Philosophy of mind

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The philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy and deals with the nature of spiritual or mental states, their effects and causes . The central question is about the relationship between mental and physical states. In addition to these ontological questions, the philosophy of mind also deals with the epistemological questions about the knowability of the mind. The philosophy of the movement of the mind through history (as it found a particular climax in Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind, for example ) is thematically separated from it. In the philosophy of spirit, spirit is understood as mind and not as world spirit .

Phrenological mapping of the mental functions to skull features

The mind-body problem

The core of the philosophy of mind is the mind-body problem, sometimes called the "mind-body problem". It consists in the question of how the mental states (or the spirit, the consciousness , the psychic , the soul ) relate to the physical states (or the body , the brain , the material , the body ). Are these two different substances ? Or are the mental and the physical ultimately one? These are the central questions of the philosophy of mind. However, each answer raises numerous new questions. For example: Are we free in our thinking and wanting ? Could computers have a mind too? Can the mind exist without the body? The philosophy of mind has therefore become an enormously differentiated project. Plato already addressed this in his dialogue Philebos (30a): “Socrates: Our body, don't we want to say that it has a soul? Protarchus: Obviously we want that. Socrates: But from where, oh dear Protarchus, should he have received it, if the whole body was not animated, having the same thing as he and even more splendid in every respect? "The subject was also treated literarily, For example, in a medieval German-language (Alemannic) poem by Hentz von den Eichen, published in 1518 by the Biel town clerk Ludwig Sterner, which is a debate between soul and body in the tradition of anima-corpus altercations (e.g. Visio Philiberti ) represents.

Schematic overview of the basic positions that are taken with regard to the mind-body problem (note: in the formation of philosophical theories there are regularly overlaps and mixed forms!)

The first classic formulation of the mind-body problem comes from René Descartes . But thinking about the connection between body and mind goes back to ancient times . Plato, for example, advocates an explicit dualism , which is shown in his argument for the transmigration of souls : If the soul can survive the death of the body, it must be something different from the body. With Aristotle it looks different. Although Aristotle postulates a " pneuma " which is common to all living beings as a principle of life, the pneuma is not opposed to the material and corporeal world. Plotinus , as the main representative of Neoplatonism , assumes the existence of the One from which human souls and everything else arose. The bodies are also an outflow of the souls, subordinate and largely separated from them. After death, the soul separates itself completely from the body, and through moral freedom of choice it merges with the divine or moves away from it.

In the Christian Middle Ages ( scholasticism ) the distinction between body and immaterial soul is again the basis of philosophizing. The influence of medieval philosophy is unmistakable in Descartes' formulation of dualism.

Most people intuitively feel a gap between mental and physical phenomena. This has resulted in dualistic viewpoints being predominant in the philosophy of mind for a long time. Today the majority of philosophers take materialist positions. On this basis, however, the question of how consciousness is to be explained materialistically must be answered.

The mind-body problem is now considered a specific problem in European intellectual history. In particular, the philosophical traditions in Asia (see Eastern Philosophy ) are based on fundamentally different metaphysical assumptions, whereby this separation of mind and body appears to be illusory or meaningless.

Dualistic Answers to the Mind-Body Problem

Dualism reacts to the intuitive gap between the mental inner life and physical reality as follows: It claims that there are two fundamentally different phenomena at play here - mental and physical entities . Depending on how the entities are further specified and how one imagines the relationship between mental and physical entities, one can come to very different types of dualisms.

Does dualism rest solely on the intuitive gap between the mental and the physical? Or are there concrete arguments for dualism? René Descartes developed the most famous argument in his meditations . It can be summarized as follows: I can clearly imagine that spirit exists without matter. What can be clearly imagined is at least possible in principle . So it is at least in principle possible that spirit exists without matter. If it is possible in principle for mind to exist without matter, then mind and matter must be different entities. So since mind and matter must be different entities, the dualism is consequently true.

The premises of this argument can be questioned: why, for example, should something be possible just because it can be clearly presented? Despite such problems, variations of Descartes' argument are still defended today - by Saul Kripke , for example .

Interactionist substance dualism

René Descartes , portrait by Frans Hals (1648)

The classic form of dualism is interactionist substance dualism. It was formulated in a decisive way by René Descartes and still has followers today. Karl Popper and John Eccles were the best-known interactionist dualists of the 20th century. The basic ideas are as follows: Mind and matter are different substances and they interact with each other. When I stick the needle in my finger, signals are sent from there to the brain and there must be a 'place' where the brain acts on the immaterial mind. This is exactly how it works in the other direction: When I am in pain, the immaterial spirit acts on the brain. Signals are sent from there and I - for example - withdraw my hand.

Such a dualism has to struggle with massive problems: If there is a place of interaction between mind and brain, this place should be discoverable. However, Descartes' speculations (he was hoping for the pineal gland as a place of interaction) were soon refuted. No other places in the brain were visible where the behavior of the neurons could only be explained by an immaterial spirit. Apart from the fact that there doesn't seem to be any “space” in the brain for an interaction, the type of interaction is an open question. In recent times, some, for example the theoretical physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose , have suggested an interaction through quantum effects , but this is rejected by critics such as Max Tegmark with the argument that decoherence of quantum states in the sub-picosecond range occurs too quickly, than that these could be relevant for brain functions.

Karl Popper wrote a theory that extends the dual conception of the world (physical world and mental world, human consciousness) by a third world. ( Three worlds theory ). The 3rd world is about the products of the human spirit, which (continue to) exist independently of an individual consciousness and can be the cause of changes in the 1st world (physical world).

