A Mind that Follows Rules without Worrying about Relevance
In Newton this island may boast of having produced the greatest and rarest genius that ever rose for the ornament and instruction of the species. Cautious in admitting no principles but such as were founded on experiment; but resolute to adopt every such principle, however new and unusual. (Hume, 1792, History of England, VI, p. 542)
Hume was still a student when Newton died in 1727. Influenced by the great physicist, Hume assumes that even the affects and thoughts follow laws of causality. Meteorology describes coherent laws that manage the winds, humidity, and seasons. This system acts without taking into account the fact that farmers would like to have sun on such a day, rain during a particular week, and so on. This vision is well summarized by Carl Gustav Jung when he describes the dynamics of dreams:
We are dealing with a particular way of functioning independent of the human ego’s will and wishes, intention or aim. It is an unintentional occurrence, just like everything occurring in nature. So we also cannot assume that the sky gets clouded only to annoy us; it simply is as it is. The difficulty is, however, to get a handle on that natural occurrence. (Jung, 1940, p. 2)
For Hume, the mind functions like the climate. It is also a system subject to laws that are particular to it, that act without knowing the workings of all that surrounds it. The mind is a system of algorithms that can manage certain data in a certain way and other data in another way; it excludes the data for which it does not have a procedure. What each individual takes as knowledge is a certain number of thoughts created by psychological algorithms. Society itself follows procedures that coordinate individual productions, thus creating common myths, pretenses to know that are sometimes constructive and often destructive. The human mind can only engender fictionsâ3 created by the algorithms of the mind and the information produced by more or less relevant means through the senses. To pretend to be able to make pronouncements on the existence of God or on the functioning of the universe with such means is, for Hume, a form of omnipotence.4
This notion of fiction starts with the idea that before Newton, philosophers thought the universe worked the way they imagined it to work, or the way a culture conceived it to be. It became impossible for Hume to think like that anymore, because science had just taken a decisive step showing that the derivatives of the mind are speculative when they are not supported by solid empirical data and interrelated with sound common sense and rational laws like those of mathematics.