Countless doctrines have been set forth to shed greater understanding on how the mind works, and the many factors that shape thinking. The strands of thought among various philosophers, authors, psychologists, sociologists may be similar in some ways, but divergent views largely exist. Notwithstanding the countless studies made and linked to the mind, not to mention all the present-day discussions and goals of creating a healthy mind, the latter remains an enigma. Across cultures, the nature & function of the mind had been the subject of countless debates.
Much effort has been expended to shed greater light on cognitive processes and their relationship to the external world. By its very nature, the mind tends to be restless, and it can only be truly understood by studying the various forces that influence or bear impact on it. Pointing out what the mind is – and what it is not – may be the first logical step in that direction. What the Mind Is and What It is Not The mind is usually referred to in many different ways – as a person or animal’s intellectual abilities, cognitive process, or mental skills.
Quite often, the study of the mind is linked to the theory of evolution. Some clues on the complexities of the human mind may be obtained by turning to the study of man’s closest living species – the apes/chimpanzees, with their noteworthy social and general intelligence (Gorman, p. 13). A clear picture of the mind can be initially explored by looking back many years ago and looking at common ancestors. “Looking at modern apes can tell much about the cognitive abilities of the common ancestor living 6 million years ago” (Gorman, p. 11).
Nonetheless, while there may be striking similarities between chimpanzees and men in the way the brain is wired, this is but just a portion, or not really a dominant force shaping the development of the human mind. At this point, it is important to differentiate the mind from the brain. Theorists aver that while the brain is something that can be dissected and studied under the microscope, the mind “is an abstract concept that usually refers to the activities the brain generates” (Andreasen, 1984, p. 21). In essence, the mind is not the brain. The mind, and brain, however, are inextricably linked.
While it is easy to understand that man’s behavior, since he first came into existence, can be attributed to the evolution of his brain, “nothing is known about how the structure of our minds depends on the structure of our brains; nobody even knows which brain structures it is that our cognitive capacities depend on… unlike our minds, our brains are, by any gross measure, very like those of apes” (Fodor, 1998, par. 11) Also, as German philosopher Immanuel Kant puts it, “the human mind is not passively formed by objects of perception; it actively `forms’ the raw material of objects given in perception.
It adds something of its own to knowledge” (Ziniewicz, 1996, par. 3). Simply put, the mind is not merely what it unwittingly absorbs from all the environmental stimuli or even psychic forces acting on it. It is not a mere storehouse of data or knowledge, but more of a thinking, analyzing mechanism. While there are so many concepts or data bombarding human beings at different developmental stages, the interaction of genetic and environmental factors largely determine how those information are processed. This is a view supported by many sociologists who have undertaken studies on cognitive development.
The various external factors may be closely examined to fully understand how the mind works. The mind may be seen, then, as a dynamic multi-tasker. “The mind is not a single entity but is composed of a number of faculties specialized for solving different adaptive problems… it is a system of organs of computation that enabled our ancestors to survive and reproduce in the physical and social worlds in which our species spent most of its evolutionary history” (Pinker 2005). Indeed, the interplay of various forces, ranging from biological to psychological, need to be considered to get a better grasp on what the mind is and how it works.
There are so many simplistic ways to describe the mind in the context of how it assimilates information, how it processes that information, and how it arrives at solutions to problems and complexities in life requiring attention or action. Like any other system, “the human mind contains a certain amount of psychic energy… striving to maintain an equilibrium” (Andreasen, 1984, p. 22). This was expressed by Sigmund Freud, the celebrated Austrian psychiatrist well known for his theories of the subconscious mind.
Psychologist and author Howard Gardner, on the other hand, established that the mind is equipped with multiple intelligences, which include “linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and two forms of personal intelligence” (Gorman, p. 5). There are many other theories elaborating on the workings of the mind and the many forces that come together to affect and influence people’s modes of thinking and behaving. It is safe to deduce from many given views & theories, that the mind is not static.