The great advantage of interactionist dualism is that it is in accordance with the everyday experience of people, since they experience themselves as spiritual beings, separate from the physical world, but with the help of their sensory perceptions, their actions and their language with it and the Communicate with other people.

Psychophysical parallelism (non-interactionist substance dualism)

The psychophysical parallelism was developed in its substance dualistic variety by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz . The central theses are:

  1. Mind and matter are two different substances.
  2. However, the two substances do not interact.

This would overcome the problems of interactionist dualism, as one no longer has to look for a place of interaction in the brain. But new questions arise straight away, such as: If I want to go to the refrigerator (mentally), I usually also go to the refrigerator (physically). How can that be when spirit and matter do not interact at all? The answer of parallelism is that spiritual and material events run parallel to one another, like clocks running in sync. Leibniz saw the reason for this parallelism - it intuitively appears to be an unbelievable coincidence if the physical machinery of all spiritual beings would run exactly parallel to the spirit - in the work of God.

In his second, monistic variety, Gustav Theodor Fechner developed psychophysical parallelism in the 19th century . His theory was also called the “identity view” and thus - strictly speaking - no longer belongs to the dualism, which always starts from two types of objects. This type of psychophysical parallelism therefore does not represent a substance dualism, but a property dualism or a two-sided theory ( dual aspect theory ). For Fechner, body and soul are two perspectives on one and the same object. Seen from the outside, the human body appears physical, from the inside it appears psychic . The psychic is a property of matter organized in the human body. Ernst Mach'sneutral monism ” goes back directly to Fechner's view.


Occasionalism has been represented by Nicolas Malebranche , among others . The idea: if I want to do something, it is an immaterial event in my mind. This incident is registered by God and the body is set in motion accordingly.


Epiphenomenalism is a special form of property dualism and was developed by Thomas Henry Huxley . The basic idea is that the relationship between spirit and matter is to be thought of as a one-way street: matter affects the immaterial spirit, but not the other way around. Epiphenomenalism, however, has similar problems to interactionist dualism: where is the place where the effect on the mind takes place? How do you imagine this effect? It is also problematic that epiphenomenalism forces one to deny that mental states are caused by other mental states, as well as that states of the world are caused by mental states. The idea of a lemon (a mental state) can therefore neither salivation the idea sour taste (a different mental state) (a state of the world) cause . However, epiphenomenalism does not provide strong arguments in favor of abandoning this cause-and-effect assumption. Epiphenomenalism is now only represented by a few, a well-known advocate until recently Frank Cameron Jackson .

Property dualism

Property dualism has  experienced a renaissance in recent years - thanks to David Chalmers . The dualism of properties only belongs to a limited extent in the series of dualisms: In contrast to the other positions, it is a substance monism, so it is even compatible with the thesis that everything is composed of the smallest physical particles. However, he insists that there are non-physical properties. Chalmers calls the quality of "being experienced in a certain way" (the qualia ) a non-material quality. His considerations are based on the concept of supervenience and the logic of reductive explanations. An important variety of property dualism is panpsychism , which assumes that all physical entities have mental properties.

Monistic answers to the mind-body problem

Baruch (de) Spinoza , portrait around 1665

In contrast to dualism, monism states that there is only one substance (e.g. only spiritual or only material ), with most monistic theories being material monisms. A material monism therefore says that the only substance available is (physical) matter. However, other formulations are also possible: One could also claim that there is no matter, only spirit. Such a monism is seldom represented today. A third possibility is to accept a substance that is neither physical matter nor spirit. The mental and the physical would then be either modes or mere properties of this one substance. Such a position was taken by Baruch Spinoza and popularized in the 19th century by Ernst Haeckel . This monism is similar to property dualism .


Behaviorism dominated the philosophy of mind for much of the first half of the 20th century. In psychology , behaviorism arose as a reaction to problems of introspection : If someone reports about his mental inner life on the basis of introspection, then no verification of the statements is (or was then) possible. According to the behaviorists, however, no science is possible without general verifiability . The way out for psychology: It should do without mental inner workings and introspection and instead describe behavior . This scientific approach is also called methodological behaviorism. Its main representative was John B. Watson . Other behavioral approaches such as radical behaviorism of BF Skinner , however accept inner states as legitimate research. For example, there are behavioral theories about dreaming .

Parallel to such developments in psychology, a philosophical behaviorism, sometimes referred to as “logical” or “analytical” behaviorism, developed. The approach of philosophical behaviorism is physical: Mental states are descriptions of behavior or dispositions . One of the main exponents of this position within the philosophy of mind was the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle . His classic The Concept of Mind , published in 1949, developed a behaviorism based on Ludwig Wittgenstein and shaped the philosophical debate that followed for decades. Another "forefather" of philosophical behaviorism is Carl Hempel , who was strongly influenced by the work of Rudolf Carnap in his work The Logical Analysis of Psychology .

Identity theory

The identity theory developed by John Smart and Ullin Place was the direct response to the failure of behaviorism. If mental states are material but not behavior, then mental states are presumably identical with material states. The obvious idea here: A mental state M is nothing else than a brain state G. The mental state “desire for a coffee” would be nothing more than “the 'firing' of certain nerve cells in certain brain regions”.

A popular analogy used to illustrate this theory is the identity of water and H 2 O : any phenomenon that can be called water can also be called H 2 O , and vice versa. The properties of water are identical with the properties of H 2 O . However, it took a long scientific process to derive the term H 2 O and to assign it to the everyday understanding of water. In the same way, supporters of identity theory assume that further scientific progress in the neurosciences will increasingly bring clarity about the identity of mental states and brain states.

