THE HUMAN MIND
All the mind's developments and extrapolations are rooted in the fundamental human needs and desires, which are shared by everyone. These are the instinct of survival experienced as the desire to live, the search for truth (the desire to know) and to experience happiness or joy (avoid suffering).
The mind, once stimulated to action through the demands of instinct, internal impulses, the body and its environment, soon conceives needs and wants which it identifies as its own. This identification is the essence of the personality, which gradually sets into mental and emotional dispositions as it develops.
In the early years the mind is naturally concerned to diversify and stabilise the personality, that is, chiefly to develop its own interests and mental possessions. It is observable from childhood studies how this childhood egocentricity varies considerably. These instinctual tendencies are what motivate the development of mind and, together with the environmental circumstances of birth and upbringing affect the nature and relative strength of the personality.
ON THE MIND'S CAPACITIES
The most prominent theories about mental capacities are often quite narrow in scope and seem like the fabled Procrustean 1 bed when confronted with the vast multiplicity of qualitatively-different ways in which the mind operates and structures its materials or reality. A sketch of a few of the mind's prodigious abilities should indicate this:-
The mind's faculty of self-direction: Though the mind is influenced by many external and internalised stimuli, it is capable of autonomy, which is to say, to monitor and programme and correct itself at will. It monitors itself by reviewing its contents in any way we choose for it to do - such as isolating any nexus of events or cluster of facts or figments to combine them with any other. It becomes 'self-programming' in so far as the will directs it to set new aims, make new types of comparison or evaluation, which it achieves by some effortless mental fiat that is recognised as such by all who have any conceptually-active mentality. This autonomous self-reflexive faculty is actively used both in the practicalities of daily life as well as in concentrated, reflective thought. It can of course also be developed by individuals so inclined well beyond normal requirements by use of a range of techniques to produce sublime reaches of imagination and intellectual systems of great accuracy and applicability.
Memory and forgetting: The normal adult mind - say that of anyone who has accumulated about twenty years of experience - virtually has access to a truly enormous field of phenomena. The number of events, major and minor, experienced in conscious attention must run into millions even within the space of a year. The mind stores amazing amounts of visual data of places one has been, faces one has seen and so forth. Add to these all that has been acquired vicariously such as through conversations, reading, the visual media and so on. Though we 'forget' the mass of trivial experiences, it is sometimes demonstrated how the brain stores far more than we appreciate. Much that is not recallable explicitly is implicitly remembered, as is the skill involved in riding a bicycle. The same applies to many perceptions which are integrated into the workings of the mind without themselves being distinctly recallable.
To illustrate this, 'forgotten' trivia can reappear in a dream years after the event; rediscovery of some paper from one's youth 'reminds' of details which one had 'entirely forgotten' and yet which one nevertheless can again recall. The so-called 'engrammata' of the brain have been re-enlivened by the stimulation of an electrode during open-brain operations under hypnosis, whereupon tiny details of 'forgotten' past events occur to the patient as clearly as they had just occurred.
Forgetting is a necessary condition of the functioning of conscious attention and concentration of the mind in the present. Forgetting and recollection are themselves complex functions which work in a huge variety of ways and to all manner of degree. How the mind automatically regulates forgetting so that masses of trivia are removed from available memory is itself a marvel so far beyond the grasp of neurological research.
The particular form of organisation or individual method of mental structuring of a mind and its manner of 'storing' experience can doubtless influence these functions greatly too. Though we do not normally notice it during its operation, the mind's ordering of memories is very involved. The processes, which are described by the phenomenological method and its essences extracted, can be illustrated by analogy.
For example, we may compare the mental operation of 'filing' and storing memories to that of a sorting machine with a series of filtering grills of successively smaller shapes and sizes. The 'largest' impression are held straight away at the top filter, so they are closest and most readily accessible to conscious recall. Less striking or relevant impressions fall through to be collected at the next filter and so on. At the deepest levels, the mind collects the residue of perceptions and thoughts which were discarded by our self-directing consciousness, perhaps as unpleasant or as not meriting our further attention. These may be sheer trivia from our perspective, but even the trivial can suddenly assume great importance under other conditions. Gradual increments of certain kinds of perception or idea can in time add up to a sum that rises more and more firmly towards awareness. This can also occur when, for whatever cause or reason, we redirect our attention and re-order our conscious interests, so that memories that previously were peripheral or seemed irrelevant assume new importance for us.
