In the very last analysis, there is truth to the generalist theory of mind, in that one mind is generally in one body, and certainly only demonstrably in one body. But as for the rest of it psittacosis and pish tosh. Mind is not run by a big computer, whose job it is to run the mind; it is a series of ever more complicated and intertwined subroutines, all cobbled together in the Darwinian now, the correct operation of which dances on a knife edge of probabilities, diet, mental hygiene, (which is a damnably vague term but by which I mean all mood and emotional regulation states, good or bad, which might have a feedback effect on the operation of any part of cognition, and yes I consider mood part of cognition) hormones and whatever happened to you in the first two years of your life. Oh yeah, and I left out genes, epigenetic factors, locale, employment, forced migration, social support structure, status, weather effects, fitness, weight, moon phases, disease, radiation, poison, allergens, artificial light, noise pollution, pet ownership and television. (Notice that I left out gender, Richard?) These, as I hope I am making clear, are all able to affect the ability of the human body to ‘run’ anything resembling a mind.
I will speak of something else which I know about the mind. I had the privilege of working with the Arrowsmith Cohen School in Toronto when I was in my early twenties. (Josh Cohen, who never recovered from the divorce, died in New York City and it’s now the Arrowsmith School). I was exposed to some dazzling ideas and saw scientifically replicable evidence about the inherent plasticity of the human brain. The consequence of all that I learned was that I started to really believe that the human brain is busted out into cognitive departments; some parts of your brain deal with what’s coming in and some with what’s going out and some with what’s in the middle. These ‘parts’ are not imaginary but based in physical locations in the brain, which vary somewhat from person to person but are usefully similar in most people. I sat with this knowledge, or I should say altered perception, of cognition, for many years, turning it over and over in my mind like an old primate looking at a particularly interesting rock. It was possible to change the brain. To learn what had been considered unlearnable; to unlock different personalities in children as different cognitive abilities bloomed.
When I looked at the idea of a physical idea of mind and looked at it side by side with all the things which affect the mind, I began to see cognition as this immense matrix of, as I said, probabilities, and each outcome was affected by the physical status of the brain versus what was cognitively required of the human organism at that time.
So. The point I stagger towards with drunken resolve is that armed with this information it should be possible not just to come up with a theory of mind, but it should be possible to come up with a theory of your OWN mind. You would do this by experimenting on yourself. What effects do various life situations have on your cognition? You can measure it, and at the end of it, especially if you have enough buddies doing the same thing, (giving you a sample against which you may judge what is going on) you will know, whether or not you’ve had a drop to drink, if you are good to drive. Because you won’t just be thinking about blowing over; you will know for a fact that if you’ve experienced a number of events which upset your cognition or ability to respond in driving situations. Even if you’re upset you’ll still be able to make a judgment, because you’ll have a theory of your own mind. God is not outside you; it’s the human ability to detach from the meat and consider the whole that makes the notion of God even possible. Or so I think, I’ve been wrong, and I’ll think something else tomorrow anyway.
Another example. If you know when you are ovulating, you will be able to tell what effect this extremely important event is having on your cognition. It will make you want to participate in pre pregnancy activities; do you want to go with it, or do the consequences appall? It’s better to be able to think about it. You can force yourself to think about it.
Another example. You are making a life changing decision. You have an hour to make it in and then the opportunity or challenge will be gone. Do you eat something before you make a decision, and under what circumstances is it better to eat nothing than eat something that will upset your cognition?
Another example. You have learned that getting enough exercise is absolutely crucial for the proper functioning of your cognition, and yet you do not do it. What do you have to do and which parts of your brain do you need to stoke to be able to make, break, reset and make emotional adjustments to long term habits?
You are living in a basement with one window and there is black mold in the bathroom. You are unemployed and you can’t even surf the internet at home so you’re watching a lot of TV, that being the only amenity in your ‘apartment’. You can’t eat anything unless you microwave it as you have no real cooking facilities. Your girlfriend just broke up with you, two of your brothers are currently not speaking to you because of something your best friend did at a family wedding, your mother has cancer and your dad is a drunken jackass. You live with your parents but you have to use a separate entrance because you’re “not welcome upstairs unless invited” and you aren’t often invited; in fact sometimes they have family meals without inviting you. You are terrified of spiders and your room is full of them.
To improve your cognition… what should you address first?
If you really had a practical model of mind, you could answer that question. The answer would be different for each person. I think that it’s actually possible to come up with a personalized mind matrix which would yield useful results about 80 percent of the time. That makes me crazy, and I hope everybody understands that it doesn’t make any of the really amazing things in life worse or less poetic. I write songs continuously; every time I see a bird fly my heart sings and breaks simultaneously at the beauty and impermanence of things; and yet I sometimes wish I had an angel of my own construction sitting on my shoulder and guiding my deeds on the basis of which activities would lead me to have the best cognition.
When you have an overview, as I feel I do, sometimes tested by experience and mostly supported by science, of how your own mind works, you realize that there is not one overseeing program. Everything about you, from your personality to the way you sleep, is run by a separate part of your brain, or coordinated parts of your brain. The coordination efforts are like friends holding hands and walking forward into the dark; there isn’t one big ‘overseeing body’; it can look like that when all the friends are working together well. And when they work together, it’s flow, and it’s beautiful, and powerful, and outside of time and place. If something weird with bloodflow or plaques or nutrition or oxygen supply or whacky proteins or enzymes occurs, mind can come to a hiccuping halt.
Like this rant. Thanks for stopping by.