There are plenty of big fat books about how the Mind works but if you want something short and unscientific please read below.
My study is based on one cognitively inept person (ie me) observing other people’s behaviour and trying to work out what the hell is going on. Sharon’s Theory states that there are Three Elements of Mind – Cognition, Intellect and Soul.
Cognition is made out of many different cogs (I guess that is why it was termed that way). All of the cogs play a part – Attention/ awareness, Planning, Problem Solving and Decision-Making (and other ones that are presumably in all the big fat books about how the mind works) and are somehow all linked together in a mysterious chain reaction and if, as is common, one of these mechanisms fails to work it can create problems for the other ones. The cogs never work perfectly all of the time (that’s just part of the way the system works) and sometimes one part of the system has to overcompensate when another fails, or is having an off day, but if one cog is broken then this creates problems for the whole system. Here’s Sharon’s very simple explanation of the main mechanisms.
- a) Awareness
As we walked down the street my daughter notices some scaffolding on a house and said ‘That wasn’t there yesterday’. There are hundreds of things going on in our street – the rain clouds in the sky, the neighbour who is looking a bit sad walking down it, the house whose window is open on a freezing cold day . How did my daughter know for sure that the scaffolding wasn’t there yesterday? When she walks down the street she might be thinking about what’s going on in her day, how her brother is annoying and what’s for dinner. How out of all the other things what are going on in the street , as well as what she is talking to me about and what she is thinking about notice the scaffolding. Its magic is all I can say. It’s a magic that seems effortless but allows those with it to conduct their lives day-to-day. That magic allows the brain to filter out all the information around her and remember any changes that occur.
- b) Processing
Processing is 100% taken for granted by 99.99% of the population but is quite fascinating to observe. A husband asks a wife (or vice versa) a simple question eg ‘I want to go out on Thursday. Is that OK?’ And that provokes seemingly millions of questions in the wife’s mind eg ‘Am I doing anything on Thursday night?’ ‘What time is my husband going out? Does he need dinner? Does my husband’s going out mean that there are logistical issues with the kids’ after-school activities?’ These lists of questions seem to go on and on and after a bit of thought the wife simply says, ‘That’s fine, but remember that our daughter needs to be picked up from brownies at 7pm’. If you don’t have the processing element in your brain, like me, then the seemingly endless list of questions just doesn’t happen and thus when you are asked this question you reply, ‘That’s fine’ because you have no idea why it wouldn’t be.
- c) Memory
Most people think they know all about memory but, may I suggest, that they don’t.
My son tells me every day that he wants his special green cup with his meal. He knows that if he doesn’t tell me he will get the wrong cup. As part of my research project into my Mind I have observed that most mum’s know this sort of thing by heart and they don’t write it down on a bit of paper ten times and memorise it (like you would for an exam). And so the fact that mother’s (and some father’s) remember this fact along with millions of other inconsequential things eg knowing what platform to stand on to wait for a train that you have got on ten times before, is a sign that that their memory (and processing) is working and therefore other cognitive processes have a good chance of working as well.
- e) Planning, Problems Solving and Decision Making
This is a problem that most mothers (and fathers) have every day:- How will I get my kids to go to sleep tonight? Some plan their kids bedtime with military precision ‘I’m going to knacker out the buggers, give them a quick meal and then, 1,2, 3, they will not muck me around, – they will be in bed, asleep.’ Others will say – my child likes to stay up late and I am tired and I like their company (and they haven’t got school tomorrow anyway)so I will let them stay up late. Each parent would have made a lot of decisions in this process and have a natural attitude towards planning and problem solving which, unless they have some sort of deficit like me, they are comfortable with. However if you can’t plan, problem solve and make decisions your evening could, like me, look like this, – half way in the middle of putting the kids to bed you remember that the washing needs to be put in the dryer and after coming down stairs you realise that the kids are now watching tv and you have to start the whole process again.
I would argue that without effective cognition, in short, your life is not pleasant – you have no sense of achievement and few real pleasures. My observation of other people shows me that you need cognition so that you can feel that you are taking an active part in your life. However, I have observed, that without it, you are still very much human, and still have a mind.
Although people talk about intelligence a lot it can sometimes be a bit tricky to define exactly what it is. It can sometimes get confused with cognition eg is having a quick wit intelligence because depends upon your speed of processing? Is having good general knowledge intelligence because it depends upon you having a good memory. However, Sharon’s definition of intelligence is just simply about being able to understand or discuss concepts. For example, I am a conceptual thinker – I can write this partially interesting blog because I can think conceptually, I have intelligence and it doesn’t really involve me remembering any facts. Likewise a person with lower intelligence can have an excellent memory, processing etc. And a person with either impaired cognition or intelligence, is still very much human.
Soul (I call it Nefesh) – Without exception, every human has a Nefesh, not matter what their cognitive or intellectual level – it’s just that some choose to access it more than others . I know a 15 year old boy who some people say is a Problem. He won’t eat, he can only speak in words and not sentences , he goes to a special needs school and will never be able to live alone in an unsupported environment, let alone form a romantic relationship or get a job (he has autism and other disabilities). However, just somehow by feeling his presence when I see meet him I see that his nefesh is beautiful and that he is a very special boy and I love him very much. Everyone around him admires his parents and his grandparents who give to him unconditionally but now I believe that I have learnt a Truth. Those that love you unconditionally do so because they can see beyond the cognition and intellect – that stuff is important – it gets you by day-to-day but those who love you see beyond this – they see the inner you – your nefesh/ your soul – who you truly are and they love you no matter what.
Thus Sharon’s Theory of Mind concludes that human minds are made up of three elements – Cognition, Intelligence and Soul. Humans have cognition and intelligence on varying levels but all humans have a soul.
In other news – I have decided that when people ask me that question that no middle class woman on benefit s for a mental health condition wants to be asked ie ‘‘What do you do?’ I will say ‘I am involved in a fascinating project into the mysteries of my brain. For years I have been in a dead end job and have had a very poor quality of life but now I have found out that there could be a way through. I have had a couple of setbacks, and have just applied for a grant from the Department of Work and Pensions. The project is going forward, but obviously not as fast as I would like it to be. My family have been very supportive (even if I have driven them a bit nuts) and I am praying that next week I might see the beginning of the end.’
 Soul (A Jewish scholar might draw parellels with Binah, Daat and Chochma but that’s a different discussion).