A distinction must be made between two types of identity, namely between type and token identity . A token represents a specific instance of a type, while types comprise certain sets of instances that all meet certain properties. A token is identical to another token if it is the same copy. For example, the Eiffel Tower that person A has seen is token-identical to the Eiffel Tower that another person B has seen. However, smart is originally a type identity from: water is type-identical with H 2 O . Due to the problem of multiple realization described in the next paragraph, a type identity for mental states and brain states is difficult to maintain.

The problem of multiple realization was first formulated by Hilary Putnam . From this it seems clear that not only people, but also z. B. amphibians can have pain. However, it seems unlikely that all beings with pain have the same brain state, since the brains of these beings are structurally very different. But if that is not the case, then the pain cannot be identical to a particular brain state. A modified form of identity theory can now summarize individual realizations into independent types and say: people pain is identical to a certain brain state of a human brain, while amphibian pain is identical to a certain brain state of an amphibian brain. Ian Ravenscroft calls this a constrained type identity theory . If one continues this train of thought, one finally arrives at a token identity theory , which only postulates the identity of mental states of an individual with his brain state.

The essential difference between Smart's intended type identity theory and a token identity theory is that the former is reductionist : It seeks to make our mental states more understandable by tracing back to another theory, just as tracing water to H 2 O through the entire explanatory apparatus of physics and makes chemistry applicable to water. If mental states are type-identical to brain states, then psychology can ultimately be traced back to neuroscience. In the case of token identity, however, this is only possible to a limited extent, since each brain differs in its implementation from every other brain. A token identity theory is therefore non-reductionist .

Despite these problems, there is a certain renaissance of identity theory today, largely thanks to Jaegwon Kim .

The identity theory is given a boost by the fact that the physical concept of matter and its interactions are noticeably incomplete. This gives rise to the hope that the emergence of the new “dimension” of consciousness can possibly be derived directly from future extensions of the physical understanding .


Functionalism was developed by Hilary Putnam , among others, in response to the problems of identity theory. The idea is as follows: if beings with different brain states can have the same mental state (so the identity theory is wrong), something must still exist that the brain states have in common. The proposal of the functionalists is to assign the same functional state to the different brain states. The mental states would then be functional states.

But what are functional states? This is often explained using the example of simple machines : Let's imagine a candy machine . This throws out a candy for one euro. Now you can describe the machine with different states: There must be a state in which the machine ejects the candy without asking for further money. But there must also be conditions in which the machine still demands one euro or 50 cents to spit something out. In the sense of the vending machine theory , the candy vending machine can be completely described by abstract functional states. The core of the example is that the description applies regardless of what the machine is actually made of. The analogy is clear: Mental states should be functional states, regardless of which brain states actually realize them.

The central problem of functionalism is consciousness. A thought experiment known as the “China brain” serves as an example: every Chinese person has a cell phone and has clear instructions as to which number to call when certain other numbers call him. Imagine that the number of Chinese and the number of brain cells in a human brain are the same, and that a situation can be created in which the current connection status in the Chinese cell phone network is identical to the activation status of the neurons in a human brain in the Idea of ​​the Eiffel Tower. Then it is intuitively hardly conceivable that the totality formed by the Chinese and their cell phone network actually develops an idea of ​​the Eiffel Tower, or any other idea or mental state, solely on the basis of the current connection status and the number sequences selected. Regardless of what function the connection status of the Chinese cell phone network may have, a collective mental state of any kind is not a plausible assumption. Functionalism does not explain the phenomenon of the consciousness of the human brain either, because to what extent the firing of certain neurons should lead to a conscious mental experience remains unexplained even if this fulfills a certain function.

Non-reductive materialism and emergence

For many philosophers, two beliefs come together:

  1. Materialism is true, mental states must be material states.
  2. The individual reductive suggestions are all unsatisfactory: Mental states cannot be traced back to behavior, brain states or functional states.

From this the question arises whether there can be a non-reductive materialism. Donald Davidson's anomalous monism is an attempt to formulate such materialism. Often the idea is formulated with the term supervenience: Mental states supervise physical states, but cannot be traced back to them. “Supervening” describes a relationship of dependency: the mental cannot change without the physical changing.

The concept of emergence also plays a central role in the debates about non-reductive materialism. A phenomenon is called "emergent" if it appears on the macro level of a system , but not on the micro level of the system components. In this sense, it is assumed, for example, that consciousness is emergent because people have consciousness, but one cannot assign consciousness to the individual parts of people. The emergence concept is often combined with an anti-reductionist thesis: The phenomenon on the macro level (in this case: consciousness) can in principle not be traced back to the micro level (i.e. brain activities). In the philosophy of mind it is controversial whether such a position leads back to dualism. Critics of the concept of emergence explain that the irreducibility of the macro level is not understandable in the context of a materialistic theory.

Eliminative materialism

If one is a materialist who thinks reductive efforts have failed and non-reductive materialism is incoherent, one can resort to a last resort and assert, "There are no mental states." Eliminative materialists claim that mental states have been introduced by our everyday psychology are. If everyday psychology turns out to be wrong in the course of scientific development, we must also do away with the entities it postulates. Eliminativists such as Patricia and Paul Churchland often refer at this point to the fate of other, false theories throughout history. For example, the system of belief in witches has been found to be wrong. The consequence is the recognition of the nonexistence of witches .

