The Spread Mind in short

At the onset of 2020, a long-due short intro to the theory at hand is a good way to start. So let me tell you why the Spread Mind promises to solve one of the most difficult problems in the history of science and philosophy.

First, allow me to be clear about the terminology. First, all my efforts are based on a straightforward empirical hypothesis, the so called Mind-Object Identity hypothesis (MOI), namely the hypothesis that

The experience of X is one and the same as X

This should not come as a surprise to anybody. If our conscious experience is real, it must be something! And since the world is made only of physical stuff, there has to be something physical that is one and the same as our experience. I know, I know, many people have been looking for consciousness inside the brain. Have they succeeded? No. So let’s start looking for consciousness elsewhere. Where? In the very external objects around our body.

Second, once the Mind-Object Identity hypothesis has been put forward, it articulates into a complete theory that addresses memory, creativity, free will, dreams, illusions, and hallucinations. Such a theory is called The Spread Mind Theory (SMT). The Spread Mind theory succeeds in dealing with all such cases without adding any new hypothesis. How is it possible? Simply put, it’s because the Spread Mind does not assume the naive and simplistic notion that the world is made of absolute physical objects but, as it has been shown by Galilean Relativity, Einstein’s Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics, all physical properties have a relative existence. Everything exists relatively to something else (more on this on a forthcoming post). I don’t insist on this point here.

So much for the terminology. Let’s get back to the substance of the post! What does the Spread Mind tells us?

When we see the world, what is the thing that is our experience? If the world is made of things, as it appears if we look around, we must be a thing too. Our experiences must be a thing too.
This should not come as a surprise to anybody. When we look at the world do we see anything but physical phenomena? No we don’t. Everywhere I look, I see only physical stuff – objects, events, bodies, processes, and properties. My experience is made of physical stuff.

The problem arises when you, I, we … try to place ourselves in such a world. And the problem arises because we move from a core set of assumptions we are very fond of, and yet are neither empirically grounded nor logically consistent. The core hypothesis we have to challenge is the belief we are inside our bodies (or that we are a body).

The main reason why we believe to be located where our bodies are is that when our lovers, relatives, and friends look for us, they look for our bodies. Another very strong motivation is the fact that our world is centered around our bodies, like a doughnut. This is a consequence of the fact that our body, like a dam, brings a collection of events together and thus, such events are roughly around our body.

Look inside yourself and you’ll find the world around your body.

So, the world we are made of is not a ghost inside our body or an immaterial spirit. We are one with the world we experience. Actually, experiencing an object is just a funny way to express the fact that an object is, for a moment, a part of what we are.

To some extent, the traditional notion of the mind is like a ghost of the world in the body. But inside the body, there is only, hardly surprising, the body! There is nothing else. So we need to look elsewhere, even if it goes against our prejudices.

The belief that our consciousness is inside the head is the outcome of the assumption that we are separate from the world, and thus there has to be something akin to the world inside our body. This is, of course, absurd and it will be a testimony of scholarly stubbornness the fact that for years people have been looking for our mind inside our heads.

26 thoughts on “The Spread Mind in short”

  1. Dear Riccardo,

    Thanks for the short description of your theory and the nice animations.

    If I understand it well, according to your theory everything we experience is a relative physical object. So it should also be the case for the property smell of a parfume as well as for an emotion like joy that one experiences.

    I’m not an expert in neuroscience, but as far as I have learnt a parfume consists of different types of molecules which can interact with receptors (certain kinds of neurons) in one’s nose, that way leading to signals that trigger certain parts of the brain, leading to the experience of a certain smell.

    According to your theory the property of smell is a relative physical object (the combination of molecules in the perfume),which comes into extistence after interacting with our body. So far I can understand your theory.

    However, when I think about experiencing an emotion (like joy), I wonder how that emotion comes into existence. Assuming that joy is also a relative physical object which interacts with one’s body and that way comes into extistence, my question is: where is joy made of? (what are the physical ingredients of joy?).

    Looking forward hearing from you.

    Kind regards,
    Mahsa

    1. Very good question! and of course very difficult. Like William James, I would say that an emotion is a tension that our body has for an object. In this view, the emotion is the relative object composed by an external object plus the reaction of our body. Since such reactions are always connected with our behavior, emotions play a role in what we like or dislike. In fact, emotions are not perceived as other objects. Emotions are deduced based on one’s actions. In psychology, it is always said that we need to learn to recognize our emotions. But this is a very incomplete answer.

      1. Dear Riccardo,

        Thanks for your reply. You wrote: “…. In this view, the emotion is the relative object composed by an external object plus the reaction of our body….”

        I’m trying to think of an example to understand this. I imagine an external object (B) coming towards body A. This causes a reaction in body A (i.e. higher heart rate, imbalans in head area and tension in legs).

        If we would call the combination of Object B + caused reaction, an emotion, what would that be in this case?

        What is it exactly which causes the named reaction in body A? (does object B i.e. radiates a wave with a certain frequency)?

