“The mind is everything.” ~ Buddha
The mind is the intangible instrument of intelligence: an often-enigmatic gyre, furnishing the basis for behavior through its filtered worldview. The mind is the energetic engine of individual life: the interpreter of sensation, the fabricator of actuality, the constructor of concepts, beliefs, hopes, and fears, and the tool of all crafts.
Actually, there are no minds. The term mind is a label of misdirection – a fallacy of object orientation for the process of mentation. Consider the mind as a processor without substance, albeit inextricably and inexplicably linked to a body’s physiology.
“Mind and consciousness are not things but processes.” ~ Austrian American system theorist Fritjof Capra & Italian chemist Pier Luigi Luisi
Daydreams and dreaming illustrate that the mind fabricates of its own volition. Even in the waking state, what phenomenally appears is a phantasmagoric multimedia display sewn from disparate ongoing sensations into a consistent fabric.
We consider as “real” anything that is perceptible to the senses, and yet every imaginable thing that is sensorially perceptible must pass through an interpretation by the mind before it is cognized. If whatever is sensorially perceptible is only an appearance, where then is the reality of the physical form which seems so very real and tangible? ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Of Two Minds
There are 2 distinguishable agencies from which thoughts arise. One, willmind, is the imminently useful tool which is esteemed as mental acumen. The other, nattermind, is a nuisance disguised as a personal guide.
As the vehicle of comprehension and problem-solving, willmind is mental power under supposed volition. Willmind is at work while concentrating on the environment in the moment or at a task at hand. In translating mental intent, willmind affords the generation of expressive communication.
Nattermind is the woodpecker on the lumber of mentation. It is the voice of distraction, doubt, and distress: a deceiver by its nagging worries and schemes.
Nattermind binds awareness to the mind-body. In doing so, nattermind creates the duplicity of duality: that one is an individual self in a physical world. This is nattermind’s ultimate intent: to create the illusion of self and duality so as to rule over its subject.
“The world is vast and strange, but no vaster and no stranger than our minds are.” ~ Ursula Le Guin
Nattermind is a restless beast, itself relentlessly seeking entertainment in the form of speculation. In most people, nattermind constantly attempts to intrude into awareness with its prattle. Worry is nattermind’s favorite pastime.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” ~ English poet John Milton in Paradise Lost (1667)
Nattermind’s incessancy is troubling for 95% of the population. Most people are discomforted in sitting idle, letting their own minds prey upon them.
“We lack a comfort in just being alone with our thoughts. We’re constantly looking to the external world for some sort of entertainment.” ~ American psychologist Malia Mason
Nattermind and willmind point out the manifold nature of the mind as receiver, deceiver, and deliverer. In ignorance the mind is given free rein. By contrast, the road to enlightenment is a discipline: consigning the mind to a mere utility by banishing nattermind.
Consciousness provides the platform for a living entity’s awareness: the intangible chalk board upon which the mind writes. Consciousness provides the capability of witnessing the mind’s musings, and so is the vehicle for introspection.
“Consciousness takes precedence over everything, including physical reality itself.” ~ Dutch psychologist Frederick Aardema
Awareness is the power of perceptiveness. The baseline level of awareness varies considerably among people. In most people, nattermind is incessantly active while awake. This internal chatter degrades attention to the environment, both of internal dynamics and the outside world. A quieter mind affords being in the moment, and so allows a greater apprehension of what goes on within and without.
Conscious attention is highly selective. Selective attention means that at every moment our awareness is focused on a tiny facet of all that we experience.
Selective attention develops with maturity. In contrast, children’s attention is more diffuse. This means they may perceive what adults miss.
“Children don’t focus their attention as well as adults. They end up noticing and remembering more.” ~ Russian psychologist Vladimir Sloutsky
The ability to focus attention allows greater concentration on tasks. By taking in more information, children’s’ distributed attention better facilitates learning. The selectiveness of attention is age appropriate.
Despite the bottleneck of selective attention, we intuitively intake much of what is going on around us. Some of this may surface from the subconscious later, sometimes without our knowing.
