Life With Toast

Mind reader


I am fascinated by the lack of tools and language we have for describing and sharing mental states. We have encompassing words like sad, happy, confused, and angry. They are crude strokes, painted onto language with bricks and pillows. Without finer brushes, we can never relay our experiences to those around us in a meaningful way. We can do better. The tools we most often use are words that live on language islands, unable to connect in any real way to the vernacular highways of daily life. Indeed, when it comes to the important, subjective experiences that span our lives, our tools are insufficient. We can do better.

There are many questions that emerge from this: why is it this way? Is there a benefit to sharing experience beyond how we do so now? Would it make us happier? Would it drive innovation or make societies more money? The answer to the last one may be a major reason as to why we lack the quality of tools we have for other economic and industrial endeavors. Human society has relied on industry and innovation as a common goal since the industrial revolution. Maintenance and description of internal states? Not so much. However, with the explosion of technology and automation, does that still need to be the case? These questions don't have simple or straightforward answers, but demand more attention. It also be that the motion of the mind is vastly more complex than an economy. As it currently stands, we have seen across galaxies, into depths far beyond atoms and yet are just peering over the ledge of the dark and swirling pool of the mind.

Before getting carried away in that direction, I want to ground this discussion in the body. Modern culture is somewhat obsessed with bodies, which provides a good counter example to the mind (however these are in fact two parts of the same system). The benefit of our interest in the body is the scaffolding we have to build for relatable communication. While gaps will always exist, we quickly give diagnosis and empathy to others in physical pain and triumph. It is easy for us to do so because: a. we have experienced something similar, b. we are confident that the other is suffering in some way, c. other people confirm this, and d. we feel comfortable in our empathy. Take for example an athlete that rolls their ankle during a championship match. We have all experienced physical pain before; we can see in slow motion the moment of injury; medical professionals are there to assess the situation; all in attendance - regardless of team loyalty - praise the athlete when they are taken off. We clap for them when they are injured. Imagine clapping for a friend or colleague when they take leave for depression or discuss their struggles with anxiety or some personal issue. The same prerequisites are not met and most importantly, we do not feel comfortable in our empathy.

While it feels contrary, I truly believe the gaps of experience between physical and mental systems are quite similar. Fundamentally this is the case because we share experience across these domains. Humans are connected by what we have in common, on this rock, in our genes and chemicals and muscles and neurons. These variables shape and limit our experiences, confining us to see a section of the light spectrum and hear a subset of frequencies. Similarly, our experiences of mind have limits that connect us all. If my blood was made of nitrogen and my eyes filtered infrared light, things would be different. However, while some of us can jump higher and run faster than each other, no one can jump 30 feet straight up or run 100mph. In the same way, we may be predisposed to feel brighter or darker than others, but overwhelmingly we share the brushes that paint the human experience.

The difference in tools for describing physical and mental expereinces, is in large part attention. We have spent the majority of human attentional resources - limited as they are - in discussing the body, and not the mind. It's quicker, cleaner, and more directly related to industrial and economic benefit in the short term. A broken body cannot run the saw mill but a broken mind most likely can for a few hours a day, at least. In school, did you learn about the mind and how to talk about experience? Did you have physical education classes, biology, health, or related classes? Of course, that is because in the US at least it is required material. It doesn't frustrate  e that we have discussion and tools about the body, it grounds us and is our vehicle. The fact of the matter is both are important, two sides of an inter-folded dynamic system.

We can no longer as a society sustain our ignorance of experience, our envelopment in the ego, and lack of tools to make change. What we can do is build better tools to create scaffolding for experience so we can share in more detail the goings on of the mind. Better tools for tracking and putting into context various experiences and the open dialoge to make that okay. We can do better and we can be empathetic like we are for the athlete, and more importantly, for ourselves first. That's what I want to be a part of, in some way.