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Purpose of the Mind?

Updated: May 16, 2023

What is a heart without the capacity to beat? What is a book in the absence of any literacy whatsoever? What is a tea cup that’s made from the same ingredients as those biscuits that get soggy and fall off when you soak them in tea?

That heart is just dead meat, without the capacity to beat there isn’t even any point transplanting it. The book might as well be a strange hyper-symmetrical collection of leaves, the cup is the setup of a joke served to the intended punchline.

So, how do you separate the thing from the thing’s function and still have its identity intact?

I use my limbs regularly, but if they were to be chopped off (not that I’d like them to be) I would still be me. Very unhappy perhaps, but me. I fainted a few times. Each time my brain was still there in my skull (God bless its thickness) trying to reboot, or so my friends tell me. I have to trust that they in fact WERE still there when I fainted, because I certainly wasn’t. To me, the world did not exist. Time did not exist. Only nothing–in its imperceptible non-existence–existed. So, whatever I am isn’t the hardware of my brain. The hardware of my brain will exist after I have perished.

So, what is different about my brain when I am awake, versus when I have fainted, am unconscious/dead/sleeping? I have lost consciousness, or maybe the brain has. But what does this consciousness do?

The difference–it seems to me–between me fainted and me awake is my capacity to pay attention, to be aware, to focus. This capacity, to draw out the latent power of the brain, is perhaps what the mind is. Without the mind, the brain is on autopilot, which is also useful, ‘cause things that I’m excellent at – like walking for example–can be entrusted to muscle memory while my mind can focus on being mindful of other more pressing matters.

What then is the purpose of the mind? I am not sure.

What I can say is that there is one special way that humans can utilise their minds in a way that other animals cannot (or if they can I haven’t met them). An animal will use its mind to register that there is a turbulent river (for example) that separates it from where it wants to go. And then the animal will find an alternate safer path. The human mind will see that what is missing is a bridge, and build one. An animal will see that it is dark and go to sleep or avoid going out, or develop night vision and become nocturnal. A human will light a torch. We tend to find solutions to our problems in the adaptation of the external world to our needs. The average animal adapts itself to the environment or–failing to–perishes.

If the mind is the agent of attention and focus… To what should it pay attention? My mind pays attention to what it thinks are problems and tries to solve them. Often externally. I do recognize that sometimes the most efficient change that can be made to improve the situation, is to be made within. But this is easier said than done–and whenever done is managed after much reluctance.

The legs are concerned with helping the body walk and run, the eyes take responsibility for the body to see, the stomach ensures that the body is nourished–all of them serving a higher purpose. No individual part can survive unless it is a part of the whole. The brain ideally makes sure that the body is functioning healthily, as one unit, in harmony. The mind–perhaps a part of the brain itself, perhaps not– is focused on helping the body survive, hopefully as a whole, across time, by taking into account the environment and deciding constantly whether it is the environment that needs to change or the body that needs to adapt. Sometimes you lose a limb. A healthy mind is looking for the best solutions to the problems it is presented with. But to recognize a problem, the mind has to trust the senses, and the brain’s interpretations of those sensations. If the interpretation is faulty, then the best laid plans are likely to backfire.

Over time, I have begun to recognize that my own brain is built with a certain set of strengths that I can develop, and weaknesses that I can work on and compensate for.

My body, brain, and mind are all doing their best, but none of them are infallible. I may find a great solution to what ultimately was never a problem–because, deep down, I was (and maybe knew it all along). And sometimes I can’t trust my senses. I have my biases and they sometimes colour my vision more than the light entering my retinas. But I have friends who I can rely on in moments like these who are social animals like me and act as an extension to my mind–like a plug-in (provided that my mind has the humility to allow them to).

Instead of fighting how my brain was built, my mind is starting to align itself with it instead and recognizing that regardless of whether or not the brain and the mind are the same thing or different–they are fundamentally on the same team. And it is at this moment, that the various parts of body, brain, and mind become one.

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