believes it. In
short it becomes a sort of convenient 'arguing tool' with which to play
cognition's Devil's advocate. We cannot possibly believe it because to
do so would be to think in a similar way to a psychopath, s/he who has
no regard for the feelings of others, since no mind = no feelings. Mind
you, for all that, I still can't PROVE anything else does have a mind,
I just assume they do so I don't hurt their 'feelings'. And, I suppose,
their mind.

2. Next, is the rather worrieing state of affairs that to date, with
the exception of Professor Harnad, no one has suggested that anything
other than humans possess a mind.

Humans are indeed "spiritual and emotional beings" (nmr196) but NOT
exclusively. It is true that to our current knowledge we are the only
animals to use religion (and certainly to ABuse it, for that surely IS
uniquely human). However, if we share any kind of worthwhile faith, we
believe that God made ALL things and therefore is IN all things, which
= spirituality. If we don't, then that is immaterial since, unless we
pay heed to Descartes and his cronies (who believe that the only reason
a non-human animal cries when you disembowel it (sorry Kid-sib, but
these things happened) is that it is nothing more than a complex clock
and the wails are the springs popping out of their
housings.....righto.....) we know that an animal feels, and feelings =
a mind. We know this precisely BECAUSE s/he squeales when we prod
her/im (see No. 1). Not just simple feeling either ~ anyone with a dog
knows that love, grief and jealousy are not confined to the human.
These conclusions are based entirely on the same observations we see in
humans and so if we believe one set, to disbelieve another is surely
bad science?

As an extension of this, is 'mind' = 'life'? Plants are alive but don't
think (I think.....?) so where does that put them since life wants to
live and, I suppose, mind wants to think?

3. Thirdly, is 'thinking' in the sense of 'working things through in
one's head', the 'voice inside my head', separate in origin from
speaking (and actual verbalisation)?

The reason I ask is that I know you (Prof. Harnad) are Hungarian, so do
you 'think' in your first language and translate, or in which ever is
appropriate to the circumstances?

4. Finally, are religion and cognition TOTALLY
incompatible bedfellows?

I don't see that they necaccarily are since I cannot imagine the world
without (at the very least) me being in it, yet I know my body has to
die. At the same time, because I am not clever enough to come up with
anything more feasible and because it seems reasonable to me, I choose
also to accept the religion of cognition. Because it attempts to
explain how the mind works does not pose a significant difficulty to me
in believing that what ever 'it' is, sticks around after I've popped my
clogs, even accepting that for this to be true, the 'it' must be
separable from the 'brain', flying in the face of the monists.

Or is that totally daft?

Best regards and sorry about the length,

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