David Amerland
Mental states and the brain

Mental States

When I look out through the window of the world that’s framed by my eye sockets I am conscious of the way my brain creates a sense of where I am, why and what I have to do. I am aware that the being I think I am, the person I sense as “I” is a construct found in the Venn Diagram between my memories, knowledge, wishes and desires or, a bit more elegantly put, between the representational and propositional states of my mind.

In that apparent simplicity lies the morass of epistemology and truth that provide the raw materials for factive propositions to give rise to mental states that stand as equal a chance to be delusional as they stand to be accidentally factive or, illuminating by chance, entirely.

The moment we try to look too deeply upon the perceived bedrock of our mental existence it has a habit of disappearing like so much mist burnt away by the intensity of our inner gaze. Mental states, it would appear, are everything we were, everything we are and, maybe, everything we will ever be. For that precise reason, thinking about thinking is something that we can no longer shy away from, no matter how hard it may seem or how uncomfortable it may make us feel.

If we are to lead an intentional life where we are the directors of our brief life spans as opposed to helpless passengers caught up in a mind and body that are hardwired to react, we owe it to ourselves to work to understand just how things happen inside us.

From mental illness (or brain disorders) to delusions, paranoia and everything in between, we display to date, a felicitous unawareness of the inherent fluidity of our complexity. Instinctively however, we gravitate en masse, towards the fictional characters of Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek’s Spock because in our perception of their inner lives we find what’s lacking in ours: clarity of thought that provides a strong moral code and dictates a conduct we find desirable.

Despite all the complexities surrounding our quest for understanding of our inner core the purpose is surprisingly simple: we seek to improve who we are because we expect it will simplify things for us further. Mental clarity and a better version of who we are will deliver the clarity, honesty and purpose we need to live a happier life.

The point of all this is that our motivation, the things that make us do things, our willingness to experience discomfort, our ability to put in effort and work in order to achieve something amazing, the willingness in other words to go against the 2nd law of thermodynamics hinges upon something incredibly simple: a transition from a place where we feel less well to one where we actually feel better.

Without that simple realization (which requires a large percentage of self-actualization) nothing ever happens. We are then resigned to our fates. These fates are in the hands of forces and agents beyond our comprehension and we are simply biding time to the moment when the natural processes that power us begin to wind down and the energy that gives us form, creates our inner world and forms our every thought, idea and imagining, dissipates into the environment that spawned us.

Socrates may have said that “The unexamined life is not worth living” but the subtext to his saying is that the moment we examine it we have to feel that we need to do something about the shortcomings we perceive and look for ways to improve it.

In this regard, we are unique in the animal kingdom.

It’s easy to think we “can’t” when we really “can”. It’s easy to think something is hard when we should be thinking how to make it happen. It’s easy to feel small, powerless, ineffectual. These easy states of being negative require relatively little energy to achieve and rob us of any drive. They also rob our existence of any meaning. And it is in finding meaning that we begin to truly exist.

We are here, today; right now. In some ways we didn’t choose to exist. Coming into being was a gift. Discovering what we can do with that gift stops it from turning into a curse.

So, you’ve upgraded your coffee and upped your supply of sweets with donuts, croissants, cookies, and chocolate cake, which means you’re facing today’s long dive into the rabbit holes of thought and thinking admirably well-equipped. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

© 2018 David Amerland. All rights reserved