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I recently asked about the argument for proving the existence of other minds. This argument is called the best explanation argument. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/#BestExpl

Could you explain what it means that other people also have minds? Does this mean that other people also have consciousnesses, feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories, sensations? Or is it only about minds?

As I understand it, there are a lot of meanings for what "mind" is. But what interests me is exactly what "other minds" means in the better explanation argument and in the argument from analogy.

Or are there any separate arguments to prove that other people also have feelings, thoughts, emotions, sensations, consciousnesses?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 21, 2022 at 9:10
  • There is the claim that There are other minds. Then there are the arguments (someone mentioned arguments from analogy). Which of these do you have a problem with? Guru Google should be consulted ASAP. Jun 18, 2023 at 4:07

4 Answers 4

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I believe there's some over-thinking going on in this question. But I'll put things as simply as possible. Consider the following:

  • As a matter of subjective experience, one has thoughts, feelings, emotions, reactions, memories, a sense of will, etc: an assortment of experiences that one interprets as a 'mind' in action. Let's call this 'one' being 'I' (as a matter of convenience).
  • As a matter of subjective experience, 'I' perceives other objects that are in all ways similar to the object 'I' perceives as itself. These objects have the same basic body plan and the same sort of face; they make the same sorts of noises 'I' makes; they do the same sorts of behaviors 'I' does. They seem to belong to the same category of objects that 'I' belongs to.
  • Since 'I' and these objects all apparently belong to the same category, it is natural to assert that they share the same qualities and properties. Therefore, 'I' naturally asserts that these other objects experience 'mind' in the same sense that 'I' experiences 'mind'.
  • However, 'I' cannot directly experience the 'minds' of these other objects. This creates the possibility of a category error:
    • 'I' may be in a separate category as the only object with an experience of 'mind' (solipsism, perhaps with philosophical zombies)
    • 'I' may be in the same category with these other objects, each of which has its own experience of 'mind' (other minds)
    • 'Mind' may be a transcendent property shared among all these objects, including 'I' (panpsychism)
    • The experience of 'mind' may be an epiphenomena or false perception, meaning that no objects — including 'I' — have 'mind' (reductive nihilism)

That last issue motivates a lot of acute philosophical work (not to mention an immense amount of intellectual maundering). Does that clear things up?

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  • in this article plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/#BestExpl the best explanation argument goes like this: The best explanation for the behavior we observe in other people is that other people also have minds, feelings, thoughts, sensations, emotions, memories, consciousnesses, perceptions, and other mental factors.
    – Johnny
    Jan 20, 2022 at 17:25
  • @Johnny: yes. But that is just an explanation-a theory-not an empirical fact. Jan 20, 2022 at 18:02
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In short it means, have a mind like you have, because the framing of the problem assumes you have direct & certain access to that. The Best Explanation argument follows Occam's Razor, that other people genuinely do have inaccessible interior experiences of themselves like you do of yourself, explains the phenomena we encounter comprehensively in the simplest way.

Of course there are problems to this, because there is an implicit assumption that the person making and the person reading the argument, have sufficient in common for it to make sense. I'd look to the Private Language argument, to understand how the domain of communication is the domain of shared experiences, through engagement in shared modes of life.

As it puts it though in the SEP article 'Other Minds' introduction:

"At a superficial glance it can look as if there is agreement about what the problem is and how we might address it. But on closer inspection one finds there is little agreement either about the problem or the solution to it. Indeed, there is little agreement about whether there is a problem here at all."

I would add to the discussion there, the biological indications given by the Dunbar Number, that our neocortex evolved not primarily from general problem solving, but for determining the intentions of others, in a feedback process that resulted in our social self, associated with the Default Mode Network.

More generally I would look to the role of intersubjectivity, the ability to imagine ourselves in the position of others, as the basis for sharing learning, language, and culture. Discussed here: According to the major theories of concepts, where do meanings come from?

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It seems to me that a mind (any mind) outside of one's own, would be the other minds, as they are not your own regardless of the level of functionability. However, your own can be an 'other mind' as well. Such as when one is 'out of one's mind' or being of a 'split mind' or a 'changed mind' etc. There are other scenarios in addition to these. I would say then that the answer would be better assessed within the context it is questioned at the time. Or it may depend ,in order to extrapolate the intentions of this, on where, or on what matter, etc, your mind may be.? I feel you may need to make up your mind on this. I hope you don't mind.

