- The mind is typically defined as the organized totality or system of all mental processes or psychic activities of an individual.c
- Many philosophers hold that the brain is a detector of the mind and that the mind is an inner, subjective state of consciousness.h
- Philosophers have used a variety of metaphors to describe the mind, including a blank sheet, a hydraulic device with different forces operating in it, or a television switchboard.h
- Attempts to understand the mind go back at least to the ancient Greeks. Plato, for example, believed that the mind acquired knowledge through virtue, independently of sense experience. Descartes and Leibniz also believed the mind gained knowledge through thinking and reasoning—or, in other words, rationalism.c
- In contrast to rationalists, empiricists, such as Aristotle, John Locke, and David Hume, believe that the mind gains knowledge from experience.c
- Combining both rationalism and empiricism, Kant argued that human knowledge depends on both sense experience and innate capacities of the mind.c
- Scientists are unsure if other types of animals have a mind or if some man-made machines could ever possess a mind.h
- Historically, there have been three major schools of thought that describe the relationship of the brain and the mind: 1) dualism, which holds that the mind exists independently from the brain; 2) materialism, which argues that the mind is identical to the physical processes of the brain; and 3) idealism, which posits that only mental phenomena exist.i
- Scientists propose that the human mind evolved largely through the sexual choices our ancestors made, similar to the way a peacock’s tail evolved through sexual selection.h
Brand names have a strong influence on the mind
- In one study, a group of experimenters were given unlabeled samples of both Pepsi and Coke. Not a single tester could tell the difference between the two. The test was repeated with the correct labels attached. Three out of the four testers chose Coke. In fact, the Coke label activated parts of the brain associated with the mind (memory, self-image, and culture) that the Pepsi label didn’t.i
- Most scientists argue that there is no evidence that playing classical music to babies increases the power of their mind. However, children who learn to play a musical instrument can develop their mental skills further than those who don’t learn a musical instrument.i
- Early-life stress negatively affects the mind. Abuse, neglect, and harsh or inconsistent discipline in early life increases the risk of depression and anxiety as well as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.i
- The term “mind” is from the Old English gemynd, or “memory,” and the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *men-, meaning “to think, remember.” The use of “mind” to refer to all mental faculties, thought, feelings, memory, and volition developed gradually over the 14th and 15th centuries.i
- The NSF estimates that a human brain produces as many as 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day, depending on how deep a thinker a person is. Most of the so-called random daily thoughts are about our social environment and ourselves.j
- Buddha described the mind as being filled with drunken monkeys who jumped, screeched, and chatted endlessly. Fear, according to Buddha, was an especially loud monkey. Buddha taught meditation as a way to tame the “drunken monkeys” in the mind.e
- A group of scientists from Cal Tech and UCLA have developed a way for epilepsy patients who have had electrodes implanted inside their brains to control a computer mouse with their minds.l
- The Stanford Prison Experiment is an infamous experiment that took average people and randomly assigned them to be either guards or prisoners. After a few days, the prisoners and guards became grossly absorbed in their roles. The experiment revealed how readily the human mind accepts authority and institutional ideologies.b
- A single descriptive word can manipulate how the mind remembers an event. For example, in a 1974 experiment, 45 people watched the film of a car accident. Different groups of people were asked how fast the cars were going using different trigger words, such as “hit,” “smashed,” “collided,” bumped,” and “contacted.” The group whose question included the word “smashed” estimated the cars were going 10 mph faster than the group whose word was “contacted.” A week later, when participants were asked about broken glass, those who were asked more forceful trigger words reported that there was broken glass even though there was none.i
- Studies show that people are able to group items in short-term memory into roughly seven units that allow them to hold more individual items. Interestingly, many human belief systems have considered the number 7 to be a sacred number.i
- In 1938, Orson Wells broadcasted an adaption of H.G. Wells’ War of the World on the radio. The broadcast caused mass panic in nearly 3 million of the 6 million listeners. Psychologists note that even highly educated people believed it because it was on the radio and thus “authoritative.” They also note that media manipulation of our minds is a regular art form.i
The mind of a suicidal person perceives time differently
- Psychologists have noted that in the mind of suicidal people, time seemed to move significantly slower. The suicidal mind also had a more difficult time thinking about the future. Researchers suggest this helped the person withdraw from thinking about past failures and what was perceived as a hopeless future.a
- The mind of a suicidal person tends to focus increasingly on concrete thought, which is often conveyed in suicide notes. For example, suicide notes tend to be more banal and specific, such as “Don’t forget to feed the cat.” Fake suicide notes, however, tend to include more contemplative language, such as “Always be happy.” Psychologists note the suicidal mind is trying to slip into idle mental labor to avoid unpleasant emotions.a
