Friday, November 13, 2009

Presence of Mind

Brain power is what separates humans from all other species on our planet. This trait, responsible for all of our accomplishments, from articulate speech to flush toilets, has opened our world to discovery and given us the opportunity to understand the complexities of our environment, our bodies and our relationships. It is, after all, the basis for the human condition.

Despite the many advantages that brain power affords, it also has a tendency to complicate our lives. The capacity for memory, essential to the learning process, opens the door to rumination and regret; in like manner, our ability to anticipate the future often leads to worry and dread. Though the past was not as wonderful as we sometimes remember and the future will not be as daunting as we might imagine, these cerebral preoccupations often cloud and influence our present thoughts and actions.

Indeed, in comparison with many others species, humans have a diminished presence of mind. Not endowed with the acuity of sight, smell and hearing that some animals possess, we depend on our higher mental powers to interpret our environment. And, unlike our fellow mammals, we are prone to distraction as the past and future invade our consciousness.