Does the mind really exist?

Does the mind really exist, if so where is it? We all know that we have a mind, you are using it right now reading this article which when you reach the end, will make you come to one of several possible conclusions. You will either agree or disagree with points raised in this article or come somewhere in-between with a “perhaps he has a point” decision.

Let me make it clear from the outset, I certainly do not know where the mind is but then as far as I know, no else does either. All I surmise is based on personal experience and common sense. I do not subscribe to the mystical trains of thought as personally I do not believe there is anything that is really mystical in this universe, only things that we do not yet have sufficient knowledge to explain.

The mind is certainly not a physical thing as any autopsy will clearly show, so where is it located? If you close your eyes for a few moments and concentrate, even try to feel or sense where your immediate thoughts are coming from, the chances are that you will sense it is somewhere in your head. Trying to “feel” just where in your head these thoughts are originating from may prove difficult.

In many ways the human body is not dissimilar to a motor car although a car has somewhat more simplistic systems. A car needs electrical, fuel, steering, mechanical and braking systems to be able to function. All of these have to work in unison. The moment any one of these systems or system components fail the car can no longer be used. If it is a primary system like fuel or electrical, the engine will also cease working. The car however clearly does not have a mind, that is provided by the driver behind the wheel.

The key point is a motor car only exists while all of its systems are functioning and working in unison. The moment one of these systems stops working, the car in essence reverts back to so much metal, plastic and rubber still carefully assembled but lifeless.

I cannot help but wonder if our minds act in a similar fashion. Is it something of a transient nature that only exists while all the bodies systems are sustaining life? Our bodies after all are like the car with so many components, lungs, liver, heart etc, held together by muscle and bone and serviced by vital systems, blood, respiratory, nervous, digestive and so on. Does this mean that once one of the vital organs or systems cease to function through age, disease or accident and death occurs, the mind simply ceases to exist as the totality of functions and components that created and serviced it, cease to operate? Like the car, can the mind only exist while everything else is functioning?

All of our body systems interact with each other in some way. It would seem that for the mind to exist, it has to be reliant on various functions of the brain, memory, logic and so on. The brain in turn being a physical organ as well as a mental processing centre is also reliant on our blood, respiratory, nervous and digestive systems. If any of these systems completely fail, the brain is no longer serviced and in turn cannot service other parts of the body such as the heart through the nervous system. Death then occurs and the mind can no longer exist. Again it is not dissimilar to turning the ignition off in a motor car with the engine running. I suppose what I believe in the absence of  any evidence to the contrary, is the mind is only a transient thing. The culmination of various mental functions that can only exist while the brain sustains life.

A clear everyday example of this would be fire. Non-atomic fire is a process that can only be brought about by three factors. Fuel, oxygen and heat. If any one of these components is removed or exhausted, the fire simply ceases to exist. When we light a match, we do not ask where the fire went to when the match finally burns out. The fire simply ceased to exist. I believe exactly the same happens to the mind when we die.

What factors affect the mind and have a direct bearing on how it operates? This is a difficult one as it would appear to me that all creatures have a mind at one level or another, but the levels at which the mind works appears to be in direct relation to various mental functions and the ability to use those functions. It is also the ability to use those higher functions that set humans apart from most of the animal kingdom. As we develop from babies our experiences grow from direct experimentation and communication with the world around us. Experiences such as touching, taste etc are all stored in memory to be instantly called upon in the future when circumstances require it even though we may not consciously be aware of it. This learning process continues on many levels and developing the skills to talk and understand also means we learn things of which we have no direct experience. History for example. Abstract functions like logic, mathematics, reading, general education all help our minds function at higher levels than if we did not have those skills or memories to fall back on.

I have also learnt from experience that it is possible to subconsciously use the mind for solving problems. There have been many times when I have been developing intricate computer programs of encountering what appeared to be an insurmountable brick wall of a problem. These are times when although I understood all aspects of the problem, no solution would present itself. I now know the solutions to such problems are simple, just forget about them and get a good nights sleep. On every occasion when I awoke in the morning, I knew the solution. This has happened so many times, that I have firmly come to the conclusion that once the conscious mind is no longer distracted by external influences while we are asleep, the unconscious or subconscious mind is allowed to function in a more pure thought mode. I have found this method of resolving problems also works for most other types of problem too, be they personal or financial. The formula appears to be, fully understand a problem, get a good nights sleep and wake up in the morning with the solution. The secret is both understanding it works and also having the confidence to rely on it. I cannot help but wonder if some of the worlds more major problems could not be solved by a good nights sleep rather than instant postulations. Many of the answers I give in my muses come about in this way.

