What is your Amazing Mind?

You can’t see it, but you experience it every day.

Your amazing mind.

Humans have long pondered what it is and how it works. Then, finally the answer. In 1997, Steven Pinker published How the Mind Works. But, oops, cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor then publishes The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way.

Even experts can’t make up their minds. How are the rest of us supposed to know? We don’t. That’s the bottom line. But we can still ponder and be amazed by the elusive mind.

As a junior doctor, I pondered the difference between the “conscious” and “unconscious” mind. I assisted a surgeon operating on a brain tumour. We weren’t working on a mind; the person was unconscious and had no awareness; there was no relationship with a person.

Now, as a psychotherapist, I relate professionally with a person, discuss their mind states, thoughts, feelings, ideas, motivations, beliefs & truths. I don’t touch their brain, but we interact deeply and intensely, one mind to another.

 SO WHAT IS MY MIND?

We still haven’t agreed on a definition of “mind” let alone know what it is. Yet, everyone subjectively experiences it. It encompasses consciousness and all we know, intend, reflect on, and experience; our awareness of surroundings, relationships, imagination and personality; our thoughts, feelings, motivations; and our sense of self – I exist – and our will (free or not).

 IS IT SEPARATE FROM MY BRAIN?

Belief in this area falls basically into two camps: dualists and monists.

Dualists are people like Rene Descartes (c17, I think therefore I am fame) who believe that a metaphysical spirit world exists. This makes it is easy to believe the mind and brain are separate, two (dual).

Monists see the mind and brain as one (mono), with mind being a product of brain function; the body’s information processing system; like a complex computer. It may be made up of modules, smaller areas, which are connected to the brain. After all, there are brain areas for language, decision-making, feeling and thinking, and these are part of the mind, too, right? Others say that although the mind emerges from the brain, it can’t be reduced to the brain and extends beyond it.

Yes. In psychotherapy, I experience someone’s mind extending towards me; their emotions – anger, sadness or joy – in the space between us. You experience this in any interaction with another person, another mind. Sometimes these interactions attract, sometimes they repel.

That got me thinking of magnets.

 GRANDPA’S MAGIC.

When I was very young, I played in my grandpa’s shed: hammering, cutting, making things. He had heaps of magnets; awesome fun. Grandpa would magnetise screwdrivers so he could easily pick up screws. Magic.

Grandpa did you put something into the screwdriver to magnetise it?

No, I got all the electrons in the screwdriver to line up in one direction. That creates electromagnetic energy. (As if I understood.)

Perhaps the brain is matter, like grandpa’s screwdriver, but the mind is the electromagnetic energy which extends beyond the brain. Einstein taught us that energy and matter weren’t that different. Maybe minds, like all of matter, are just electromagnetic energies. They interact like magnets: sometimes attract, sometimes repel, sometimes strong and sometimes weak. Atoms do this too.

Like a magnet, the mind does magic: help heal the body (placebo responses), talks to our immune system (psychoneuroimmunology), change the brain (neuroplasticity), and help decide which genes get expressed and which don’t (epigenetics). This is science, but magic as well, just as grandpa’s magnetic screwdriver was science, but seemed like magic to me.

 LIVES TRANSFORMED

In psychotherapy, I get to see lives transformed. Changed. Minds grow, sometimes in a big way, sometimes small. This too is magic: more connections in the person’s brain, a better balance of chemicals and, I think, people growing their minds into more effective magnets: more understanding, reflection, co-ordination and flexibility.

Psyche means “mind” (and soul, breathe, personhood, and butterfly). It encapsulates what I do as a psychiatrist. I get to see people change their minds, like a caterpillar going into a cocoon (psychotherapy) to emerge freer and transformed, a bit like a butterfly.

So mind, for me, is energy, information, relationship and a process of growth and transformation.

It’s amazing.

For more, listen to our podcast or watch our latest video on your brain on our YouTube Channel.

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Christian Heim