Philosophy of Mind in Buddhism

"But what is it now, Lord, old age and death, and to whom will this old age and death become their own?" "The question is not correct," replied the Blessed One. “When one said: 'What is old age and death, and who in turn will this old age and this death become their own?' - or if one said: 'Another is old age and death, and another is he to whom this old age and this death become his own,' then both would be one and the same, only the expression would be different. If it is believed that life and body are the same, there is no holy walk; or if there is a belief that life is different and the body is different, there is no holy walk. Avoiding these two ends, in the middle of the Tathāgata (i.e. the "So Gone", i.e. Buddha) proclaims the true teaching: from birth as cause arises old age and death. "

Eastern traditions like Buddhism do not assume a dualistic mind-body model, but state that body and mind are two different entities. In Buddhism especially, the idea of ​​the continuous self of Hinduism ( Atman ) is not accepted ( Anatta ). Some schools of Buddhism start from a very subtle level of consciousness that leaves the body at the time of death and moves on to a new life.

According to the Buddhist scholar and meditation master Dharmakirti , the definition of mind or consciousness is what clarity and knowledge is. In this definition, “clarity” refers to the nature of the mind and “knowing” refers to the function of the mind. Mind is clarity because it is always formless compared to objects and because it has the ability to perceive things. Mind is knowing because its function is to know or to perceive objects.

In Ornament of the Seven Sets , the Buddhist scholar Khedrup Gelek Pelzang says that thought, awareness, mind and "knowers" are synonyms. Buddha explained that although the mind is formless, it still belongs to the form. Accordingly, our spirit belongs to our body and is "resident" throughout the body. This is to be understood in the context of how the awareness of the five senses and the spiritual awareness arise. There are many different types of mind-sense awareness, mental awareness, gross awareness, subtle awareness, very subtle awareness, and they are all formless (i.e., without shape, color, sound, smell, taste, or tactile properties) and all of them have the function of recognizing or of knowing. There is no mind without an object that is known by the mind. Even if none of these consciousnesses have a form, they can belong to the form.

Philosophical language criticism of the mind-body problem

Any attempt to answer the mind-body problem encounters massive problems, especially conceptual problems. It can therefore also be an option to reject the mind-body problem as a sham problem . Such a position is particularly represented today in analytical philosophy in the succession of Ludwig Wittgenstein . The advocates of such a position state that it is a mistake to ask how mental and biological states fit together. Rather, it should be accepted that people can be described in different ways - for example in mental and biological vocabulary. According to the Wittgenstein tradition, pseudo problems arise when attempts are made to reduce the modes of description to one another or when the mental vocabulary is used in the wrong context. This is the case, for example, when looking for mental states in the brain. The brain is simply the wrong context for the use of mental vocabulary - the search for mental states in the brain is therefore a category error or pure conceptual confusion.

Today such a position is often taken by Wittgenstein interpreters like Peter Hacker . Even Hilary Putnam , the founder of functionalism, last held the mind-body problem for a pseudo-problem, which was dissolved with Wittgenstein. In Germany, a similar view can be found with Dirk Hartmann as a representative of methodical culturalism .

Materialism and its problems

The thesis of materialism is that the mind is something material. Such a position has the fundamental problem that the mind has properties which no material object has. Materialism must therefore explain how it can be that a material object has these properties. Often the project of explaining this is called the "naturalization of mind". Now what are the critical properties? The best known are probably the following two:


Many mental states have the property of being experienced in a certain way. The essence of the mental state of pain is that it is painful. But where does this experience (the agony ) come from? There is nothing in a neuronal or functional state to suggest that it is accompanied by an experience of pain. The argument is often formulated as follows: The processes in the brain cannot (yet) make it clear why they take place with a corresponding experience content. Why don't many processes in the brain take place without a spark of consciousness? This does not seem to be explainable.

Nevertheless, it seems to be the case that the sciences would have to explain this content of experience . This follows from the logic of reductive explanations : If I want to explain a phenomenon (e.g. water ) reductively, I must also explain why the phenomenon has all the properties that it has (e.g. liquid, transparency ) . In the case of mental states one would have to explain why they have the property of being experienced in a certain way.

John Searle - one of the most influential proponents of the philosophy of mind (Berkeley 2002)


Intentionality describes the “directionality” of the mental states, which also makes them “truthful”. That is, thoughts can be right or wrong. This may not seem puzzling at first, but when thoughts are to be reduced to natural processes, a riddle arises: natural processes are not right or wrong - they just happen. It would be pointless to say of a brain process that it is right or wrong. Thoughts or spiritual judgments are right or wrong, how can thoughts be natural processes?

The truth value of thoughts comes from the fact that thoughts are directed to facts : the thought, for example, that Herodotus was a historian, relates to Herodotus and the fact that he was a historian. If the facts exist, the thought is correct - otherwise it is wrong. But where does this reference come from? Only electrochemical processes take place in the brain, and they seem to have absolutely nothing to do with Herodotus.

Philosophy of Mind in Other Sciences


Physics itself does not make any statements about consciousness and so far cannot. However, there are well-known physicists who have a personal opinion on this subject.

