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From a brief Google search I could not find any philosopher that has thought about whether or not the human mind is infinite. I have seen people assume that the mind is finite (like Descartes), but I have not actually seen anyone affirm the opposite. Why?

To me, it actually seems apparent that the mind is infinite (although still limited), but I cannot really think of any arguments as to why.

The mind can be infinite but limited in the same way a straight line is infinite, yet limited. A straight line extends infinitely in two directions, but if you pick any other direction the line is nowhere to be found.

The mind can be infinite in the sense that every idea (as it manifests in the mind) is infinite, and in order for the mind to deal with infinite ideas it has to itself be infinite. In what way can an idea be infinite? Well, ideas have a lot of nuance. Ideas that are seemingly simple turn out not to be that simple after all, especially when it comes to ideas that refer to real world objects or categories (or experiences, etc).

Categories can be very simple and easy to delimit. For example, consider the category of squares. A square is defined as a 2D polygon where the lines are orthogonal to each other and all lines have the same side. If something doesn't obey this definition, it is not a square. However, some categories can be harder to pin down. For example, how do you define a sport? Some people consider chess and football to be sports, yet they don't have much in common. It seems to me (although, I think that this is not possible to prove) that certain categories are so subtle that no matter how "much" information you keep adding to them, there are still objects that belong to that category that aren't properly described by the definition.

Now, the point of my question wasn't to prove that the mind has to be infinite, but rather to show that it can be infinite. If you accept that some categories are "vague", then it can be the case that some categories are so vague as to be wholly resistant to description.

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    "Mind is infinite" or "mind is finite" have no obvious meaning, so you should start by figuring out what you mean by that. Philosophers talk about "human finitude" in the sense of death or intellectual limitations, but since you admit limitations, apparently, your "infinite" means something else.
    – Conifold
    Apr 23 at 20:09
  • conversely, infinite consciousness is definitely a new age dictim, even'almost. i dislike your argument "why not", but hey
    – andrós
    Apr 23 at 20:10
  • @Conifold Lines are infinite in one dimension, but in other dimensions they are infinitely thin, or 0. So they are both infinite and limited.
    – Gabriel
    Apr 23 at 20:22
  • When I say the mind is infinite, it's because I think each thought or idea that a person has is itself infinite - you cannot "grasp" an idea or "subdivide" it. If you try to reduce the meaning of an idea to something - words, for example - you get nothing. It seems that each idea is resistant to finite description, i.e. you need an infinite number of words to properly express even a single idea. That is what I mean by minds being infinite.
    – Gabriel
    Apr 23 at 20:24
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    @Gabriel if it's not subdividable, why call that 'infinite' instead of 'atomic'? Why assume it's infinitely large, instead of the smallest unit possible?
    – TKoL
    Apr 23 at 21:50

8 Answers 8

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You suggestion is silly. You are assuming that minds are 'infinite' because you claim the expression of a single idea requires an infinite number of words, which is plainly wrong. I don't need an infinite number of words to express the idea of a brick dropped on my foot. Some ideas are ineffable, and you cannot describe them with complete precision no matter how many words you use.

The human mind has no infinite properties. My mind for example, is not infinite in size, does not have an infinite mass, does not have infinite capacity or complexity, does not have an infinite attention span, and certainly does not have the kind of infinite patience required to tolerate many of the questions on this site. I am not in the least surprised that you say you can't think of any reasons to support your supposition, as there are none.

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A possible definition of mind:

The human capability to process information.

  • In analogy to the processing power of a notebook or other smart systems one can ask for the processing power of the mind.

    The mental processes generate information by combining data, by evaluating data, creating simulations, etc. There are obvious key performance indicators and more refined indicators: Processor speed, storage capacity, degree of parallel processing, reliability, etc.

    None of these performance indicators has an arbitrary high numerical value, all values are bounded: At least from the bounded life span of a human being derive finite maximal values. In this numerical sense “the mind is finite”.

  • But the real problem behind your question is to find meaningful and measurable key performance indicators for the human mental capability.

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The Mind - is behind everything we know.

If we attribute to our universe an infinite quality, then, the mind behind this universe is also infinite.

On the other hand, if you think that the mind is a local physical anomaly, then the mind is not infinite.

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Finite.

Finite in size. Finite in capacity. Finite in processing speed. Finite in duration of existence. Finite in time.

Born, grow, die, done.

All evidence points to such. All confirmable observations confirm such. All we know about every other confirmable thing we have figured out to date reconciles with such. Forms a coherent conclusion with such.