In one experiment women listened through headphones to a prose passage played in one ear. Their task was to repeat the passage verbatim out loud and check it against a written transcript. While the passage was playing in one ear, novel melodies played in the other ear, loud enough to be heard; but the women were absorbed in their prose exercise.
When the women later heard a variety of tunes – some of the ones previously played among new ones – they did not recognize any of them. Nonetheless, when asked to rate how much they liked each tune, they preferred the ones previously played. Their preference was for familiarity which they could not consciously recall.
As conscious awareness is quite limited, selective attention is essential. Imagine hearing 2 simultaneous conversations, one in each ear, then having to repeat the message conveyed in only 1 ear: it’s difficult in demanding concentration but doable. The cocktail party effect is the ability to selectively attend to a single voice.
“At the level of conscious awareness, whatever has your attention pretty much has your undivided attention.” ~ American psychologist David Myers
The need for selective attention effectively destroys the idea of simultaneous multitasking. Experiments demonstrate that people talking on a cell phone are slower to respond to traffic signals: a phenomenon which many drivers have experienced in one way or another.
“What we are conscious of is constructed out of what we are not conscious of – that our whole knowledge is made up of the unknown and the incognisable.” ~ Scottish metaphysician William Hamilton
A single conscious stream – cognition – may hold one’s attention at any moment. Meanwhile, the mind processes multiple threads below the threshold of instant awareness. This dynamo below is the subconscious.
Thoughts come to conscious attention based upon subconscious prioritization of what is the most stimulating to the mind among the menu of immediate concern. A subconscious stream surfaces into conscious awareness if sufficient stimulus prompts attention, or during a focal context switch, whereby the current conscious flow of thought is temporarily submerged or extinguished.
“The contents and strength of mental imagery are influenced by sensory-like representations that emerge spontaneously before volition.” ~ Australian psychologists Roger Koenig-Robert & Joel Pearson
The subconscious acts as a filter, bringing disposition and personality into play. By this the subconscious introduces the biases that predominate reasoning.
Under the false flag of intuition, the subconscious is also a decision maker. The subconscious makes judgments in a fraction of a second, which the conscious mind may mull and validate at a relative snail’s pace.
“The conscious mind is more of an observer after the fact, while behavior itself is usually unconsciously initiated.” ~ American sociobiologist Robert Trivers
Rationality that runs against the subconscious creates a nagging dissonance, which is apt: the subconscious is a better decision maker than can be mustered through conscious cognition, as a greater confluence of considerations can be taken into account.
“When people deliberate before they make a decision, they tend not to be as good as they are if they do it non-consciously.” ~ Indian social psychologist Nalini Ambady
Freud’s Consciousness Trinity
Freud posited a triad of consciousness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. His sense of the conscious was conventional: thoughts and desires of which one is aware. Retrieving the salacious bits of what lay below was what turned Freud’s psychoanalytic crank.
“In all the symptoms of all neurotic diseases, always and everywhere the meaning of the symptoms is unknown to the sufferer. Without fail, these symptoms are derivatives of unconscious experiences which can, under various favorable conditions, become conscious.” ~ Sigmund Freud
Freud’s focus on repression led to his bifurcating the subconscious into the preconscious and unconscious. Freud’s preconscious comprises thoughts and desires conceived at the unconscious, but not subject to repression, and so can become conscious. The unconscious was Freud’s netherworld of the mind: thoughts submerged beyond access to the conscious mind, not available for introspection, even as they influence behavior. Freud’s “talking cure” aimed at unearthing repressed memories.
(The use of unconscious in Spokes is the common, non-Freudian sense, as synonymous with subconscious (occurring below the level of conscious thought), not in the sense of being repressed beyond retrieval.)
“Most of your experiences are unconscious. The conscious ones are very few. You are unaware of the fact because to you only the conscious ones count.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Most mental processing goes undetected, sailing the seas of the subconscious. We are aware of only a small fraction of the terrain that the mind traverses. The subconscious is constantly consulted, especially intensely when the cognitive mind remains uncertain.
