Mind Fuckers

Rene Descartes. 1596-1650. The granddaddy of the mind fuckers.

Pardon the French in the heading there, it's not a phrase I use but it is commonly used and with a specific intent. Not a French Rene would have understood either, although every image of him I've seen is so likeable, like the one above. He always looks perky. Mind fucker is a derogatory term often used to describe people who work with other peoples' minds. Often saved for psychologists and psychiatrists, but I think unfairly, as there are plenty of mind-botherers out there under various guises.

Now I should be very clear here that I don't have anything against mind-botherers because I think they should leave the mind alone. There are plenty already in that camp, often with some axe to grind because of some treatment they received. For me the problem with just about everything you see and read about the mind is that it's all based on a complete fiction, which I've talked a bit about here before. That fiction being the mind itself.

There is no such thing as 'the mind', as that word is usually used. It's one of those taken-for-granted ideas that has absolutely no basis in common sense reality at all. Of course in common sense terms people take that sort of introspective, stream of consciousness 'thinking' they do 'inside their heads' as being their mind. But that's just an extrapolation of some concrete experience to mean something much bigger. Which is what Descartes famously did with his "I think therefore I am".

Now not to be too idealistic with the history of ideas and give them some mystical power to change the course of events all by themselves. We can't blame Descartes for all of the mind fuckers, even if he was barking up the wrong tree. But most of what's been wrong with thinking about thinking since his time has all been in the same basic mold, that we have this thing called a mind, which thinks and even more defines who "I" am.

I've gone into that before somewhere here I think, and my own particular gripe is with the new 'cognitive' sciences, including neuroscience. The problem we have is that once something becomes a science, you lose sight of all of the assumptions that went into setting up that field, and everything that then comes out of it is thought to be a definitive statement of that entire area. That's what people often don't understand about science, that an established field has a whole set of founding assumptions that are non-scientific, which are (and should be) highly debatable. And these assumptions shouldn't be more scientific, because they're much wider questions of ontology and philosophy and politics.

It's the most simple and practical and obvious thing, but science is our new religion, and you can be very quickly hung out to dry as a post-modernist or relativist or other enemy of reason if you dare suggest that science is anything but some sort of sacred tablets listing sacred truths, carried down from the mountain of Truth. Good scientists are as alarmed by this as the people who actually study how science works, but the zealots like Richard Dawkins obscure all this from public view. This is not at all to say that the results of science are political or biased, although that goes on too, but that the founding assumptions that go into any field of research are not themselves scientific, and need rigorous thought.

So for example neuroscience is increasingly thought of as the definitive knowledge on the brain and mind. But the research programs (there are multiple programs, no science is half as unified as people think) are often highly restrictive, and hopelessly naive and ignorant of history in the assumptions that are used. So for example just about every research program in neuroscience has inherited Descartes' 'brain in a vat' assumptions about there actually being some entity called a 'mind', and that this mind is located within the brain. If you're not aware of those assumptions, then you'll just think that the results of these research programs are 'how the mind/brain works'.

Other research programs like embodied cognition and even some neuroscience have completely demolished this mystical idea of some epiphenomenon called a 'mind' sitting magically up there in that lump of flesh inside our skulls. That it has taken so long for some to notice how absolutely mystical the rubbish that gets said about the mind is, is remarkable. If you handed somebody a real, flesh brain and said "ok, show me where the mind is", what could they say? Nothing, the silliness of the whole idea is immediately obvious in that situation. They might say "but it's been shown by neuroscience that if you prod this bit of the brain, the person smells things, and if you prod this bit they hear things" etc. Hilarious really, if I cut the brake lines in my car and the car stops braking, have I proved that 'braking' is something the brake lines do?

In my own experience with various types of bodywork, where different approaches help people to rediscover the beautiful integration mechanisms in their own bodies which standard medical science is almost completely ignorant of (which is now changing), time after time I find that people remain unwilling to drop the mind as a category. There's a lot of talk about 'wholeness', but at the end of the day people end up either fiddling with peoples bodies or with their minds/ideas.

So the same old Cartesian split between body and mind is perpetuated.


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