Fifty Shades of Grey Matter and Conscious Mind

For centuries people have asked, what is the mind?  Before the term consciousness or sub-consciousness was common, people had varied views about what self awareness, non awareness, and any awareness, really is.  Even now, in the advanced age of neurology and psychology, there is not full agreement about what consciousness really is. 

Thinking too hard about it can boggle the mind. For example, you may remember something you did when you were six years old, but no particle of your body remains from that time. What then, is memory, and what then is awareness?  You may have fallen on your bike then, but no molecule exists that stored that memory. Your brain and body has recycled every element since then.  Mind, is at least understood then, to be not stuff, but a process. Consciousness is apparently a part of the process of the body that knows of itself.

Even subconscious is confusing. Recently, a very popular book called Fifty Shades of Grey repeatedly described the narrator as being scolded by her subconscious, or unconscious.  Many people hate the book, but few of them for that reason.  Yet, one would suspect it drove many a mind professional mad. A person aware of that which is unconscious is impossible, since being aware is the opposite of subconscious thought.

Surely, though, there are degrees of consciousness. When sleeping at night, a person may experience many levels of varying mindfulness.  When dreaming of walking, for example, the same parts of the brain are activated as when one is actually walking. However this may not be much different than tasks learned that are then done without much awareness. When pouring cereal in a bowl, adding milk, sipping coffee and so on, very few people find themselves actively thinking about what they are doing, they have it all set on automatic pilot once the task is learned. Humans are engineered with a mind that multi-tasks with ease, but for specific new tasks that require thought, the mind must focus, or nothing at all gets done. 

The mind can go wonderful, even impossible places. Think about hanging off a ring of Saturn. It can be imagined, but of course, never done. And perhaps one of the most amazing things about the mind is that it is self aware. Only a few other fellow animals have the capacity to think about thinking in this way.

The brain is a hugely compact mass of one hundred billion cells, weighing about three pounds. It regulates other parts of the body which also have their own mechanistic ways of knowing.  There are neurons in the gut, and somehow, people knew this about “trusting their gut” before science identified it. People also describe some nervousness as “butterflies in the stomach” and that too, is a kind of knowing not centered inside the old grey matter.

To journey into the mind could, and does, fill books.  The more human beings learn about what the mind really is, the more questions there seem to be.