        When someone says: “I feel this or that emotion”, where is the “I”? What does “feel” mean?

        Kind regards,
        Mahsa

        1. Yes, exactly. For me the emotion is the additional object made of object B + caused reaction in Object A. Thinks of simple emotion, eg. fear. A spider triggers one’s amygdala to activate a series of reaction in one’s body.

          The view is not that different from Damasio’s hypothesis of the somatic marker.

          The notion that one feels emotion as something inside one’s body is naive. One feels emotion as combinations of the external world, bodily reactions and ensuing actions.

          1. What is the emotion which is related to our memory? How are the experiences recorded to our memory? Why do we forget or remember some of them?

            Is consciousness only at present and about present?

          2. Let me focus on Memory. Memory (and dreams/hallucinations) are all forms of perception. They are all perception.
            The difference is in the temporal distance between what we perceive and our body. In everyday perception the temporal distance is small (unless we watch astronomical objects) in memory might be as long as one’s lifetime.
            Moreover, in memory (and dreams) the combinations in which we perceive particulars might be arbitrary. It’s still perception though. As in a kaleidoscope.

          3. Dear Riccardo,

            Thank you very much for your quick reply. Until now, i did not think about consciousness like you explain. However, as a Spinoza fan, your suggestion impresses me. 🙂

            I find your Theory new and efficient in ethical perspective. Could you explain the relation between your theory and Spinoza’s Ethic?

            Best regards,

          4. Spinoza is one of my favourite author. However, the foundation of his metaphysics is an a priori system. The inspiration of my hypothesis is the empirical world and science.

          5. Hmm. Yes, Spinoza’s system is a priori. But yours is emprical. I must think about this. Sorry, I don’t have any formation on philosophical thinking. Thank you very much for your interest.

  2. Dear Riccardo,

    Thanks for your reply. Let’s talk about this nice example of spider.

    You wrote: “A spider triggers one’s amygdala to activate a series of reaction in one’s body.”
    I have following questions:

    1. How does a spider trigger one’s amygdala to activate a series of reactions in one’s body? (how does that work?)

    2. What happens after a series of reactions is activated in one’s body?

    Kind regards,
    Mahsa

    1. As far as we know, our body has a series of innate reactions. In humans and many mammals they are usually located in the amygdala (Joseph Ledoux did a great work about them). They are very quick and not particularly precise (a dark spot moving close to one’s arm or a snakish shade sneaking next to one’s leg are usually enough to trigger the mechanism). The amygdala and other subcortical nuclei receives a subset of our sensori-nerves so to be able to react to classes of stimuli potentially dangerous. They have been selected by natural selection because they were helpful in avoiding common dangerous situation. When this stimuli are detected, what does it happen? By and large (and very imprecisely, I recommend reading Ledoux in this regard), they activate the cortex either by means of neurotransmitter and other chemicals (Adrenalin) or by means of direct nervous connections. The body too is activated (heart rate goes up, perspiration increases, and so forth).
      To get back to the Spread Mind, the body changes its status and thus it changes the external world that exists relative to one’s body. By doing that we perceive the world in a different way, because we perceive a different world, and, of course, we also perceive the difference in the world and in our body (caused by a spiderish black dot on our arm).
      Such a difference, which is a physical object in itself, is what we call “fear”.
      Or at least this is the best account of emotion I’ve been able to figure it out.

  3. Dear Riccardo,

    Thanks for your reply. I have summarized your input in following ‘story’:

    Body A is experiencing world X at t=0.
    A spider is detected by eyes of body A at t=2s.
    This leads to changes in brains of A within next few seconds.
    At t=7s the whole body of A has changed to body A’. Now body A’ brings a different world, X’, into existence and is thus experiencing this world.
    The difference between A and A’ & between X and X’ is what we call fear.
    Thus: Fear = delta A + delta X

    My new questions are:

    1. How can it be that the spider brings changes to brains and body A, and not in brains and body B (in case B is standing next to A and detects the spider at the same time)?

    2. When looking at this story, where is the person (having body A) at t=0, t=2s, and t=7s?

    3. Assuming fear is a physical object (as you mentioned), it should be possible to measure it (=measuring delta A + delta X). What do you think about this?

    Kind regards,
    Mahsa

    1. Thanks Masha for pointing out as usual the key issues in the clearest way!
      In short,

      1. It’s easy. Body A and body B are different and they are react causally in different ways. A’s amydgdala is sensitive to spiders, and B’s amygdala is sensitive to snakes. They are ahrwaired differently due to onto- epi- and phylogenetic factors.

      2. the person A at t=0, is the objects that exists relative to A’s body (objects that took place at t<0)
      the person A at t=2s, is the previous objects plus the spider as it takes place relative to A's body
      the person A at t=7s, is the previous objects plus the spider plus the delta A's and delta X's

      3. This is a great idea! super great! only it would require somebody with an experimental attitude and skill. But definitely yes!

      Thanks!

      Riccardo

  4. Dear Riccardo,

    My pleasure! Thank you too for your time and the efforts you make to explain your idea.

