Where Did My Mind Go?


(Originally posted 12/31/16 on Read With The Gringa)

The next time you hear the snarky comment, “It’s all in your mind,” be sure to tell them, “But I’ve LOST my mind!” That’s right. The mind is a crazy place and the truth is that we have all lost our minds. Well, to be more precise, it’s just not in the place you think, your brain. In fact, your mind might not actually be located anywhere in your physical body! Say what?! Yep, the gringa agrees. The mind, or consciousness to be exact, is a mystery without an address.

Medical professionals have traditionally considered the consciousness to be the product of brain activity and chemistry.  They have historically given it an address located at the end of neurons, when it fires off “something”.  But, about 20 years ago, a Psychiatry Professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine turned the medical community on its head (pardon the pun) with the idea that the mind is not confined to the boundaries of the skull.

Dr. Dan Siegel astounded about 40 medical professionals and social scientists at a meeting where he announced his groundbreaking theory. In the end, he won them over. As a result of this brainstorming session of scholarly elites, they came up with a definition of the mind/consciousness:

“emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within us and among us.”

The gringa’s first question is, “What the heck do all of those words mean?” So, the best thing to do when a jumble of important words confuses you is to break it down bit by bit. Let’s go:

  • Emergent: Medically speaking (which these guys were),  it means a comprehensive neural network that creates and analyzes complex models of reality in order to create simulations. Basically, what this means is the brain’s ability to visualize. If you can close your eyes and still see the form of the rose in the vase on your table, you have just performed an “emergent” brain exercise. In short, creating memories.
  • Self-organizing: Spontaneously creating order from disorder. We are constantly surrounded by information and stimuli. Our brain automatically processes every single iota of information and organizes it. We don’t even have to exert ourselves. The brain just does what it does. It’s a processor and vast self-filing file cabinet.
  • Embodied: Within, or having, or giving, a physical form to something non-physical. Happiness is “embodied” in a smile, fear in a scream.
  • Relational: The way in which 2 things, or people, are connected.
  • Regulates: Controlling the speed or activity of a function.

Let’s put all of that together. The human consciousness simulates everything that we experience in the physical world as well as emotions. It organizes all this stimuli and creates a visual/audio/experiential recording within our brain, a memory. Once the memory is filed away in the brain, this memory becomes embodied through different body functions but it originated in the consciousness. This memory is then the resource used to determine our responses to stimuli and how we interact with the physical world and other people. Our consciousness’ are us.

What this means is that our brain is the computer. Our body the different systems commanded by the brain. However, the consciousness is the user that is separate from the computer and operating systems. The consciousness is what controls the computer and decides which operating systems are put to use. So, then, what and where is this consciousness?

The What: Our consciousness is not an experiential function. It is not the reaction of the human to an experience. The consciousness is the experience itself. The consciousness is pleasure when eating chocolate. The mind is fear when watching a horror flick. That means that the bodily responses are our mind manifest in the physical world. It may sound confusing but think about this. Is the shoreline the sand or is it the water? It’s both. One does not exist without the other. Is the smile the happiness? No, of course not. It is the emergent emotion embodied in the lips. The mind is the experience but we cannot share the experience with others unless we are able to have the consciousness emerge through the physical.

The relational aspect of the mind/body connection is key to sound mental health. Modern society may be seeing a rash of mental illness because we are so disconnected with regard to relationships.  The reason for this is based in mathematics. In order for the mind to self-organize the influx of information that bombards us every moment of every day, the brain must be able to determine links and correlations between ideas, feelings, and events. Then it is able to integrate everything in a coherent, stable fashion.

If a person is routinely exposed to relationships that are dysfunctional or, perhaps, not even real (isolation from society and immersion into cyberworld) they will not be able to create healthy order out of chaos. Our consciousness learns by example. The order a person creates who has been chronically exposed to relationship dysfunction, or deprived of relationships altogether, will not be “normal”. The connections they make between stimuli and response may be based on link examples that are downright horrendous or even false.

Dr. Siegel has continued to be a pioneer in psychiatry, authoring many books, instructing medical professionals and practicing innovative medicine at the clinics he has established. His focus is on how relationship experiences shape our emotions and behavior, eventually molding us into who we are. In essence, relationships form our consciousness. Our consciousness controls our brain. Our brain drives our body.

The Where: Who knows? Our mind has nothing to do with our physical body. If that’s the case, does it survive the death of our bodies? If the mind is not dependent on the body for survival, but only needs the body to embody in the physical world what is created through the emergent process, what happens to it after death? What are the possibilities?

