The Brain, the Mind, and Misunderstanding

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Drew Britton

drewbritton@gmail.comEnglish 101

Lori Pollard-Johnson

7 Dec 09

The Brain, the Mind, and MisunderstandingAndrew Britton, a Pierce College student having escaped the clutches of public high school, struggles to provide profound and insightful responses to essay prompts. Baffled by the complexities of the world, he yearns to find answers and meaning through language and artful expression. His essay The Brain, the Mind, and Misunderstanding is a portrayal of his disappointments in a life full of missing answers and infinite possibilities.

With the creation of Earth (or occurrence, depending on your beliefs) spawned something far greater. Something far more extraordinarydwarfing even the most superior effects of nature. The pinnacle of everything existent in the universe, consisting of one-hundred billion neurons and weighing approximately three pounds, everyone is in possession of this mysterious super organfrightening. Of course, all great creations come packaged with defects. One of the most prominent predicaments we face as humans is the lack of true consideration for others. Oliver Sacks essay, The Minds Eye: What the Blind See, investigates the vital relationship between unavailable senses and how the brain compensates for those sensesspecifically with blind persons. Based on several observations, and written accounts by people who are blind, a new perspective has been discovered: the ideas that suggest the brain is fixed, rigid, have been replaced by a more structured idea that the brain is capable of rewiring itself to cope with having lost sensory inputs. With this thought in mind, Sacks presumes that previous experiences captured and placed into memory through senses do, in fact, shape the brain and mind. But do experiences alone shape our perceptions and expectations of the external world? Can our experiences enrich our inner realities, and provide us with intuitive ways of perceiving the environment if sight or hearing become nonexistent? To what extent are we the authors, the creators, of our own experiences? (506)

Similarly, author and clinical psychologist Martha Stout explains dissociation and sanity in one of her works, entitled When I Woke Up Tuesday Morning, It Was Friday. Dementia (insanity), the deterioration of cognitive and rational functions in the brain, is a common occurrence in anyone who has suffered a traumatic event. Also explained in her writing, hand-in-hand with the different states of dementia is dissociation. Dissociation is a defense mechanism that induces a person into a detached state, completely separating crucial mental processes from a person. Emotions and memories connected to the root of trauma are disregarded as one dissociates themselves from the conscious world. If a majority of the population has experienced dementia, in mild forms, how is sanity measurable? How can insanity be readily available as a label for hypersensitive people?

The two essays share obvious problems. Oliver Sacks suggests that the brain influences the mind, and vice versa; blind people can recreate a visual copy of the world based on their experiences and memories. On the other end of the spectrum, Martha Stouts newfound knowledge of dissociation implies that in order to distinguish the unreal from the real, we must conquer our limitations. Stuck in the gilded constructs of modern society, how can the brain possibly rescue us, time after time, from the conditioning we have become victim to?

A new approach should be put into action. Instead of becoming reliant on solely vision, the humans primary sense for perceiving the environment, we must consider the capabilities of our other natural senses. Just as with people affected with blindness, are we, too, blinded by todays societal standards? The almost infinite advertisements plastered on billboards and buildings, the true forms of beauty as portrayed on television, the stereotypes assembled in the confines of someone elses skewed reality and then unleashed on the publicthe lemmings. If we could experience literal blindness, would that alone begin the cleansing of our polluted minds?

Also, should people be classified as insane simply because of their brains coping techniques (however unique and bizarre) with the stresses of the external world? Should we continue to label people as sane or insane, if, according to Stout, nearly everyone has experienced insanity?

My solution is simple. We should take into account the variety of experiences all people have enduredwithout taking on the wearisome task of recognizing every individual person. For years the human mind has been clouded by the outside creations and limitations of culture; various great and not-so-great thinkers blanket the masses with their best or worst intentions, sometimes without enough concern to examine the possible repercussions. Our realities are constantly subjected to change based on the exerted realities of others. But, realizing the actual diversity across minds is the first step into fully understanding one another with no expectations. Understanding is a power everyone possessesonly few can realize.