What is the mind exactly? Is it your brain, your consciousness, the reality of your being, or is it indeterminable and unquantifiable?
Many scientists insist on the mind being distinct from the brain yet still struggle to offer a meaningful separation. Despite that, it’s generally accepted that the mind is the seat of our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, behaviour and experience of life.
As I write this article, I’m still not entirely clear whether it is my mind or brain that is doing so.
That said, whatever the truth ultimately is, experience tells me that there are a number of annoying features of the mind.
– Why is it that I can know something but still not accept it, believe it or act more appropriately with that knowledge?
– Why is it that I can look in the mirror and sometimes like what I see but never like a photograph of myself.
– Why do I think that bad things only happen to other people; including death?
– Why am I disgusted with people who panic buy in the midst of a pandemic yet feel the urge to panic buy myself?
– Why do I worry about things that have already happened or know will never happen anyway?
I could go on and on!
The presenter and public speakers mind
A great number of highly intelligent, talented and responsible presenters find certain features of the mind equally annoying:
– I know what I’m talking about so why do I feel so anxious?
– I hate it when presenters read slides to me so why do I do exactly the same to my audience?
– I know I speak too fast but I also know how to speak slowly so why can’t I slow down when presenting?
– I would never dream of speaking in a monotone voice to my family so why do I do it at work?
– I make eye contact easily in a one to one conversation or with friends or family so why is it so hard to do so when I’m presenting?
I could go on and on!
Is it my mind, brain or both?
The truth is:
– We can send a human being to the moon.
– We can transplant a human heart.
– We can save millions of lives every day through medicine.
– We can connect with each other anywhere in the world in an instant.
– We have even discovered how to fly?
It’s a miracle, don’t you think?
We have achieved so much and advanced so far yet despite our incredible progress it seems there are still so many annoying features of the mind that we can’t fix.
I believe that our mind is our greatest gift, yet, at the same time it presents us with our greatest challenge. We have spent millennia achieving incredible feats yet our minds still appear to be works in progress.
If you were to ask most people whether they feel they are in control of their own mind the majority would regard it as a stupid question and respond with, of course! If you extended the dialogue further to enquire as to whether they have ever had a strange or unwanted thought enter their mind, once again, that would be perceived as a stupid question.
Sometimes, the more we try really hard to resist a thought that we didn’t consciously choose it persists with a vengeance.
According to David A. Clark, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, Canada, ‘Neuroscientists posit that over 50 percent of our thinking is spontaneous, stimulus-independent thought-mind wandering, daydreaming, intrusive thoughts, and the like.’
I can’t imagine that many people would struggle to relate to such a suggestion yet continue to believe they are in control of their own mind. Although, Barry Gordon, professor of neurology and cognitive science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests that:
‘We are aware of a tiny fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds, and we can control only a tiny part of our conscious thoughts. The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously. Only one or two of these thoughts are likely to breach into consciousness at a time.’
I could go on and on but I’m mindful of the fact that our lack of actual control as suggested by very eminent scientists is quite depressing so let me just leave you with this one. Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella, tells us that, ‘Most thoughts enter our brains as a result of subliminal processes we don’t totally control.’
If these scientific minds are to be believed, then it explains why there are so many annoying features of the mind. It seems that we don’t have anywhere near the level of control of our minds that we give ourselves credit for.
All of this begs the question, whether consciousness is a product of the brain, mind or both; what is the point of consciousness?
That of course is a question that mankind has been searching for the answer to since the beginning of time.
As a public speaking coach and presentation skills trainer, I like the idea posited by two scientists, David Oakley from University College London and Peter Halligan from Cardiff University. Their answer is, ‘It’s a communication tool. A sense of self and personal history allows us to communicate to others what we have perceived and experienced. This ability to communicate is imperative to our survival and gives humankind an evolutionary edge.’
Where does that leave us?
Despite the incredible but unfathomable nature of the brain, mind and consciousness we are all still all ‘works in progress’. We will have:
– Annoying and unwanted thoughts
– Beliefs that aren’t necessarily true or real
– Anxieties and fears
In the year 2020, we still have wars, political and religious unrest. We have worldwide greed, unkindness and divided nations. We are competing with each other mindlessly as we’ve seen through recent panic buying. We have exposed our selfishness and primitive instinct for survival by ignoring government advice to ‘stay at home’. All in our belief that we are the most intelligent creatures on this earth.
Perhaps we are but it seems to me that we are still intellectually and emotionally frail. We have a very long way to go as this current pandemic exposes.
None of us are perfect or ever will be and as gifted as we all are with the human mind; their will always be annoying features of the mind.
That’s why I resonate with and like the idea of the mind, brain, consciousness being a tool for communication. As we are seeing today, we are all in this together and what else could be more important at this time than the way we communicate with each other.
I’m not a psychologist or scientist so I realise this may present itself as a challenging read for some. If you have the expertise and knowledge that you can share with us at this difficult time in simple, layman’s terms then please do feel free to share. When it comes to annoying features of the mind, I don’t believe anyone would argue that we all need as much help as we can get at the moment.
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