What is this fleeting entity in the human body that inquires and analyzes, reflects and reasons, comprehends, calculates and creates? What is this mind that is at the root of our philosophies and literature, religions and sciences? Is it simply a consequence of the ultimate structures that grid the brain? Is it, in other words, no more than physics and chemistry at extraordinarily complex levels? Is it a mere macro-property of molecular vibrations?
Poets and philosophers have spoken about the powers of the mind. Manilus of ancient Rome declared majestically :
Nothing can withstand the powers of the mind. Barriers, enormous masses of matter, the remotest recesses are conquered. All things succumb. The very heaven itself is laid open.
Every accomplishment of the human spirit has involved the mind. Illnesses have been controlled and cured by the powers of the mind. Tales, ancient and modern, have painted mind-power over brain (matter) power. Some believe that there can be a mind without body. In certain mythologies the mind can leave the body, travel far and wide, and come back like a homing pigeon. In others, it can suck in information about events occurring in far away places. It has been argued on the basis of quantum mechanics that the mind is an open system and can work more wonders than it already does. But on the basis of what is normally observed, more often than not, it is Mohammed who goes to the mountain than the other way around.
We can throw a monkey-wrench in the normal functioning of mind by polluting the brain. A modicum of mescaline will do the job. When disease invades the brain, or brain cells age, the mind withers too. Destroy the matter composing the brain, and off goes the mind with it. All talk of mind over matter is true only up to a point. One is obliged to concede that mind is subservient to matter. Ultimately, matter triumphs, at least on our scale.
All this does not negate the fact that the human mind is more marvelous than routine life-throb. It is a flicker perhaps in the cosmic sea, but a mysterious light it is that shines brighter than any galaxy, for, but for mind, all the grandeur and glory of the world would remain unsought, inexperienced, and unsung.
So we grant that matter is more powerful, but we may claim that the mind is more meaningful, for, as the poet said :
Man’s mind’s a mirror of heavenly sights,
A brief wherein all marvels summèd lie,
Of fairest forms and sweetest shapes the store,
Most graceful all, yet thought may grace them more.