Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Human Mind



Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 

There is a popular notion that states - As humans we live in our Minds.  Mind has been variously defined as that which is responsible for one’s thoughts and feelings, the seat of the faculty of reason or the aspect of intellect and consciousness experienced as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination, including all unconscious cognitive processes ( Pandya, 2011).  The mind is the organized totality of an organism's mental and psychological processes, conscious and unconscious. According to Krishnamoorthy (2009) the mind is a virtual entity, one that reflects the workings of the neural networks, chemical and hormonal systems in our brain. Tan (2007) highlight that the mind does not end in the brain and brain is the liaison between mind and body.   


The timeline of human evolution spans approximately 7 million years (Klug etal., 2012). Human mind is a part of human evolution that started 7 million years ago in the African savannah. Human mind developed over many centuries. Biology and environment affected the human mind. The biological evolution, including human evolution is mainly driven by environmental changes (Lakatos & Janka , 2008). The functional structure of self-aware consciousness in human beings is described based on the evolution of human brain functions (Cloninger , 2009).
Mind is supreme. The human mind has enormous capabilities. But the mind is exceedingly subtle.  The mind is not a tangible object but rather a process. It is an extended phenomenon. The mind extends into the environment and experiences. The British neurophysiologist Charles Scott Sherrington stated: the brain is the provider of mind. The brain is the organ of the mind just as the lungs are the organs for respiration (Pandya, 2011).

The English neurologist John Hughlings Jackson called the prefrontal cortex as the organ of mind. The mammalian prefrontal cortex comprises a set of highly specialized brain areas containing billions of cells and serves as the centre of the highest-order cognitive functions, such as memory, cognitive ability, decision-making and social behaviour (Zhong et al., 2018). The prefrontal cortex has multipledimensions (O’Reilly, 2010). The prefrontal cortex is responsible for personality. Mentalization is reliably associated with activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (Otti et al., 2015).  According to Bateman  and  Fonagy   (2004) Mentalization is “the mental process by which an individual implicitly and explicitly interprets the actions of himself or herself and others as meaningful on the basis of intentional mental states such as personal desires, needs, feelings, beliefs, and reasons.
René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza and Immanuel Kant expressed their views on the human mind. According to Descartes the nature of the mind is a thinking, non-extended item. Descartes proposed that the human mind and body were completely separate entities.  He stated that the mind is utterly indivisible but mind and body work together like the sailor and the ship that are closely joined.

Spinoza believed that there is only one substance and that physical nature, the human mind and God are all of the same substance (Logan et al., 2005). Immanuel Kant believed that the mind is complex set of abilities (functions). Immanuel Kant suggested that the mind’s intrinsic features are intimately linked to the extrinsic stimuli of the environment it processes (Northoff , 2012). 

The Buddhism defines mind as a non-physical phenomenon which perceives, thinks, recognizes, experiences and reacts to the environment.The Buddhist teachings explain the moment-to-moment manifestation of the mind-stream (Karunamuni ,2015).  According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche mind is a phenomenon; that is not body, not substantial, has no form, no shape, no color, but, like a mirror, can clearly reflect objects.

The Buddha explained that the mind is exceedingly subtle and is difficult to be seen. It attaches on whatever target it wishes. The mind moves about so fast it is difficult to get hold of it fully. It is swift. It has a way of focusing upon whatever it likes. The mind is capable of travelling vast distances - up or down, north or south, east or west - in any direction. It can travel to the past or the future. It roams about all alone. The Buddha viewed mind as a non-physical phenomenon which perceives, thinks, recognizes, experiences and reacts to the environment. The Buddha further stated that mind is the ultimate cause of everything in this world.
Sigmund Freud developed a topographical model of the mind, whereby he described the features of the mind’s structure and function. Freud used the analogy of an iceberg to describe the three levels of the mind.  He believed that the mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water. As Freud described id, ego, and superego are the structures of the mind. Freud once stated: “The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises”  

