One of the easiest bets to win is to offer a million dollars to anyone who can accurately predict their next thought. It would be foolhardy to accept such a bet. As we all experience every day -- and yet rarely notice -- our thoughts are unpredictable and spontaneous. They come and go at will, and yet strangely enough, we have no model for where a thought comes from.
This lack of understanding has serious medical significance in mental disorders, for example. A common symptom of various psychoses, particularly paranoid schizophrenia, is the belief that an outside force is controlling the patient's mind, usually through an alien voice heard in the head. Being sane, a normal person has the opposite experience, that his thoughts are his own. But if that was true, we'd call up any thought we wanted to have, the way you can call up a Google search. But this is far from true.
If you are asked to add 2+2, you can call up the necessary mental process, and there are millions of similar tasks, such as knowing your own name, how to do your job, what it takes to drive a car home from work -- these give us the illusion that we control our own minds. But someone suffering from anxiety or depression is the victim of uncontrolled mental activity, and even in everyday circumstances we have flashes of emotion that come of their own accord, along with stray thoughts of every kind. Artists speak of inspiration that strikes out of the blue. Love at first sight is a very welcome example of uncontrolled mental activity.
So at the very least, the human mind can't be explained without understanding the dual control feature that gives us total control over some thoughts and zero control over others. That challenge is hard enough, but several others are just as thorny. If I listen to rap music and love it while you listen to the same music and loathe it, what creates this difference, given the same input? This is a vexing question for any theory that attempts to put the brain in charge of the mind. The brain is supposedly a machine for thinking. But what kind of machine churns out a different response to the same input? It's like the world's most dysfunctional candy machine. You put in a nickel, but instead of getting a gumball every time, the machine spits out a poem or a delusion, a new idea, or a trite cliché, a great insight or a totally wrong conspiracy theory.
This gives you a tiny glimpse into why a science of consciousness has taken decades simply to be born, and is now as lawless as the Wild West. If a model of the human mind ever proves satisfactory, I'd place my faith on the work of Prof. A.K. Mukhopadhyay of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, because he is an expert in how the brain operates while not getting trapped into the fallacy that the brain creates the mind, much less that the brain is the mind. In a brilliant 2014 interview on YouTube, Mukhopadhyay goes far beyond any TED talk you'll ever hear, negotiating the choppy waters of the brain-mind problem with ease.
He begins by stating his allegiance to the "mind first" camp, which holds that consciousness creates the brain instead of the reverse, the "matter first" camp, which holds that the brain creates the mind. But instead of putting his foot down about this, Mukhopadhyay asks a simple question: Why are neurons, among all the cells in the body, attracted to the mind? What turns them into thinking cells? The "mind first" camp has generally failed to pose the issue so simply, and Mukhopadhyay offers an answer that has five dimensions.
- Brain cells are alive. a dead cell obviously can't express thoughts.
- A brain cell exhibits its own level of consciousness. It knows what it is doing.
- A brain cell has a self. It is self-regulating and self-organizing.
- A brain cell responds to mental events around it. It has a life of the mind.
- A brain cell processes information. It can communicate meaningful data, not simply random signals.
The breakthrough posed by Mukhopadhyay is that all five of these factors -- life, consciousness, mind, self, and information -- are being generated at the same time. They account for why no two people think alike. Each of us has life experiences, a mental history, a level of consciousness, a developed self, and a storehouse of information that is uniquely our own. Therefore, no science of consciousness can focus on only one dimension. The biologist who focuses on how cells acquire life is far from the mystic trying to understand the higher self. The psychologist trying to fathom human motivation is far from the neuroscientist trying to pinpoint consciousness in terms of cellular activity.
It seems undeniable that Mukhopadhyay's basic insight is correct: without the full dimensionality of life, mind, consciousness, self, and information, there is no way to explain the human mind. What makes his argument undeniable is that we've all experienced exactly the kinds of differences he is describing. This is a huge leap from the cramped local approach of biologists who don't speak to psychologists, who barely speak to neuroscientists; none of them answer the door if a mystic comes knocking. To the extent that various specialties stick to their own guns, they are wrong -- only a holistic approach has any chance of being right.
If this single insight were fully absorbed, the entire field of consciousness studies, along with every specialty involved in mind and brain, would be revolutionized overnight. We'd be starting with a five-piece puzzle that forms a complete picture, where the present state of confusion is based on specialists hoarding one piece of the puzzle and claiming it offers the answer. So how should the five pieces be assembled? There is a way, and we'll discuss it in the next post. With any luck, hitting on the right answer will restore control of the mind to each person, where it belongs.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com