The analogy can be extended, without reasoning from analogy itself, to aid description of how a major mental 'shake-up' restructures perceived experience and our interpretation of its meaning etc. When we turn attention inwards to the layers of the mind in the interests of some degree of self-examination or of a deeper self-inquiry, the materials may be 're-filtered' using other shapes and sizes. A major restructuring of our 'mental apparatus' probably occurs relatively seldom in most people, though the rapidly changing nature of modern life and its new uncertainties, including social and cultural ruptures, must tend to increase such developments. Many external circumstances can trigger or effect changes, such as in cases of permanent job-loss, imprisonment, warfare, torture. Reorientation of the mind occurs in breakthroughs in thought, theraupeutic self-healing processes, conversion to new belief systems and/or religious faiths, achieving a lifetime aim, decisive emotional changes like falling in love and likewise upsets in personal relationships, major accidents, serious illnesses or bereavements.
Memory stores our experiences for us in such ways that we can later make the most unexpected leaps of association and comparative connections of all types of events. So many different 'chains of ideas' can be construed by the free-wheeling mind as to make comparison with even the most advance computers seem slow-witted.
As to forgetting, when a considerable age is reached, the mind has so much more memory than before that this 'data-base' takes longer to search and retrieve apparetly forgotten things. Research by Dr. Michael Ramscar indicates that elderly people have so much information in their brain that it takes longer for them to access it, “The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more." A team at Tübingen University in Germany programmed a computer to read a certain amount each day and learn new words and commands.
When the researchers let a computer “read” only so much, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult.
But if the same computer was exposed to the experiences we might encounter over a lifetime – with reading simulated over decades – its performance now looked like that of an older adult.
Often it was slower, but not because its processing capacity had declined. Rather, increased “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process – which takes time.
This accords with my experience at age 78, for example, I regularly come up against a name or piece of detail I cannot get hold of… but I somehow give my mind the message that I want to find it, and gradually the name or information gets clearer each time it recurs to me (and it recurs repeatedly until it is found, or I decide it is not significant enough to bother more about). I can even remember names this way of which I have not thought for many decades, but get some connection that the unknown name from another source.
As to the size of the mind regarded as a data base, I know this to be so as I have a general overview of the extent of my memory, and I can compare it with my mind in my youth quite well, because I know what I didn't know, hadn't heard of, hadn't experienced then… and can remember in outline many of the ideas beliefs, theories and much else that I rejected as false, irrelevant etc.
There are many different stages in experience separating the extremes on the continuum of human personalities. The mind of the young and the old can be separated by many steps indeed, these 'stages' being impossible to identify at once both clearly and comprehensively. The variety of individual backgrounds, of community and of culture make valid empirically-based generalisations about such stages in human activities fraught with great uncertainties. Awareness of this fact, so often allowed to degenerate, should be kept firmly to the forefront when any partial psychological theory is being considered, and most particularly in the case of pathological theories.
Beyond what can be observed in outward behaviour too are the inward workings of the soul, where imagination, faith, intuition and revelation can vary very greatly from person to person. These inward factors have the latent force to transform experience radically, and to do so time and again. The evidence of this is available in the serious historical-biographical literature of world figures and in major psychological literature generally. This must be a main empirical source, particularly for students who are unable to meet a very wide variety of persons or to travel widely and live in cultures differing basically from their own.
Perception of Manifold Wholes (Gestalts): Consider how in a performance of an orchestral work a close listener with musical training can discern not only the separate notes of each chords, which instruments are playing which voices, which melodies, harmonic progressions and rhythms are being used, what quality the dynamics, relative accuracy of pitch, tonal qualities and individual performances have... and many another purely audible elements. One may also notice the acoustical properties of the locality, the influence of the conductor on the musicians and even how the performance compares with other performances or recordings one recalls at the time. Add to these all that is visible during such a performance too and one begins to appreciate how truly multi-faceted are the workings of the mind. In short, the perceptive materials that the mind can grasp as a whole is extremely rich. To abstract from these a handful of categories purporting to outline the limits of all the mind's possible operations is to obscure its great flexibility and variety.
