Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind

By Gerald M. Edelman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Putting Psychology on a Biological Basis

Psychology was to him a new study, and a dark corner of education. . . .

He put psychology under lock and key; he insisted on maintaining his absolute standards; on aiming at ultimate Unity. The mania for handling all sides of every question, looking into every window, and opening every door, was, as Bluebeard judiciously pointed out to his wives, fatal to their practical usefulness in society. --Henry Adams

Ignoring the origins of things is always a risky matter. It is even more risky in any effort that purports to explain mental events. But this is exactly what has happened in much of the history of psychology and the philosophy of mind. I guess this is so because thought is a reflexive and a recursive process. It is therefore tempting to think that the nature of thinking can be uncovered by thinking alone. But if we go back to the earlier chapter on mind, we notice that the biggest difference between intentional objects and nonintentional objects is that the former are biological entities. The point is not that all living things are intentional, just that no nonliving things are. As I mentioned in the last chapter, we must account for how embodiment occurs in each individual.

So we must pay attention to biology. But embodiment is not the only reason for doing so. Equally important are the facts of evolution, which suggest that intentionality emerged rather late. What is the basis of the mental, and when did it emerge in evolutionary time? The glib answer is

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