In medieval times the idea of having a mind was akin to a literal expression. It was also believed that the mind consisted of a plethora of entities, viz., the soul and other material substances. For René Descartes, it simply equated to having a soul outside of the physical realm, although its quintessence consisted of every kind of corporeal and mental activity, including thinking and consciousness. While it is obvious that such a Cartesian framework is no longer embraced just as much as before, it would be standoffishness to regard our minds as just substances, or objects, in their own “write.” This would be tantamount to repudiating that each of us has a mind of one’s own, while thinking of having it as being just some object that merely denotes the mind we literally, or realistically, possess — in both word and deed.

That we all possess a mind is not as simplistic, or composite, as saying that the sky is blue, all right — forget about the cloudy smog, or polluted haze, that is part of every horizon that you see, or don’t see. Yet another breezy idea would be to dance with the shadows, wherever they are, or wherever you look for them. The whole purpose of dancing with the shadows should, however, not be expressed in the physical sense. It has to be a mental, also mindful, exercise. This is easier said than done, because it is not as unpretentious as owning, or giving up, something that you have — a gadget, maybe — but accepting the existence of imbalance, or chaos, from which a sense of harmony slowly pervades our feelings, thoughts, and also actions. The moment you reach such a pinnacle, or perimeter, of thought, through your “mindful” perspective — the better the outcome — because, you will be more accommodating of your faults and others’ “tilted” perspectives.

This also brings us to a handful of paradoxes. We are all conscious of the maxim of having a mind, yes. There’s, on the contrary, yet another expression — losing one’s mind, or being out of one’s mind. This takes us to Plato’s famous allegory. A group of people were living as prisoners inside a cave. They were shackled to a wall inside the cavern all their lives. The only thing they could see were shadows cast on the wall in front of them by objects moving in the presence of a fire just behind them. The pirouetting silhouettes were their only reality. They christened different names for the myriad shadow forms. Plato suggests how the “philosopher in us” is like the prisoner who was set free. He quickly realised that what he and his fellow inmates perceived was just a mere shadow of reality — all distorted forms bopping on a wall. He went back to unravel the mystery and its actual reality to them. They could not comprehend what he was talking about. They labelled him as hallucinatory, quirky, eccentric, and “out of his mind.”

The whole idea of having a mind purports to our receptivity, as also our proactive frames of observation, reference and purpose. It is obvious that the mind, or having it, is characteristic of a smorgasbord of features, capacities, as also faculties, inherent to higher beings, not rocks and pebbles. This includes behaviours and functions, viz., sensation, perception, intellect, creativity, memory, learning, reasoning, consciousness, and so on. You’d also call it mentality, the science, art, grammar and syntax of our mind and also brain. It unshackles Descartes’s material dualism from its literary connotation — that our mind is consonant with the “wired” capacities of our astoundingly intelligent brain. 

(The writer is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author)

Rajgopal Nidamboor