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When the mind unhinges: from brain chemistry to creative impulses

It’s just a small subject – brain and mind.

Craig Cliff, author of A Man Melting; Andrew Knight, acclaimed movie director and producer; and David Roland, psychologist and author of How I Rescued my Brain, managed to tease out a little bit on the subject in what happens when the mind comes undone at Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Roland described his journey of studying the mind and the brain. He talked of how he began his first job as a psychoanalyst in Grafton gaol. The Oedipus Complex and theories of suppressed memories did not feel so pertinent when faced with burly men with tattoos. Roland had to down his psychoanalytic tool kit and start listening.

Roland described the breakthrough he experienced when he realised that the mind can be affected by stressors which in turn affect the psychological system. There was a definite connection between mind and body.

The connection between mind and body was expanded upon by Cliff who related the health issues he was plagued with as a result of spending his whole time in imagination. Cliff had high cholesterol and his eyesight had significantly deteriorated as a result of the cloistered life he led while writing his last novel.

It wasn’t until twenty years later when Roland experienced crippling health issues of his own – like the stroke that is the subject of his book – that he truly started to understand how the brain and mind function.

Roland explored some remarkable psychological discoveries of his own. For example, that the mind does not have a physical location while it maintains a temporal location. For example it is present here and now, but can you point to it?

Roland explained that humans are the most social species on the planet. We found an evolutionary advantage in our very weakness. It was necessary for humans to become social; it was the only way such a physically pitiable species could survive.

Roland pointed out that humans have a massive pre-frontal cortex; that is where imagination develops.

Knight pointed out that we often use that imaginative ability to form perceptions of ourselves that aren’t necessarily consistent with reality, and we do so in order to make ourselves feel better about our failures. Pain comes when the disparity is too great.

Roland responded by pointing out that by definition, perception is subjective, and because of that, there are many different realities; one for each person.

“We are energy systems so we are mostly space and vibrating atoms,” he said. “I’m not actually solid, but you think I am and I think I am too. Where does reality start? There are multiple realities.”

Cliff told us that the unhinging of a man’s mind is what drove his story. He describes researching his story as trying to find enough kindling so that the resultant fire would be a funeral pyre for his character’s mental integrity.

Knight left us with a poignant image: “We are an eternity sandwich. We are born from eternity; we live for a brief moment while we worry about the colour of our carpet and our kid’s teeth, and then we are dead for another eternity.”

RP Stoval is studying creative writing at Southern Cross University.

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