What is a mental state?

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JamesOfSeattle
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What is a mental state?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » June 1st, 2018, 10:07 pm

In the many discussions of consciousness someone usually mentions mental states. For example:
anonymous66 wrote:
May 23rd, 2018, 8:03 am
...but eliminative materialism is false (because if I know anything, I know I have mental states).
If you are one of those people, I am asking you what you think a mental state is. As far as I can tell, all discussions about consciousness and things mental are about processes. From a materialist point of view, consciousness and thinking in humans is not about what is in the brain, but is about what the brain is doing.

But when something is in a state, that means it is not changing. Literally, it is just standing, not doing anything. So for me, the only reasonable explanation of a mental “state” is that the same mental thing is happening over and over, not changing to a different mental thing happening. That’s why I get confused when people talk about mental states being identical to brain states. No one, I think, when they talk about brain states, is talking about the brain doing the same thing over and over. When I think of a brain state, I think of a frozen brain, more or less.

So does everyone have the understanding I have, or are you thinking about something else when you talk about mental states?

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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by kordofany » June 2nd, 2018, 4:27 am

In the criminal law mental state means that the brain ability to know the right or wrong in exactly point in the time line.. the time of the crime that took place . Hence we can determine if the criminal is responsible or not.

Tamminen
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Tamminen » June 2nd, 2018, 4:33 am

JamesOfSeattle wrote:
June 1st, 2018, 10:07 pm
I am asking you what you think a mental state is. As far as I can tell, all discussions about consciousness and things mental are about processes. From a materialist point of view, consciousness and thinking in humans is not about what is in the brain, but is about what the brain is doing.
You are right, we should speak about brain processes or brain events, not brain states. But on the phenomenal level the corresponding "events" are, as I understand them, a series of experiental contents. "Redness" is a content that corresponds to a certain kind of brain process. That is why experiences are conceptually incompatible with brain events. And this is why there is necessarily a problem with physicalism.

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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Georgeanna » June 2nd, 2018, 5:28 am

The only reason I would be interested in a 'mental state' would be a practical one. What kind of mental condition is one in. And how it might adversely affect behaviour. For example, misperceptions or delusional beliefs.

However, from a philosophical point of view:

According to this set of course notes: 'a mental state or a mental process is a kind of condition or process which can be had only by thinking, feeling creatures.'

http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/course ... tates.html

There is more information about the different categories of mental states e.g. representational, qualitative. It acknowledges the difficulties and controversies surrounding this philosophical problem.

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chewybrian
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by chewybrian » June 2nd, 2018, 8:39 am

Tamminen wrote:
June 2nd, 2018, 4:33 am
That is why experiences are conceptually incompatible with brain events. And this is why there is necessarily a problem with physicalism.
Could you expand on this? What do you mean exactly, and what does it imply about ideas like duality or free will? I'm not arguing your point at all. I find it compelling but want to see it explained, and see where it leads, if you are game to try.

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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Tamminen » June 2nd, 2018, 10:43 am

chewybrian wrote:
June 2nd, 2018, 8:39 am
Tamminen wrote:
June 2nd, 2018, 4:33 am
That is why experiences are conceptually incompatible with brain events. And this is why there is necessarily a problem with physicalism.
Could you expand on this? What do you mean exactly, and what does it imply about ideas like duality or free will? I'm not arguing your point at all. I find it compelling but want to see it explained, and see where it leads, if you are game to try.
Let me quote myself from a couple of earlier posts:
This is exactly what the mind/brain correspondence means. When I have a phenomenal state A, I have a brain state X. If I change my brain state to Y, my phenomenal state changes to B. If my phenomenal state changes spontaneously to B, my brain state changes to Y. A and X are descriptions of the same event in my relation to the world, but there is nothing that conceptually connects those descriptions to each other. When I see red, I see it in a phenomenal color space where colors have phenomenal relations to each other. This has nothing to do with the wave length of the photon that hits my retina and emits a signal to my visual cortex. There is no redness in my brain. Consciousness is a conceptually self-contained information system that gets its raw data through its material interface to the world. This interface is the body and its center is the brain.
So what is the relation between consciousness and matter?

Being means being conscious, experiencing something in the world. All other forms of being are somehow connected with the subject's being in the world. 'I am' is the ontological basis for everything. I am there with others in the material universe. I am a manifestation of subjectivity as an individual subject in the world of other individual subjects that are also manifestations of subjectivity. So I am in a symmetric relation with others: we share the same subjectivity, only our locations in physical space-time and subjective time differ.

Because others must be outside of myself, having a concrete existence, they must be material, and because of the symmetric relation between us I must also be material: we have bodies. Our bodies and the material universe between us are instruments for our being in the world as a community. Matter also makes it possible for us to exist at all, because existence is essentially being with others. The conclusion of all this is that matter is the instrument for subjectivity to exist concretely in the world, conscious of the world and others.

So matter is the functional basis of consciousness, but subjectivity is the ontological basis of the material world. Matter is my relation to others.
I think consciousness and the corresponding brain processes are identical in the sense that they are two conceptually incompatible perspectives to the same chain of events. There are physical objects and living organisms in our universe, and at least some of the living organisms are subjects: they have a subjective point of view to the world. The world sort of splits into two levels: the phenomenal level and the physical level. But there is only one reality, one "substance", as Spinoza puts it, and two "attributes", or levels of description: mind and body. What makes my standpoint anti-materialistic is that the subjective perspective is essential and is the reason for the being of the universe and all there is, making some sense of it.
As to free will, I do not think it is necessary to make any claims about it. To be honest, I do not even understand what we mean by it. We act and make decisions. What does it mean to say that our acts are free? I do not think they contradict the laws of physics.

