Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative

By Christian De Duve | Go to book overview

Chapter 27
The Workings of the Mind

THERE IS NO GREATER mystery in the known universe, except the universe itself, than the human mind. Born from the brain, critically dependent on the brain at every instant, crippled together with the brain in all sorts of weird fashions directly related to whatever brain area is maimed, the mind is without any doubt a product of polyneuronal functioning.

At the same time, the human mind is, collectively, the creator of the whole of technology, science, art, literature, philosophy, religion, and myth. The mind generates our thoughts, reasonings, intuitions, ponderings, inventions, designs, beliefs, doubts, imaginings, fantasies, desires, intentions, yearnings, frustrations, dreams, and nightmares. It brings up evocations of our past and it shapes plans for our future; it weighs, decides, and commands. It is the seat of consciousness, self- awareness, and personhood, the holder of freedom and moral responsibility, the judge of good and bad, the inventor and agent of virtue and sin. It is the focus of all our feelings, emotions, and sensations, of pleasure and pain, love and hate, rapture and despair. The mind is the interface between what we are wont to call the world of matter and the world of spirit. The mind is our window to truth, beauty, charity, and love, to existential mystery, the awareness of death, the poignancy of the human condition.


BRAIN AND MIND

There is no mind without brain, but much of the brain functions without mind. Consciousness is the tip of an iceberg. It emerges through the cortical layers of the brain above a vast and intricate network of highly active but unconscious centers and connections. Our nervous system operates to a large extent without our being aware of what is going on or our being able in any way to alter the chain of events. We are

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