THE PROGRAMMED MIND VS. DIRECTING AWARENESS
Many functions of the mind can be said to be 'programmed'. This means that the mind holds patterns of memory, of perception (ways of seeing, hearing or sensing things), of ways of relating things to each other or 'associating ideas'. When such patterns are learned thoroughly or at an early age, they may become largely 'pre-set', being habitual so that the mind can rely on such 'programs' 'unreflectingly', i.e. without re-analysing or reflecting over them. The person concerned may no longer be fully aware of such pre-set behavioural responses and they may be so ingrained that they cannot be altered or reconfigured without considerable difficulties.
That the human mind only competes with the speed of high-speed computers in very exceptional cases, yet no computer has or apparently can have access to the simultaneous array of methods of filing and cross-filing memory for relations of both the most obscure and most obvious sort that our minds can generate autonomously in accord with problems it itself poses on the basis of experience.
It has been said that the mind does not work 'digitally', in the laborious and strictly logical manner of a computer, but 'analogously'. That can be taken to mean that it can organise itself, file and find its memories and perceptions and evaluate them in any relationship, by manifold symbolic comparisons (eg. such as in analogies, parables, so-called 'lateral thinking' etc.). Further, the mind can make both subliminal-impulsive and consciously-intended decisions that are effected through bodily activity. No computer so far constructed or planned can approach a duplication of these aspects of mind.
It has been widely demonstrated that the mind (or more likely the brain) is perfected through training to react at the subliminal level. Subliminal responses are those that are achieved without reflecting over them. Examples of subliminal reaction patterns (even flexible or 'self-adjusting' patterns) that can be activated are the movements of the fingers - unperceived by the absorbed player - in playing on an instrument what one 'hears within', a completely new improvisation. Similarly, the flash reaction of a table-tennis player who 'unthinkingly' reaches a shot never before attempted, and so forth.
The computer can reproduce and employ any judgement with which it is properly programmed, but cannot itself make its own, new, entirely unprecedented judgements. Neither therefore can it 'evaluate' in the basic or original sense of intuitively choosing between right and wrong according to conscience. The mind, in its subliminal functioning, has been equated with a computer. If the mind is 'fed' with the appropriate picture (say, of oneself reaching for a ping-pong ball to return it) it will strive to produce what is envisaged for it. If, on the contrary, one feels 'I'm going to miss this ball', it will attempt to produce what was envisaged too. Therefore, by feeding it 'positive signals' it will tend to produce the imagined (and positively-desired result) and by giving it 'negative input' it will tend to produce the imagined (and feared) result. This has been shown to be a very effective insight in improving many types of performance involving a psychical element.
However, the above computer model of the mind - as a mere 'brain' that cannot distinguish of itself between 'positive' and 'negative' - or for that matter between 'good' and 'bad', 'virtue' and 'vice' - is highly misleading where the conscious mind itself is concerned. The capacity of moral discrimination is a function of the human mind. It evaluates. Not only does it, unlike the computer, distinguish physical pleasure from pain, but also supra-physical qualities such as positive and negative 'values'. The essential character of the human mind here becomes apparent.
The cardinal difference between the human mind and computers lies in motivation. Computers are non-self motivated for they have neither desires nor human purpose in seeking being, enlightenment and joy .
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1. Procrusteus was a famous robber who fitted victims to a bed by stretching or mutilating them. Analytical systems that are too narrow or otherwise inadequate thus do violence to cases which do not fit the categories or whose nature exceeds or differs intrinsically from the conception upon which analysis or classification is based. One obvious example is Immanuel Kant, (Critique of Pure Reason. 1781). John Locke (d.1714) and David Hume's (d.1776) attempts, though unsystematic in presentation, also attempted overall theories of mind which have become very influential. Kant's theory clarifies somewhat less than claimed concerning conditions required in order for human experience to be possible and for the rise of generalising intellectual reason.