Man is a physical being that can be described as such by the natural sciences . Erwin Schrödinger starts from the absolutism of the spirit and outlines the problem (1943) as follows:

Immediate experiences, no matter how different and dissimilar they may be, cannot logically contradict one another. We therefore want to try whether we cannot draw the correct, consistent conclusion from the following two premises:
  1. My body functions as a pure mechanism in accordance with the laws of nature.
  2. But I know from my direct experience that I guide his movements and foresee their consequences, which can be decisive and highly significant; in this case I take full responsibility for them.
The only possible inference from these two facts is this: I - I in the broadest sense of the word; H. every consciously thinking spiritual being who has designated or felt himself to be 'I' - is the person, if there is one at all, who guides the 'movement of atoms' in accordance with the laws of nature. "

Roger Penrose contrasts this with a different point of view. If the mental processes are not absolute or independent, but depend on the physical processes, the purely scientific description of man plays a major role in the philosophy of mind:

Concepts like mind and psyche would be of little use if the mind had no influence on the body and could not be influenced by it either. If the mind were merely an " epiphenomenon " - a specific but completely passive property of the brain state - then this state, as a mere by-product of the body, could not have an effect on it, and the mind would obviously only have an impotent and insignificant secondary role. If the mind could cause the body to violate the laws of nature , it would disturb the accuracy of these purely physical laws of nature. Therefore a purely dualistic view can hardly be maintained. Even if the physical laws of nature to which the body is subject allow the mind a space to influence the body, then this kind of freedom itself must be an important part of these laws of nature. “In the latter case, in principle, all disciplines are important that describe processes that are related to the mental. The list of important sciences is correspondingly long: biology , computer science , cognitive science , cybernetics , linguistics , medicine , pharmacology , psychology , etc.

In his book "In search of the real", the French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat draws the conclusion from various phenomena in quantum physics that consciousness is not part of the physical world.

Max Tegmark gives a physical characterization of consciousness in his book Life 3.0 . He initially defines intelligence very generally as the ability to carry out certain complex activities and then names three necessary skills that an intelligent system must have in order to act: 1) It must be able to remember. 2) It must be able to perform calculations. 3) It has to be able to learn. Consciousness is achieved through another quality. 4) The system has subjective impressions ( qualia ). The central idea of ​​Tegmark is that consciousness arises in an emergent process when we feel information that has been processed in a special way. He also argues that intelligence is a substrate-independent pattern that arises from substrate-independent mechanisms. It is limited to the question of which physical properties distinguish conscious from unconscious systems. It must be possible to describe these properties using physically measurable quantities. From the two-fold higher level of consciousness he deduces that intelligence expresses itself in a special pattern, yes, it is a certain pattern. In his publication Consciousness as a State of Matter , he describes consciousness as a new possible state of matter.

The neuroscientist Giulio Tononi developed a physically based theory of consciousness, the Integrated Information Theory. This tries to explain what consciousness is and why it could be associated with certain physical systems. Given such a system, the theory predicts the extent to which this consciousness has. According to IIT, the consciousness of a system is determined by its causal properties and is therefore an intrinsic, fundamental property of every physical system. The latest version of the theory IIT 3.0 was released in 2014. Based on this formulation, a general statistical formalism was developed that allows the degree of causal dependence on events to be quantified.


Theoretical background in biology, as in the modern natural sciences in general, is mostly a materialistic approach. Physical processes, which are viewed as the basis of mental activity and behavior , initially function as the subject of study . The increasing success of biology as an approach to explaining mental phenomena can be understood primarily through the failure to refute the basic assumption: "No change in the mental states of a person without a change in his brain".

Several disciplines within the neurosciences deal with the connection between mental and physical processes:

The methodological progress of the neurosciences, in particular the introduction of imaging processes , has increasingly led to the formulation of demanding research programs in recent years: the agenda is to uncover and understand the neuronal processes of mental functions. The research on this is still at the beginning (see also: neural correlate of consciousness ). A few neurobiologists, such as Emil Du Bois-Reymond and John Carew Eccles, have denied the possibility of “reducing” mental phenomena to brain processes, partly for religious reasons. Today, for example, the neurobiologist and philosopher Gerhard Roth, who is known in the German-speaking world, represents a form of non-reductive materialism . With popular scientific publications on experiments in brain research, the psychiatrist, psychologist and university professor Manfred Spitzer in particular brought the topic of self-determination to the public.

Computer science

In contrast to mechanical engineering , which deals with the mechanization of physical activities, computer science deals with the automation of intellectual work. A variation of the introductory mind-body problem occurs there in the form of the separation of hardware and software. The relationship between the two is the subject of computability theory . It is answered there by the concept of the universal machine . This consists of a collection of the most elementary activities together with a method of performing a specific activity by interpreting a program that describes a specific activity. The construction is roughly comparable to a music box , the mechanics of which can play any piece whose notes are in the form of a roller. The Church-Turing thesis asserts that all information processing activities are covered in this way .

Whether this can, however, cover the human mind in the most general sense is less the subject of research than more individual inclination in artificial intelligence . To do this, "Geist" would have to be completely describable. The current state of research is that many activities that were formerly regarded as "higher" mental achievements, such as arithmetic, logic, planning, etc., are easier to describe than supposedly "lower" ones, such as perception or motor skills. The question of a possible sensitivity ( qualia ), consciousness, generally subjective manifestations in computers or robots is completely unanswered.

Near-death research

In the field of near-death research , the following phenomenon occurs: For example, during some brain operations, the brain is artificially and measurably deactivated. Nevertheless, some patients report during this phase that they perceived what was happening in the environment, i.e. that they were conscious. Patients also report experiences during cardiac arrest . The following problem arises: As soon as the brain is no longer supplied with blood and thus with oxygen after a cardiac arrest, the brain stops its normal operation after about 15 seconds. that is, the brain falls into a state of unconsciousness. So far, the neurosciences suspect that consciousness is generated by the brain. But then an inactive brain could not be a carrier of a consciousness.


