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Mind and consciousness must be clearly defined in academic research

Updated: May 14, 2020

As I read an article today titled Why does the mind wander?, I was wondering…

  • What is the mind that the author is referring to?

  • Where is that mind?

I enjoyed the article and recommend it to those interested in a scientific understanding of the mind, but after finishing it I still didn’t have answers to those pesky questions. I could probably conclude that the mind the article referred to could be defined as a personal mind comprised of thoughts, or maybe a “stream of consciousness”—perhaps, but I’m not sure. Herein lies a limitation with much of the research conducted today on mind and consciousness.

Researching mind and consciousness is not the same as researching the brain, or researching Mars. The brain and Mars can be indicated via standard objective descriptors used throughout science, including size, weight, color, and position. They can be dated to find a start date and potential end date. We cannot say the same for mind, which is inherently subjective, and by its nature challenges us to investigate our very classification of experiences as subjective and objective.

Not every article has to explore the ontology of mind, but our understanding of mind would greatly benefit if authors explicitly presented the definition of mind they are using when communicating. This gives the reader the opportunity to adopt the lens of the author while not being limited by it. It also encourages a broader view of the mind by making more explicit the different philosophical positions on what and where the mind is. The omission of such definitions gives the false impression, unintentionally or otherwise, that there is scientifically-established consensus (as opposed to popular consensus or a philosophical opinion) on what and where the mind is.

On that note, let me clarify that the definition I use for mind. Mind is experience. Any experience, including that of a brain, is mind, which can be further classified as subjective and inter-subjective (objective).

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