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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsWhat is a mind? Think about it. It's actually a difficult question. It's also an important question, because after all, what are you if not your mind?

Skip to 0 minutes and 26 secondsThis thing, the mind, is studied from a great many different points of view by a great many different disciplines. Psychoanalysis studies and treats the mind. Psychology, that is to say academic and scientific psychology, studies the mind. Psychiatry treats disorders of the mind. Neuroscience studies the apparatus of the mind. Actually, even computer science via the discipline of artificial intelligence would claim to be studying the mind. The answers though that they'll give to the question, what is a mind, are subtly different. So the answer that we're looking for must somehow span what all of those disciplines are contributing. Then there's also the humanities. In a way, I suppose the very term "the humanities" refers to what they study.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsThey study what us humans are all about-- so that is to say, they study the sciences of the mind. In German they say "humanwissenschaften," which means human sciences. Philosophy, for example, was the parent discipline of psychology. But then even the arts-- what are the arts about if not about the life of the mind? I think that if we really want to answer the question, what is a mind, really, I think that all of these different disciplines, all of these different approaches have something to contribute.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 secondsAnd what I'm wanting to do with this series of six lessons on the question, what is a mind, is I'm wanting to try to gather together the perspectives, the answers, the evidence, the approaches of all of those different disciplines, all of those different methods, to try to come up with the real answer-- what is a mind, really? After you've viewed these six lessons, I hope that you will, if not have the answer, at least be able to think a lot more clearly about it-- what is a mind. And also, to be able to think about such closely related questions as, why do we have minds? What are minds for?

Skip to 2 minutes and 44 secondsWhat does the mind do, and for example, how does that differ from what the brain does? So this transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, integrative approach-- I call it neuropsychoanalysis-- which is a shorthand term for indicating that we're bringing in hard, natural sciences, and also the humanities and the arts. Bringing them together, and trying in an accessible way to answer the question. I will also point you to specialist literatures, give links to technical material. But most of all, I want to really address this question in a way that we can all relate to, all of us who have minds. So here goes.

What are you if not your mind?

By asking the question, ‘What are you - if not your mind?’, some fundamental questions are being raised. The mind is studied implicitly and explicitly by a range of different disciplines. The focus varies from the anatomical and physiological scene of action in neurosciences to the societal questions about being human in the Humanities. Yet on their own, none of these single disciplinary perspectives has a completely satisfactory response to the question, ‘what is a mind?’.

In this course reading, What is a Mind? - Perspectives, I describe how a range of disciplines approach the question: What is a Mind? I will be making reference to these different disciplinary approaches later in the course:

  • Humanities
  • Philosophy
  • Arts
  • Psychology
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Neuroscience
  • Computer Science

While perspectives from the Humanities and the Arts do not expect to find an answer to the question of being human, other disciplines such as Psychology seek to understand the mind empirically and study it as rigorously as one would study any other object.

The What is a Mind? - Perspectives reading argues for the need of an interdisciplinary approach to studying the mind. Neuropsychoanalysis tries to overcome the weaknesses inherent in narrowly focused approaches by combining disciplinary perspectives. For example, it embraces all the complexities of subjectivity and the richness of lived experience by correlating the Humanities-like knowledge derived from the psychoanalytical methods with the objective data derived from neuroscientific experiments. In this way, the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches act as mutual correctives upon each other.

Which and how have disciplinary perspectives shaped your own understanding of what is a mind?

A glossary of terms, as used in this course, is provided as a reference since other disciplines you may be more familiar with have sometimes used these terms differently. You may find revisiting this glossary useful as you continue through the course. We have also compiled a reading list that include books that delve more deeply into ideas introduced in this course.

This video is from the free online course:

What Is a Mind?

University of Cape Town

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Introduction to What is a Mind?
    Introduction to What is a Mind?
    video

    What is a Mind? In this video, Mark Solms explains what led him to dedicate his life's work to answering complex questions about the mind.