I Can Read Your Mind . . . I Think: Hegel on Cognition and Community

I thought it fitting to title this post as such due to the fact that I am dealing with cognition and community. So it is fitting to include both you and me, as well as words like “mind” and “think.” However, I cannot actually read your mind (spoilers!). But philosophically, this does not mean that we are not interrelated and part of a distinct community. Let me explain.

G.W.F Hegel states in his Phenomenology of the Spirit that,

If cognition is like an instrument or medium, then it does not leave the item to which it is applied, or the thing it filters, unaffected. If so, then anything we know is known in virtue of its being modified by this instrument or medium. (p. 46)

In short (if that is even possible with Hegel), the way we gain truth or gain consciousness, whether about ourselves or things in the world, cannot be separated from how we experience those things. Our very act of observing, talking, or interacting with things affects what (or who) they are. Therefore, seeing something in itself is not possible without taking in how you came to see that object in the first place, or why you see object in that manner. For example, the experience of seeing a tree is intrinsic to what the nature of the tree is. What the tree is in itself is made up what it actually is and how I interact with it. Hegel, at least in my reading, conveys that interconnectedness of things, attempting to refine and redefine the way we come to know truth.

What does this mean for humanity and the attempt to build a community of people? Hegel suggests that the human can “experience itself as living, and can experience the world that situates it as a dimension of its own life and as comprised of [other] living things (De Nys, Hegel and Theology, 19).” That is to say that you and I are interrelated, and that I can, in some way, know who I am through my experience and interaction with you – my consciousness is know through our experience with one another and vice versa or my consciousness is that experience. I am conscious of my identity only through you.

This all goes to say that it may be very important to be a part of a community of people who are continually experiencing one another and (re)forming their identities. Whether this takes place in a church, a home, or at a weekly Sabbath meal (my favorite), relationships with others are vital to knowing one’s self.

Although there are several layers to Hegel’s claims on consciousness, it seems that, in some weird way, I can read your mind, or at least what your mind is is formed by me in some way.

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