"If a lion could speak, we cannot understand it" - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Machines vs Chaos of Human Language

Mathematical Consensus

Is a proof still valid if only the author understands it?

And numerous related posts as well as much of the intuition and language tags.

I think I finally get where Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument comes from. There is this idea that no proof can be proven to be correct, that is: any attempt to prove the correctness of a Proof, will invariably lead to an infinite regress of proofs. However this is not a problem since human beings has the capacity to intuitively grasp the correctness of a proof...

What is the connection with PLA? If a mind developed in total separation from all others, like with a lion and humans, it could not find the commonalities incumbent to a mutual language. Therefore, the very fact of mutual intelligibility, of humans understanding each other, is proof that they 'share a piece of mind'.

Now there is two ways in which that may be realized:

  1. Duplication, by a similar and parallel process to generational DNA transfer. Here evolutionary effects can occur, yet leave an intact lineage to the very first Mind.
  2. If Mind is something Immaterial and Formal, then the physical similarities of human brains could support Instantiation of the one (formal) Mind.

In either case there can be no private language since there exist only different perspectives of the 'public' language, that at root is understood by all, through the same recognition (intuition).

Question: Is there any (other) philosophers who have held Mind as a unitary aspect of experience?

Bonus questions: Is this portrayal of Wittgenstein's belief accurate? and; If there is only one mind, how can we share/imbue it with a machine?

  • I guess Wittgenstein himself never would consider anything Formal. Formal is just an abstraction. The one that takes similarities between many things and becomes a template. Pattern of thinking.
    – rus9384
    Jan 9, 2019 at 7:18
  • yes...its been discussed by various philosophical systems in the East for ages. You might enjoy reading this - archive.org/details/IndianPhilosophyACriticalSurvey Jan 10, 2019 at 6:35

3 Answers 3


Have you considered that the answer could very well be 'both and neither of the above'?

From a point of view of someone like Ken Wilbur, thinking is layered, and each layer contains isolated parts that are united by connections that are only available in higher layers.

  • Thinking itself takes place by activation of multiple brain sites and is coordinated along parallel threads of narrative.
  • Those are unified by unconscious and conscious processes of maintenance and editing.
  • Those processes each cohere into a greater whole with a sense of its own identity as the narratives' subject.
  • Those greater wholes are unified and aware of a larger network of information and powers provided by a physical body.
  • That body is initially bound relatively close and takes most of its unconscious assumptions from one or two other bodies for the first several years of life.
  • Those small collections of bodies with minds are connected to larger ones.
  • This goes on up, to societies, the species, our interactions with other species in a global network, etc.

At each level, there is additional processing power leveraged by the connections between larger complexes of ideas, powers or sensations. The thoughts that occur in a larger collective are not properly part of any given smaller part, because they span several such parts. Your family makes decisions that no one of you really makes. Your culture decides on mores and trends that none of you choose, etc.

At every level what is happening is loosely characterized by a different take on one of Wittgenstein's 'language games', a competitive and cooperative negotiation necessary to maintain interaction and prevent the cycles of communication from disintegrating and isolating the participants, which would kill the being that is the next level of complexity. Each level has a language that continues to exist only as long as the process of negotiation continues. (The PLA is just the observation that such a thing would no longer be a language if the process ended because meaning is usage no one would use it.)

A similar notion of group minds is inherent in the Tavistock tradition that has grown out of the work of Wilbur Bion. Ideas move and exist between minds. Experientially in therapeutic groups, we see that some ideas and patterns of expectation are only accessible when certain groups of people are together, and that implies there is a broader thinking process working across multiple people, at numerous levels.

An alternate framing includes the Gaia Movement's notion that the planet is a being made of beings (species and ecosystems) made of beings (individual animals) made of beings (cells)...

And another is Terrence McKenna's view of Hermeticism and his theory of the Convergent Eschaton, which suggests a kind of neo-Hegelian view -- that these levels of mind are meant to slowly flatten out into a single combined mind which can be fully conscious on all these levels.

All this seems pointlessly spooky and overall redundant, but there is a point to enumerating these levels and giving the complicated answer of 'both and neither' instead of seeing this all connected and saying 'one'. If there is a single mind, it does not have access to much of itself most of the time. So there is a question: Why doesn't a single overarching clear mind like the one imagined by George Berkeley emerge to dominate and organize the mess?

