Of At Least Two Minds

This piece appeared in newspapers at the beginning of November, 2023.


A remarkable finding of some recent studies regarding the placebo calls attention to something rather remarkable about our minds: we apparently can know something and not know something at the same time.

In these studies, people are given a placebo—i.e. a pill that has no medicinal effects. But it seems that when people who are given a placebo — a do-nothing sugar-pill — they tend to get better as if it were real medicine.
That “placebo effect” has long been known, cited to show something important about the relationship between mind (belief) and body (response). (And about how the practice of medicine involves dealing with people as more than machines.)

People can be healed by the belief that they’re being healed, even when they’re not.

Deception was assumed to be part of that picture.

But newer studies have taken deception completely out of the picture: the researchers told the people, who were being given the placebos, that the pills they were swallowing were just placebos (i.e. containing nothing that would help what ails them).

The surprising result is that — even when people were fully informed that the pills were just placebos — they still got better.

It seems that there’s a part of the mind that knows it’s a placebo, while another part doesn’t.

Do people get better because the part of the mind that takes in the words saying it’s a placebo has less power than some other part of human consciousness that responds to the healing-drama of being given something to swallow?

If the “mind” does have different parts, how many minds do we human beings have? How are these different minds different?

Does our having more than one mind have anything to do with the way human consciousness developed over the course of time, with us humans being the descendants of ancestors who were reptiles, then ancestral mammals, and eventually – after tripling the size of our ancestral ape-brains –finding ourselves now as creatures with “human consciousness”?
A few years back, I wrote here something about an instance I observed in which I was of more than one mind. I talked about watching the movie, A Night to Remember. The movie told the story of the Titanic disaster of 1912, where the huge ship struck an iceberg and sank with most of its couple thousand passengers and crew still on board. I described how, as I watched the film – although I knew full well what was going to happen, and had seen the movie before — I also found myself hoping that this time the outcome would be different.

I’m big on “integration.” Integration is a fundamental part of integrity. (Walk one’s talk, for example.) And my life’s work has been to integrate what we know into a coherent whole (that I call my BETTER HUMAN STORY).

So I have found it disconcerting to observe ways that my understanding is not integrated. Disconcerted that, as I once put it, I can be “Struck by the Obvious,” meaning “surprised” to discover what I already know. Even fundamental things, like that

• death is a part of life. It’s not only my own inevitable death I find hard to know – to wrap my mind around — fully. I am continually “surprised” by the mystery that people who used to be in my life are no longer, and that the beautiful people in the old movies I watch are all dead.
• we have bodies — that we consist of fleshly stuff, like a variety of organs through which some pints of blood are continually flowing, that we are chemistry sets and electrical systems.

All this — about the apparent more-than-one-mind aspect of human consciousness, about the knowing-and-not-knowing – might help solve a puzzle that has been confounding me continually for years now. It’s a puzzle I’ve brought up repeatedly here: how could the intelligent and decent conservatives I knew back in the 1990s now be supporting a political force that blatantly advances the opposite of the fine conservative values they advocated — with evident sincerity — back in the 1990s? (Christian and patriotic values, and values regarding character)?

I can’t understand how Good People would throw their support to something they’d have called “Evil” a generation ago.

But I also can’t understand how Intelligent People would fail to know what mountains of evidence makes perfectly obvious. (Like that the Big Steal was a Lie told by a leader willing to attack the Constitutional Order — a one-man crime wave — for his own selfish purposes? Not know what couldn’t be clearer?

Neither makes sense.

But maybe that notion of more-than-one-mind – both knowing and not knowing – offers a solution.

Maybe both are true.

• Having an Intelligent Mind that can see and understand a stark reality one can hardly miss.
• But also having a mind that is inspired to provide fervent support for Something that continually traffics in blatantly unreality.

The issue is, which mind will govern?

And so the two-minds theory leads to a new puzzle: what mind is inspired to cling enthusiastically to a political power that tells them to believe things that are obviously false? And why is that mind that embraces the lies so powerful that it can silence the intelligent mind that knows what’s what?

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