The psychology is the science that studies the direct test mental states. Specifically, she examines mental states such as joy, fear or obsessions. Psychology researches laws that connect mental states with each other or with human input and output .

Examples of this are provided by perceptual psychology . In this way, general principles of gestalt perception can be discovered. A Gestalt psychological law reads: Objects that move in the same direction are perceived as belonging together. This law describes a relation between the visual input and the mental states of perception. However, this result does not say anything about the nature of the states of perception. The regularities discovered by psychology are compatible with all of the described answers to the mind-body problem.

Systems theory

Gregory Bateson comes to the conclusion in his "Ecology of Mind" that the spiritual is not the property of an organ - such as the brain - or of an individual - e.g. B. humans - is, but the property of a system that can transport information. Information from external objects reaches the brain in the form of electromagnetic waves via the sensory organ of the eye, via the nervous system, and from there by means of effector nerves via speech motor skills and the transport medium of air in linguistic form via the sensory organ of the ear to fellow human beings. Spirit is therefore immanent in this interacting system of people, a society or a linguistic community . Bateson: “So in no system that has mental characteristics can any part have one-sided control over the whole. In other words, the mental characteristics of the system are not immanent to a part, but to the system as a whole ”(Bateson 1985, p. 409).

The philosophy of living systems follows this cybernetic understanding of the concept of the spiritual and examines the question of the storage of the spiritual, ideas, blueprints, hypotheses and theories. The spiritual result obtained through interaction needs a material data carrier to be preserved. It comes to the conclusion that evolution stores the experiences acquired through selection in the genetic code (intracellular storage), humans are able to store their ideas, findings and experiences during their lifetime like all brain animals, but they also have various external data storage options, like books and computers, which can now not only transport the spiritual into the future, like the genes, but also spread it almost simultaneously in space. With this man has created a new hereditary path and sets an "evolution of the spirit" in motion.

Global Consciousness Project

The Global Consciousness Project (Eng. "Global Consciousness Project", abbreviation GCP) is a long-term scientific experiment in which around 100 researchers and engineers worldwide take part. With the help of a technology developed in Princeton and random number generators, data has been collected by a worldwide network since 1998, which is supposed to prove the existence of a "global consciousness". According to the theory of GCP, events such as terrorist attacks, which trigger strong emotions in many people, generate measurable swings of suitable instruments.

Consequences of the Philosophy of Mind

There are innumerable subjects which cannot be untouched by the results of the philosophy of mind. Obvious examples include the nature and finality of death , the nature of emotions , perception, and memory . The question of what a person is and what constitutes their identity also has many interfaces with the philosophy of the mind. Two issues that have received special attention in the context of the philosophy of mind are freedom and the self .


In the context of the philosophy of the mind, the question of freedom of will arises with new sharpness. This is at least true if one has been convinced of materialism and determinism : All mental states - including human will - would therefore be material states. And the laws of nature thus completely determined the course of the material world. Mental states such as wanting and acting are then completely determined by the laws of nature. Some now argue further: So people cannot decide for themselves what they want and do. Or at least no alternative courses of action are open to them. Consequently, they are not free.

On the one hand, the compatibilists contradict this line of argument . They argue that “freedom” does not mean indeterminacy, but wanting and acting to the best of my knowledge and belief. In this sense, people can also be free when determinism is true. Perhaps the best-known compatibilist in the history of philosophy is David Hume . Today, compatibilist positions are represented by John M. Fischer or Daniel Dennett , for example .

Immanuel Kant denied the determination of the will and advocated free will

Contrary to such compatibilist positions, incompatibilists argue that free will and determinism contradict each other. Therefore, if determinism applies, there can be no free will. But there are also incompatibilists who believe that people have free will. These philosophers claim that the course of the world is not completely determined by the laws of nature: at least the will should not be determined and therefore potentially free. The best-known philosopher, who is usually assigned to incompatibilities, is Immanuel Kant . Whether nondeterministic physical theories support this is very controversial. Regardless of this, some of the critics accuse incompatibilities of using an incoherent concept of freedom. They argue as follows: If our will is not determined by anything, it is pure chance what we want. If what we want is pure chance, we are not free. So we are not free if our will is not determined by anything. Defenders of incompatibilism would sometimes objected that this argument is based on the assumption that there are only two alternatives in this case either my actions is alien determined or by chance determined. The prerequisite already excludes that there is a third possibility: self- determined will. By definition, however, the concept of will presupposes self-determination.


In addition, the philosophy of mind has considerable implications for the concept of self . If one understands the unchangeable essence of a person by “self”, most proponents of the philosophy of spirit will argue that there is nothing of the kind.

The idea of ​​a self as an immutable essence arises from the Christian notion of an immaterial soul. Such a notion is unacceptable to most of today's philosophers because of their materialistic beliefs. But the idea of ​​a constant material essence - realized in an unchangeable area of ​​the brain, for example - seems implausible due to the empirical results of developmental psychology , developmental biology and neuroscience.

Because of these problems, some philosophers declare that we should stop talking about oneself. However, this is a minority position, the following opinion is more widespread: One should not understand the “self” as an immutable core, but something that is in permanent change. Well-known advocates of such a position are e.g. B. Daniel Dennett and Thomas Metzinger .

Film documentaries

See also

Portal: Mind and Brain  - Overview of Wikipedia content on Mind and Brain
  • Neuroethics - moral-philosophical problems of consciousness research


Philosophy Bibliography : Philosophy of Mind - Additional Bibliography on the Subject

Literature on individual topics and positions in the sources.

