Our Elusive Mind – View of the Mind

Our mind? Its specific location, construction, and workings remain points of conjecture. Even its purpose is not fully known. I imagine that it is like a multi-faceted optical illusion. Depending on your particular viewpoint at any moment it can seem to be like this, or that, or even something entirely different. Many confuse mind and brain. This video from the National Institute of Mental Health talks about brain basics including neurons and neural circuits, neurotransmitters and brain regions, yet all these neuroscience artifacts do not explains the phenomenon of human mind.

Your mind can be your friend, confidant, harshest critic, instructor, a liar, even a merry prankster in your life. With all this in its bag of tricks there is one more all-important attribute to keep in mind. It is a control freak. In this set of three articles examining the mind we will look at a list of the functions of the mind, examine the various views of the mind through the lens of four disciplines, and summarize ways of defining the mind.

Our Elusive Mind - Part 1

Functions of the Mind

When discussing the mind we tend to surround the subject in a cloak of mystery. Its place in our lives can seem all consuming. If you stop and think about it there are few activities in our life that don’t include our mind. Here are but a few of the important roles played by our mind as we live out our lives:

  • An inner guide,
  • A friend,
  • Your confident,
  • Your harshest critic,
  • The teacher,
  • A liar,
  • A merry prankster,
  • A control freak,
  • A decision maker.

The first thing I’d like to do is simplify the role of the mind. At its most basic level of functioning our mind serves as a process centered input/output device. It experiences the world around it (input), sorts through those experiences and assesses their validity (process), and constructs a reaction (output).

Let’s take a closer look using the all-important first impression as our example. You’re out with friends when a stranger approaches your table. By the reaction of one of your friends the stranger is an old friend of theirs. Your friend then introduces the stranger and your mind begins to form a first impression. After a brief chat the new acquaintance leaves. Your mind tells you that the person seems OK.

This is how your mind functions. As noted above, there are a range of factors your mind has available in forming a reaction. Perhaps no factor is more important than the minds assessment of the input. In the final analysis your mind will present you with three options regarding your impression or reaction. Given the information received the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or expectations can be a big lie, accurate and truthful, or simply does not matter.

As it is with the other functions or roles of your mind the one thing you can be sure of is that without a conscious effort to pay attention to what is going on within your mind you may never be sure what it is up to.

Viewing the Mind

There is an important question, what is the mind? There are plenty of answers. Just keep in mind that any answer you get is going to depend on whom you ask. There is an abundance of information regarding the mind. We could ask our friend for their opinions, you can conduct your own research, or turn to the people with advanced skills, preparation, and training in the following areas:

  • Philosophy
  • Science
  • Theology/religion
  • The Arts

Each of these disciplines address the mind from different vantage points.


As defined by Wikipedia, “Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” An important area of discussion among philosophers through the ages there is no consensus on the meaning of the mind.

If there is an area of common thought about the mind it is that it is the center of our humanness. A kind of gatekeeper/author of who we are.


Of the scientist, especially those in the areas of psychology, cognition, and neurology the mind is most likely a mass of interconnected electrical impulses that direct our behaviors. If the mind is viewed from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity it becomes like a metaphor in that it is many things simultaneously.

Within the field of science studies of the mind have resulted in a greater base of knowledge about the function, activity, and perhaps even its location.


The earliest thought about the mind comes out of our search for meaning in life. Over the span of recorded time it is the mind that is at the center of our relationship with a greater power. Some identify this entity as our spirit or soul. To others the mind is the common ground between us and a higher plane of spirituality. To most who view the mind as our connectedness with God it is a transcendent part of ourselves that has an afterlife

The Arts

Closely aligned with philosophy, within the arts the mind is the seat of our aesthetic selves. Far ranging implications include the effect of art on the mind and in turn the influence of those minds on the shaping of culture. Any study of different eras of human history show distinct representations of a culture in its aesthetic presentations. The artist might suggest that this is the power of art in the mind.


The human mind is an elusive entity. So elusive that even attempts to narrow it down through the use of words hasn’t helped. Depending on its usage the word mind has a very long list of synonyms each addressing a area of the mind, but not defining the mind.

Next in part two we will explore how we lost control of our mind, the consequences of that, and some steps you can take to regain control of your mind.


Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cblue98/7254347346


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