Following the boundaries and enumerating the parts can elucidate why the workings of a single mind are not obvious: The four approaches give four different answers: it would be too complex, or too subject to being highjacked and dominated by a single idea or structure, or it has too many things to do or we are just not ready.

  • I frequently answer problems with: "Neither but both"! - Where does "'both and neither'" come from?
    – christo183
    Jan 9, 2019 at 6:07
  • Isn't this approach biased to a computational theory of mind? And does anyone anticipate that "a single overarching clear mind" may not make itself known to us lower denizens, or may be in principle incomprehensible/undetectable to us.
    – christo183
    Jan 9, 2019 at 6:22
  • I don't see what psychological observations have to do with computation. If you don't think the mind is psychological in nature, and causes the things we observe in psychology, then you need a genuine theory of why those things exist. This presumes the mind is a part of nature. If it isn't, then what is nature?
    – user9166
    Jan 9, 2019 at 16:36
  • And of course, to whatever degree these higher minds exist, they are not comprehensible to us, at least at present, or we would not have to discover them by inference, we would observe them more directly. If they are undetectable, then again, what is your reason for imagining they exist? Why bother? You are back to Kant's dodge. If you theorize something that you cannot know anything about, you are wrong to think you even know it exists, because that is something about it.
    – user9166
    Jan 9, 2019 at 16:41
  • Computational theory of mind holds that the brain is an algorithmic device and 'mind' is emergent from the natural structure and operation of the brain. 'Higher minds' may then also emerge from larger scale interaction of algorithmic structures, (like Hofstadter's ant colony). Computational theory is thus a physicalist view. You are correct in that higher minds should be incomprehensible to us, but if they are computational then at least we may be able to detect when common algorithms are utilized. Of coarse a higher mind may still choose to avoid detection by using algorithms we can't fathom.
    – christo183
    Jan 10, 2019 at 4:42

If I understand you correctly this is a common view. For instance, Empedocles, Kant, Hegel, Bradley, Sheldrake, the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Plotinus and the Perennial philosophy share it in some form. Some argue that the 'logical' and mathematical nature of the universe indicates the work of this common mind. A complication would be the distinction between Mind and Consciousness but it is often proposed that all minds have a common source. A well-used metaphor for our individual minds is whirlpools in a stream.

There are some subtleties here when it comes to question of who is the subject of experience but the idea, in one form or another, that our minds arise from a common root in consciousness by way of a common level of mind is widespread.

I don't think Mind being one or many makes any difference to the possibility of sharing it with a machine.

  • I think there is also the nuance of: Mind as a (inert) collective of formal structures, vs. Mind as a computationally active object with the capacity to mirror and operate on external phenomena. - As to mind bearing machines: in the Realization no.1 there is an implication of an 'organic' link between mind-carrying matter, of course that doesn't preclude humanity from creating a first generation in the vein of Realization no.2
    – christo183
    Jan 8, 2019 at 12:26

Is this portrayal of Wittgenstein's belief accurate?

Not exactly. Wittgenstein so-called Private Language Argument is not so much about "mind" and "self" but about the "social" nature of language.

See Phil.Inv. :

§256. Now, what about the language which describes my inner experiences and which only I myself can understand?

§261. What reason have we for calling "S" [an arbitrary sign] the sign for a sensation? For "sensation" is a word of our common language, not of one intelligible to me alone. So the use of this word stands in need of a justification which everybody understands. [...] But such a sound is an expression only as it occurs in a particular language-game, which should now be described.

§264. "Once you know what the word stands for, you understand it, you know its whole use."

§272. The essential thing about private experience is really not that each person possesses his own exemplar, but that nobody knows whether other people also have this or something else. The assumption would thus be possible —though unverifiable— that one section of mankind had one sensation of red and another section another.

§329. When I think in language, there aren't 'meanings' going through my mind in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought.

IMO, here is the point : PLA is not aimed at discussing what "mind" is, but at supporting the view that there is no "private" thinking that we translate into words.

What there is is "public" language.

§339. Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and which it would be possible to detach from speaking, rather as the Devil took the shadow of Schlemiehl from the ground.

§340. One cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that.

More specifically about the title question :

Is there many minds or one?

the basic concepts of mature Witgensein are : Meaning as Use and Language-games and Rule-following and Grammar and Form of Life: all point towards the public (i.e. intersubjective, social) nuture of language.

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