  • Ansgar Beckermann : The mind-body problem. An introduction to the philosophy of mind . UTB: Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-8252-2983-2 ( Shorter systematic and demanding introduction ).
  • Ansgar Beckermann: Analytical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-11-020424-7 ( more extensive and detailed systematic and demanding introduction ).
  • Peter Bieri (Ed.): Analytical Philosophy of Mind . 4th edition. Beltz, 2007, ISBN 978-3-407-32081-0 .
  • Godehard Brüntrup : The mind-body problem. An introduction . 3rd revised and expanded edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-17-018890-7 ( systematic introduction with special consideration of current developments ).
  • Friedrich Hermanni, Thomas Buchheim (ed.): The body-soul problem. Attempts to answer from a medical-scientific, philosophical and theological point of view . Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-7705-4279-7 ( with contributions by Michael Pauen, Robert Spaemann, Vittorio Hösle and Christian Link, among others ).
  • Jaegwon Kim : Philosophy of Mind . Springer, Vienna a. a. 1998, ISBN 3-211-83043-X .
  • Marcus Knaup : body and soul or mind and brain? A paradigm shift in the modern image of man . Alber, Freiburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-495-48626-9 .
  • Carsten Könneker (Ed.): Who explains people? Brain researchers, psychologists and philosophers in dialogue . Fischer TB, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-596-17331-0 ( With contributions by Ansgar Beckermann, Michael Pauen, Thomas Metzinger, Albert Newen, Wolf Singer and Gerhard Roth, among others ).
  • Brian McLaughlin, Ansgar Beckermann , Sven Walter (Eds.): Oxford Handbook in the Philosophy of Mind . Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-926261-8 . Review by K. Godelek.
  • Thomas Metzinger : Awareness . Basic philosophy of mind. tape 1 . mentis, Paderborn 2006, ISBN 3-89785-551-8 ( anthology with contributions by Frank Jackson, Daniel Dennett, Joseph Levine, David Chalmers, Fred Dretske, among others ).
  • Thomas Metzinger: The mind-body problem . Basic philosophy of mind. tape 2 . mentis, Paderborn 2007, ISBN 978-3-89785-552-6 .
  • Michael Pauen : Basic Problems of the Philosophy of Mind. An introduction . 4th edition. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-14568-6 .
  • Arno Ros : Matter and Spirit: A Philosophical Inquiry . mentis, Paderborn 2005, ISBN 3-89785-397-3 .
  • Jürgen Schröder: Introduction to the philosophy of mind . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-518-29271-4 .
  • Erwin Schrödinger : Spirit and Matter . Zsolnay, Vienna 1986, ISBN 3-552-03810-8 .
  • John Searle : Spirit. An introduction . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-518-58472-3 .
  • Patrick Spät (ed.): To the future of the philosophy of mind . mentis, Paderborn 2008, ISBN 978-3-89785-611-0 ( With contributions by Michael Esfeld, Albert Newen and Kai Vogeley, Klaus Mainzer, Thomas Metzinger, Wolfgang Prinz and Ansgar Beckermann, among others ).
  • Dieter Sturma : Philosophy of Spirit . Reclam, Leipzig 2005, ISBN 3-379-20122-7 .
  • Dieter Teichert : Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-534-15463-0 .
  • Gregory Bateson : Ecology of Mind. Anthropological, biological, and epistemological perspectives . suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-518-28171-2 .
  • Ewald Judge : Where does our modern brain research . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-428-11786-7 .
  • Brigitte Falkenburg : Myth of Determinism. How much does brain research explain to us? Springer, Heidelberg 2012, ISBN 978-3-642-25097-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Geist  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: body-soul problem  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Spirit  - Quotes


