Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Some Random Thoughts on States of Mind

State of mind is so important to our lives. It influences how we feel, controls how our thoughts flit from one thing to the next, and lets us communicate with others. On a larger scale it determines our friends and either sparks inspiration when shared with others or blank stares when not shared.

By state of mind I mean the thoughts and ideas that are active in the brain at any given time. It is what comes to mind when someone says "filthy rich". It is the feeling you get when you smell fresh cut grass. It is the thing shared when two people say the same exact thing at the same exact moment, "jinx!".

Thoughts are stored as vast interconnected sets of neurons that represent the state of any number of faculties of the brain. State of mind is the set of active thoughts. Thoughts are made active through sensory input or by the processing of currently active thoughts. When you see an apple or read about a celebrity the low level machinery of the mind awakens the thoughts that were formed when initially exposed to those ideas. When you naturally wonder, "what ever happened to Harrison Ford?", this is accomplished by following connections to other thoughts which in turn are awakened and replace others.

Thus our state of mind is constantly changing, continuously adapting to our environment and to our own previous state of mind.

Many of our abilities rely on "going back" or awakening previous states of mind. For example to imagine what your family looks like you "recall" or make active the set of thoughts that represent. You were able to do this because you read the words "imagine your family" which when processed by your visual and language centers awoke the thoughts that were connected to the final ones that represented this state of mind.

A similar store of thoughts and connections are what allow us to communicate. It lets us empathize with others, feel a sense of unity and purpose, and influences whole societies through notions of guilt, shame, and honor. When we share experiences we share similar sets of thoughts and connections.