23 fun facts about the human mind

The human brain is our most powerful organ, yet it is also among the least understood. This is precisely what drove me to create a blog that centers on how we can better understand human behavior.

A sharp mind can make the difference between a good memory and a foggy one, not to mention the mind exerts a powerful influence on our mood, self-esteem, and overall outlook on life.

Below I've compiled 23 fascinating research-backed facts about the human mind that I hope you'll find as intriguing as I do:

1. The mind is often defined as a system of one's mental processes or psychic abilities.

2. Philosophers have used a broad array of metaphors to describe this complex organ, including a television switchboard, a blank sheet, or a hydraulic device with disparate forces operating in it.

3. Attempts to grasp the inner workings of the mind stretch back at least to the ancient Greeks. For one, Leibniz and Descartes believed the mind acquired knowledge via reasoning and thinking (i.e., rationalism). Plato, for his part, contended that the mind gained knowledge through virtue, independently of sense experience.

4. Historically, there have been three major schools of thought that illustrate the relationship of the mind and brain: (1) dualism, which argues that the mind exists independently from the brain, (2) idealism, which argues that only mental phenomena exist, and (3) materialism, which makes the case that the mind is identical to the physical processes of the brain.

5. Brand names have a strong influence on the mind. For example, studies have shown that, unlike Pepsi, the Coke label has activated parts of the brain in participants associated with the mind, like memory and self-image.

6. Studies show that children who learn to play a musical instrument can develop their mental skills further than those who don't learn one.

7. The term "mind" comes from the Old English gemynd, or "memory," and the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *men-, meaning "to think, remember."

8. It is estimated that a human brain produces anywhere from 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts, depending on how contemplative a person is.

9. A group of scientists have come up with a way for epilepsy patients with electrodes planted inside their brains to control a computer noise with their minds.

10. The Stanford Prison Experiment took average people and randomly assigned them to be either prisoners or guards. After a few days, both groups became immersed in their respective roles. The experiment revealed how readily the mind accepts authority.

11. In the mind of suicidal people, not only did time seem to move much slower, but such individuals struggled to think about the future.

12. The conscious mind includes feelings, memories, and perceptions within our current awareness. The precocious mind includes thoughts we are thinking at the moment but can easily draw into our conscious mind. The subconscious mind is the psychic activity that operates below the level of awareness.

13. Everyday sights, sounds, and smells can trigger the subconscious mind. For instance, people become more cooperative if they read words like "reliable," more competitive if they see a briefcase, and more inclined to clean if there's a faint smell of cleaning liquid in the air.

14. When the mind recalls a memory, it's never the original one. In fact, the mere act of remembering is an act of creative remagination, with the latter memory consisting of entirely new bits of information.

15. Scientists believe the mind forgets in order to think more quickly, avoid information overload, avoid emotional hangovers, and assimilate new information.

16. During the Milgram Experiment, 65% of volunteers gave what they thought was a fatal dose of electric shock to someone when instructed to do so, despite less than 1% of them saying they would in a pre-experiment survey. The study showed that the human mind does not necessarily operate based on personality but rather on the roles we're asked to play. What's more, people's stated intentions may differ from their what they actually do.

17. The mind can practice new tasks, such as learning a new piece of music, during REM sleep, which also appears to boost performance with tasks involving procedural/how-to memory (e.g., riding a bike).

18. Advertisers employ mind illusions to make their products more appealing to the eye. For example, bottles if maple syrup are narrow at the base but bulge in the middle because that's where a person is most likely to look.

19. The mind can block out things it wishes to ignore, such as a person's own body odor.

20. Some researchers contend that the internet is changing the structure of our brains, which impacts the mind's ability to think and learn. The internet overstimulates the part of the brain involved in temporary memory, making creativity and deep thinking all the more difficult.

21. A study of 1 million students in New York showed that those who are lunches without dyes, preservatives, and other additives performed 14% better on IQ tears.

22. The mind wanders about 30% of the time and sometimes as much as 70%.

23. Scientists are unsure what makes a person unable to remember long-term memories. New research shows people don't necessarily forget -- they merely lose the ability to retrieve older memories.

Which of these did you find most interesting?

Don't rely on people to be happy...

Don't rely on people to be happy. Turn to them to be happier. 

Notice the subtle difference in wording.

