This is a revision of moldy oldie of a newspaper column I wrote well before the turn of the 21st Century in 1990 when my mind, for what it’s worth, was much sharper. You’ll likely notice that I refer to the year 2000 as if it’s in the distant future. The subject was the source of our thoughts and being— the mind and the brain— often used interchangeably.
You may note dated references, such as a Ronald Reagan quip, which was solely to needle residents of my Republican-dominated county on our op-ed page back then. Little did I know how much I’ve come to miss Ronald Reagan, but that’s what is known as changing your mind, which often comes from learning, perhaps the most valuable potential of the brain that we tend to ignore. Ignore, of course, is the root of ignorance.
So let’s venture back in time when we were more mindful of our minds and respected science. I made a few editing concessions to 2021, but, otherwise, it is the same as written three decades ago.
The potential of the human mind is limitless. I’m not talking about people who don’t have minds. Their potential for ever having one is severely limited. It has been demonstrated through years of psychometric research and exhaustive laboratory testing that if you still don’t have a mind by the time you turn 19, you pretty much have to rely on something else to make your decisions.
My own mind is more of a middling mind concerned with the basics like eating, sleeping and sporadic forays into thinking. Mine is not an elite mind concerned with intellectual pursuits like contemplating the generic reconditioning and cosmic perambulation of disabled snails. But it is on a slightly higher plane than those who can endure watching more than ten minutes of “Wheel of Fortune” without changing the channel. “Wheel of Fortune,” by the way, is dangerous because it encourages mindless people to think they have minds. Because they think, therefore they have brains and are at least capable of discerning hot from cold or feeling excruciating pain from a hammer blow to the shin. Thus, they are capable of filling in the blanks to solve the following clue: “T_ger by the Ta_l.” without buying the vowel “i”.
Mind carries a multitude of connotations beside the one Milton defined as “its own place.” This is the control-room mind— the one that makes everything else function and is on intimate terms with the soul. As we all know, mindlessness is not an enviable state. The most enviable state, I think, is Colorado, but that is out of sight, therefore out of mind, so that shouldn’t concern us right now. Getting back to Milton, he had a great mind, which enabled him to write great books. That’s why we can call him only by his last name and people know who you are talking about. Well English Lit majors and voracious readers of the classics anyway.
People with scant evidence of minds who have managed to become famous in spite of that handicap are often known by just their first names. Elvis, Cher, Madonna, Adele, Prince and Beyonce are among the examples. Proof of the mindlessness of this practice is this is how we name our dogs.
You can do a lot of things to or with a mind. You can blow it, though not the same way you do a nose. You can speak it or bear something in it. You can even read it if you have the psychic ability or have been married long enough. You can call AND bring something to mind. You can have a mind to do something AND half a mind to do something. I once heard somebody say, and I quote: “I have half a mind to give that guy a piece of my mind.” I would suggest not doing that if you are only starting out with half a mind. Mind you, I’m not an expert on minds, but it seems to me if you keep giving people pieces of your mind, there won’t be many pieces left. Maybe just the part that controls drooling. You could end up being mindless and, before you know it, you’re running for President of the United States.
Half of a mind should not be confused with two minds (as in, “I’m of two minds about this issue”), but seems to conflict with someone being in his right mind.
You can speak you mind, as previously noted, but you can also see something in your mind’s eye. Now we’ve given the mind a mouth and an eye. Apparently, minds aren’t blessed with other bodily parts like arms, feet and belly buttons. Yet minds are capable of racing, which suggests there might be legs involved. And there is such a thing as a buttoned-down mind, if not a belly-buttoned-down mind. Maybe I went too far on that one.
One of its definitions is to obey. You can mind your P’s and Q’s, whatever they are, and mind can also convey something for which you’re responsible, as in minding the store or your business. If your store happens to have P’s and Q’s in stock, you’ve accomplished two things as once. Isn’t the human mind marvelous?
You Can’t Carry Your Mind in a Baggie
Minds are fun; you can play mind games with them. They’re also very pliable. You can bend them. You can boggle your mind, which doesn’t sound like something you should do without adult supervision, but you can’t tease them. Only brains can be teased. Brains and minds can’t always be used interchangeably. You can be brain dead but not mind dead, implying the latter, like the soul, is somehow immortal. My guess is that the brain is to the mind what an engine is to an automobile. Brains are very nice to have, but the essence of the mind is still there even if you don’t have the brain. When you think of a brain, you think of a convoluted, grey, spongy thing that can be cut out, carried off in a baggie and stored in jars in laboratories where their chief purpose is to nauseate unsuspecting college freshmen.
Other differences between minds and brains are weather-related. Brains have storms. Minds must have more stable climates. It seems minds are more adaptive than brains. Open minds are good, except in politics. Open brains are susceptible to infection. Minds are more sociable and practical. You can have a meeting of the minds, but a meeting of the brains could be messy. “Hey, how did your cerebellum get in my temporal lobe?” Minds may be able to meet, but the existence of a brainchild suggest brains are capable of mating. How they can do this without meeting is one of the great mysteries of cognitive psychology.
Hygiene is more important to brains than minds. Brains can be washed. Inexplicably, minds are the most vain of the two. People are always trying to make up their minds. That makes sense. After applying so much makeup you should wash it once in a while.
You can keep your mind on something or you can be out of it altogether. Water is about the only thing you can have on your brain, but you can have a lot of things on your mind.
I can go on and on about brains and minds, but I already have.