No the mind is not infinite.

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  • But in order to make this argument you have to assume the mind is physical (and mechanical, as in a Turing machine or equivalent/less powerful), which if you do there's no reason to ask this question in the first place.
    – Gabriel
    Apr 24 at 13:36
  • Within my personal range of exposure and experiences includes communicating directly with individual isolated single human live brain-souced nerve cells. (Taken from recently deceased babies with the parents consent). I am in a position to speak somewhat on the nature of the brain and how the brain works in some specific ways. Chemically and electrically. I am not just pulling claims out of the air on a whim. (I was a computer programmer in the project, not the researcher). Still did what I said. Talked personally with brain cells... 1 at a time. Apr 24 at 14:35
  • Arguing from authority is not a great move :) I too have reason to think the mind isn't mechanical.
    – Gabriel
    Apr 24 at 14:38
  • "Talk" meaning stimulate with an electric probe and specific voltage and get specific response in an snalyzable wave form. Apr 24 at 14:39
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Infinite in extent? Hua-yen seems to say this (I can find a page number if you need that) about the function of mind, based on its metaphysics of interprenetration. Similarly, the Jewel Net of Indra supposes that to exist means to exist dependent on an infinite number of things; this is also a hua-yen mereological claim, and you can read about why a philosopher might believe its mereology.

My nose totally (not partially) causes (not produces but, apparently, Russell's version of causation, so perhaps counterfactual dependence: if I did not have a nose, then the rest of my body would not exist; similar then to existential dependence cited in Nagarjuna scholarship, at that moment - as there is no nose in the form realms e.g.) the whole body.

Mind you, any good hua-yen scholar would claim that when ignorance is extinguished - by contemplation of mind only - there is no consciousness: only thusness. So quite what you mean should be elaborated, I would claim.


Anyway, your claim, that every idea is infinite because no-one completely states it, is difficult to disprove, but I wonder if you think anything, assuming that everything you think is infinite and your processing powers are finite. I guess it would be kinda a super task

A supertask is a task that consists in infinitely many component steps, but which in some sense is completed in a finite amount of time

I'm a bit skeptical that your idea is actually infinite, rather than being potentially varied in an infinite number of ways, which I am also skeptical about, on the grounds that a self identical infinite thing might not even meet the defitnion of a "task".


It reminds me of the white bear psychology phenomena: you cannot stop thinking about an idea, but that is then inferred to be the essence of the idea of white bears. Absolutely absurd. Eventually everything stops, even for obsessives, so why think that it is infinte, except oops there I go thinking of white bears again.

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  • i'm confused by my last paragraph, but this is a philosophy forum iirc
    – andrós
    Apr 24 at 5:49
  • "every idea is infinite because no-one completely understands it" No, I didn't make that case. If you think about it, the difference between the ideas in our heads and the words that we use to describe these ideas is kinda like the difference between an irrational number (requires an infinite number of digits to write down) and a rational number (can be written down with a finite number of digits, for example as a fraction). For very simple things, definitions are more or less equivalent to the thing they describe: a square is a rectangle with four orthogonal sides of equal length...
    – Gabriel
    Apr 24 at 13:27
  • ..., every rectangle follows this definition - if something does not, it is not a rectangle. But how about less concrete things? What is a game or a sport for instance? Some people consider chess to be a sport for instance. Likewise 'football' is obviously a sport but football and chess don't really have much in common. How do you finitely describe the category of 'sport'? And if you do, how do you know you won't come across something that is obviously a sport but doesn't obey the definition you gave it?
    – Gabriel
    Apr 24 at 13:34
  • I admit there's a logical leap from here to saying that ideas have to be finite, because then you have to prove that (certain) definitions have to be infinitely appended to in order to describe the category they are meant to represent. I don't know how to erase that leap.
    – Gabriel
    Apr 24 at 13:35
  • afacit you are just asserting that every idea is infinte. maybe some are? "if you think about it an idea is infinite" doesn't make any sense. you can keep thinking about something. is that what you mean @Gabriel ?
    – andrós
    Apr 24 at 14:24
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Well, we can start from facts:

It is still not known for sure what the mind and consciousness are.

There are several theories about this, but the simplest is the one that says that the mind is the electrochemical interaction that occurs between neurons and the fragments of information that they possess.

In this case, the most analogous example is that of a computer and its transistors. Being that each part of the computer is equivalent to one of our body and that its hard drive, processor and memories are our mind.