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  • If you have not already, you may want to take a look into solipsism, or the position that only one's own mind is sure to exist.
    – Michael
    Feb 3, 2022 at 23:07
  • @Michael, also, to offer me two cents, P-zombies and I would've liked to add a few other ideas, but that would merely muddy the waters rather than bring clarity to the matter. Feb 17, 2023 at 10:09
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Theory of Mind

Other minds are perceptions in the mind. The organic perception is that each biological body of an animal or human has a mind in that body and a body in that mind. The perception of a mind without a body in it is a disembodied mind. The perception of a body without a mind in it is a philosophical zombie (P-zombie) or machine that Marvel comics called a life model decoy (LMD). The idea of embodied or disembodied minds must be assumed to speculate or investigate folk psychology, mind-reading, also known as Theory of Mind (ToM).

https://iep.utm.edu/theomind/

Theory of Mind is the branch of cognitive science that investigates how we ascribe mental states to other persons and how we use the states to explain and predict the actions of those other persons. More accurately, it is the branch that investigates mindreading or mentalizing or mentalistic abilities. These skills are shared by almost all human beings beyond early childhood. They are used to treat other agents as the bearers of unobservable psychological states and processes, and to anticipate and explain the agents’ behavior in terms of such states and processes. These mentalistic abilities are also called “folk psychology” by philosophers, and “naïve psychology” and “intuitive psychology” by cognitive scientists.

It is important to note that Theory of Mind is not an appropriate term to characterize this research area (and neither to denote our mentalistic abilities) since it seems to assume right from the start the validity of a specific account of the nature and development of mindreading, that is, the view that it depends on the deployment of a theory of the mental realm, analogous to the theories of the physical world (“naïve physics”). But this view—known as theory-theory—is only one of the accounts offered to explain our mentalistic abilities. In contrast, theorists of mental simulation have suggested that what lies at the root of mindreading is not any sort of folk-psychological conceptual scheme, but rather a kind of mental modeling in which the simulator uses her own mind as an analog model of the mind of the simulated agent.

Both theory-theory and simulation-theory are actually families of theories. Some theory-theorists maintain that our naïve theory of mind is the product of the scientific-like exercise of a domain-general theorizing capacity. Other theory-theorists defend a quite different hypothesis, according to which mindreading rests on the maturation of a mental organ dedicated to the domain of psychology. Simulation-theory also shows different facets. According to the “moderate” version of simulationism, mental concepts are not completely excluded from simulation. Simulation can be seen as a process through which we first generate and self-attribute pretend mental states that are intended to correspond to those of the simulated agent, and then project them onto the target. By contrast, the “radical” version of simulationism rejects the primacy of first-person mindreading and contends that we imaginatively transform ourselves into the simulated agent, interpreting the target’s behavior without using any kind of mental concept, not even ones referring to ourselves.

Finally, the claim─common to both theorists of theory and theorists of simulation─that mindreading plays a primary role in human social understanding was challenged in the early 21st century, mainly by phenomenology-oriented philosophers and cognitive scientists.

Other Minds Arise as Products of an Unconscious Process

When you get a chance to do so, go outside, and place your thumb in front of the full moon. The image of the thumb obscures the image of the moon in two dimensions. This two dimensional image in the mind contradicts the perception in the mind that the thumb is small and nearby and the moon is large and far away. Helmholtz recognized this general pattern of contradiction and further argues that visual depth perception and perception of the speed of objects arises spontaneously as the product of an unconscious process. Today we call this type of pre-processing of conscious information a subconscious process. Helmholtz said these perceptions have the pattern of conscious inference, but do not involve conscious inferences, and therefore he called this general idea an unconscious inference. The conscious inference automatically arises as the product of an unconscious process.

Other minds arise this way too - as the conscious inference generated by a mysterious, unconscious, or subconscious process. Either the inference that other minds exist just pops up in the field of awareness or we associate it with a natural process that Helmholtz calls unconscious inference. When we observe dead animals or people; or symptoms such a brain death; we infer that a cognitive process is generating the other minds; which but for the cognitive process associated with a biological body there is no other mind. Based on these types of observations we infer that an unconscious biological process is also generating our mind. This is how we come to be convinced that our mind, and other minds, are products of a biological cognitive process.

Sigmund Freud speculates that the newborn ego (the conscious part of the newborn animal organism) does not yet form any distinction between ego and not-ego. Freud calls this conjecture "Primary Narcissism". This is a strange conjecture since the adult Sigmund Freud reports that he cannot remember the condition of his own newborn ego! I call this inability to know the character of my prior mind in early life "The Generation Gap". This is a lacuna or gap in the continuity of the mind itself!

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