The mind. We all have one. Well, I do think I’d raise some question marks on some so-called celebrities who don’t even know they live on a planet but that’s mostly for not making the best use of something they have inside their heads.
Ronald T. Kellogg’s book, ‘The Making Of The Mind, examines how the brain evolved and how that 2% difference between our six million year-old ancestor that divided between into two species, one that led to chimpanzees and the other us and how Homo sapiens dominated the world. From there, he explores the various aspects that go into making your personality often using people who have had brain damage that allows certain aspects to be examined in isolation.
The three main areas are physiological by being biped than arboreal, which allowed greater dexterity with our hands which our brains took advantage of. The development of language, both verbal and written, which allowed information to be passed from generation to generation was also a big development. Although this happens with animals, the distinction with Man is the ability to pass on conceptual revolutionary ideas.
Into that mix is adaptability and how each generation would adapt the tools and took change to be a way of life. None of which could be done unless the brain was up to it and this is chiefly because of the developed frontal lobe which is a couple per cent larger than other primates and a bigger brain capacity. I should point out that this section of the brain is also what gives you your dexterity and develops as you grow up.
The examination of language, although brief, does point out some distinctions in its roots. European languages come from only two sources, whereas Africa has four distinctive families of languages. I wish Kellogg had explained why Greek/Russian and the oriental tongues that depended on epigrams survived keeping their complexity rather than simplifying down but keeping the concepts. Then again, English is a composite language and has often given certain words multiple meanings depending on context, and taking in anything of use from other European language but very little comparatively from them either Greek/Russian or Mandarin. It did make me wonder why there is only one composite language instead of two though.
The use of language allowed the use of abstraction and imagination and look where that has taken us with the expression of ideas, considering how much we use them. Kellogg’s examination of how we develop our inner voice when young by talking to ourselves makes sense although I would go further. After all, you’re far more likely to remember something if you can give it a verbal or even a written cue to tag it with than just a glance and hope you remember it. Surely, that tells us more about how our memory works?
Speaking of which, his explanation of how we don’t remember verbatim everything just the gist of events works as far as it goes but doesn’t explain the savants who can do this with detail. I was drawing up some memories of events when I was younger for one of my reviewers recently and because it was from several weeks, it had to be encapsulated. I’m hardly likely to go into every detail because it would take too long. Even so, I was still detailed for something that happened nearly thirty years ago. You have to be able to get down to the gist of what you mean if you want to make a point but it depends on just how good your memory is. That would probably explain why I don’t always associate the exact date with the event because that part isn’t important to the information. I also think if you can do that kind of recall and encapsulation, you can probably develop some storytelling skill.
Kellogg’s thoughts about children being optimistic about their own futures again is all right as far as it goes but I really wish he’d balanced his arguments with how trauma or bullying can affect them from an early age as well.
I did like his explanation of the Betty and Barney Hill UFO story was because she was the believer and her husband had carried her discussions in his head and both brought them out in a trance, although it doesn’t explain how they can be so identical considering they were put under in separate rooms. Saying that, though, he tends to belay the fact that in the regressive trance that the hypnotist isn’t really doing a proper interrogation and can lead people, I wish he’d gone into a little more depth here.
It’s inevitable that Kellogg would move on to the herd instinct and how the ‘them’ and ‘us’ functions. I just wished it was in more detail. Even we SF fans are still regarded as being outsiders and, in some ways, I’m seen as something of an outsider even by them because I don’t have much of a herd instinct, so what does that make me as I don’t appear to belong to any particular group although seen as being all things for all people. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more exploration as to the nature of leadership in this chapter, especially as there are so many variants as to how this happens, ie eg elected, profession or natural talent to attract followers. He does come close when he explains how the belief in someone’s authority will make you think you can do things you’d otherwise not consider.
Having said that, Kellogg’s description of ‘tend’ and ‘befriend’ is worth a look as it explains the nature of how you develop friendships. This also extends into how people also prefer to maintain friendships than break them off, although oddly this appears less applicable to love. I suspect where that is concerned, part of the love response is in the nature of procreation and off-spring and the need to move on should this not tally, suggesting a more biological than intellectual response.
The chapter on morality should make you all think. Kellogg describing the likes of the Ten Commandments and Seven Deadly Sins points out how they instilled some discipline in not so much not doing such things but not to over-do them. If you look at each list, I’d defy anyone to say that they have never broken any of these moral laws. This led neatly into the criminal mind and Kellogg says that they are likely to have odd behaviour patterns already. I’m not sure if I totally agree with him that criminals are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol because there are a lot of non-felons who do this as well and makes the divide rather gray than definitive.
His look at spirituality and belief in deities as a means to cope with anxiety, distress and uncertainty says a lot but could have explored a little further. A lot of people need someone or thing to unburden themselves to but I’m not altogether sure it needs it through religion where people used it as a means of control instead. To unburden something from your mind must surely mean you have some form of guilt over a decision you’ve made. If you can rationalise the decision you made, often as the lesser of two evils, or even learn not to make the same choice again without considering other choices, then you’ll learn far more from the process. An examination of euphoria wouldn’t have gone amiss neither because it is a condition of collective happiness in the brain that doesn’t need religion to motivate it.
There is a brief examination of where we are going including how we use the Internet and computer games and our adaptation to them, not to mention over-exposure. Considering that this has only got more intense for people in the past twenty years, I can’t help feel that we aren’t really over the peak of initial exposure but its undoubtedly changing everyone’s lives.
As you can tell from the above, there are a lot of places where I think Kellogg could have gone further. The fact that my opinions go further than his is either because I’ve give much thought to the subject already and a little beyond this book so am looking for particular points. The fact that I can say so much on the subject should speak for itself and if you need a primer to get some level of understanding on what makes the mind tick, then it is a good place to start. What you do get from this book will make you think about what makes you tick with a lot more understanding and in that he does exceeding well. Your mind is a composite of a lot of abilities and he points out most of them. I would hope that Kellogg develops these lines of thoughts further for a future book on the subject.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 293 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $20.00 (US), $21.00 (CAN), £12.87 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-733-4. Ebook: $11.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-734-1)
check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com