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Health > Mental Health > Mind


Each of us has a unique and invisible possession – our mind. What it is, where it is and how it works has intrigued mankind for thousands of years, and there is still an immense amount to discover about it.

Mind is the brain in action. A brain can exist without a mind, but as far as is known, mind cannot exist without a brain in which it has its being. The brain may supply all the information which enables us to perceive the world about us, processing and storing information, supplying concepts and ideas. How we select that information, react to it, feel about it and think about it, however, is the operation of the mind.


In many ways, one person’s mind is very much like another’s. Virtually every mind quickly learns at an early age to recognize objects in the external world and – what is more important – to make sense of those objects. It learns that an object is still there even when it is not in view, and that it will ( in most cases) have the same properties when it is seen again as when it was last in view. It learns that things actually stay the same size when we get closer to them, in spite of what our eyes say. Inhabiting a body that is at first unwieldy and helpless, it learns to control it and to be independent of it. It discovers how to organize itself and how to think about itself, and in doing so has developed memory, reason and logic.


Because of the incredible complexity of the nerve web that makes up a brain, and the seemingly infinite capacity it has to develop in unique ways, it seems likely that we shall never know how the mind inhabiting that brain works. We cannot see a thought, cannot trace its electrical passage through the brain, and cannot deduce why an increase in the concentration of particular chemical substance in one part of the brain can produce, say, a feeling of anger within us. As a result, we can only work, by comparing the activity of the mind to, say, that of a highly sophisticated computer.

A computer may be able to remember, solve specific problems and make certain decisions, and yet the differences between mind and computer are astronomical. No computer has emotions. No computer produces information that has not previously been put into it, whereas the mind does this in every creative act. To teach a computer to recognize a given letter of the alphabet whatever the style of handwriting in which it is presented. If the computer’s inability to carry out this task is due to bad programming, that merely confirms our lack of knowledge about the mind.


We can never be sure that what our mind tells us is correct, because it is the only means by which we can know anything. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest that, in certain situations, it does deceive us. It deceives us every time we look a the familiar optical illusion drawings that feature in children’s comics from time to time. It deceives us when we press our fingers on to our closed eyes and ‘see’ ever changing patterns of light and darkness which we know do not exist. It deceives us when we dream and believe the dream to be real enough to terrify us, or when, under hypnosis, we do not feel any pain when placing one of our hands in ice-cold water.


Mind is the way in which we see the world, and so its powers of deception are of special importance in the treatment of mental disorders of the type not caused by actual brain malfunction. There is nothing unusual about the information which the brain presents to a neurotic person: however, he or she feels the stresses and anxieties which arise from that information too keenly, remembers them too easily, reacts to them too sensitively.


It is the job of psychotherapy to act upon the wrong interpretations produced by the mind. It may correct them by supplying fresh evidence and asking the mind to notice the good results of acting upon that evidence; this is behavioral therapy technique. Another method that of psychoanalysis and related therapies – is to find out how the mind came to make the wrong constructions in the first place. There is no suggestion that it is the brain’s physical activity and information supply that are at fault; it is only the interpretation of that information that is in question.


Using electronic equipment able to measures the patterns of electrical activity generated in the brain, scientists have become aware of the many different types of mind activity that can go on in the brain. When people go to sleep, the pattern of brain waves becomes different from that recorded while they are awake. When they begin to dream and the mind becomes very active, the pattern changes again, this time to one almost exactly the same as that shown during wakefulness, in spite of the fact that they are at that point most difficult to rouse from sleep. Mind and brain at this stage agree that they are virtually awake, but the body stays resolutely asleep.

When someone is hypnotized, on the other hand, the brain wave pattern is that of a person who is awake. The body, too, is often very much awake, especially when commanded by the hypnotist to carry out some active task. On this occasion it is apparently the mind that goes to sleep, even to the extent of being totally unaware of everything that has happened during trance unless commanded by the hypnotist to remember.


Hypnotism is an area in which the mind of one person seems to be controlling the mind of another. There are also examples of a person controlling his or her own mind so that it achieves unusual feats of mental skill. Some people, for example develop a specialized ability to memorize vast quantities of information on some particular subject , such as sport or history. The actor who works in a repertory company, where the plays change as often as once a week, manages to memorize his lines for a whole play and repeat them each night while he is learning next week’s material during the day. Little is known about how this type of memory feat is achieved.

Another mental skill is the ability to do two things at once. Many people believe that they have this ability especially when one of the tasks is particularly automatic – such as driving a car while holding a conversation, for example. Careful testing nearly always reveals however, that the person who is apparently doing two thing at once is actually switching attention very quickly from one task to the other and back again, leaving the unattended task to free-wheel until attention is returned to it a few seconds later. However, occasionally it does appear to be possible to do two tasks at once if they are carefully chose. For example, a test on an experienced musician found that she could read music at sight and play it on the piano while repeating a passage of prose being replayed to her through headphones.


Instances of ‘mind over matter’ fall into one of two groups. The first contains examples of ways in which the mind can influence what is sensed or done by its owner. In the second are instances of the mind apparently influencing objects or people at a distance.

Many examples exist of the way in which the mind can control bodily activity and sensation to an unexpected extent. It exerts a great deal of control over the extent to which pain is felt, often blotting it out if it is inappropriate to feel it at the time. A mother seldom feels the pain giving birth to her baby, but often feels much less than she might by concentrating upon the joy she will feel when she holds her child in her arms.

In spite of the many reports of telepathy, clairvoyance, ability to move objects by the force of thought and so on, science has found no examples of these phenomena which can be produced to order, in experimental conditions. The results of improved methods of investigating such events are no better or more reliable than those produced under uncontrolled or non-experimental – conditions. In addition, the events themselves are unpredictable – sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t and this makes the reality of such happenings suspect. This is not to say, of course, that they cannot happen. There are many reports of ‘mind out of the body’ experiences from people who have for a time been near death and who have afterwards remembered looking gown on themselves from above, and these may be true. However, there is no way of checking them: they are entirely dependent on the honesty and observational powers, under extremely unusual circumstances, of the people concerned, and so are not evidence.

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