The speed at which the mind can process thought is also phenomenal. Although we may not realise it, all of us experience use this thought speed every day. If we are asked a question that we both understand and know the answer to,  our response immediately comes into our minds. In that instant our mind has called on our memory banks, experiences and logic processing abilities and immediately formulated everything into our answer. Giving our answer by formulating and saying words to another person takes far longer than recalling and processing instantaneous answers to a question. Even as we are relating our answers to another person our minds are not still. Subconsciously we may modify our response even as we are giving it if we notice the other person is not fully understanding the concept we are expressing.

I appreciate many people would disagree with me about the transient existence of the mind.  It does after all go by many other names, the Id, Ego and so on. A transient existence would also mean than our minds and personalities do not continue to live after death purely on the simple premise that the mind does not exist at all other than as the combined product of all the other mental functions of our brains. If there is no mental or physical input to sustain a mind, how does it continue to exist?

I am certainly not an atheist but I do have difficulty in coming to terms with the concept of resurrection or an after life. I wish there was, but simple pragmatism stops me worrying about it further. If there is life after death, then one day we will all know the answer when we eventually pass on. If there isn’t then we will simply be in a position were we would not be worried about it or anything else. It comes down to a simple equation. There is either life after death for the mind or there is not, there is no halfway house. Either way, the answer is irrelevant as there is nothing any of us can do to change the truth whatever it may be.


3 Responses

  1. I think regards the mind, you can’t see it but like electricity which you cant see, but it works same like the wind, you cant see it but its there .The mind could be likened to the Psyche, a spark in all of us that animates us, makes us different to plants and things like that. What makes us who we are. We’re all different but we have that spark . I don’t think it is given to us to understand everything in life. Probably we’ll learn more as time goes on. I mean if you think of it, there is a wonderful Universe to explore and we haven’t yet solved various mysteries in this world. Maybe its all just a process of learning. People question things more in this age, in the past we didn’t know any better. But we want to know more now. I can remember as a child I was always asking questions, and the grown ups didn’t like it! But their attitudes is from the way they were brought up and so on. Maybe one day we’ll have all the answers. In the meantime I suppose we can enjoy discovering things.

  2. Hello Maryann,

    While it is true to say mankind has learnt many things, there are still many other things where mankind is groping in the dark. Examples of this are the topic you have commented on about What is the mind? Others are fundamental forces like what is gravity? That’s something we all know the effects of, but even to this day no one really knows how it works other than matter seems to attract other matter by some unknown method.

    What actually was Big Bang and does the universe go on forever or does it have an end? Again there are so many theories but they are just that, theories because no one really knows for certain.

    The biggest mystery is how was life created? We all hear about the necessary environmental conditions and elements needed for life to exist or form but as yet no one has been able to artificially recreate life although many have tried.

    It does appear the more mankind learns leads to even bigger and newer unanswered questions showing how little mankind really understands.

  3. thanks for replying Mick. I am sorry for taking so long in answering but I hadn’t checked my e-mail for a while so please bear with me over this. What I think is think is this, though scientists have discovered a great deal they don’t have all the answers as new questions are cropping up all the time. Where scientists outdo themselves is in saying that it all happened by chance, therefore in their minds, they say the world wasn’t created, it just happened. Then you have Darwin’s Theory, which is questionable, to the point I think its been discarded. I would not seek to impose religious views onto anyone else, but when I look around me, I do think what a lovely world this is and marvel at all the beauty I see, that so many of us take for granted, and I think, no human person could create what you see. Its like a nice painting someone painted it. I have thought that even Turner couldn’t paint a sunset quite the way you see one, nor all the best artists in this world could.
    But having said that, I appreciate that everyone has their own point of view, which begs the question, why are we here? Unless we are part of some Grand design, I think it would seem pointless, unless there’s a purpose to life. We have morals and can think and do things in a way other species cant. I believe we have a divine spark in us, which does set aside the theory that, basically we all emerged from a swamp. I don’t believe we did, or that we are descended from monkeys. But I don’t profess to understand all these things any more than the next person.
    One thing strikes me. If there is no God as scientists and people such as Richard Dawson, claim, why do they protest so much? If you don’t believe in something and say it doesn’t exist, then you let it go. I don’t believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy, for instance, but I don’t go on about it, just accept it and let it go/ (I only mentioned it just now in context.) But belief in Our Creator and religion become inflammatory subjects, supposedly for something that doesn’t exist, therefore I feel these type of people, scientists, etc. sound as if they are trying to convince themselves, as Idon’t think they would go on about it so much. to quote Shakespeare, they protest too much. I would be interested to know what you think about that, once again apologise in taking so long to reply

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