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No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of the 2016 book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.
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What is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?
The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentan...
“Maybe the mind is like the coastline—some inner and inter process. Mental life for an anthropologist or sociologist is profoundly social. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.”
Siegel first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those ...
The definition has since been supported by research across the sciences, but much of the original idea came from mathematics. Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capa...
Siegel says he wrote his book because he sees so much misery in society, and he believes this is partly shaped by how we perceive our own minds.
In other words, even perceiving our mind as simply a product of our brain, rather than relations, can make us feel more isolated. And to appreciate the benefits of interrelations, you simply have to open your mind.
Finally, self-organization demands linking together differentiated ideas or, essentially, integration. And Siegel says integration—whether that’s within the brain or within society—is the foundation of a healthy mind.
In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation to mental health. Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. This means that without optimal self-or...
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The mind isn't just confined in y our head.
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In 1976, Carlo M. Cipolla, professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley published an essay outlining the fundamental laws of a force he perceived as humanity’s greatest existential threat: Stupidity. We (still) grossly underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril.
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