How We Think (2)

Continuing my reverie on thinking: left mystified by the existence of the incorporeal mind, I turn to . . .

Fact and Judgment

In college, I first encountered physicalists, those who believe that the only reality is physical, that which is touchable, countable, concrete, available to the senses. Even back then, I was an artist and could not accept a philosophy that denied the aesthetic experience initiated by music, poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, dance, and theater. I knew instinctively that my reaction to, say, a Bach fugue went far beyond the mere physical sounds.

Over time, I came to understand that physical facts alone are, by themselves, dead. In and of themselves, they convey nothing.  They are meaningless because the human mind has not interpreted them. In other words, the mind creates meaning.

Even in the most material of all disciplines, mathematics, the numbers themselves are a creation of the human intellect. Objects in nature don’t count themselves. Human beings count them. And every mathematical function is a function of the human mind. Two plus two do not by themselves equal four. They only do so when human intelligence combines them.

In the same way, facts alone tell us nothing. It is only when we human beings parse them, relate them to one another, in short, create meaning for them, that they come together in ways that allow us to draw conclusions.

That leads to the subject of importance, a quality that exists only in human cognition, not at all within the facts themselves. Whether a fact or the meaning we impart to it is important is a matter of judgment, and judgment exists only in the human mind.

I realize that this discussion has gotten awfully philosophical, and I’m not a trained philosopher. What’s important to me is to comprehend all over again that the largest and most important part of human experience has no physical existence. It is the province of the mind. Some refer to it as the spirit or the soul. Put differently, it is only when the mind creates meaning that the empty facts take on life.

More tomorrow.

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