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Consul
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Consul » June 2nd, 2018, 11:17 am

JamesOfSeattle wrote:
June 1st, 2018, 10:07 pm
If you are one of those people, I am asking you what you think a mental state is. As far as I can tell, all discussions about consciousness and things mental are about processes. From a materialist point of view, consciousness and thinking in humans is not about what is in the brain, but is about what the brain is doing.

But when something is in a state, that means it is not changing. Literally, it is just standing, not doing anything. So for me, the only reasonable explanation of a mental “state” is that the same mental thing is happening over and over, not changing to a different mental thing happening. That’s why I get confused when people talk about mental states being identical to brain states. No one, I think, when they talk about brain states, is talking about the brain doing the same thing over and over. When I think of a brain state, I think of a frozen brain, more or less.

So does everyone have the understanding I have, or are you thinking about something else when you talk about mental states?
It depends on your ontological category system. It is true that "state" etymologically connotes staticness, such that states are "unchanges", non-events, non-processes. But in ontology the concept of a state can alternatively be used more broadly in the highly general sense of "state of affairs", "situation", "condition", "circumstance", which doesn't exclude events and processes. The latter can then be regarded as subcategories of the category <state>, viz. as dynamic states (as opposed to static states). And then mental states are dynamic states.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by -1- » June 2nd, 2018, 11:31 am

A mental state is a station in the ongoing journey of the mind from one state to another. For instance, New York is a mental state, so is California, but New Hampshire, for instance, is a Political State, and Oregon is a happy state. Michigan is an angry state, and Florida is a hot state. Alaska is cold state.Etc.

In seriousness, I think a mental state in terms of processes is a process that is steadily takes a longer time than say five seconds. It can extend itself to days, weeks. It can be "happy", "stoic", "complacent", etc. Mental state is most likely an emotional state, that affects the ability of the mind to reason.

Mental states that are not conducive to thinking straight are "hectic", "overwrought", "panicky", "in sleep".

Mental states that are conducive to thinking are "well-rested", "alert", "super-alert", "interested", "nimble", "nipple".

Someone said earlier that the mind is in a constant flux. Yes. But there is a basic, background mood, that also is liable to change, but it changes not rapidly, but very slowly. That mood is what you describe as mental state.
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Mosesquine
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Mosesquine » June 2nd, 2018, 2:12 pm

Mental states are feelings, sensations, thoughts in the heads, and the like. Suppose that Conor McGregor strongly beats you. You will feel serious pains due to Conor McGregor's beating you. Such pains are mental states. Suppose that the President Donald Trump looks-red-bulgy-tomato to you. Such sensations are mental states. Suppose that you believe that the former President Barack Obama is a large black kakao brownie cake. Such thoughts in the heads are mental states. And so on and so on, and so forth and so forth.

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Consul
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Consul » June 2nd, 2018, 5:30 pm

Mosesquine wrote:
June 2nd, 2018, 2:12 pm
Mental states are feelings, sensations, thoughts in the heads, and the like. Suppose that Conor McGregor strongly beats you. You will feel serious pains due to Conor McGregor's beating you. Such pains are mental states. Suppose that the President Donald Trump looks-red-bulgy-tomato to you. Such sensations are mental states. Suppose that you believe that the former President Barack Obama is a large black kakao brownie cake. Such thoughts in the heads are mental states. And so on and so on, and so forth and so forth.
We find the following basic classes of mental states in philosophy of mind and psychology:

1. occurrent/non-dispositional mental states (mental happenings/goings-on):

1.1 conscious, experiential/phenomenal mental events/processes (subjective experiences: sensings, feelings, imaginings, thinkings)

1.2 nonconscious, nonexperiential/nonphenomenal mental events/processes (non-/subconscious cognitive processes)

2. non-occurrent/dispositional mental states (character traits, habits, memories, propositional attitudes: knowledge, beliefs, desires, preferences, hopes, wishes, etc.)

But philosophers and psychologists disagree over the actual ontological scope of the mental, i.e. over whether these four classes of states are all ones of truly/genuinely/distinctively mental states. For example, Descartes thought that the only truly mental states are the ones belonging to 1.1, such that the realm of the mental is the same as and no larger than the realm of the experiential.
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by anonymous66 » June 3rd, 2018, 8:23 am

@the OP
My thinking is that mental states are beliefs, desires, intentions, emotions, the "what it is like-ness", the private inner goings on in our brains that I assume we all have as conscious humans.

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Consul
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Re: What is a mental state?

Post by Consul » June 3rd, 2018, 11:18 am

Here's a causal/functional definition:

"The concept of a mental state is primarily the concept of a state of the person apt for bringing about a certain sort of behaviour. Sacrificing all accuracy for brevity we can say that, although mind is not behaviour, it is the cause of behaviour. In the case of some mental states only there are also states of the person apt for being brought about by a certain sort of stimulus. But this latter formula is a secondary one."

(Armstrong, D. M. A Materialist Theory of the Mind. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. p. 82)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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