Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Speculations About The Mind

Bodleian Library, Oxford
Courtesy of National Geographic

I have recently begun to wonder what the architecture of my mind looks like. For those that you use the word mind interchangeably with brain, I am referring to the latter and we all have a fairly workable idea about the latter. So whilst there are many things that could easily stand as a metaphor for the mind, I think it helpful for my present purpose of pontification (sorry, couldn't help myself) it as that of an estate. For you Malaysians out there, I am certain that the mention of the word 'estates' immediately evokes scenes of rubber trees standing tall and silent in the morning darkness and the chanting cicadas, and if you hold the imagery long enough, a thin wiry man dressed neatly in a light blue t-shirt and a sarong bunched up around his thighs carrying a pail carefully making his way around the trees comes into view. I usually stop around here because he actually goes to take a dump so you might wanna stop here too. But anyway, if you thought something like that, you would not be too (cue: constipated pout and hard squinting of eyes) off the mark.

By estate I mean a plot of land of a particular shape, size, location and usually with the attendant natural wildlife, or human construct on it. For example, with those terribly clever chaps that have their information so well organized in their head and are able to effortlessly present complicated and difficult arguments systematically, coherently and understandably, I imagine their minds to be perhaps something like the Bodleian Library, complete with its knowledgeable and helpful staff, humming along or a vast stately English 20-room manor with its battalion of servants and butlers, resting on a sprawling few thousand acres of beautiful forests, lakes, hills and wildlife. As much as I would fancy myself in that intellectual class (in my wildest and raunchiest dreams), I find it difficult to avoid the fact that mine is at best a mud hut with only a dining table in the middle with a few torn up and halved books, and stacks of pages ripped from books here and there, maybe a page here and ten there with large rocks holding them down. On a good day, there would be a chair thrown in, but it would be broken. And occasionally there'd be a stray dog or cat that would wander in and once content that there is no food to be found, leave.

Now there are some things that can be drawn from thinking about the mind as a kind of estate or structure. Firstly, there is the idea of change or alteration. A house can be renovated to become bigger and wider, or smaller as the case may be. Land can be tilled, raised or lowered. Lakes and rivers created or dammed. That means ones mind can always be improved or it can also deteriorate. Secondly, since these are objects of great longevity (human constructs such as brick houses, the land itself) it lends to the idea of permanence. But this is a limited permanence. Our minds are permanent to us and is from which we think and act through. Thirdly, deterioration and longevity implies time which in turn suggests ageing and wear and tear, and the occasional break down, where applicable. And the longer the disuse, the quicker the deterioration. This leads to the idea of maintenance and the regular review because a lot of junk can accumulate and clutter the thinking. Sometimes its nice to clear the deck, or at least, part of it. Finally, the best and most important trait about it is that it our very own. This means we should necessarily take good care of it and to use it often, and take special care not to simply surrender it to or for the use of others, because it would be the surrender of ourselves.

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