Solving the Mystery of Your Mind
Wouldn’t it be great if a user manual came out of the womb with us? Maybe then we could navigate life a little better. The complications that come with understanding a human mind is on par with our attempts to understand outer space. There’s a lot we know — like we have a useful ability to analyze our own thoughts and reflect on our behavior — but we also don’t know exactly how much we don’t know.
After all, when Christof Kock, Ph.D., President, and Chief Scientist at Allen Institutes for Brain Science, was asked how close we are to understanding our brain he responded,
“We don’t even understand the brain of a worm,”
We Don’t Know Everything
We’ve come a long way since 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt opened the first laboratory dedicated to psychology at the University of Leipzig, Germany. We know enough about our brains and mind to fill several textbooks. We have theories about why we dream and what they mean and philosophies about how energy flows through the body. We’ve only recently learned that our brains are not the sole location of our memories.
What we know for sure answers only a fraction of our questions. We know there’s more than one form of intelligence and not everyone has an inner-monolog. The latter of which still blows my mind — no pun intended. Yet, we still don’t know it all. The only thing left to do when we don’t know the answer is to figure it out as we go.
Are the Mind and Brain the Same Thing?
We don’t know yet. So far, there are two primary categories of thought on the topic.
The first is what’s known as Monism. Behaviorists and biologists belonging to this group believes the mind and brain are the same and the only reality that exists is the materialistic one we live in that we can see and touch.
On the flip side, some monism believers follow a theory that our physical world isn’t real at all. They believe our mind is the only real thing, and everything else is of the mind’s construct. This is known as Phenomenalism.
It seems to me that Monism thinking, when it comes to our mind, is quickly becoming outdated. To start with, behaviorists and biologists can’t explain the effects of hypnosis.
In a famous study done by Ernest Hilgard and Dr. Martin Orne, participants were put into a hypnotic trance and told they’d be touched with a “red hot” piece of metal when in reality they were touched with a pencil. Those in a deep trance actually developed water blisters, that same as if they really had been touched with a red-hot piece of metal. This study shows an example of the mind-controlling the body.
The second is called Dualism — believing the mind and brain are separate entities. Our bodies and brains are material objects, complete with solids, liquids, and gases. But we also have the ability to form judgments, reason, and thoughts that aren’t physical. These aspects belong to our mind.
Dualism believers think our brains are nothing more than physical, biological objects. Just a mass of nerves and soft tissue protected by our skulls. Whereas our minds include our consciousness, including our thoughts, reasoning, emotions, and judgment. But our minds aren’t constrained by physical form and doesn’t have a labeled area or home inside our bodies. No one knows where exactly our mind is located.
So we don’t know exactly where our minds are located, but we do know we have them. We also know each individual has a talent for learning about them through a special technique called Self-Awareness.
The innate human ability of self-reflection
Our contradictory nature doesn’t stop us from trying to achieve perfection though. And while we don’t all hold degrees in psychology or neuroscience, we are all capable of self-reflection and self-awareness. Both of which can teach you just about everything you need to know about the most complex puzzle of all — you.
Self-Awareness and Reflection
There’s no need to book a ten-day getaway to a meditation retreat and you don’t have to join a yoga studio to learn why you do, say, and think the things you do. All you have to do is ask yourself questions.
How many of your long-held beliefs have you inherited without question? In other words, are your beliefs yours? During childhood, we all grow up learning about the world through experience and learning the ways people in our environment conduct their lives. For example, if you grew up going to church, odds are you eventually grew to identify with the specific religion you were exposed to.
I’m not discounting your religious beliefs, nor am I saying God doesn’t exist. All I’m asking is if you’re living your life because of what you were told is right, or because you believe it’s right.
Questions to Ask to Learn About Yourself
Author and positive psychology expert, Courtney Ackerman, MSc, wrote 87 Self-Reflection Questions for Introspection, some of which I include below.
What am I really scared of?
Fear is a sneaky bugger. It’s a smooth-talking manipulator who spends its time creating worst-case scenarios in your mind. As if that’s not annoying enough, it also floats excuses before revealing the true source of your fear. Only you know which answer is the true one.
Why Do I Matter?
This isn’t an invitation for self-bashing. It’s an invitation to reflect on how you conduct your life. Are you doing anything meaningful? Do you help friends in need? How often do you listen instead of speak?
When did I last push the boundaries of my comfort zone?
Living a life in the comfort zone is, well… comfortable but it isn’t the same as being happy. It feels secure, but it also prevents you from moving forward in life, you stop taking risks and trying new things, and in the end, all you really do is decrease your ambitions.
When all is said and done, what will I have said more than I’ve done?
This one is a particular favorite of mine. It helps me notice how much I’m “talking the talking” but not “walking the walk”. For example, it’s easy to say you’re an open-minded person, but how often do you listen to other people’s perspectives without dismissing what they say?
We don’t know everything about ourselves, not even close. But through consistent introspection and self-awareness, you can learn far more about yourself than you think.
We may not know everything about how our brains and minds work, but we do know that learning about yourself is a lifetime project. You are forever changing, evolving, and growing as an individual. Your thoughts, opinions, and judgments should be too.