My mind encounters numerous difficulties on the path toward understanding its own existence. To begin with, what is a mind? That I am using one seems obvious to me, but perhaps that is just a long-winded way of describing what I mean when I say the word “mind.” Simply put:
a mind is that which conveys meaning.
I love the numerous rabbit trails and rat holes diverging from the path at this point, and I wish to explore them all, but since my writing (if not my mind) is sequential, I’ll pick “meaning” next.
My office mate has a one-year-old who is learning to talk at a rapid clip right now. The kid loves to eat an orange and asks for it by saying, “Peel? Peel?” My office mate corrects the kid (as parents must) saying, “This is a clementine. Can you say ‘clementine’?” But the meaning is quite clear. There is a fruit, I want to eat it, please peel it for me. Nowish would be great. Mmmkay?
I found myself wondering last night, what the limits of that request would be: “please peel this clementine for me.” Could I hand my office mate a grapefruit and say those words? A Dove chocolate? A birthday present? What if I handed over a piece of paper or a sock?
“Meaning” is evasive here, but I’m betting most people would get the point if I asked them to peel a clementine by saying, “please shuck this corn cob for me.” As such, let us consider meaning in the Pragmatic sense of being conveyed successfully if some desired outcome results, and in particular let us consider that my mind has conveyed meaning to your mind if I have a desired outcome, I convey it to you, and you affect that outcome. Or is it “effect”?
With these two working definitions: mind, and meaning, we move on to the third, which is “existence.” What does it mean that there is existence, and that my mind exists within it?
I was asked once, “what is that hole for?” Everyone who knows me knows I love digging holes, and that this question is, to me, like asking, “what is that beautiful tree for?” Naturally I wrote a long essay, in which I explained that a hole negates that which it is in. It’s like the Mary Anne Hoberman poem about houses, except less interesting to people.
A mind is like that, in some meaningful way. It is whatever part of everything-that-is which is not me. And existence is everything else.
Except that’s not quite right, because much of what I perceive about existence is simply a part of my mind, or a reaction that my mind is having to encountering that existence. Thus, it is more correct to say that my existence is an interface between my self and all that is not-me. Whether the not-me has a self of its own may not be important for this discussion.
The next rabbit trail to follow is to understand the definition of a word, but now that I have convinced myself that I exist, I’m going to feed myself breakfast.