If you transcribed every single thought you had over the course of a day, you’d end up with a pretty boring piece of prose. Something like: “It’s raining again — Do I have my umbrella? — Hmm, I need coffee — How many minutes to walk to Tim Horton’s? — Remember that time three years ago when my basement flooded? — No, I totally forgot my umbrella — Maybe I don’t want to go outside — Everything is terrible — Wait, no, I’ll make cookies — Everything is amazing.”
All of those things can, and perhaps already have, flashed through your head in a matter of seconds. Now imagine what eloquent musings are to be had in 86,400 seconds.
In spite of the exceptionally mundane nature of our thoughts, our minds fascinate us. Humans are said to be one of the only species on Earth to have some awareness of their own minds. We can have knowledge of what we know, and as a result, we can know ourselves.
Our ability to introspect — to travel back in time to our memories and daydreams — is the subject of a range of human projects. René Magritte (the guy who painted green apples and pipes that weren’t pipes) claimed that his goal in art was to render thought visible. Philosophers, historians, and scientists in turn have looked to the mind and brain to make thought into a topic of academic study.
We live in a culture that’s driven to make sense of the mind, yet in our everyday conversations, we talk surprisingly little about how it actually feels to think. Perhaps we don’t have the language to do so, or maybe we just don’t share those thoughts because we assume that no one else has them. I don’t usually tell people that I clench my teeth or tap my fingers every time I step over a crack in the sidewalk. I don’t talk about that moment in that one song where it always sounds like someone just called my name from another room. It’s only when I do tell people about these thoughts that I realize they’ve often had the same ones.
This issue of the Varsity Magazine is an attempt at capturing some of those thoughts. It takes on the perspectives of those who have set out to study the mind, be it academically or otherwise. It’s written by people who’ve had their brains scanned, people who’ve thought about what it means to be conscious, and people who’ve experienced psychosis.
Simon Frank’s piece about the Upper Toronto project looks at the collective imagination and how a hypothetical city can gave us insights on ways to change a real one. On a different note, Ethan Chiel’s intellectual history of attention weighs the evidence for and against the perils of the Internet — which some say is destroying our ability to pay attention. It’s only fitting that Sean MacKay’s compelling “Vitamin A+” investigates the world of attention-enhancing drugs and their use among U of T students who rely on them to make it through the semester.
On a lighter note, you’ll find Murad Hemmadi’s rant on seeking enlightenment in India — and the fact that you probably won’t find it there. Jill Cates teaches you how an MRI scanner works, and Sam Bowman describes the dangers of diagnosis in psychiatry.
The topics here are pretty broad — because whenever you ask someone to talk about the mind, they’ll give you an angle you’ve never considered before. We’ve covered a lot of ground, but there’s always something more to consider. At the very least, I hope we’ve given you something to think about.
Varsity Magazine Editor