Dr. Siegel offers no answers yet on that front. So, the gringa is going to have to get hot on the trail of those answers because it is bad enough that I’ve lost my mind in the here and now. I certainly don’t want to lose it after my body expires! Where the heck is my mind?

Sources:  www.drdansiegel.com

Dr. Dan Siegel Video Clips

Image Credit:  huuhaablog.wordpress.com

 

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Oh, Just Forget It


The mind is an amazing thing. Having dealt with the effects of epilepsy all of my life, the gringa finds the subject of memory particularly fascinating. Amnesia is a typical side effect of intense seizure activity. Not only have I experienced amnesia, but often I will have some limited recall which is like taking a memory and making  a meal of scrambled eggs. I get it all wrong.  Having a blank space of time may sound frightening but I have learned to live with it. I simply have to shrug and move on. It even comes in handy from time to time if I have behaved particularly bad because I can then always say, “Really? I had no idea. I’m terribly sorry. I was simply not myself at the time.” I’m not sure the caveman is buying that line after all these years but, at the very least, he usually goes along with it.

So, the gringa has experienced the effect of seizure related amnesia as a cause for my creating false memories. Fortunately the caveman is understanding and does not believe that his little wife is a big, fat liar but just sick and confused. I am happy to know that I am not alone. In fact, none of us are. According to research by Shari R. Berkowitz and Jennifer Sumner, both assistant professors at California State University, all humans create false memories. Their studies revealed that it is actually very easy to implant false memories through different suggestive methods:

  • People were given a list of words that had something in common: pillow, sheets, bed, nap. The common link, sleep, was not on the list. Once the list was removed, the word sleep was suggested as being on the list and subjects agreed that they remembered seeing the word sleep on the list.
  • Participants had a dream interpreted. Days later it was suggested that the events of the dream were a real occurrence. The dreamer would recall the event as something that actually happened.
  • Study participants listed 4 interesting events like football games, political speeches, etc. and then read corresponding news stories related to the events. Of the news stories offered, one was bogus yet the participants invariably remembered the event occurring. Having a strong interest in a particular subject actually increased the chances of creating a false memory. Consequently, because the person considers themselves well-versed in the subject, they are also less likely to accept they are believing a false memory.
  • Rich memory events are false memories of something fantastic happening like being possessed or kidnapped.

Now, for the gringa, this rich memory theory is of particular interest. When I was a little girl the earliest memory, or, at least, what I thought was a memory, was of being a toddler and playing on the back porch of our home with our cat. I distinctly remember a group of Native Americans crossing the creek beside our home, entering our backyard and shooting me with an arrow.

As a child I was convinced this was a real memory. It was not until I was a teenager that I would recall this “memory” and realize I was wrong. But what made me believe such a thing? And why did I have no fear or animosity toward Native Americans? In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was fascinated with their history and fantasized of a romantic alternative life as part of a tribe. This would seem contrary to the typical psychology that would have resulted from a trauma. So what the heck happened to the gringa?

I blame my father. He was always making up fantastic stories to drive my sisters and I crazy. For example, I was very freckled as a youngster. He told me they were bird spots. That, because I liked to play outside all the time as a little girl, I was always getting pooped on by birds and those were the stains left behind. He even had a favorite bird species to mention in this explanation of freckles, buzzards. Not very nice, I know, but in my Daddy’s warped mind he thought he was simply hysterical and clever.

So, as for getting shot with an arrow, the gringa’s dear readers must understand that my Daddy grew up in an era of zero political correctness many years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He grew up in an America where white supremacy was the law of the land. So, he thought nothing of it when accusing Native Americans of shooting his little girl to explain why I had a navel. As a lover of old western movies, of course he would tell such a tale. That fantastic story had such an impact on my young, impressionable mind, I actually believed that I had a memory of a Native American Indian tribe raiding the back yard of my family home during the era of the Vietnam War.

And that, my dear readers, is why such research is so very important. Not just to get history correct, but to recognize that eye-witness testimony in criminal cases is often very flawed. Often times young people who undergo therapy to re-capture memories are not remembering actual events. This could result in ruining the lives of not only the falsely accused but by creating a victim who is actually not a victim.  If we can rely on anything when it comes to memory, it is that it is simply not reliable.

Consider that the gringa can remember the telephone number of her childhood home and several childhood friends yet I cannot remember the caveman’s telephone number at work. I can list the titles of the first three novels I read from cover to cover as a little girl but I can’t remember to buy dog food if I leave my shopping list at home. I can recall the words to a song I have never performed and haven’t heard on the radio in over ten years but I can’t keep the birthdates of my children straight. What is up with that? Science says it is because there are different types of memory and they each have their own special mechanism that causes forgetting.