- Some scientists believe that there may be universal features of the human mind that make it easier for people to believe in a higher power. In fact, brain scans of Franciscan nuns, Tibetan Buddhists, and Pentecostal Christians showed similar activity in their brains during prayer and meditation. Interestingly, both believers and atheists point to brain scans as proof of their positions.h
- The conscious mind includes sensations, perceptions, memories, feelings, and fantasies inside of our current awareness. The preconscious mind includes those thoughts that we are thinking at the moment but can easily draw into our conscious mind. The subconscious mind is the psychic activity that operates below the level of awareness.h
- Studies show that people clean up more if there is a faint smell of cleaning liquid in the air, they become more competitive if they see a briefcase, and they become more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable”—all without being aware of the change or what triggered it. Scientists note that this shows how everyday sights, smells, and sounds, can activate the subconscious mind.d
- Mind control is the unethical use of manipulative techniques to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator. It was first recorded during the Korean War.i
- During the famous Milgram Experiment (1961), 65% of volunteers gave what they thought was a fatal dose of electric shock to someone when told to do so, even though less than 1% said they would in a pre-experiment survey. The study showed that the human mind does not necessarily operate based on personality but rather on the roles we are asked to play to make society move smoothly.b
Project MKUltra was an illegal program that led to Senate hearings in 1977
- The CIA reportedly created a project called Project MK-ULTRA to experiment with mind control using LSD. They even tried to use the drug as a way to completely wipe the memories of retiring CIA agents.i
- One of the crueler mind experiments was conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow who studied severe maternal deprivation. He separated a baby monkey from its mother and raised it in a cage with two substitute mothers. One mother was made from wire and had a bottle. The other mother was made from cloth, but didn’t have a bottle. As soon the infant finished nursing, it would cling to the cloth monkey. When the experimenters introduced frightening stimulus into the cage, the monkeys ran to the cloth monkey for protection. The monkeys grew up with severe emotional and behavioral problems.b
- Scientists believe that the mind forgets in order to avoid information overload, to think more quickly, assimilate new information easier, and to avoid emotional hangovers.i
- Solomon Shereshevsky was a Russian journalist who couldn’t forget. He suffered from synesthesia, a phenomenon in which one sense (for example, vision) stimulates another sense (such as hearing). Solomon’s extreme synesthesia led him to taste, smell, and see vivid images in conjunction with numbers and sounds. Because a single word could trigger a flood of memories and associations, he had a difficult time reading a book or having a simple conversation.i
- The human mind has a difficult time differentiating the innate from the environmental. In other words, if the mind is used to interpreting the world a certain way, it expects that the world is that way naturally and unalterably. For example, for many people, the color pink is naturally feminine and blue is naturally male. However, in the 1920s, parents dressed boys in pink because it was a watered down version of red, which was seen as masculine and fierce. Girls were dressed in pale blue because it was associated with the Virgin Mary.i
- In 1965, a botched circumcision burned away David Reimer’s entire penis. Doctors decided to raise him as a girl, and removed his testicles and fashioned female genitalia. His parents changed his name to Brenda. He finally learned at age 14 that he was a boy, and later committed suicide at age 38. He reported that what they did to his body was not as bad as what they did to his mind.i
Both nature and nurture influence the human mind
- More than 100 studies show that about half of crime is largely under genetic control. Environmental factors such as parenting, poverty, and discrimination account for the other half. In other words, nature and nurture are both important in developing the mind.g
- When the mind recalls a memory, it’s not the original memory. In fact, the act of remembering is an act of creative reimagination. The put-together memory doesn’t just have a few holes; it also has some entirely new bits pasted in.i
- Research has proven how easy it is to create false memories through the force of suggestion. Psychologists found that if they repeated questions (e.g. hugging Bugs Bunny at Disney World—an impossibility) and invited the mind to imagine sensory detail (do you remember stroking Bugs Bunny’s velvety ears), a person would begin to believe it was an actual event.i
- The mind can practice new tasks, such as learning a new piece of music during REM sleep. REM sleep also appears to boost performance with tasks involving procedural memory, or the subconscious “how-to” knowledge that a person uses when walking, riding a bike, or performing most physical tasks.i
- Most people assume that our conscious mind continues until the end of day and then picks up after we wake up. Scientists argue, however, that dreaming is a phenomenon that’s just as visceral and immediate as consciousness is and that since we spend roughly 20 years asleep, dreams should be considered an alternate reality.i
- Advertisers use mind illusions to make their products more appealing. For example, they produce condiment bottles with long necks because the mind is better at judging size than volume. Bottles of maple syrup are narrow at the base but bulge in the middle because that is where a person is most likely to look.i
