Problem of other minds

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The problem of other minds is a philosophical problem traditionally stated as the following epistemological challenge raised by the skeptic: Given that I can only observe the behavior of others, how can I know that others have minds? [1] It is a central issue of the philosophical idea known as solipsism: the notion that for any person only one's own mind is known to exist. Solipsism maintains that no matter how sophisticated someone's behavior is, behavior on its own does not guarantee the presence of mentality.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Skepticism or scepticism is generally any questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief. It is often directed at domains, such as the supernatural, morality, religion, or knowledge. Formally, skepticism as a topic occurs in the context of philosophy, particularly epistemology, although it can be applied to any topic such as politics, religion, and pseudoscience.

Behavior or behaviour is the range of actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with themselves or their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the (inanimate) physical environment. It is the computed response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.


See also

Animal consciousness

Animal consciousness, or animal awareness, is the quality or state of self-awareness within an animal, or of being aware of an external object or something within itself. In humans, consciousness has been defined as: sentience, awareness, subjectivity, qualia, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of self, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is.

Boltzmann brain Self-aware entity in physics thought experiments

In physics thought experiments, a Boltzmann brain is a self-aware entity that arises due to extremely rare random fluctuations out of a state of thermodynamic equilibrium. For example, in a homogeneous Newtonian soup, theoretically by sheer chance all the atoms could bounce off and stick to one another in such a way as to assemble a functioning human brain.

Brain in a vat thought experiment

In philosophy, the brain in a vat is a scenario used in a variety of thought experiments intended to draw out certain features of human conceptions of knowledge, reality, truth, mind, consciousness, and meaning. It is an updated version of René Descartes's evil demon thought experiment originated by Gilbert Harman. Common to many science fiction stories, it outlines a scenario in which a mad scientist, machine, or other entity might remove a person's brain from the body, suspend it in a vat of life-sustaining liquid, and connect its neurons by wires to a supercomputer which would provide it with electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives. According to such stories, the computer would then be simulating reality and the "disembodied" brain would continue to have perfectly normal conscious experiences, such as those of a person with an embodied brain, without these being related to objects or events in the real world.

Related Research Articles

Epiphenomenalism is a position on the mind–body problem which holds that physical and biochemical events within the human body are causal with respect to mental events. According to this view, subjective mental events are completely dependent for their existence on corresponding physical and biochemical events within the human body and themselves have no causal efficacy on physical events. The appearance that subjective mental states influence physical events is merely an illusion. For instance, fear seems to make the heart beat faster, but according to epiphenomenalism the biochemical secretions of the brain and nervous system —not the experience of fear—is what raises the heartbeat. Because mental events are a kind of overflow that cannot cause anything physical, yet have non-physical properties, epiphenomenalism is viewed as a form of property dualism.

Mind combination of cognitive faculties that provides consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement in humans and potentially other life forms

The mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, imagination, perception, thinking, judgement, language and memory. It is usually defined as the faculty of an entity's thoughts and consciousness. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions.

Philosophy of perception

The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of perceptual experience and the status of perceptual data, in particular how they relate to beliefs about, or knowledge of, the world. Any explicit account of perception requires a commitment to one of a variety of ontological or metaphysical views. Philosophers distinguish internalist accounts, which assume that perceptions of objects, and knowledge or beliefs about them, are aspects of an individual's mind, and externalist accounts, which state that they constitute real aspects of the world external to the individual. The position of naïve realism—the 'everyday' impression of physical objects constituting what is perceived—is to some extent contradicted by the occurrence of perceptual illusions and hallucinations and the relativity of perceptual experience as well as certain insights in science. Realist conceptions include phenomenalism and direct and indirect realism. Anti-realist conceptions include idealism and skepticism.

Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. As an epistemological position, solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist. This extreme position is claimed to be irrefutable, as the solipsist believes himself to be the only true authority, all others being creations of their own mind.

Mind–body dualism Philosophical theory that mental phenomena are non-physical and that matter exists independently of mind

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.

Eliminative materialism Philosophical view that states-of-mind as commonly understood do not exist

Eliminative materialism is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist. It is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level. Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.

Akrasia, occasionally transliterated as acrasia or Anglicised as acrasy or acracy, is described as a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one's better judgment. The adjectival form is "akratic".

China brain thought experiment: suppose that every Chinese person is asked to simulate the action of one neuron in the brain, using telephones to simulate the axons/dendrites; then would China as a whole have consciousness?

In the philosophy of mind, the China brain thought experiment considers what would happen if each member of the Chinese nation were asked to simulate the action of one neuron in the brain, using telephones or walkie-talkies to simulate the axons and dendrites that connect neurons. Would this arrangement have a mind or consciousness in the same way that brains do?

