A Theory of the Mind, Ideas, etc.

by Peter

This project all started with that modest post back in December entitled “It Occurred to Me…“. Since then, I’ve been on and off obsessed with the fact that I don’t know from whence most of my ideas come. After some brief email correspondence with a couple of friends who were interested in the topic of my post, I formulated the following theory in an attempt to explain the way the mind and the realm of thought generally work. It’s very attractive to me as a theory, and I think I currently hold it or something like it as my opinion on the topic. However, I’ve never heard it suggested by anyone else before, and I don’t take that as a good sign. Then again, I may be saying nothing new and therefore demonstrating my ignorance. It may be nothing but rubbish, but it was certainly fun rubbish to come up with (or come across or be given or whatever). So, whether for entertainment value or for a serious exploration of the way the mind works, I present you with this, my reasonable speculation. Take it for what you will.


Thought has its own mode of existence, separate from the mode of material, sensible things. That is, ideas are completely different from sensations. This is demonstrated by the fact that one can have an idea of something without a sensation of it (as, for instance, when dealing with mathematics). Humans interact with both of these modes of existence: the sensible and the intelligible. It is by the means of our senses that we perceive and interact with the sensible world. It is by the means of our intellect or mind that we perceive and interact with the intelligible world.

Now, just as there are existent material things (and beings) that we perceive by way of our senses but which are independent of our senses, there are existent intelligible things (and beings?) that exist independently but that our minds have a sensory-like capacity to perceive. These intelligible things (which it would be tempting to call forms or ideas or some other such overused and jumbled terms, but which, for the sake of distinctness, I will call intelligibles) exist separately from each other but with definite relations to each other. These intelligibles are particular things rather than  universals. Some of them have properties of universality, but they are particular and finite. (Perhaps our universals are more properly derived from the relationships between these intelligibles.)

Our minds can therefore scan “areas” or “fields” (pardon the extension-depedent metaphors) of these intelligibles and be more likely thereafter to perceive related intelligibles. Now, just as with sight, which has a defined field of vision, there is a definite maximum area that is possible for anyone to perceive with their mind at any given time, and within that area, one is able to focus closely or widely, to take in a little or a lot.

One may rightly wonder what is within our minds, if these intelligibles that our minds perceive are independent of us. Surely the memory, for example, is inside us. Indeed it is. According to this theory, the memory operates in the following manner: upon the mind’s perception of intelligibles, memories of these perceptions are stored within that faculty of our minds known as our memory. (duh.) The mind is able to scan and perceive the memory in a way similar (if not identical) to the way that it perceives the intelligible world. The difference between the contents of the memory and the intelligibles lies in the memory’s relativity and particularity. The memory and all its contents is entirely attached to a person, whether any given particular memory is being perceived or not.

The memory may be thought of as a map or replica of the greater realm of intelligibles, insofar as it has been perceived by the person, with fields of memories to correspond to the fields of intelligibles. The memory is often perceived concurrently with the perception of the intelligibles. It is simply another thing in the intelligible world (though it is that intelligible thing which is attached to us) that our minds are capable of perceiving.

Now, both the intelligibles and the memories may be obscured from the mind’s direct perception for a number of reasons some of which are as follows: (1) the mind may be weak either by nature or ill use (as with the eyes or ears), (2) the mind may not be accustomed to perceiving intelligibles or memories of one sort or another (often due to an immoderate habituation toward perceiving one sort of something to the exclusion of others), (3) the intelligibles or memories may be hidden behind other memories or intelligibles, or (4) a being may be concealing an intelligible or a memory.

Both the intelligibles and  memories may be brought forward for the mind to perceive in a number of ways some of which are as follows: (1) the mind may be directed toward the field in which that intelligible or memory is, (2) some being may move the mind to be directed at a particular intelligible or memory or a particular field of intelligibles or memories, or (3) some intelligible or memory in the periphery of the mind’s perception may be so striking as to cause the mind to be distracted from its current subject and turn to the striking intelligible or memory (as with a bright color or a loud noise).

The perceptions of these intelligibles and of our memory make up our thoughts, whether correct or incorrect. We come into error in ways normal to limitedness: by perceiving too little and thinking it enough, by failing to perceive the relationship between things or by imagining relationships where they do not properly belong, by thinking too little or too much of any given perception, or by taking an obscure perception to be clear (or vice versa).

The mind is also, at times, able to perceive the person whose it is and is certainly affected directly though perhaps not consciously by that person (by the desires, emotions, drives, chemical properties, loves, aversions, ambitions, hopes, reputation, self-idea, self-ideal, etc.) This perceiving and this being affected account for the greater part of what is thought of as the subconsious.

