Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "Simple" Human Mind

The title may sound a bit odd to you, at least I would expect it to you. After all, we're told the human mind is the most complex thing in the universe (I have been - many times). But is it really that complicated? Would it be totally incorrect to say the mind is simple?

Well - yes and no. It's a complicated question (oh the irony).

The mind is extradoinarily complex in a few different ways;
1. It's very much blank when we are born - yet we are able to learn so much about our world very quickly. All technology and science has been created or discovered by human minds.
2. We still don't know how consciousness is tied in, nor do we fully understand many of the ailments that tend to plague our minds (or less often the enhancements, such as savants).
3. The number of synapses possible greatly outnumbers the total protons in the universe.

So - the possibilities for the human brain to become unique and incredibly diverse is basically innumerable. The combinations of what we learn and how we use them out number any other known constructs in the universe! So what am I on about when I say the mind is simple. Well - I am, more or less, talking about our cultures' minds. That is - the vast majority of people are generally very similar. 

This not to say that we are all the same, but we have very core, or root, tendencies that are very conserved (that is, the same from person to person) between us. I'll use the analogy of dogs; all dogs are unique. Anyone who's owned more than two dogs knows this is true, but generally, when we get a new dog, we don't need to read a new book on every new breed we obtain. This is because, generally speaking, dogs are similar.

The same applies for humans, and generally, all animals. We as humans are very unique - each of us - but we of course have very similar characteristics, personalities, and most importantly - learned traits. The following sections and following blog posts will be entailing empathy but I find it very important to first outline how emapthy is possible (the purpose of this post!)

These similarities between people are sometimes inherent, sometimes cultural, and sometimes (most interestingly) deeply rooted in experiences. Let me give some examples;

  • Inherent similarities are basically our instincts - everyone is going to pull their hand away from a hot fire (unless something is different in pain sensory)
  • Cultural similarities are what we learn from the TV, our family, our friends, the media, books, etc. These cultural fragments create the largest part of who we are - and usually our "uniqueness" is actually a huge conglomerate of other people's personalities, beliefs, etc.
  • Deeply rooted are similarities that arise between people when they have experienced something similar such as a traumatic event (loss of a loved one, car accident), a religious experience (near-death-experience, fasting / meditating, use of entheogens), or perhaps even similarities between two people who have studied/worked in a certain subject their entire life.
These similarities allow us to empathize with people, on varying levels, and with varying intensity. Most of these similarities are very deeply engrained, and we do not pick up on them consciously - more often than not, a lot of our empathy is done subconsciously. We sometimes meet someone and "know" they will be nice to talk to - but we don't know why, they just seem inviting.

The next post will more in depth about empathy, and how these similarities can help us, hurt us, and sometimes control us. Following that post will hopefully be a post on maximizing your ability to empathize, and do reverse empathy (the ability to see yourself through others)

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