Counting on someone to be happy-- whether it's a friend or partner -- means that everything from your mood to your self-value is inextricably tied to how that person makes you feel. You're essentially conditioning whether you have a great day (or life) on him or her.

I don't know about you, but to me that seems like an awful lot of pressure placed on any one individual.

If you do this, you're setting your expectations unreasonably high.

People will disappoint you sooner or later -- there's no way around it. By expecting someone to think and act as you would want them to all the time, you're making it virtually impossible for them to meet your standards. You're setting them up for failure without even realizing it.

People are human. They will do things sometimes that will leave you scratching your head in bewilderment. You may turn to them for advice and not always get what you want to hear. Or, you might catch them in a lie and find your trust in them put to the test.

As I've noted in earlier posts, relationships are meant to enhance our lives, not complete them.

I like to instead view them as icing on the cake. A cake can be appetizing even without the icing, but the icing gives it more of a kick. Thus, you'll probably enjoy the cake more if it has icing, but that doesn't mean it won't hit the spot without it.

Happiness comes from within. You should feel content with your life in spite of your relationships, not because of them. Why?

Because friends and significant others come and go, whether due to distance, a breakdown in communication, deception, and so forth.

Ask yourself this: If a relationship with someone you care about were to end tomorrow, would you be able to muster the strength to move ahead eventually, or would you fall apart and sink into a drawn-out depression?

If it's the latter, it means you're probably relying too heavily on relationships to be happy.

I understand it can be brutal when that person is, say, your spouse or an old friend, and you have every right to be alone and try to make sense of it all. But remember -- there was a time that that person wasn't in your life, and you were still happy. It can happen again.

It's human nature that we become attached, but we should always be prepared to let go should things not go as planned. Love your life independent of everyone else in it. Again, think of them as icing on the cake. They enrich your life, not complete it.

Why it's bad to be a lazy thinker

Between work, kids, household chores, and other responsibilities, many of us are left with depleted physical and mental resources at the end of the day.

However, I've observed that even on weekends -- when we have more spare time to read, write, play Sudoku, or engage in other mentally-stimulating activities -- many people still opt to do things that require minimal thinking, such as sifting through Facebook posts or binge-watching The Real Housewives of Potomac.

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with these kinds of things. But while I'm all for giving the mind a rest at certain points throughout the day, I can't go more than a couple of hours without wanting to learn something new -- whether it's the meaning of a word I came across in an article or about President Trump's latest economic proposals.

I'm on a seemingly never-ending quest to expand my vocabulary and gain as much insight into the world -- and the human mind -- as I possibly can. I try my best to sate that intellectual curiosity by reading books, writing blog posts, watching educational documentaries, and visiting museums.

I realize, though, that not everyone shares the same willingness/disposition to learn new things.

I recognize, for example, that counting Jeopardy! and CSPAN history programming among my favorite shows puts me in the minority.

The point here is not that everyone should become a bookworm, watch only quiz shows, and play Scrabble for fun.

It's that we should make a conscious effort to do things every once in a while that involve mental rigor -- whether reading instructions to assemble a bookshelf, proofreading a nephew's book report, playing a game of chess with a friend, or investing the time to learn the history of destinations you're considering traveling to.

Thinking critically and creatively keeps the mind sharp and improves memory -- something we all need as we age.

The way I see it, human beings don't come endowed with superhero powers. We can't fly. We can't shoot fireballs. We can't teleport or wield an invisibility shield.

We do, however, have a brain and the capacity to boost its power.

And how exactly can we amplify our brainpower? By feeding the mind knowledge.
A person armed with knowledge is a powerful person indeed. Thus, knowledge itself is power.

My social psychology professor in college put it rather succinctly: "We are cognitive misers." We are inclined toward conserving our cognitive resources as much as we can.

And there's no question that as technology becomes more and more sophisticated, our reliance on it to complete the simplest of tasks will only grow.

It's important we give our brains a little exercise here and there. Challenging ourselves to learn and retain information will not only serve to sharpen our cognitive skills, but make us wiser and better informed.

Signs you're spending too much money

Many of us complain of being strapped for cash, forcing us to put off vacations and even milestone events like graduation, marriage and having kids.

But we don't realize that our poor spending habits are likely to blame.

