The Study of the Mind:
Mind & Thinking
The objective of The Mind is to provide the reader with a unique overview of the thinking of human kind. Self-understanding is one of humankind?s most ancient quests. Who am I? What is my relationship to the world around me? These questions marked the beginnings of philosophy. They are initiations in the search for mind, for, at least in the one respect; we are unique among all creatures. Only we are curious about our origins, the meaning of existence, and the nature of the inner world that we experience whenever we reflect, remember, and think.
Thinking is as natural and inevitable as breathing, but when we try to pin down what it is that we actually do when we think, we run into difficulties. In part, this is because many aspects of our thinking are not available to our awareness. We cannot sum up everything that we believe, for example; yet the beliefs that we fail to communicate may be as or more important than what we speak about. This paradox has much to tell us about the nature of mind.
At first glance a definition of the mind seems obvious. After all, we speak of it daily. We talk of making up (or losing) one?s mind, call some of our neighbors ?mindless,? and sometimes suggest that someone ?does not know his own mind.?
Scientist and thinkers in pursuit of mind have tried to identify those qualities that make it unique. One quality is the ability to be conscious of self, the ability to understand one?s place on the planet and time.
Thinking shapes mental models. The art of navigating a ship is a demonstration of what we all do all our lives: construct models, solve problems, and anticipate the future. These mental processes reach their culmination in the human brain.
?The brain exists in order to construct representations of the world,? says Dr. Johnson-Laird. ?Very simple organisms have no brains, construct no representations of the world. And the reason we probably have such large brains in part because we live in a very complicated world, a complicated social world. We?re social animals. So the brain has to do a great deal of computation in order to solve the very intricate problems that social life poses for us.?
On some occasions, our thinking is like that of the navigator of the carrier. We employ words, concepts, and highly abstract representations of the world around us. At other times, in difficult, sensitive, or challenging situations, we think in the way the native navigator does, and intuit or think in the way the native navigator does, and intuit or ?feel? our way. There are no fixed rules, no set approaches that will constantly work at such times. But though we, like the native navigator, ?play it by ear? interpreting the situation as he interprets the direction, shape, and feel of the ocean swells that rock his tiny craft, the mental models in both these kinds of thinking are similar, drawing on a store of accumulated knowledge and experience. Thinking is easier to name than to define, but we can begin to explore what it is by noting elements of thinking. Consider the following biographical sketch: Jonathan dropped out of school in the mid-sixties, drifted into anti-war activities, experimented with drugs for a while, and eventually returned to take a degree from Berkley in 1970. Today Jonathan lives in Greenwich Village. Question: Which is more likely, that Jonathan is a teacher at the New School and an occasional user of cocaine. But the logically more correct answer is that Jonathan is a teacher at the New School.
None of these scenarios is the result of stupidity, flawed thinking, or malfunctioning within the mind. Rather, they illustrate how the mind actually works. Put in evolutionary terms, the mind has evolved to be effective in situations that are most likely to arise. Mechanisms have developed to respond to these situations. Logic is one of these mechanisms, but it?s not the only one, nor often, it is the most useful, adequate, or even the most important one most of the time, few of us operate according to strict principles of logic. Our minds are not logic machines, and for good reasons.
Here are three questions: Who was the sixteenth president of the United States? How far is Los Angeles from San Francisco? Are the toes of a pigeon arranged differently from those of a parrot, and if so, what is the difference? Each of these questions required you to think in a different way. On Occasion, thinking consists of working with words and concepts: the sixteenth president. At other times it requires vivid images: parrots compared to pigeons. On still other occasions, thinking may use either of these approaches you can figure out the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles by reasoning, or you can dispense with words altogether and consult an ?inner map? based on your travels. Often, thinking involves all these processes.
The argument for the human brain as a computer typically takes the following form. The human brain makes all experience and thought possible; all decision functions in the brain are reducible to a binary yes/no process; the brain is nothing more than an elaborate computer with its sympathized junctions performing on-off functions. The objective of computer science is to learn how the brain?s symbols represent the external world and how the brain?s circuitry regulates ?input and ?output.? Thinking is formed on the basis of compromise. If we insisted on examining al possible alternatives that are open to us, we could never make any decisions. Most of us most of the time settle for ?rough and ready? choices that enable us to move on. There are always limitations of time, resources, and mental energy that must e taken into account, as well as individual life experiences unique to each individual. Our decisions are always based on seems best ?under the circumstances,? this doesn?t imply that the mind is damaged. On the contrary, the point is simply that more important considerations influence the formation of thought than mere logic and even rationally. Because our use of language we often suggest that we tend to equate rationality and mentally, it is important to emphasize this point. ?He must have been out of his mind.? As most us would say
Because traditionally we have been taught to think of ourselves as acting freely most of the time, the extensive consequences of frontal lob damage are profoundly disturbing, our thinking and behavior involve a delicate balance between tow opposing factors. As a result of an influence we can turn toward those processes necessary for insight, abstraction, planning, and a sense of personal information. Disturbances are also escape measures of the brain, but only by being aware of their prior personality and comparing it with present thinking and behavior can we detect the alterations induced by frontal damage to the most subtle aspects of thinking; judgment, and innate feeling for what?s appropriate, and the ability to take the ?long view? and look beyond one?s immediate circumstances.
It is reason and communication that underline all human thought. The experience of Joseph Kovach, who was a fifteen-year-old Hungarian schoolboy when he was imprisoned in the Soviet gulag, is a powerful example of this. For four years, he lived in an isolated, frightening environment, each day an eternity. ?When I look at the months, the years, they were empty.? Kovach remembers. ?There?s nothing in terms of thinking, of planning, of remembering the past of planning for the future. It felt almost as though I was hibernating.? Thanks to our mind, we can change our perceptions of our world and ourselves. Joseph Kovach, free, built a life of the mind and spirit, and today is Dr. Joseph Kovach of the Menninger Foundation. We can create science, music, and art. We read one another?s feeling, put ourselves in somebody else?s shoes, formulate our ideas, or respond to the genius of violinist like Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Her gifts express themselves in the delicate balance between pure thought and experienced emotion that lies at the basis of her music. ?One thing that goes to the heart of human beings is the importance of an emotional life. We take great pleasure in having our emotions moved either by the real world or by imaginary events,? says Philip Johnson Laird. Our mental apparatus, our capacity to find unities, coherence in a variation that what makes us free and that?s what makes us human.
So think tonight, how have you made use of the mind these past years? Has it been wasted like the students at Southwest Texas Jr. College? Forty three percent of students whom I interviewed do not study for their classes and do not have a job! The average student spends two hours and twenty minutes a week studying. The other fifty three percent go to school, have a job, and spend more time studying than those who only attend school. But half of those with a job obtain a job which requires not one kind of thinking skill which the mind can work on, are they brainless, or do they no know that they indeed have a mind in their brain?
We have a way of creating worlds for ourselves, in our head, and sharing the worlds. There are worlds that pertain to the part of thinking, worlds, which allow us to enter many aspect of the mind, worlds from which we know very little about. The mind is one of the most complex systems of our body, it is unexplainable; it is a mystery to human kind. No book has been able to unfold the capacity of the mind but research allows us to comprehend a small portion of what defines the mind. Thinking is the essence of the human brain and human mind, it is because of it that we fully understand ourselves, that is why we live the way we do today.