Changing Minds

Painting The Mind“When builder Tommy McHugh and chiropractor Jon Sarkin suffered massive brain traumas, they suddenly revealed a previously hidden talent: to create art that amazed critics and collectors”

This program, shown on Channel 4 was a very interesting watch. When it can be seen so clearly how much an individuals personality and intrinsic values can change when the brain experiences trauma it raises questions relating to the Nature Vs Nurture debate. The events covered in this program also reflect that of the classical example Phineas Gage, used in many philosophical studies.

Given the fluid and intricate nature of our personality and self identity I am usually of the stance that nurture is the greater of the two dynamics. Genetics does indeed give rise to the Id, our initial, animal desires or the inclination to act in a certain manner yet as our brain develops so does our understanding. Past childhood no healthy person should be led by their emotive desires. True, we are all products of our society, constructing our personal values and perception of the world by observing and experiencing our environment, parents, friends etc. but  yet we are not slaves to this given ethics.

The concept of Freedom applies not only to our physical states but also to the mental. We have free will. We are also incredibly lucky to live in a liberal society where we are free to express ourselves as we wish. The only downside to this being that in some areas it may be excessively free. Mass media has been allowed to create a pseudo-reality which enforces a world view, a view which is intended to make you want or buy. I do not in any way condone censorship of thought however I do not believe sufficient measures are taken to educate the public. To give all the capacity to filter and asses all the biased information which is fed to them.

Before I digress too much the point here is that we all have the freedom of mind to question or own beliefs. To examine our thoughts and actions, to apply logic and reason then decide if the way we behave is right or wrong. The biggest step here of course is deciding to do so.

I myself am a Panpsychist. Areas of Quantum mechanics, Philosophy, Psychology, Buddhism and various other religions all indicate that there is an interrelationship between matter and consciousness. The way I understand it is that the most fundamental form of conciousness is “being”. Simply to exist is to possess a subtle form of consciousness, not the kind we experience yet consciousness all the same. The higher form of consciousness we possess, along with Sentience comes later down the line. This requires a brain.

Therefore if our mental life requires the presence of a physical brain does this mean they are wholly codependent? Well yes and no. The simple answer is we just don’t know enough about how the brain functions to answer this. Now this is not an area I’m an expert in but I do know we have developed beyond phrenology and other similar archaic beliefs which stipulate the brain is fixed and can be mapped.

Although, with the aid of modern technology, we do have a good idea regarding the functions of the various lobes, and specific regions of the brain, we are very far from understanding it.

Previous studies into developmental psycology and psychosocial development have given me the firm belief that we are products of our own aspirations. Although our “default settings” are initially beyond our control the option to customise and remodel your mind is yours.

The way we lean is general to specific. What you may see as an egg-cup is in fact a lifetime of relevant experience, the material, the shape, the function, the dangers and the pain or pleasure associated with the item. All this is processed by our unconscious then presented to our conscious, perceived and comprehended as a nicely simplified singular object.

As Hebbian Theory suggests and is often simplified down to “cells that fire together, wire together”. Meaning, literally thoughts enhance thoughts. If you have a bad thought towards a certain object, person or place you are giving it strength just by thinking it. Instead you need to re-associate any latent meaning ie. think good thoughts about the article you dislike/fear/hate. Initailly this will feel unatural and contrived but eventually it will become normal and slip into the unconciouss. There is a chapter in Derren Brown’s book, Tricks of the Mind devoted to memory. This is a recommended read and goes deeper into the matter of how memories are stored, retrieved and how they can be replaced.

So why is this relevant? Well, Neuroplasticity is an old concept. Rejected by the men of authority when initally proposed yet now a fact. Albeit a fact we don’t understand. The brain can remodel itself, even compensating when half the brain is removed in Hemispherectomy patients like Kacie Caves. Given this, that that the brain changes physically, what can we assume about the direct impact on the mental? Whats more, is it possible to achieve the same amount of mental remoddeling via emotional trauma or even by free will?

Throughout our lives we devlop, we change. Your priorities, prefernces and character all change. Imagine a room filled with yous. Yourself at ages 5, 10, 15, 25, 50 and 80. Given a selection of subjects to discuss would you agree with your(other)selves. Would you share the same dreams and desires in life. Would you respect or even like yourself?

The Theseus Paradox is a philosopical conundrum, questioning whether and object is the same if all it’s consistuent parts are replaced. Apply this thought to your body. How old do you think you are? Although it’s hard to determine an exact figure (with recent studies even suggesting the aging process itself is flexible) most studies say no cell in your body is older than fifteen and a half years.

Then to summarize. The physical aspects of our bodies and brains change. Somtimes when this a happens there is direct impact on our psyche. However in some instances massive physical changes can be compensated for. Alternatively our mental activity forms the physical composition of our brains.

Lewis Hyde, in his book the The Gift talks of the creative potential we all posess. How it is fundamental to our everyday lives and involved in from getting dressed to cooking to navigation. The problem (and loss) occurs because the skills are stifled and as discussed previously, the less practice and repitition the more difficult and unatural things become.

Perhaps then there is an artist in us all. Our true creative potential buried deep beneath a lifetime of persitent neglect. Waiting for our attention to awaken them. Or, for us to have a stroke, whatever comes first.

A couple of recommended references:

Philosophy of Mind

Freedom: The Philosophy of Liberation



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