    I want to zoom in on your second answer (about person A).

    If I understand it well, you are saying that person A doesn’t have a fixed identity. It is the combination of a number of objects at every moment. If that is true, then:

    1. What makes person A appear as an individual with a certain type of character (i.e. as someone with good humor or as a shy person) in time?

    You wrote: “the person A at t=0, is the objects that exists relative to A’s body (objects that took place at t<0)”.

    2. Do you refer here to the objects that directly surround A’s body or to all the objects that have ever surrounded A’s body?

    Kind regards,
    Mahsa

    1. Yes, person A doesn’t have a fixed identity. I don’t believe in anything like fixed identity. Everything is what it is at the moment in which it is. And then it becomes something else. So you are correct about that inference.

      1. One’s character is the average of one’s features (that keep changing but not too drastically from time to time). Like a cloud that, given a not too long span of time, has the same shape, give or take.
      One is always the objects that have caused the current state of one’s body, thus they must have taken place before (t<0)
      2. I refer only to the objects whose occurrences in any time t<0 have been causally relevant for the existence and actions of A's body at time t.

      Cheers!

      1. Dear Riccardo,

        Thanks for your reply.

        You wrote: “ One is always the objects that have caused the current state of one’s body…..”.

        Till now I thought that according to your theory it is one’s body which causes the objects that one experiences. However, now it seems that the objects cause the current state of one’s body!

        Do I understand it well that both the body and the objects are the cause and the consequence at the same time?

        Kind regards,
        Mahsa

        1. This is a fundamental question! thanks for raising the issue.
          The short answer is: “No, it’s is not true that both the body and the objects are the cause and the consequence at the same time”. There is no need of any circular causation (which is a very murky notion).
          But I understand your confusion.

          I’ve never said that the body CAUSES the external object. I’ve said that the existence of the body is one of the necessary condition for the existence of such relative object. Consider relative velocity. Relative velocity is not CAUSED by the corresponding frame of reference. However, it exists relative to such a frame of reference.

          On the other hand, the external object causes effects in the body. For instance, a source of light causes the release of rodopsin in the retina which, in turn, causes the release of a train of spikes that reaches the brain and so forth.

          To cut a long story short, the external objects (which are one and the same with my consciousness) causes effects in the body. In the spirit of “relative existence”/”eleatic principle”, such objects exists in virtue of the possibility offered by the body.

          The objects exist by virtue of the body/relative to the body.
          The object causes effects in the body.

          Is it clearer?

          Thanks!

          Riccardo

          1. Dear Riccardo,

            Thanks for your reply. I guess I understand what you mean.

            You mean that person A is at every moment in time a combination of some objects that exist relative to body A.

            If this is true, then it means that person A (as a set of objects) will be divided in a number of parts (subsets of objects) at the moment that body A ceases to exist. After which each part, together with other objects, will form a new person (existing relative to a new body). ?

            How do you think about this?

            Kind regards,
            Mahsa

          2. exactly! After all even if one is a naive materialist (who believes we are one with our bodies), when one dies, his or her molecules can become part of other bodies.

            In a physical world, nothing is destroyed and nothing is created, everything is recycled.

  5. Hi Riccardo,

    here is my question.

    An apple is placed at point in space O. The body A is placed ad distance O-X and a body B is placed at point O+X.
    Both bodies are observing the apple at the same time. Suppose the body B is color blind.
    Now, what about the physical reality underlying at point O. Indeed, we have two different apples instantiated differently by two different bodies.
    Since we have two apples in O, then we must have a physic allowing two different properties at the same physical point 0.
    Or – just speculating – the underlying reality is a space of infinite possibilities in potential.
    What’s your opinion about it?

    Thank you

    Riccardo

    1. I pondered a lot about this issue.

      First, it is no incompatible with our current scientific picture of the world. For instance, you can have two completely different waves (direction, amplitude, frequency) at the same point in space.

      Second, in this case, since existence is fixed by circumstances happening elsewhere and at another time, it is indeed possible that in the same place there are multiple instances. This is indeed what happens with all relative physical properties. For instance, velocity. Is it a problem that the same object instantiates multiple and different velocities at the same time? No it is not, of course.

      Very good question though!

      Riccardo

      1. Thank you for your replay.
        Just for sake of speculation…
        Since you have reformulated the concept of time, have you ever take into account to reformulate the concept of space too?
        I know that maybe you are not so keen on doing that since you are a physicalist and you “love” space-time.
        However, if I look at my experience “as is” I perceive all as a unit. It is always “here”. I define “there” only because some objects are far – in the sense that “far” objects have different relative properties – like the capability of being touch.
        But if I observe carefully, I never experience “there”. I always experience “here” and based on other experience I construct the concept of space (near, far, there..)

        Thank you

        Riccardo

        1. And yes, if you read my book, you’ll see I mentioned the fact that everything is here, that there’s no space between me and the object of my experience.
          And this is not because the objects are next to me, as in Husserl or Descartes, but because I’m those objects.
          You can’t get any closer than by means of identity.

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