The human mind is truly amazing. Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written several extremely popular books discussing recent research on the human brain. In his national bestseller How the Mind Works, he writes, “No database could list all the facts we tacitly know, and no one ever taught them to us.” Brain scientists know that there are trillions of bits of information that we draw upon unconsciously every day to live and survive. Yet, no one taught them to us—we just seem to know them. Why? It is human to know so.”
We know not just mundane things like how to iron our shirts, or move in a crowd without knocking into others, but also more esoteric knowledge like the laws of physics and the complexities of biology. Indeed, it is when we stretch our thinking to the utmost, we are able to grasp the fundamental laws of nature. Not all of it, of course, but enough to understand major facts of how nature’s laws work both in the large (as in Einstein’s relativity theory) and in the small (as in quantum mechanics), not to mention thousands of other wonderful technological insights, from the marvels of the Internet to astounding advances in medical science. Just think about that!
Following are a scientist and a poet’s tribute to the 1.4 kg mass of neurons inside of us that is called the brain, the source of all the great ideas that make our species so special and unique.
Kip Thorne (the scientist) was, until 2009, the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and is one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Thorne was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Rainer Weiss and Barry C. Barish “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves. Below is his wonderful ode to the human mind:
“John Wheeler, my principal mentor and teacher during my formative years as a physicist, delights in asking his friends, “What is the single most important thing you have learned about thus and so?” Few questions focus the mind so clearly. In the spirit of John’s question, I ask myself, as I come to the end of fifteen years of on-and-off writing (mostly off). “What is the single most important thing that you want your readers to learn?”
My answer: the amazing power of the human mind – by fits and starts, blind alleys, and leap of insight – to unravel the complexities of our Universe, and reveal the ultimate simplicity, the elegance, and the glorious beauty of the fundamental laws that govern it.”
~ From Preface to “Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy” (1995).
And here’s a poem I wrote about the wonders of the human mind.
ODE TO THE MIND
Time is short but also long.
The world is small but also large.
When imagination takes flight,
the mind’s kingdom stretches far.
By leaps of thought, the mysteries of
many worlds become unveiled, and
by the stirrings of the imagination,
what is not understood becomes art.
Am I the only one who thinks that
the mind is the most gorgeous thing
to ever exist?