- The moon appears to be much larger than usual when it’s low in the sky because the mind interprets the size of the moon in relation to distant objects and the horizon. But when the moon is high in the sky, the mind has no such frame of reference, and so the moon appears smaller.i
- Scientists note that the mind is a giant pattern-making machine. It invents shapes and identifiable things to explain odd patterns in arrangements. The mind can also block out things it wants to ignore, such as the tactile sensation of clothes rubbing on a person’s skin or a person’s own body odor.i
- The mind’s power of expectation can blind people to facts and lure them into unwitting conjecture in virtually every way they perceive the world. For example, testers in a study responded differently to an odor that they sniffed out of a test tube depending on whether they were told that it was fancy cheese or human waste.i
- The mind stores memories in different ways, although the boundaries are not always clear cut: short-term memory (working memory), long-term memory (declarative memory), and procedural memory (“how-to” memory associated with physical skills such as shoe tying). Procedural memory is remarkably durable and is even able to survive the ravages of diseases like Alzheimer’s.i
Scientists are unsure why we forget
- Scientists are unsure how things are forgotten; in other words, they are unsure what makes a person unable to remember even long-term memories. New research shows that people don’t necessarily forget, they simply lose the ability to retrieve older, rarely visited memories.i
- Short-term memory is linked to current electrical activity taking place in a person’s neurons, or the pattern of signal transmission that goes through the brain. Long-term memory, however, depends on permanent physical changes in the brain.i
- A human’s eye is able to see fine detail in only a small sliver of its visual field. However, the mind uses saccades (quick, automatic eye movements) to compensate for this weakness. The eye performs two or three saccades each second to give the mind a single, seamless whole. When a person is severely drunk, the saccades slow down, and the mind begins to see the world as the eye perceives it, a patch of sharpness surrounded by a blurry field.i
- The placebo (Latin for “I will please”) effect occurs when the mind believes that a certain medication will help them when the medicine in fact has no proven therapeutic effects for a particular condition.i
- Studies show that 50-70% of doctor visits can be traced to psychological reasons.i
- A study of nearly 1 million students in New York showed that those who ate lunches without preservatives, dyes, and other additives performed 14% better on IQ tests.i
- Memories that are triggered by scent have some of the strongest emotional connections and appear more intense than other memory triggers.i
- The mind wanders about 30% of the time and sometimes as much as 70%, say, for example, when someone is driving down an uncrowded freeway.i
- Researchers found that distorting body image can change the mind’s perception of pain. Subjects who viewed their wounded hands through the wrong end of binoculars, which made their hand look smaller, experienced decreased pain and decreased swelling. However, those who looked at the wounded hand through the right side of the binoculars, which made the hand look larger, experienced increased pain.i
- Some researchers argue that the Internet is changing the structure of our brains, which changes the mind’s ability to think and to learn. Specifically, the Internet overstimulates the part of the brain involved in temporary memory so that deep thinking and creativity become increasingly difficult.f
- Researchers note that like a mathematical formula, which is a statement about a number represented by a number, the mind trying to understand the nature of the mind introduces a certain paradoxical “loopiness.” Scientists use the famous Escher print of a right hand drawing a left hand that in turn is drawing a right hand as a visual example of this paradox.k
- The mind imagines objects slightly from above and tilted. For example, researchers asked people around the world to draw a coffee cup. Almost everyone drew a coffee cup from a perspective slightly above the cup looking down and offset a little to the right or left. No one drew it looking straight down from above. This uniformity in perspective has been dubbed the “canonical perspective.”i
-- Posted July 24, 2012
a Bering, Jesse. “Being Suicidal: What It Feels Like to Want to Kill Yourself.” Scientific American. October 20, 2010. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
b “The Brain: A Secret History—History’s Most Sinister Experiments.” The Telegraph. January 6, 2011. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
c Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. The Britannica Guide to the Brain. London, England: Constable & Robinson Ltd.
d Carey, Benedict. “Who’s Minding the Mind?” The New York Times. July 31, 2007. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
e Gallagher, BJ. “Buddha: How to Tame Your Monkey Mind.” The Huffington Post. September 3, 2011. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
f Harris, John. “How the Internet Is Altering Your Mind.” The Guardian. August 19, 2010. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
g Landau, Elizabeth. “More on the Criminal Brain: Nature vs. Nurture.” CNN. February 28, 2011. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
h Linden, David J. 2007. The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
i MacDonald, Matthew. 2008. Your Brain: The Missing Manual. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.
j “Managing Your 50,000 Daily Thoughts.” Sentient Developments. March 19, 2007. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
k Siegfried, Tom. “Self as Symbol.” Science News. February 11, 2012. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
l Springmann, Alessondra. “Move a Mouse Cursor with Your Brain.” PC World. November 2, 2010. Accessed: June 10, 2012.