The wonder of the human mind is breathtaking

Published 8:52 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I watched ETV’s segment on Rembrandt in its Power of Art series Monday night, and as I was watching it, it struck me how awesome the human mind can be.

This series on artists has been marvelous and just it alone could lead me to think about what a tremendous thing the human mind can be, but I really don’t have to go that far afield.

All human minds are awesome in their complexity and their ability to deal with various tasks. Unfortunately, some among us don’t use them very well, and here I refer to criminals both caught and uncaught, but I’m not going to deal with them otherwise. Generally, I’m talking about us average folks with a few references to those who display even greater abilities, such as Rembrandt, of course.

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The great tragedy for Rembrandt was that at the end of his life, his contemporaries did not recognize his greatness and wanted only that he produce something conventional. He wouldn’t, or maybe he couldn’t, and what probably would have been one of the greatest works of art of all time was mostly destroyed by the artist himself, which shows how the mind of even the greatest among us can betray itself.

For ordinary folks, though, think on what we do throughout a day that involves the mind.

We do our work and that work, except maybe on assembly lines, is unique in some small aspects to the worker. All of that originates in the mind, of course.

Then there are the things we do for leisure. In my case, I read — even more so now than ever before — I build fishing rods, tie flies, garden, hunt and fish when I can find time and opportunity and spoil Nola.

Shortly before I sat down to write this column, I had put out a newspaper, walked Nola, read a few pages in a book and reviewed what it is I have in the house still to read. All of that involves the mind, and compared to Rembrandt, George Washington, Albert Einstein and other great minds I could name, mine is ordinary, yet it accomplished all those tasks in just a few short hours while planning for others.

If you look at your own day, you may surprise yourself with all that you have done, most of it involving the mind.

Even tasks that look relatively simple are more complex than they appear. Try driving a nail or painting a door or a wall and doing it without thinking. It can’t be done. Those who do such things for a living may think that they come automatically after so much practice, but I doubt that. Perhaps they have done a task so often that they don’t have to concentrate as hard on it as I do to get it right, but the mind is still involved with that task even as it may wander to something else.

Beyond all of that though, think on how much information the mind processes quickly all the time. It makes sure you don’t hit things when you drive, it recognizes places and people and a great many more tasks. It helps you solve problems that are problems only because they are tasks, or alterations of tasks, you may not have faced before.

Let’s go back to the extraordinary for a moment. As a reader, I constantly marvel at how writers come up with their plots and work their way through the plot line.

Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, to me, are the greatest writers of our time, or any time. They covered a gamut of plot lines, some often not related to anything they had done before. This is especially true of Mark Twain.

The man who wrote “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” also wrote “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” That’s quite a stretch when you think about it. Add to it such works as “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” “Joan of Arc,” “The Prince and the Pauper” and “Letters from the Earth” and you begin to get a small hint of the scope of that great literary mind.

Hemingway’s works were often almost autobiographical in nature, or at least wannabe autobiographical, but they range from “A Farewell to Arms,” to “Green Hills of Africa,” to “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” to “Old Man and the Sea,” and so on.

Both men left such a body of work that some of it is still being discovered and published long after their deaths.

Now, let’s get back to the ordinary to close this out.

Minds are truly marvelous instruments that most of us use not well enough. Still, the things that we are able to accomplish from simple observation to problem solving is something that should marvel us all more often than it does.