“The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the Sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.” ~ Sigmund Freud
The reason for the subconscious is that there is simply too much perception going on to consciously keep track of. The subconscious is an efficiency: maintaining awareness without distraction unless a potential for danger or some desirous object is sensed. Such a signal grabs our attention.
The subconscious also provides for a richness in mentation which could not otherwise be obtained. Nature is fond of layered complexity.
“We only notice an object once our unconscious has calculated its importance.” ~ Korean-born Canadian cognitive scientist Diana Kwon
Our mental processes are largely autonomic: continuously adding sensations, processing perceptions, combing through memories.
Reactions from social interactions while growing up yield a sense of individuality. An identification of distinctness via comparison to others is largely culled subconsciously from the emotional residue of interpersonal encounters.
Most saliently, the emotions of children are keenly felt. Subconsciously made and commonly without conscious evaluation, early impressions can be lasting.
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Organisms have a sense of their body parts and movement through space: proprioception. Proprioception is constantly maintained, albeit subconsciously.
Peripheral vision, which provides part of proprioception, is exemplary of subconscious processing. Much gaze outside the limited focal range is unconsciously registered. The term subliminal is often used for this phenomenon.
(Owing to eye structure and placement in the head, humans have less peripheral vision than many other animals, especially herbivores subject to predation.)
“Implicit motives influence successful goal pursuit and positive life outcomes through their effects on learning and memory.” ~ German psychologists Oliver Schultheiss & Martin Köllner
While the conscious mind has its own goals, so too the subconscious. Dissonance between the two generates stress and negatively affects mental health.
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Attitude influences physical health as well as sense of well-being. In an instance of self-fulfilling prophecy, how one thinks stress affects health does so, for better or worse.
The Power of the Mind
The mind an ethereal organ, entwined with a physiological intelligence system; a unity posing as a duality.
Alzheimer’s disease starkly illustrates how the foundation upon which the mind relies – memory – can be circumscribed by physical health. Alzheimer’s ravages short-term memory, and eventually eats away at memories of recent years. Longer-term memories are typically retained.
Alzheimer’s victims retain their personalities and cunning. Many try to disguise the extent of damage by tailoring their conversation to avoid revealing their loss.
Just as those physically healthy can have sick minds, people may have decent mental functioning with physically deficient brains. Physiology is not necessarily psychological destiny. Autopsies sometimes reveal the physical ravages of Alzheimer’s in people who lacked much mental diminishment.
A 48-year-old French civil servant living a normal life went to the hospital for weakness in his left leg. Doctors found his brain only 30% of normal size: an outcome of hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
“The whole brain was reduced – frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes – on both left and right sides. These regions control motion, sensibility, language, vision, audition, and emotional and cognitive functions.” ~ French neurologist Lionel Feuillet
A Chinese woman who was slow to develop ambulatory and language skill had trouble walking steadily most of her life. Her pronunciation was slightly slurred. She otherwise led a normal life. Her entire cerebellum was missing.
As neurodegenerative diseases illustrate, changes to the brain can influence mental function. The converse also applies.
Male and female North American barn swallows with darker breast feathers have better reproductive success because the birds consider a dark breast an indicator of health, and thus serves as a selector for mating.
While ventral feather color is significantly influenced by genetics, the color of melanin-based plumage, as in barn swallows, is also tied to social status, and to physiological states, such as circulating testosterone and stress level.
A bird whose feathers are artificially darkened to resemble attractive birds rapidly adopts the health of darker birds: measurable stress level drops.
The same color manipulation induces opposite effects on testosterone in males and females: levels go up in darkened males, and down in spruced-up females; an enhanced health effect in both instances. (What is most peculiar about this is that an altered bird cannot see the change. Instead, the psychic and physiological changes come via social feedback.)
Birds made up to look good feel good about themselves. What’s in the mind impacts the body.
Perception involves processing multiple sensations from different senses into a composite that represents the ongoing experience of existence. As in comedy, timing matters.
