Tri-Level Map of the Brain/Mind Processes
Now let me map out for you the brain/mind by way of focusing on the processes and activities that occur there. To begin with, I do not want you to image a separation of the body, brain and the mind. They form a unity. The body is the whole unit, of which the brain is one special organ. Our mind arises from the existence of and the workings of the body with that organ the brain. The brain is the organ most directly connected with the workings of the mind. But make no mistake; the mind would not have come to be as it did without the existence of the rest of our bodies. Our mind is embodied.
In the history of philosophy and science, the mind has been referred to as the ghost in the machine, the immaterial and therefore enigmatic thing that supposedly haunts the machine that is the physical body. The materialistic scientist/philosopher starts with grounding the mind’s abilities and properties in the physical biology of the body. However, for some, this requirement of the physical is taken to an extreme and they question the very existence of the seemingly immaterial mind. These extremist scientist/philosophers fear the duality created by Descartes and want to avoid any hint of this conception of the immaterial. In doing this they end up denying the very existence of consciousness and the mind.
My answer to the denial of the mind and consciousness is the following. The mind is our map for our internal experiences. I believe we cannot deny that we consciously experience life; we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the world around us. We think, ponder, worry, imagine, and dream. That fact that we can experience anything, and we can consider the meanings of those experiences, demonstrates that we have a process that we have designated with the word: mind. The mind arises out of the workings of the body. Experience is the kernel of proof that the mind is real. Even though it is a certainty that we experience, how this takes place, the mechanics of the workings of that experience in the physical brain, and how the mind arises out of the body with the brain as the central focal point, is all not clearly explainable.
Despite this uncertainty, I believe my map of the body/mind can be described as follows. My map of the brain/mind is of a three-layered structure resembling a pyramid in shape.
The top level of the pyramid is where consciousness, that state of awareness, resides. Consciousness is the equivalent of what we are aware of, what we take notice of.
When and where we focus our attention is what is in the field of the conscious portion of the brain/mind. For example, right at this moment you are reading these words and perhaps only aware of the sight, sound, and meaning that they evoke. However, I can easily ask you to consider the sensation of your body. Such as, how it feels to hold this book in your hands. By these very words, I bring into your field of awareness sensations that were always present, but to which you were not paying attention a moment prior. That expansion of awareness is the flux of consciousness.
Now at the bottom of the pyramid of the brain/mind is the connection with the body. I call this the third level or the subconscious level. Here at this level, sensory data comes into to the brain/mind to be processed for meaning and possibly stored into memory. It is where signals are sent out to activate various parts of the body. It is also, where the brain/mind monitors the body, such as heartbeats, breathing, and muscle movement. If we feel the need, desire, or wish to move, it is through this level that the commands to engage the body pass through the nerves to call up the appropriate responses. This lowest level is the connection of the brain/mind with the rest of the body.
The middle area of the pyramid structure is the realm of the unconscious brain/mind. This is where every other brain/mind process takes place. This is where memory is stored, where sense data is interpreted, where dreams are created. Here is where we do much of our rational thinking, although we are not directly aware of this action. Here is where we do the thinking to perform the act of building new grammatically correct sentences, to be either spoken or written, to convey our thoughts. The act of processing the words into sentences takes place below our conscious awareness. We do not have to struggle to form words into grammatically proper arrangements. They just come to our awareness already so arranged. Coherent thoughts and analysis presented in the form of grammatical sentences spring Athena like from the depths of this level of the mind. It is here where creative new ideas, inspirations, images form and well upward into our consciousness, as if we are suddenly given the gift of insight, and inspiration, by some unseen muse. Here at this second level of consciousness dwells what we refer to by the metaphor of the heart, the place where we directly process the stuff of experience, our feelings and emotions.
Once we do process this material out of sense data that information is conveyed metaphorically upwards, it enters our field of awareness, and we have the experience of first level consciousness. Conscious awareness also floats in and out like a cork on dark sea in that fluid and fleeting time of flux between sleep and hazy awareness that is called the dream-time.
It is significant fact to consider that our subconscious, second level processes, and unconscious, third level processes, are continually active. Whereas consciousness only occurs during our waking hours and is thus only a small sample of all that takes place within the brain/mind. So many people place so much importance on our conscious mind. For some of these people the conscious mind is the sole location of rational thought. They seem to believe that it is only when we are aware of thinking that we are engaged in rational thinking. But, I hope you can now realize that so much has to occur when we try and think rational thoughts. We are not directly aware of the actual mechanics of the brain/mind. Also, why should the pattern of logic and rational discourse be only available when we are awake and aware of our thoughts? Does it not make sense that this skill is always available to all of our mind/brain? Hence it is being used by our subconscious, second level mind/brain process.
Lastly, it is important to realize the power of our biases, our beliefs, and habits. Since our mind is active 24/7 then the power and influence of these biases that lie in our unconscious, are a potent force in our mind/brain. Our biases, our beliefs, and habits are shaping our thoughts all the time. Only occasionally are we paying close enough attention to our thought processes to catch ourselves from to quickly relying on those biases to our determent.