Whether you're living on credit or spending significant sums on stuff you may not even use, such practices add up over time, resulting in in a mountain of debt, depleted savings, and other unfavorable consequences that can wreak havoc on your life.

Look in your closet or drawers. Do you have various items that still have price tags on them?

That probably means that you bought them to jump on a sale, not because you really wanted them in the first place.

I caution people against buying things simply because they'll get something free or a second item half off, for example. It induces us to buy things we otherwise wouldn't buy if they weren't on sale.

So, what happens? These things are left collecting dust at home while your bank account pays the price. While I'm all for taking advantage of an occasional sale -- so long as you're confident you'll use the item -- doing it too often can lead to a serious case of buyer's remorse. Remember, companies use the lure of a can't-miss sale to reel you in. Don't bite the bait for the sake of saving a buck. Make sure it's something you genuinely want.

It goes without saying that if you can only make the minimum payments on your credit cards, you're spending too much money. Such cards should only be used in case of an emergency or to purchase a big-ticket item you don't want to shell out the cash for in the immediate future. You should only make purchases on credit cards, though, if you're certain you can pay in full -- or thereabouts -- each month.

Interest rates are astronomically high. Making only the minimum payment guarantees that it'll take years to pay down the debt.

If you find yourself in this pickle, stop putting stuff on your credit cards at once. Instead, look to see where you can cut expenses. Perhaps by getting rid of cable and other non-essentials, eating at home rather than eating out, buying only generic brands at the grocery store, and making other small changes, you'll reap huge savings in the process.

Do you have anything lying at home that you don't use -- from clothing to appliances? Consider selling them to a thrift shop or consignment store.

If worse comes to worst, get a job that pays better or a side gig that provides supplemental income. This will help you build up your savings while lessening your reliance on plastic.

Finally, if "keeping up with the Joneses" is what's principally fueling the compulsion to overspend, you're going down a slippery slope. Trying to maintain a lavish lifestyle on credit can only lead to financial ruin.

Don't be reckless with your finances. Live within or below your means. Build up your savings in the event of an emergency. Credit cards should be your last alternative.

Be a responsible consumer. Your credit score will thank you for it later.

Why living for today is so crucial

The great Albert Einstein once said, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow."

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu believed that "if you are depressed, you are living in the past; if you are anxious, you are living in the future; if you are at peace, you are living in the present."

Both men echo Francis Bacon Sr., who said, "Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand -- and melting like a snowflake."

The gist of these quotes is that we should live in the moment -- otherwise known as mindfulness. 

The dictionary defines mindfulness as "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations." In other words, it involves being cognizant of your physical and emotional state without being judgmental. 

Most people assume this can only be done through meditation. In reality, though, by stopping what you're doing for a few moments each day (whether you're at home or in the office), taking a deep breath, and focusing on the here and now, you can achieve this "Zen" state of mind. 

Living in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future is often easier said than done. 

There are those of us who are suckers for nostalgia and still others who can't help but plan for the future. Chances are we may find ourselves shifting from one mode to another depending on what's going on in our lives.

To Lao Tzu's point, I find myself reminiscing about the past when there's nothing noteworthy happening in the present, or if I'm melancholy about something in particular. And when we reflect on the past, we tend to so through rose-colored glasses -- we seem to remember the good times and leave the bad ones buried in the furthest recesses of the mind. 

Then there are those periods where we become totally consumed with the future. For example, some people become so focused on planning their wedding that once the big day arrives, they hardly have a chance to savor the moment -- it comes and goes in a flash. 

College also comes to mind. I was so wrapped up in getting good grades and landing a good job after graduation that I neglected to make the most of my college experience. This also happens in everyday life; we focus all our energies on future goals - what's ahead -- and forget there's things to relish and appreciate in the present. 

When your mind is fixed on the past or the future, you're letting the present -- which should matter far more -- slip away. 

The past got you to where you are today, which serves as a springboard for where you want to be tomorrow. 

There's no use in harping on the past, as you can't change it. What's done is done; you can only learn from it and move forward.

As for the future, you'll get there in due time. There's no harm in planning for it now, but don't let that planning consume you to the point where you're an anxious wreck. Yes, what you do now can help shape the future, but realize you won't have full control over events. 

As someone anonymous once advised, "Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be."

Seize the day, let bygones be bygones, and tell the future it can wait. Only by living in the present can you truly be satisfied.