Individual evidence

  1. from Latin mens for thinking power (or ability), understanding, reason, insight and spirit , way of thinking as well as kind of senses, but also mind with all emotional affects (such as anger, passion or courage) and derived from it for: the thought, the thoughts, the memory, opinion and intention
  2. Peter Kesting: Hentz from the oaks. In: Burghart Wachinger et al. (Hrsg.): The German literature of the Middle Ages. Author Lexicon . 2nd, completely revised edition, ISBN 3-11-022248-5 , Volume 3: Gert van der Schüren - Hildegard von Bingen. Berlin / New York 1981, Col. 1015 f.
  3. a b c René Descartes : Meditationes de prima philosophia. 1641.
  4. ^ Plato : Phaedo.
  5. ^ Saul A. Kripke : Naming and Necessity . Blackwell Pub., Oxford 1981, ISBN 0-631-12801-8 .
  6. Karl Popper , John Carew Eccles : The I and its brain. 8th edition. Piper, Munich a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-492-21096-1 .
  7. Roger Penrose : Shadows of the Mind : Paths to a New Physics of Consciousness ; Translated from English by Anita Ehlers. Heidelberg etc., Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, cop. 1995, ISBN 3-86025-260-7 - see in particular Chapter 7: " Quantum Theory and the Brain ".
  8. Tegmark, M .: Importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes . In: Physical Review E . 61, No. 4, 2000, pp. 4194-4206. arxiv : quant-ph / 9907009 . bibcode : 2000PhRvE..61.4194T . doi : 10.1103 / PhysRevE.61.4194 .
  9. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz : Monadology. 1714.
  10. Frank Cameron Jackson : What Mary didn't know. In: Journal of Philosophy 1986, pp. 291-295.
  11. ^ David J. Chalmers : The Conscious Mind. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996, ISBN 0-19-511789-1 .
  12. ^ David J. Chalmers: Philosophy of Mind - Classical and Contemporary Readings. (Ed.) Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-19-514581-X .
  13. ^ Jon Ringen: Radical Behaviorism: BF Skinner's Philosophy of Science . In: William O'Donohue, Richard Kitchene (Eds.): Handbook of Behaviorism . 1st edition. Academic Press, London 1998, ISBN 978-0-12-524190-8 , pp. 159-178 .
  14. ^ Mark R. Dixon, Linda J. Hayes: A behavioral analysis of dreaming . In: The Psychological Record . tape 49 , no. 4 , 1999, p. 613-627 .
  15. Ullin Place : Is Consciousness a Brain Process? In: British Journal of Psychology 1956.
  16. ^ John Smart : Sensations and Brain Processes In: Philosophical Review 1956.
  17. ^ A b Hilary Putnam : Psychological Predicates. In: W. H. Captain (Ed.): Art, Mind and Religion , Pittsburgh 1967, pp. 37-48.
  18. ^ Donald Davidson : Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1980, ISBN 0-19-924627-0 .
  19. The most detailed discussion of the topic in German can be found in: Achim Stephan: Emergence: From the unpredictability to self-organization. Mentis, 3rd edition. 2007, ISBN 978-3-89785-439-0 .
  20. ^ Paul Churchland : Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes . In: Journal of Philosophy 1981, pp. 67-90.
  21. Patricia Churchland : Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. MIT Press, Cambridge MA 1986, ISBN 0-262-03116-7 .
  22. Avijjapaccaya Sutta. on: (German)
  23. Understanding the Mind: The Nature and Power of the Mind. 2nd Edition. Tharpa Publications , 1997, ISBN 0-948006-78-1 .
  24. Ludwig Wittgenstein : Philosophical Investigations . 1954.
  25. ^ Max Bennett, Peter Hacker : Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Blackwell Pub, Oxford 2003, ISBN 1-4051-0838-X .
  26. ^ Hilary Putnam: The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body, and World. John Dewey Essays in Philosophy. Columbia University Press, New York 2000, ISBN 0-231-10286-0 .
  27. Dirk Hartmann : Physis and Psyche - The body-soul problem as a result of the hypostatization of theoretical constructs. In: Dieter Sturma (Ed.): Philosophy and Neurosciences. ( stw 1770 ). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006, pp. 97–123, especially Chapter 3 The mind-body problem as a consequence of naturalistic fallacies. Pp. 105-111.
  28. Heinz-Dieter Heckmann, Sven Walter (Ed.): Qualia. Selected contributions. Mentis, Paderborn 2001, ISBN 3-89785-184-9 (an anthology with many classical texts)
  29. Erwin Schrödinger recognizes in the question: "Which material processes are directly linked to consciousness?" The basic problem of all considerations about "spirit and matter" (see 1st chapter of his book of the same name).
  30. ^ Daniel C. Dennett : The intentional stance. 7. printing. MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 1998, ISBN 0-262-54053-3 (This and the following two sources are classic texts of the intentionality debate.)
  31. Jerry Fodor : Psychosemantics. The problem of meaning in the philosophy of mind. 3. print. MIT Press, Cambridge 1993, ISBN 0-262-06106-6 .
  32. John Searle : Intentionality. A Treatise on the Philosophy of Mind. Reprint Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-518-28556-4 .
  33. Erwin Schrödinger: What is life? Looking at the living cell through the eyes of the physicist. Introduction by Ernst Peter Fischer . Munich, Piper, 1987, ISBN 3-492-03122-6 . - Epilogue: On determinism and free will. P. 148.
  34. Roger Penrose: Shadows of the Mind , Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 1995, Chapter 4.1: The Mind and the Laws of Nature
  35. Max Tegmark: Life 3.0
  36. ^ Max Tegmark: Consciousness as a state of matter. In: Chaos, Solitons & Fractals . Volume 76, 2015, pp. 238-270. DOI: 10.1016 / j.chaos.2015.03.014 .
  37. Masafumi Oizumi, Larissa Albantakis, Giulio Tononi: From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0 . In: PLoS Computational Biology . tape 10 , no. 5 , May 8, 2014, ISSN  1553-7358 , p. e1003588 , doi : 10.1371 / journal.pcbi.1003588 , PMID 24811198 , PMC 4014402 (free full text).
  38. Larissa Albantakis, William Marshall, Erik Hoel, Giulio Tononi: What Caused What? A quantitative Account of Actual Causation Using Dynamical Causal Networks . In: Entropy . tape 21 , no. 5 , May 2, 2019, ISSN  1099-4300 , p. 459 , doi : 10.3390 / e21050459 ( [accessed May 15, 2019]).
  39. Gerhard Roth : The brain and its reality. Cognitive Neurobiology and its Philosophical Consequences. 6th edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-518-58183-X .
  40. Manfred Spitzer : Self-determination. Brain research and the question: what should we do? , 2003 (The book also repeats some parts of the learning that is somewhat deeper for didacticians . Brain research and the school of life , 2002)
  41. ^ JM Luce: Chronic disorders of consciousness following coma: Part one: medical issues. In: Chest. Volume 144, Number 4, October 2013, pp. 1381-1387, doi: 10.1378 / chest.13-0395 , PMID 24081351 (review).
  42. [1]
  43. ^ Daniel C. Dennett: Elbow Room : The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting. Bradford Books-MIT Press, Cambridge MA 1984, ISBN 0-262-54042-8 .
  44. Immanuel Kant : Critique of Pure Reason .