Also of interest, the mind freely (that is, undirectedly) exploring these somethings may account for our dreams.

Now, there is in addition to all these perceptions a creative work of the mind. The primary result of this creative work is articulation, but that is not the full extent of the creative capacity. Art, such as poetry and paintings, is at times the most appropriate thing to call “inspired.” The artist will say that he was given the poem or he stumbled upon the painting, or something like that, and authors of novels will often find themselves carried along by their stories.

This is accounted for in two ways: first, because the unarticulated matter of some art may be included in the intelligibles before the author articlates it, and the artist may be led to perceive it or stumble upon it. Second, because the creation of art is a twofold creation: (1) the creation of a tangible and beautiful articulation (such as a sculpture or painting or poem or novel or symphony) and (2) the creation of an intelligible that stands in particular relation to all the other intelligibles. The articulation invites its viewers to perceive the new intelligible and, in perceiving it, have access to a whole new field of intelligibles or to a familiar field of intelligibles from a new perspective.

Once an intelligible has been created and is in its place in relation to all the other intelligibles (both the other humanly created ones and the many not-humanly created ones), it begins to have laws that govern it (this is necessarily and self-evidently the case in that it has relations) from which the artist is unable to depart if he is to be true to his art. Thus, the novelist being drawn along by his story. However, the artist is still able to form the intelligible even after its initial creation; it is just that those parts of the intelligible already formed are impossible to reform without the changing of the intelligible itself. Hence the ability of an author to construct a, say, seven book series of one story in which he or she is able to craft each book to his or her liking, but is unable to change what a certain character does at any given moment.

Now these two explanations may or may not coincide. When they coincide, I imagine that it may be explained something like this: the artist is shown or comes upon a space that requires or invites an intelligible and stands in relation to all the other intelligibles. This space is “shaped” (yet another extension metaphor… I don’t know how else to speak. The intelligibles are not extended.) in a certain way, and so calls for a certain sort of intelligible. Alternatively, the artist is shown or comes upon an intelligible that may still be shaped in some ways and proceeds to shape it. I think that my semester crunch time poem may be something like this… the line, “pushed by the pull, I, panicked, careen” very much came to me, and I formed the rest of the poem around it. There were a number of lines, however, that I attempted to use that would not “fit” with the rest of the poem until it ended up in its final shape. As soon as it was a complete intelligible, I went around inviting other people to look at it as well through my articulation, which acted something like a lens for their minds.

Art does not only serve the mind, obviously, but since it is about the mind that I am talking, my exploration of art as a subject is limited to it. For a very quick overview of how the sentiments, etc. are involved in the creation or viewing of art, I will briefly (I hope) show the couple of different possibilities that I imagine for their involvement in relation to this theory. Either the act of creating art is simply a very complicated business, involving this theory in addition to all the senitments, etc. or the sentiments and other mind/heartish faculties all work together to perceive these somethings (along with the rest of the sensible world, of course. The mind can dwell on a sensible thing like a leaf or a face just as well as it can dwell on one of these somethings. So could the sentiments, etc.) This is an undeveloped part of my theory, but I could expound on it more if we ever decided to pursue it.

Thus concludes a very rough sketch of the theory. Each of its parts could be and should be expanded on, but this is a post and not a book, so I will leave my expansions for email responses and future posts.

One of the reasons that I find this theory so attractive is that I have not yet found a way to get around Spinoza, Hume, or Kant if our thoughts, etc. are indeed entirely internal. It is difficult thing to get out of oneself if we are forced to start within ourselves. Perhaps I have not worked it out well or thoroughly, but it seems like the more we yield to the subconscious, the less we can be sure of the external. I would love to be corrected here.

One of the areas in which my theory is weakest is that of mental “chatter.” I want to eventually articulate an expansion of the theory that admits internal dialogue as a separate activity of the mind altogether and more directly related to subconscious-like faculties.

Ideas at times seem to come out of nowhere. Most theorists that I have come in contact with have either said that they arise from within (Locke, etc.) or that they appear from without (Augustine, etc.). I think that this theory is, perhaps a third possibility. Or a combination of the two. Or something like that. On the whole, I find it more capable of explaining every instance of thought than either of those more propounded two.

So, there it was. Congratulations go to anyone who slogged through the whole tedious mass of it. I hope it proves to be half as interesting to others in its articulation as it has been to me in its formulation. Particular thanks should go to Amy  for the correspondences we had on the topic; she will probably recognize a majority of this content from our emails, and most of the work was done at her prompting and problematizing.

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