Where is My Mind?

Your head will collapse
But there's nothing in it
And you'll ask yourself

Where is my mind

Way out in the water

See it swimmin'

I was swimmin' in the Caribbean

Animals were hiding behind the rocks
Except the little fish
But they told me, he swears
Tryin' to talk to me, coy koi.
-Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis) 

Who is the third there walking beside you?...
Who beside there walking the you?
-William Burroughs

Where is my mind? Sometime, I imagine it as my brain. But that can't be quite right as my brain is just, well, stuff — grey and squishy — and my mind seems untouchable. 

So, when I think about it a bit more (using my mind? Does my mind think?), I tend to imagine it as being in my head, swirling around my skull looking kind of like my brain but more ethereal, even vaporous.

But why my head, exactly? Is there mind in, say, my fingers? Well, my fingers are certainly capable of knowing things — not just remembering things as if by rote muscle memory. No, my fingers make sense of the world, feel their way through experience and into knowledge and action. It sure seems like there's mind in my fingers.

Of course, we might say that my fingers are just extensions of a nervous system that runs through the brain control center: through the mind in my head. In this vision, my fingers don't actually know anything. They are servants who act at the whim and desire of my brain-mind.  In this image, my brain is the root system and my fingers are the branches, fed and nourished and thoroughly dependent on the brain-mind-root.

But I want to suggest a different image: mind as rhizome (pace Deleuze and Guattari). In this view, my mind is not a place but an action, perhaps a force, that moves through my body, that permeates my body. Mind is a receptor as well as a processor: a metabolic mechanism that takes in, distributes, makes sense.

My fingers, my tongue, my knees, my colon, my eyes,  my skin, my toes: they all take in the world, distribute sensation and meaning, and generally make sense of things.  I'm not sure mind is all places all the time. It seems to have some connection to place. And yet it is not that place per se.

Yes, mind exceeds physical space while running through it. My mind, then, is not really my mind, as if beginning and ending at the limits of my skin.  It is mind run through me, inflected by me, by my body and experience. But this mind that is my mind runs beyond me.

When I was in high school, I had an experience with trees — I knew them and we conversed. There was one tree I met years later, a ginkgo in Philadelphia, that had a fantastic sense of humor and always made me laugh, hard. That may sound insane but only if you imagine mind as being mine and not being a force that exceeds me, that is intimately bound up with the mind of other things such as trees.

During this same period, a friend and I experienced an intense duration of telepathy. We'd known each other since fourth grade; we were now in college together. And I can still summon that exquisite sensation of being in his mind — and he in mine.

Again, this may sound strange. But anyone who's interacted with a pet or animal should understand this well. So nothing could be less strange.Why? Well, because mind is not mine per se; it's not my brain or even in my brain even if it runs through my brain (as well as my belly and feet and nape). My mind is an inflection point, a perspective, a piece of mind in general.  And it runs through me, you, trees, as well as your dog Cosmo.

And yet there is no mind in general. There is not one mind, no mind of the cosmos, no unified mind, no Big Mind. No, mind is an infinitely differentiated, planar force that flows in and of and through and with all the rocks and trees and bugs and asteroids of the world. 

William Burroughs and Brion Gysin explored the properties of the mind and discovered there is always another that walks beside you. Between you and world, between you and another, is always a third a mind. Telepathy was something they just took for granted: "I know from my own experience that telepathy is a fact. I have no interest in proving telepathy or anything to anybody. I do want usable knowledge of telepathy. What I look for in any relationship is contact on the nonverbal level of intuition and feeling, that is, telepathic contact."  Why? Because the mind is not a brain and is not contained within my body even if it is inflected by my body.

Mind, like affect, is a force that runs through us, takes us outside of ourselves, connects us to the inhuman as well as human cosmos.  It is how we participate in this world, know this world.  It is how we become with the world.


Eugene Chen said...

Mind comes and goes with it's object. It disappears every night between the dreams.

It's just that we think that it's so SUPER important and objectively real - and we're so possessive about it.

Really, mind is like you describe - it's one part of a sense system and a semantic network. It fabricates as much as it detects and depends on everything else to do so. It's more of a broad phenomena (like "the internet is happening") than a thing (like "my shoe").

It's like the daily news being dropped on your doorstep. Actually there's tons of sloppy reporting and it's full of adverts. Once in awhile there's a good article.

I don't mean to take it for granted; I am glad to have one.

Eugene Chen said...

I mean mind is pretty amazing and cool for sure. But so is the endocrine system and we don't get so excited or possessive about that. If there were something wrong with my endocrine system, I wouldn't feel personally affronted. I would just be like fix it. Or hook me up to a machine that does the same thing.

Even ink jet printing is pretty sprawling and unfathomable. One company has to make the ink, another has to put it in the cartridges. Then the computer and the printer actually talk to each other and somehow describe an image to put on paper. They have to run "software" on "hardware" to do this. You need electricity. Where is inkjet printing? It's not everywhere, but it is in a whole bunch of places.

Ray said...

Your second quote is not William Burroughs, it is T.S. Eliot, from "The Waste Land." Easy mistake. They were both from St. Louis.

Daniel Coffeen said...

It's actually a cut up of TS Eliot's line. Burroughs makes attribution difficult. And I'm terrible at citation to begin with....