When a person speaks, most people see and hear that person simultaneously. But some people are out of sync: they either see the lips move prior to hearing the voice or hear people before they speak.
“How subjective timing relates to such neural timing remains a fundamental neuroscientific and philosophical puzzle.” ~ English cognitive scientist Elliot Freeman et al
Conversely, the mind affects sensation. For instance, the type of cutlery used to eat can have a dramatic impact on how food tastes.
An odd or unexpected experience is commonly an unpleasant one which can be felt physically. The fulfillment or thwarting of expectations often has bodily effects.
“The mind is able to activate physical conditions.” ~ Alfred Alder
Psychosoma refers to bodily exhibitions invoked psychologically. Emotional tears and blushing are psychosomatic: the mind provokes a physiological response.
(The noun psychosoma is derived from the adjective psychosomatic. It is odd that the English language has not had a noun for this common and well-known phenomenon. But then, the adjective psychosomatic dates only to 1860, though psychosomatic illnesses have been known since antiquity. With its bias toward physicality, the power of the mind has been grossly underappreciated by modern science.)
Psychosomatic disorder is one where a physical cause appears lacking. Fainting from an overwhelming surge of emotion is psychosomatic.
Pain is the most commonly reported psychosomatic illness, followed by fatigue and depression. But all sorts of psychosomatic symptoms have been seen, even blindness.
Though its wear eventuates in physical deterioration, mental stress is psychosomatic. As the mind-body is a unity, what affects the mind makes its way into bodily manifestation if a psychosomatic state is sustained. What starts as psychosomatic evolves systemically into a bodily disease.
A 1997 survey by the World Health Organization found that 20% of medical patients worldwide suffer a psychosomatic illness. Given the dynamics of psychosoma, this is likely an underestimation of diseases that originate within the mind. After all, if a physical “cause” is found, doctors treat the physical symptoms, as the mental element is beyond their ken.
“Even when my patients come to fully appreciate the central element of the equation – that it is their mind that contains the root cause of physical distress – they may be unable to accept the reality of their own buried rage, and remain puzzled over the fact that their own mind can make decisions of which they are unaware.” ~ American physician John Sarno
The vast majority of patients suffering under a psychosomatic illness refuse to accept that the mind is the origin, and that there is no physical cause. As John Sarno observed, “many are downright hostile to the idea,” which speaks volumes unto itself. There is a social stigma against psychosomatic sufferers.
“Much of the skepticism of psychosomatic therapy demonstrated by patients is strongly reinforced by the medical profession, including much of the psychiatry community. People much prefer a diagnosis that suggests they can better with a “quick fix”: an injection, a medication, a manipulation, even surgery.” ~ John Sarno
Unsurprisingly, the placebo effect can exert considerable power. Believing that one is being well-treated can be in and of itself effective treatment. Homeopathy, which has no medical value, is often helpful simply because its takers believe it works.
“The human mind is programmed for survival, not for truth.” ~ English philosopher John Gray
▫ The mind is the intangible organ that takes in the world, providing an equal facility for knowledge and delusion.
“The mind is simply the collection of impressions that have been recorded since birth. It is occupied by thoughts which are based upon its predominant concept.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
▫ All that the mind conjures is a fabrication of its own violation: a mixture of perception and imagination, filtered by biases and beliefs.
“Often, we don’t know why we do what we do.” ~ David Myers
▫ There are 2 functional aspects of the mind: willmind and nattermind. Whereas willmind is volitional cognition, nattermind is an independent agent.
Nattermind is the mind’s gremlin: a restless presence, willingly imposing itself with speculations. Worry is nattermind’s favorite pastime. Those who are captive creatures of their mind suffer nattermind’s predations.
“Consciousness reigns but doesn’t govern.” ~ French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry
▫ Consciousness is the platform for awareness. Awareness is the perceptual quality of being in the present moment.
▫ The mental room in which awareness resides is termed the conscious mind. But the mind does most of its work in the vast cavern to which one is nominally unaware: the subconscious.
▫ The mind-body is an integrated gyre; for better or worse, one influences the other.