Introduction: The Mind Explained in One Page or Less

My goal here is to develop an explanation of how the mind works starting from first principles, but at the same time embracing the full range of current scientific understanding. Scientific progress in many other fields has been clear and definitive, but science has reached no consensus on the mind and seems reluctant to grant that the mind as such even exists. But if we start from the beginning and are careful to draw on only the best-supported scientific findings, we should find that what we already know about the mind can be formulated into a scientific theory, just by adjusting the way we think about it. It took me years turning these ideas over in my head to get to the bottom of it all, and it will take quite a few pages to lay them out so that anyone can follow them. But I don’t want to hold you in suspense for hundreds of pages until I get to the point, so I am going to explain how the mind works right here on the first page. And then I’m going to do it again in a bit more detail over a few pages, and then across a few chapters, and then in the rest of the book. Each iteration will go into more detail, will be better supported, and will expand the theory further. But it should all seem both intuitive and scientific along the way.

From a high level, it is easy to understand what the mind does. But you have to understand evolution first. Fortunately, evolution is even easier to understand. Evolution works by induction, which means trial and error. It keeps trying. It makes errors. It detects the errors and uses that feedback to try another way that will avoid the earlier mistakes. It’s pretty much the same approach machine learning uses, using feedback to improve future responses. The mind evolved as a high-level control center of the brain, which is the control center of the body. Unlike evolution, which gathers information slowly from natural selection, brains and minds gather real-time information from experience. Their basic strategy for doing that is also inductive trial and error. But minds, especially human minds, also use deduction. Where induction works from the bottom up (from specifics to generalities), deduction worked from the top down (generalities to specifics). Understanding and knowledge come from joining the two together. Most of the brain’s work is inductive and outside conscious control, producing senses, feelings, common sense and intuition, while deduction happens under conscious control, along with more induction and blending the two. Consciousness is just the product of connecting inductive and deductive frameworks together to construct an imaginary but practical inner realm. We think of our perspective as being ineffable, but it is only the logical consequence of applying logical models to target circumstances. A computer program with the same sort of inputs and meld of inductive and deductive logic would “feel” conscious as well. Our inner world is not magic, it is computed. But, just to be clear, such programs are not even on the horizon; it is not for nothing evolution needed billions of years to pull this off. So that is the mind in a nutshell.

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