The Echoes of the Mind (28) The Power of the Mind

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.

 Barn Swallows

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.