Doorway Memory

If you find that you walk from one room to another, forgetting why you made the trip, this is the problem of doorway memory. Walking through a doorway into another physical setting is like hitting a reset button in your memory bank.

Flashbulb Memory

Emotionally vivid events often cause people to create flashbulb memories. These accounts become so vivid that they believe they will never forget, like remembering where you were when you heard the news of 9/11 or that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The gringa must inform you that although one would think these memories would be etched forever upon our minds, it simply ain’t so.  Although we will never forget that those events happened, we will, indeed, eventually forget where we were when we got the news. We may recall with effort where we were, but it won’t actually be a memory of the place and conditions surrounding us. It will be the remembrance of a fact we know to be historically true. Unless, of course, we were one of the victims. But traumatic memory is also tricky.

Traumatic Memory

If you were a victim of 9/11, or any other trauma, one of two things might happen with your memory. You will never forget anything, not even the smells or particular sounds. The other option is that you could forget absolutely everything, complete amnesia. If a trauma is so extreme that the brain determines that the person cannot emotionally bear the pain, the brain disposes of the memory with a deep burial process. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may very well be the result with certain events, words, colors, smells, sounds, etc. triggering an anxiety attack of dangerous and epic proportions where the person begins to relive the experience of the trauma.

Mind Erase

Certain activities can cause what is termed “transient global amnesia”.  This doesn’t mean that world travelers forget stuff. No, the gringa breaks it down like this: Transient (temporary) global (affecting a particular part of the brain) amnesia (forgetting). There is no telling who may be affected by this condition or why it happens. Basically, a person can have experience a temporary amnesia event, forgetting the entire previous day for a few hours after certain types of activity like: sex, migraines, mild head trauma, exposure to sudden temperature extremes.

Life After Access

It is not uncommon to have a memory recall event of something you believe never even happened. Something may happen to trigger the memory and suddenly a person remembers something that they didn’t even know that they knew. This can be disturbing and cause some people to believe they have been reincarnated as another person. Consider the case of a woman who suddenly remembered the words to songs she had no memory of learning. No, she was not an opera singer in a previous life. Neurologists explained that at some point in early childhood, before her brain was capable of remembering events (typically before the age of 4), she was exposed to the music and it imprinted on her mind. Later in life, something related to that event triggered the memory of the music.

Brain Injuries & Insults

This cause the gringa knows only too well. Most people think a brain injury is when a person hits their head and injures their brain. Actually, that could also be a brain insult. You see, an insult to the brain is not forgetting things because someone called you stupid. It is an injury that is so traumatic that brain matter is physically displaced.

A physical blow to the head is also not the only thing that can cause a brain to receive an insult. Certain diseases can cause swelling of the brain or fluid to fill the sinus cavities of the brain. Both events can cause physical displacement of brain matter, thus an insult to the brain.

Whereas the electrical storm of a seizure is a brain injury, it does not physically rearrange the structure of the brain like a catastrophic blow to the head. However, both injuries and insults will affect memory. And there can be seizures that have the potential to do just as much brain damage as a traumatic brain insult.

What’s The Point

So, then, what’s the point of knowing that memory cannot be relied upon? For the gringa, I have learned the importance of journaling. Not just to be able to remember the personal details of my life, but it has proven critical in managing important aspects of life, such as getting an insurance claim processed. The most common method of journaling performed today, and most people may not even realize that is what they are doing, is posting status updates to Facebook. The average American probably takes their memory for granted. Not the gringa. I post status updates frequently as well as keep an actual, personal journal.

In matters of law, it is entirely possible that there are people sitting in jail for crimes they did not commit because of flawed eye witness testimony. This is simply a travesty now that we understand the human mind better. Wherever possible, physical evidence should always supersede eyewitness accounts.

As for those poor souls that believe they have been abducted by aliens, the gringa can only point to her navel  and offer  a facial expression of raised eyebrows. Really? Abducted by aliens? If I could believe I had actually been shot by an arrow, a victim of a Native American raid in a small town in Texas in the 1970’s, I can assure alien abductees that they, too, have been duped by their memories. Chances are they had a Daddy like mine who enjoyed titillating their imagination with fantastical stories. Like me, their impressionable minds were imprinted with a fantasy story delivered by someone they absolutely trusted as faithful and true, so, in childlike innocence they never questioned the veracity of the story and grew up believing it to be true. Alien abductee? No. Victim of a fantastic storyteller? Most likely.

Sources:

www.livescience.com

www.csudhnews.com

www.mayoclinic.org

www.neuroskills.com

www.livescience.com

Image Credit: lymeinside.files.wordpress.com