In epistemology and the philosophy of mind, methodological solipsism has at least two distinct definitions:

  1. Methodological solipsism is the epistemological thesis that the individual self and its states are the sole possible or proper starting point for philosophical construction. A skeptical turn along these lines is Cartesian skepticism.
  2. Methodological solipsism is the thesis that the mental properties or mental states of an organism can be individuated exclusively on the basis of that state or property's relations with other internal states of the organism itself, without any reference to the society or the physical world in which the organism is embedded.

Paul Montgomery Churchland is a Canadian philosopher known for his studies in neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. After earning a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh under Wilfrid Sellars (1969), Churchland rose to the rank of full professor at the University of Manitoba before accepting the Valtz Family Endowed Chair in Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and a joint appointments in that institution's Institute for Neural Computation and on its Cognitive Science Faculty.

Antireductionism is the position in science and metaphysics that stands in contrast to reductionism (anti-holism) by advocating that not all properties of a system can be explained in terms of its constituent parts and their interactions.

Philosophy of mind branch of philosophy on the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

Mind–body problem open question in philosophy of how abstract minds interact with physical bodies

The mind–body problem is a philosophical problem concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically since that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.

Interactionism or interactionist dualism is the theory in the philosophy of mind which holds that matter and mind are two distinct and independent substances that exert causal effects on one another. It is one type of dualism, traditionally a type of substance dualism though more recently also sometimes a form of property dualism.

Personal identity philosophical idea of a person having a unique existence

In philosophy, the matter of personal identity deals with such questions as, "What makes it true that a person at one time is the same thing as a person at another time?" or "What kinds of things are we persons?" Generally, personal identity is the unique numerical identity of a person in the course of time. That is, the necessary and sufficient conditions under which a person at one time and a person at another time can be said to be the same person, persisting through time.

Holophrastic indeterminacy, or indeterminacy of sentence translation, is one of two kinds of indeterminacy of translation to appear in the writings of philosopher W. V. O. Quine. According to Quine, "there is more than one correct method of translating sentences where the two translations differ not merely in the meanings attributed to the sub-sentential parts of speech but also in the net import of the whole sentence". It is holophrastic indeterminacy that underlies Quine's argument against synonymy, the basis of his objections to Rudolf Carnap's analytic/synthetic distinction. The other kind of indeterminacy introduced by Quine is the "inscrutability of reference", which refers to parts of a sentence or individual words.

Extended cognition is the view that mental processes and mind extend beyond the body to include aspects of the environment in which an organism is embedded and the organism's interaction with that environment. Cognition goes beyond the manipulation of symbols to include the emergence of order and structure evolving from active engagement with the world.

Jennifer Lackey American philosopher

Jennifer Lackey is a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University. She is known for her research in epistemology, especially on testimony, disagreement, memory, the norms of assertion, and virtue epistemology. She is the author of Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge and of numerous articles and book chapters. She is also co-editor of The Epistemology of Testimony and The Epistemology of Disagreement: New Essays.

Derk Pereboom is the Susan Linn Sage Professor in Philosophy and Ethics at Cornell University, located in Ithaca, New York, USA. He specializes in the areas of free will and moral responsibility, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and in the work of Immanuel Kant. As of 2018, he is the subject co-editor on topics in the philosophy of action for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and he has also written for the encyclopedia.


  1. Hyslop, Alec (14 January 2014). Zalta, Edward N.; Nodelman, Uri, eds. "Other minds". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. ISSN   1095-5054 . Retrieved May 26, 2015.

Further reading

Peter Godfrey-Smith American philosopher

Peter Godfrey-Smith is an Australian philosopher of science and writer.

<i>Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness</i>

Other Minds is a 2016 bestseller by Peter Godfrey-Smith on the evolution and nature of consciousness. It compares the situation in cephalopods, especially the octopus and the cuttlefish, with that in mammals and birds. Complex active bodies that enable and perhaps require a measure of intelligence have evolved three times, in arthropods, cephalopods, and vertebrates. The book reflects on the nature of cephalopod intelligence in particular, constrained by their short lifespan, and embodied in large part in their partly autonomous arms which contain more nerve cells than their brains.

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

PhilPapers is an international, interactive academic database of journal articles for professionals and students in philosophy. It is maintained by the Centre for Digital Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.

Edward N. Zalta philosopher

Edward N. Zalta is a senior research scholar at the Center for the Study of Language and Information. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1980. Zalta has taught courses at Stanford University, Rice University, the University of Salzburg, and the University of Auckland. Zalta is also the Principal Editor of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) combines an online encyclopedia of philosophy with peer-reviewed publication of original papers in philosophy, freely accessible to Internet users. It is maintained by Stanford University. Each entry is written and maintained by an expert in the field, including professors from many academic institutions worldwide. Authors contributing to the encyclopedia give Stanford University the permission to publish the articles, but retain the copyright to those articles.