This is how a computer/mind could theoretically be infinite. You could create a computer the size of a planet, or a solar system... Although I sense that at such large scales its thought processes would be as enormous as they were slow. After all, the speed of a thought is the same as that of an electrical impulse jumping from one neuron to another.

Now, if the mind is not intrinsically linked to the body and, in some way, is connected to the infinite plane of Plato's ideal, then it would be potentially as infinite as said plane of which the mind is a manifestation. Although if each mind only has access to a part of said plane, that already gives it the state of finitude.

I don't believe much in this second option, since it seems that, although there are humans more intelligent than others, we as a species cannot surpass a certain capacity barrier. Understand that knowledge is not the same as intelligence, although both are properties of the mind.

Knowledge is potentially infinite and humans accumulate and summarize it generation after generation. And, of course, there is no human in which all the knowledge developed by the species fits.

Intelligence is the ability to understand, relate, process and create information or knowledge. At least until now I don't think there is a human with the ability to consciously process all the information available. There are those people who have a perfect memory, but no matter how nice it sounds, that is considered more of a disease than a blessing, due to the great load of information it represents for a finite brain.

Now, why have philosophers hardly insisted on the theory of the infinite mind? Well, we live in a material world where demonstrating the finitude of finite beings like us is simple and because outside the field of abstract mathematics it has not been possible to achieve anything that is infinite in practice.

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Normally we think the mind exists in the body. But the sense of the body only exists in the mind. The logic seems recursive or paradoxical: Which comes first the body or the mind? The Buddha calls it body-mind.

Mystics have no problem asserting that the root of the mind is infinite:

https://youtu.be/FLkJ_fSqw00

When God speaks to Moses he says, "I Am What Is" or "I will be what will be!" If one realizes that our cognitive models of reality arise from the mysterious source of cause (Ocean of Being), and our models of reality may or may not correspond to actual attributes of reality, there is no paradox or illogical in that realization. It just defies efforts of logic or reason to describe the realization.

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To answer the why of your question, we can look at the obvious reasons:

-The number of philosophies that reject the existence of all that is immaterial, creates an problem between materialists and those that reject materialism. Some could perhaps come to common terms, yet, the materialist would claim that mind itself is solely physical. The most common rejection to this would be that the mind requires physical and metaphysical means, or material and immaterial means. Obviously, this is anti-materialism as it claims not all things can be reduced to mere physicality.

-Unfortunately, in today's day and age, we think that contradicting, fragmenting descriptions of things is "new and profound". Even if its total crap, we will claim that progress is defined by the positing of nonsense. Thus, how would we even define a mind objectively in the current state? Furthermore, how would we define the mind when physical sciences are becoming the new religion? It seems as if there is no way to truly define the mind, without eliminating some sort of immaterial aspect via using the modern sciences. So it seems.

In response to the infinite mind, lets look at two potential arguments.

  1. The mind is nothing but the brain, therefore, so long as the brain or brains themselves exist, the mind or minds themselves will exist.

  2. The mind is non-existent, therefore there is no way for there to be an infinite mind. We simply have brains and the brain and mind are differing concepts that lack compatibility.

  3. The mind is solely immaterial, as in consciousness. This obviously requires the acceptance that consciousness exists without the brain. Since the mind is as such, we can say that the mind is consciousness and if we can prove that consciousness is infinite, perhaps via means of energy, then we can confidently say that mind itself is infinite so long as energy exists.

  4. The mind is a product of the merging of both the material and the immaterial. For example, the brain is material, physical whereas consciousness is immaterial, metaphysical. Thus, when the brain and conscience merge together, in physical space, we see the expression that is the mind. This would imply that once the brain is dead, there is no mind rather consciousness. We could go further to say that consciousness is infinite whereas the mind is finite via this example.

  5. The mind is both material and immaterial, as in capable/is the brain and consciousness without the brain. Thus, if one is dead and their consciousness is still existent energetically, they will still hold a mind. Of course, implying that the mind is truly infinite.

These potential arguments do allow for the mind to be understood as infinite, while also showing potential rejections of such a claim. Personally, my favorite is that the mind is a product of the merging of both the material and the immaterial. This requires a dualistic view, which some find jarring as most "spiritual gurus" and even hard physicalists reduce themselves to a monistic view. They attempt to understand all things as one without paying reverence to the details that make things themselves individualistic. Plus, this argument creates a bridge between the "present life" and "after life" if you will, in turn allowing for cohesion conceptually at the least.

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