The Nature Of The Mind
Among all conscious organism, human consciousness is unique.
Consciousness in all animals is perception which includes all external percepts—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, as well as all internal perception (called interoception) by which we are aware of the states of our bodies.
This much of consciousness human beings share with all the higher animals, but there are three attributes of human consciousness that are shared with no other creatures and it is those attributes that make up the human mind.
The three attributes of human consciousness unique to human beings are volition, intellect, and rationality. These attributes are interdependent and none exists without the others.
Volition is the necessity and ability to consciously choose every thought or overt action. All choice requires knowledge and the ability to answer questions and make judgments, that is, reasoning.
Intellect is the necessity and ability to gain and retain knowledge which is not possible without reason and volition; reason, to determine what is true (and therefore genuine knowledge), and volition to make the kind of choices we call judgment.
Rationality is the necessity and ability to think, that is, to ask and answer questions and make judgments. Reason requires volition and knowledge; volition, because a judgment is a choice; and knowledge, in order to form and answer questions.
These three, however, are not three different things, but three aspects of the same phenomena we call the human mind. Every thought we have is a volitional act, consciously chosen, and is the manipulation of knowledge. Not everything that goes on in our consciousness is thinking, however. Much of our consciousness is occupied with with our direct perception, feelings, imagination, and even "day dreams" which might or might not include thinking. Often the word "mind" is used to include these other aspects of our consciousness, but strictly speaking they are not, because those kinds of things apparently occupy the consciousness of other creatures as well. What distinguishes human consciousness from all other creatures is the unique mental function of choosing to think about what is known.
While the three attributes of the human mind are interdependent the function of each and the relationships between them are quite specific.
Volition is the essential attribute of human consciousness that distinguishes it from all other animal consciousness, and is the one that makes the other attributes possible and necessary.
Volition (conscious choice) is not only possible to human beings, but necessary. A human being cannot do anything, that can be chosen, without consciously choosing it. Of course, this does not include the involuntary actions such as reflexes or normal biological functions which are not chosen. Without choosing, a human being cannot do anything we consider human action from thinking, to eating a meal, to inventing an airplane.
Some human action can be habitualized, of course, and it seems that we do such things as walking, driving a car, or typing without thinking, but such actions are also under our volitional control and can be altered or stopped at any time by choice, and the original learning of such habituated behavior had to be chosen.
It is volition that makes the other attributes of the mind possible. All knowledge has to be acquired by consciously chosen effort and the use of knowledge to think, to ask and answer questions, and to make judgments, all must be consciously chosen.
Intellect is the human ability to acquire and retain knowledge.
[NOTE: The subject of knowledge is very large and can only be addressed adequately by a complete exposition of the fundamentals of epistemology. It can only be touched on briefly here.]
Though the word "knowledge" is used to identify many things, such as developed skills (she knows how to type) and acquaintance (he knows everyone I know), intellectual knowledge pertains only to knowledge acquired and held by means of language. All knowledge consists of statements (propositions) that correctly state or describe some aspect of reality.
It is the fact that reality is what it is and no human awareness of, ideas about or feelings concerning it has any affect on its nature that it is called, "objective," reality, and why any correct identification or description of any aspect of reality is called objective knowledge.
Knowledge is acquired by the intentional identification of any aspect of reality: existents, concrete or abstract, their attributes, relationships, and behavior. That identification is by means of concepts and it is what the concepts identify all our knowledge (propositions) is about.
Knowledge is necessary to both choice (volition) and thinking (rationality). All choice assumes knowledge—at a minimum, knowledge of what there is to choose and knowledge of which choices are preferable, which also means knowing what the consequences of choices will be. Knowledge is also necessary to reason, because knowledge is all there is to reason about, and knowledge is all there is to reason with.
The ability to reason is necessary to both volition and the acquisition of knowledge. It is reason that makes it possible for knowledge to be integrated, which only means, nothing can be knowledge so long as there are contradictions. Since reality is what it is, statements about some aspect of reality that are in contradiction cannot both be true, and therefore not knowledge, at least until the contradiction can be resolved.
Reason is necessary to volition because determining which choice is preferable requires a judgment, an answer to certain questions, such as, "what is possible here?" "what will happen if I choose this," and "which of these results is the best?" The process requires both the forming of the questions and determining the answers to the questions in relation to that kind of knowledge we call our values. The answer to such questions is called a "judgment," because it makes an evaluation about what is preferable in terms of our values and the consequences of the chosen action or inaction.
Choices cannot be made without a process of reason, but there is no guarantee that one's reasoning will be correct. What is guaranteed is that a failure to reason correctly will certainly result in disastrous choices. If one allows desires, whim, or feelings, or any other kind of irrationality, to determine choices, the consequences of such choices are certain to be undesirable and harmful.
The formalization of the principles of correct reason is called logic. Unfortunately, there is a great deal that goes by the name logic today which has nothing to do with correct reasoning, and is frequently inimical to it. (Logical positivism, for example.)
The "Mind-Body" Problem
There is a long-standing question in philosophy called the mind-body problem. The question is usually put in some such form as, "if the mind is not physical, how does one consciously control their physical body, but if the mind is physical, and therefore determined by the principles physics, how is choice possible?" As we have seen, the mind is not a substance or incorporeal entity occupying a physical body, it is an attribute of the physical organism it is the mind of, an integral aspect of the organism without which the organism would not exist as the organism it is. It is the organism's life and consciousness, and, in the case of human beings, the mind that make it possible for the physical living organism to exist and act to maintain its own existence. Life, consciousness, and the mind are not separate in any way from human beings, they are, together with the physical attributes, what a human being is. The mind is not a separate thing that interacts with the physical, the mind is that aspect of the organism that makes it possible for that physical organism to know, think, and choose what it does.