Saturday 8 July 2017

Thoughts in Progress

Many of you, fellow bloggers and readers, know how interested I am in the human mind, consciousness and rational thought. The way our brains process information and our subconscious mind works has always enticed me. Recently I read an interview with the philosopher and scientist Daniel Dennett in the New Humanist which reawakened this passion. In it Daniel attempted to throw some light on that strange, elusive and confusing phenomenon known as consciousness.

To Mr Dennett consciousness is not one thing but a combination of different elements. They are our thoughts and experiences. This group also includes our subconscious, that always hard-to-define region of our brain where we hold information we are not even aware of having.

I first came across Daniel’s theories a few years ago via Steven Rose, one of The Guardian’s book reviewers. He also happens to be one of Mr Dennett’s staunchest critics. One of the reasons for this antagonism is that Daniel uses computer-based language to describe the way the human brain operates. Personally, I, too, find this hard to accept. To me the human brain has an infinite capacity to generate ideas and thoughts. To compare it with a PC’s storage capability is to fall into the same old trap of seeing the human mind as mere RAM. However, where I do agree with Mr Dennett is in his view of the mind and body as a single entity. There is no miracle, in my view, in the way the mind is linked to the body. The evidence is in the fact that when one of those two elements is not functioning well, the other one suffers.

The extraordinary nature of the human mind can be explained through the way we transform social learning into norms and habits. Elements of culture, no matter how disparate, are drained through a collective-focused colander, leaving the more human-friendly (hopefully) parts and chucking out the flotsam and jetsam. And yet, this process is not without faults. For, no matter how carefully we sift these cultural, moral and social norms through, we will always be at the mercy of human unpredictability, otherwise known as… the human mind.

If we accept, as I believe, the notion that because of evolution human beings developed a collective/individual duality, we also have to accept that throughout our existence this duality has led to the need to communicate, cooperate and compete. The latter is not a word many would find attractive nowadays. Competition has been given a bad rap, especially in our current neoliberal, market-obsessed society. Yet, it is a reality that we compete with one another. What we cannot deny is that in order to communicate, cooperate and compete we have to engage our minds. We have to be able to think, organise, evaluate and learn.

Consciousness is, as I mentioned before, that elusive and confusing process whereby we cook up all these ideas and thoughts, intentionally or unintentionally. And although it might come across as an otherworldly, mysterious entity, it is as human as our hands, legs and feet.

© 2017

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 12th July at 6pm (GMT)


  1. I think the mind is fascinating...both in humans and in animals. Competition can be healthy, but it can also be deadly. It is all in the way we look at it and how we respond to losing.

  2. I am endlessly fascinated by the mind. And so agree about the links with our bodies.

  3. A thoughtful and intriguing post. All that you say is valid and I might add a few other variables. What you say about competition is absolutely true. Healthy competition is necessary to advance in life and advance civilization. What we need to be taught is the healthy part. We have the need to try to do better than ourselves as well as others. What we need to learn is that if we do our best we can be satisfied... this time. If we come out ahead we need to be gracious. If someone else comes out ahead we again need to be gracious and silently work to do better next time. It need not be a blood sport.

  4. I've always been interested in the workings of the human mind and I found this post extremely interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Many years ago I had to study this. And one of the things that struck me then is how much our understanding is frames by our language. For instance there is an African language that has no words to distinguish between internal and external experience - which means they don't have the words to contain our distinction between conscious and unconscious processes, or even between something like a cut leg and painful feelings. Western cultures had no concept of an unconscious before Freud - but we now take it as a 'fact'. (I remember spending weeks thinking round and round this - it's raises so many questions, all framed in English!)

  6. Hi Mario - we certainly need competition ... animals confirm this as a necessity, and evolution shows the necessity ... as new species evolve. I agree it's totally not comparable to a machine - our minds are incredibly special and elusive ... interesting post - thank you ... cheers Hilary

  7. 'The evidence is in the fact that when one of those two elements is not functioning well, the other one suffers'
    As I am discovering, bit by slow bit. Not being a scientific person I am surprised that I enjoyed reading this post.

  8. The two sure are linked indeed. Yeah, with all the PC crap, competition has become a dirty word. Everyone has to win, pfffft.

  9. I read somewhere that we only use ten per cent of our brain. Is it possible? Can one imagine if one could use, let's say, 50%? What kind of good and not so good things the human being could do...

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think it's actually 0.10%! :-) We haven't even reached the 1% yet. Yes, I agree. Imagine what we could do if we so much as reached 20%. :-)

      Greetings from London.

    2. Scary thought!!!!

      Being facetious!!
      : )

  10. Oh the eternal question. I personally go back and forth, but even at my most mechanical (when it comes to thinking about the human mind's construction), I don't believe RAM is the best comparison. If the human mind is purely functional with no external functionality, its documented that memory is a constructive process and not a storage process. It makes no sense that personality and consciousness would be anything less.

  11. I like the idea of the colander sieving out the flotsam and jetsam

  12. The human mind is so much more fascinating than any computer; it's capable of doing such wonderful things or such terrible harm. Point well taken on competition, as much as I hate it. When I was newspaper reporter the knowledge that there was another reporter looking to scoop me on stories made me work much harder--and made me a better reporter.

  13. I feel much of our subconscious abilities come to us in our dreams but we don't remember or listen.


  14. I think the system is a mess and the brain never does what the mind wants it too. It is like the brain is version 5.6 and the mind 10.1 no cync there. :(

  15. Hmm, aren't many neurologists describing "the 10 percent of the brain" myth as false?
    Thank you for the very interesting post, Mario. I was surprised, however, to read about competition as something not appreciated. I live, alas, in a very competition-oriented society...

  16. Interesting thoughts in here (the whole blog) and therefore in your mind (whatever a mind is). I plan to return.

  17. I'am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited.Thank you.


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