A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body
by Thomas Hersh, Ph.D.
Published in: Santa Monica Organic Garden and Nutrition Club Bulletin, June 1998. Volume 37, Number 2, pp. 1-2.
(Dr. Hersh, member of our Club, spoke to us on gardening several years [weeks?] ago. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and has taught as an associate professor. He has been on the faculty of Cal State Northridge, UCLA Extension, and Immaculate Heart. He has had much experience as a clinical psychologist and currently is devoting considerable time to research. Editor's note.)
[July 27, 2011: The following are the Club secretary's published notes from the talk. I do not have a copy of the original paper, so the following is not a completely accurate outline. The goal of the talk was to raise, in dramatic form, the possibility that one's psychological attitude can cause illnesses and that, on the other hand, a stable psychological state can probably have a positive effect on some illnesses. This led to fantasizing about how long we might live if, somehow, we were all in a completely tensionless state throughout our lives.]
How big a factor in illness and cures is the mind? If serious illnesses can be caused by psychic pain and cured by uplifting experiences or hope, if the desire to raise a child can keep a mother with cancer alive until the child reaches a certain age, then is it possible that all disease is caused by psychic disturbances? Is it possible that, if a person were completely pure, spiritual, he would live disease free, able to resist any impurities, or germs, or out-side forces? Is it possible that death itself comes because of some lack of belief or lack of spiritual cleanliness? If we could become pure, if we could believe in immortality and not embrace the collective belief in the inevitability of death, could we live forever?
Short idea (17): An agitated, angry moment; an ecstatic, happy feeling; an itch in the right knee; a dream of a red fox walking in the snow; a thought of tomorrow's barbecue — all are made of the same "stuff." There is a common denominator.
Short idea (23): Mattress ads claim that the reason a person sleeps badly is because of the mattress, and, if you use their mattresses, you will sleep perfectly. It is the springs or the stuffing or whatever. This is a good example of an attempt to explain a psychological state of unrest or discomfort by reference to a thing or event in the external world.
Short idea (29): When a person withdraws from the world as much as she or he can, what's left is Psychology, that is, the psyche.
On the Problem of Determining the Simultaneity of Mental Processes and Brain Processes
Longer observation (11): The Body & the Earth: In early thinking the human body is sometimes compared to the earth.
Short idea (93): To explore the idea of experience, it is useful, for a few minutes, to pretend that the following idea is true, even if it is false: Every experience you have is part of your body. Every sound you hear is part of your body. If you are driving a car and look out and see green grass and green and brown trees — and whatever you are currently looking at — this is all part of your body. Under this view, your body has different layers, to use an imperfect word. There is the visual layer, the sound layer, the skin layer, the muscle layer, the inner organ layers, the heart layer, the lung layer, and so on. Each embodies it's own unique type of experience. The central part of this idea is that there is a layer of sights and and a layer of sounds that are each part of your body but are experienced as outside of it — as outside the skin and what is inside the skin.
I use the word Experience the way other psychologists use the words mind or the word psyche. The concept of experience is difficult to define. It includes all our thinking, all our feeling, everything in our imagination, all our sensations, and everything else that separates us from being completely unconscious.
Short idea (119): We all feel filled with Energy sometimes, bursting with Energy; at other times listless and sluggish and filled with inertia. This feeling of Energy has a psychological label: Libido (sometimes "Libido" is used to refer to all psychological energy, sometimes only to sexual energy). If we look at objects in the physical world we can often see what fills them with energy. For example, a moving object hits one that is still, and the second objects moves, filled with the energy transferred from the first object. It is not so easy to see what fills us with the feeling of Energy or takes away the feeling. If we do see what does, it is difficult to understand how this can happen. For example, how can bad news make us feel all the Energy draining from us? We may be able to picture how a virus could take the wind out of our sails, but how can hearing bad news do it?
Short idea (120): If you think brain activities underlie all our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, and so on, here is a paradox: I can influence your brain (say through my words to you), and you can influence mine, but it seems impossible for me to influence my own brain or for you to influence yours. Why? Because if you think you are doing something to influence your own brain (maybe telling yourself happy words to make your brain have a different chemistry), it is your brain making you want to do the thing in the first place, it is your brain that lies behind your actually doing it, and it is your brain that causes you to be aware you are doing it. Similarly, if a man is strong enough and big enough, maybe he could lift any human being on earth, but he could never lift himself.
Short idea (122): Computers have been compared to brains and spoken of as brains, but the brain has different parts. It seems to me that computers can be correctly compared with the higher cortical brain, the part considered to be responsible for logical thinking, the type of thinking used to solve complex mathematical problems. But computers do not have lower brains, the part of the brain connected with need and want and drive and emotion and passion. Because of this, computers can't be irrational; they can generate random series of numbers, and they can make mistakes, but this is different from being irrational. To be irrational you have to have interests, and you have to have passions that make you act irrationally by going against your interests. Computers don't have interests, so they can't act irrationally. If a computer could be given a lower brain, such a computer would be much more human.
Short idea (13): There is a difference between the mind, the psyche, and the self. Mind has to do with thinking and imagination. Psyche includes the mind. And the self includes the psyche.
Psychological Exercise 1: Experiencing Opposites
This exercise, like many that require introspection, is best done at night or in the evening when inactive and when it is quiet. The first part of the exercise is to pick something, anything, and then focus your attention on it.
"He died from old age" = "The Unrelated Symptoms Disorder"
People of all ages die of many different things, but it often happens that when an elderly person dies, the doctor can not give a specific cause of death. In such situations we sometimes say, "He died of old age," even though this means hardly anything. It is my goal in this essay, not to explain why these people die, but to put the whole problem in a context.
Short idea (191): There are certain moments when we can become aware of the intimate connection between the Mind and the Body and the World around us. One is when we take an in breath. Another is when we feel our heart beat. Another is when we have a sexual response. Another is when we get furious. And another is when we feel an intense pain. Another is when we see or hear. And so on.