Look After Your Mind – The Mystery Of Me

There are at least five aspects to this puzzle:

1. The mystery of subjective awareness

Sight is the outcome of photons of light impinging on the retinas of the eyes. Sound comes in the form of pressure waves that the ears detect and transmit to the brain. Photons themselves are colourless and pressure waves are soundless: how they result in the experience of say, standing on a beach as the tide comes in, hasn’t even begun to be explained.

2. The mystery of free will

How do my intangible thoughts fulfil my desire to drive to the coast and enjoy a day by the sea? Some argue that because everything must have a cause, my supposed ‘decision’ is the result or effect of a countless number of prior causes. In other words, it was completely determined beforehand. You can decide for yourself what to believe.

3. The mystery of the richness and accessibility of memory

We can all choose to remember some events in our lives, while others remain subconscious (though can be retrieved using techniques such as hypnosis). The neurobiologist Robert Doty has stated, “The seemingly limitless and enduring capacity of human memory is a deep mystery… that presently defies credible clarification”.

4. The mystery of reason and imagination

These are both what might be called ‘higher’ functions of the human mind, with which we can envision the future, imagine impossible things and consider various options, leading to decisions based on rational processes of thought.

5. The mystery of the self

We all have a sense of self, of being a person, an individual with a life history, plans for the future, and a rich inner world. Because that self seems to be located just between and behind the eyes, looking out at the external world, it’s easy to gain the impression that that part of the brain creates and is responsible for the experience of ‘me-ness’. And yet the word individual means ‘that which cannot be divided’., Sso to me, my individuality includes those aspects of the mind that are not conscious (and maybe never will be), my body, my whole life story and the various ways in which I’m connected to and part of the world; in other words, the totality of my mortal experience.

Such mysteries throw up fascinating questions about consciousness and personhood. We’re all familiar with the idea of artificial intelligence, but even if computers can learn, do they or will they ever have consciousness and a sense of self? Since human consciousness touches on all of the mysteries above, and is itself unexplained, it may be a long time before we can answer that question.

Steve Bowkett