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I'd intended this as a comment on another answer, but apparently I'm too new for comments? So if this is the wrong spot hopefully they'll move this.

I have some experience with metaphysics, less with philosophy of mind, but this has always seemed unclear to me -- you see discussions of mental states that contrast unconscious processes like breathing with conscious process like, for example deliberation.

I just read on another post that surprise and anger are described as mental states, sometimes in the literature it seems like these are things that mental states are, but sometimes they seem like properties that mental states have. So, for example, deliberation might be angry, but it couldn't be anger. So are deliberation and anger thought to be just different kinds of mental states, or is there some other relation between them?

I've read that representational content is 'fundamental' to mental states, but they never go all the way to differentiate between the content on your mental sketchboard, and the content in your view (for example the sandwich on the table that's working it's way into my mind as I try to figure out what to type). So are these also mental states?

I've been reading a thing about mental states supervening on other states, but realised I've never been sure just what a mental state exactly is, so I'd appreciate any wisdom on this, thanks.

  • The psychology and neuroscience SE might also have people who can define mental state from that perspective. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Nov 1 '18 at 0:03
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    Please look at SEP on Mental States, it might help. – Conifold Nov 1 '18 at 0:40
  • That is a super helpful article, thanks. So there are mental representations, some are visual and some are purely internal. Things like anger and surprise are mental states and as such are relations on representations. They didn't address mental actions, I guess you'd say, like deliberation or legitimation...seems awkward to say that those are relations to a representation the same way emotional states are? – Dave Nov 1 '18 at 0:51
  • Sentience. Humans have their 'feelings' incorporated into their thinking and deliberations. Not all of how and what we feel, is aligned with what and how we think. A mental state that is based off current emotional / physical triggers, reduces to seeking causality and balance. A deliberate mental state, based on connective and active thinking processes /models, relates more to representational models and the subsequent abstractions. 'Mind' often refers to reflective considerations. Mental States is an inclusive reference to both sentient (feelings), and deliberate (mindful consideration). – Norman Edward Nov 1 '18 at 8:56
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    Mental acts are discussed in SEP Actions. – Conifold Nov 1 '18 at 17:49
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Of note also is that sub-conscious states are by nature difficult to identify, though we have uncovered some by means of advanced tech (fMRI, etc.) But given the early stages of working out (if its possible) the brain-mind thing, it's reasonable to believe that there are many more states and types of states still unknown.

There is also a distinction to be made between "state of mind" and "brain state". Take "anger", we experience it as a mental "state" but the brain activity to sustain anger, is in fact a process; neural pathways with feedback loops, tie ins with memory, cognition and so forth. "Anger" is in fact an abstraction of a time series, of brain states.

  • So would you call a mental action like deliberation a state of mind then, possibly amenable to the same type of analysis you gave 'anger'? – Dave Nov 1 '18 at 12:44
  • A mind process as opposed to a 'mind' state. From a brain perspective both are process, only (presumably) differing in complexity. "Anger" can also be characterized as a "mind influence", able to change mind processes. Thus there is a link to the "mind-body problem" philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/mind-body coupled with the immaturity of neuro- and cognitive science... Bottom line is, our terminology are abstractions of "things", we don't understand very well at all. – christo183 Nov 2 '18 at 6:31
  • @christo183 - I'd suggest that mental states are also processes but just named differently. If all one had was an instant to work with then anger would be impossible. It would not make much sense if brains had processes in the absence of states and minds had states.in the absence of processes. Seems to me that at a conventional level both have processes as successions of states.and states as snapshots of processes. Just pondering out loud. – PeterJ Jan 2 at 16:28
  • @PeterJ If we accept the mind as brain linked rather than product of brain function then yes, it would be reasonable to expect a mirroring and duplication of states and processes. On the other hand if we believe the mind is just a brain function, then brain states and processes are only 'accessible' to the mind if specifically so expressed. Think of how software could know that the processor clock speed has changed without reference to an external time base... – christo183 Jan 2 at 18:46
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    @christo183 - It seems to me that if we take away all mental events then this may be a mind-state, or even an absence of mind-state, but ordinarily our mind-states are unstable even for a second. This would be why as we move our consciousness into the present moment our mind starts to become still, a home-experiment anyone can try. But we';d better stop. I expect you'd;agree it's all a matter of definitions and terminologies. – PeterJ Jan 2 at 20:08
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The links provided in the comments on the OP are good. You should study them carefully at look at the literature they cite.

So, for example, deliberation might be angry, but it couldn't be anger. So are deliberation and anger thought to be just different kinds of mental states, or is there some other relation between them?

I don't see why we can't say both. Can some mental processes (e.g. deliberation) be angry? Sure, in which case anger in this sense is a property of certain mental processes. Can you be angry that P? Of course, in which case anger in this sense is a propositional attitude. There are two different properties here, insofar as the first is instantiated by mental processes and the second is a relation between an entity and some content. But they plausibly bear some resemblance to each other, which partly explains why we can use the same name for them.

I've been reading a thing about mental states supervening on other states, but realised I've never been sure just what a mental state exactly is, so I'd appreciate any wisdom on this, thanks.

It's unlikely that you'll find a generally agreed upon characterization of mental states that goes beyond something like 'a mental state is a property (or process) instantiation'. The notion of a mental state is something of a term of art in contemporary philosophy of mind (it's quasi-technical, at least), so you'll have different philosophers characterizing the notion in different ways in order to address different questions.

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