Saturday, March 5, 2022

Various Ways We Study the Human Mind

Today, a question came up about the differences of and relationship between the following concepts...

Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Science

Here's my first draft response that attempts to map out these relationships. In writing this, it also made me realize that the discussion also can be seen as a partial answer to the question of "What are the various ways we study the mind?"

As a starting point, let's agree that there's something called "the human mind". It's a phenomenon. It's quite mysterious. It's hard to exactly define. But we all roughly know what's being referred to when we use that term. 

From there, a thought is that this thing called "the human mind" can be at least somewhat studied and examined. Opinions will and do differ on where or what those limits may be. That being said, the terms above are very much related to these efforts.  Let's dig on in....

Defining the Three Terms

What is Philosophy of Mind?

So we want to examine and investigate the human mind. It might be helpful to pick a tool or approach to that. One set of tools can, roughy, be classified under philosophical approaches. The question of what exactly is meant by "philosophical approaches" is complex, and I'm open to feedback on this.

There will be disagreement, but a starting point on philosophical approaches would be approaches that are using any sort of "rational reasoning".

Philosophy of Mind then can be thought of as the use of philosophical tools when examining questions about "the human mind".

What is Psychology?

Just like last time, we're starting with a person wanting to examine and investigate "the human mind". A second set of tools this person could consider working with are the tools of science. Exactly what is meant by "tools of science" is a complex question. But, though we sometimes lack precise and specific answers to that, there is very clearly some accepted ideas of what roughly is meant by that.

Wikipedia offers the following definition for science and I think that's sufficient for our purposes here as a starting point. Science is "a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe."

Psychology then, by at least one understanding of it, is the use of scientific tools when examining questions about "the human mind". That's not all psychology is, as it also arguably investigates "behavior" (we're going to sidestep what's meant by "behavior" for now). If you look up "psychology" of Wikipedia, this is the exact definition you will fine: "psychology as the scientific study of mind and behavior".

It's worth noting that, in everyday conversation, any attempt to explain "the human mind", using any tool, might be referred to as a psychological investigation. The word psychological, in such contexts, could mean either of....

1) anything at all that's related to "the human mind" (e.g. a psychological experience)

2) scientific inquiry into the "the human mind"

We can sometimes, but not always, pick up from context which of the two definitions above is meant in any given use of the term. 

What is Philosophy of Science?

So far we've been talking about how to label various direct efforts to investigate and examine the phenomenon of "the human mind". At this juncture, we turn to a different question.

Above, the concept of "tools of science" was mentioned. While some may take those tools as a given, in fact it can be hard to determine or define what exactly those tools ever are. How do they work? Why do they work? Do they even work and are there some limits or faults there?

The idea here is that science itself is a phenomenon that can be observed and studied. 

Philosophy of Science then, is what we can call attempts at investigating the phenomenon of "doing science" using the tools of philosophy. Which, as we went over above, it itself a not perfectly defined set of tools and approaches. But, again, as a starting point, can think of these tools as approaches that are utilizing "rational reasoning" in their investigations and examinations. 

How Do These Terms Relate?

What Is the Science of Psychology? 

As established above, there are definitions of "psychology" that go beyond scientific approaches. Putting those aside for a moment, we're going to focus on the scientific field of psychology.

Within that field, an open and unanswered question is: to what extent can tools of science can assist with study of the mind?

Within that broad topic, is there some nuance of what limits there might be? Are tools perhaps "somewhat effective"? How so? All of this, in some sense, are philosophy of science questions about, specifically, the science of psychology. 

As one might image, these are massive questions. I myself am openly curious to explore these questions, and would love to build a community interested in exploring these questions in a thorough and open-minded way. That however, can be discussion for another time. 

For this post - suffice to say that approaches of psychology can be questioned. When approached from a philosophical perspective, that's the place where Philosophy of Science is intersecting with Psychology. 

What Are Some Ways to Examine and Investigate "The Human Mind"? 

At the beginning of this article, it was mentioned that a uniting theme here is asking the question of how we, as humans, attempt to explore the human mind. Above, we created some understanding of certain terms, and having done that we can now use those terms more effectively to discuss this larger issue.

Put simply, two popular approaches to answering questions about the human mind have been...

1) Philosophical Approaches (a.k.a. Philosophy of Mind)
2) Scientific Approaches (a.k.a. Psychology)

It is important to mention that these are, most certainly, not the only approaches on offer. I would love, at some point soon, perform a more structured breakdown of other types of tools or approaches to exploring questions about "the human mind". As a start, the world of theology is one obvious category that would be on such a list. I am not feeling currently able or confident to create such a list, but it's a project I'd be excited to work on. 

Concluding Thoughts

This was a very satisfying project for me to work on. I know, for myself, "concept roadmaps" like this feel so empowering and useful. Helps me understand what others are trying to say, and helps me understand what I myself am trying to say.

It's also worth noting that the above is meant as a rough starting point guide. As was mentioned several times, various concepts within this article have varying interpretations. The work being done is tackling complex issues and this article is meant to hopefully, form some neutral starting points to begin from when confusion arises.

I consider this work an active work in progress and am open to potential co-collaboration on adjustments, and to building communities interested in this sort of work.

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