Carl Jung believed that the human psyche was composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. Jung concluded that the collective unconscious is formed by instincts and archetypes that are symbols, signs, patterns of behavior, and thinking and experiencing, that are physically inherited from our ancestors. 
The American, logician, mathematician, and philosopher Kurt Gödel argued that human mind is a Turing machine.  A Turing machine is a mathematical model of computation that defines an abstract machine which manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules (Stone, 1972).  For Kurt Gödel human mind was fully algorithmic.
Noam Chomsky believed the connection between language and mind. Chomsky highlighted the linguistic contributions to the study of mind. The origin of speech and the human mind emerged simultaneously as the bifurcation from percepts to concepts and a response to the chaos associated with the information overload that resulted from the increased complexity in hominid life (Logan,2000a). The mind is defined as the brain plus language entail a form of dualism (Logan et al., 2005).  Extended Mind model   the mind is defined as the brain plus language (Logan,2000a).

Some experts claim that emotions, memories, goals, and the self are collections of mental state. According to Thompson (1990) the state of a mind is not static, but more a `state of propensity': it is a continual recollection of past events and continual anticipation of future possibilities. Mind is not a physical object but the mind is infinite. Mind is expanding and transforming. The American philosopher and psychologist William James stated; you can alter your life by altering the state of your mind.  Changing one's mind on the basis of new evidence is a hallmark of cognitive flexibility (Fleming et al., 2018). 

Cognitive psychology attempts to understand the nature of the human mind by using the information-processing approach.  Human mind can be described at three levels—computational, algorithmic–representational, and implementational (David et al., 2004). The mind is a computer functioning in the brain (Leisman &, Koch, 2009). However Gazzaniga  (1998) argued that the brain is clearly not a general purpose computing device but is a collection of circuits devoted to quite specific capacities. 
The Cognitive Psychologist Steven Pinker expressed that human mind is a naturally selected system of organs of computation. Steven Pinker states that cognitive psychology has shown that the mind best understands facts when they are woven into a conceptual fabric, such as a narrative, mental map, or intuitive theory. Disconnected facts in the mind are like unlinked pages on the Web: They might as well not exist. The mind is built on the notions of computation, specialization, and evolution (Pinker, 2005).
The English Philosopher Charlie Dunbar Broad viewed the phenomena of mind as the phenomena of consciousness. According to William James our conscious mental life flows continuously like a stream in which “the transition between the thought of one object and the thought of another is no more a break in the thought than a joint in a bamboo is a break in the wood.
Understanding the division of labor between conscious processes and unconscious ones is central to our understanding of the human mind (Hassin, 2013).  Some define consciousness as complex interactions among individual neurons. Conscious experience emerges when a critical level of complexity is reached in the brain's neural networks.  Human consciousness includes personality, physicality, emotionality, cognition, and spirituality in a unified developmental framework (Cloninger , 2009).  However brain mechanisms causing consciousness are still unknown. 
Can quantum mechanics explain the human mind? Some experts use quantum theory to explain the human mind. They suggest Quantum Consciousness; consciousness arises from a quantum mechanical structure. Marshall (1989) hypothesized that the mental and bodily realms derive directly from a quantum realm. The British physicist Roger Penrose surmised that quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness.Quantum physics can reveal the boundary between mind and matter.
The concepts of quantum brain, quantum mind and quantum consciousness have been increasingly gaining currency in recent years (Tarlacı &, Pregnolato , 2016).  Consciousness is attributed to human (and possibly animal) mind, quantum underpinnings of cognitive processes are a logical extension (Hameroff et al., 2014). Tannenbaum (2001) proposed consciousness might be understood as the property of a system that functions as a sense in the biological meaning.
Marchetti (2018) states that consciousness is a unique way of processing information, in that: it produces information, rather than purely transmitting it; the information it produces is meaningful for us; the meaning it has is always individuated.
According to James E. Alcock  - Professor of Psychology at York University (Personal communication , 2018) "mind" is the subjective, "conscious" awareness of  the physical brain at work, not separate from the physical brain but a reflection of it. Mind and brain are not separate; mind and brain are one. The mind and brain fit together by approximate analogy with hand and glove, or, better, with tissue and skin.  The mind provides all the directed activity of the brain, just as the tissue of the hand provides all the directed activity of the skin of the hand. (Thompson, 1990).
The spiritual author Eckhart Tolle affirms that boredom, anger, sadness, or fears are   conditions of the human mind.  He further states that the mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. 

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