Mind Over Matter

Mind Over Matter – the power of the mind to control and influence the body and the physical world. 

To analyze the potential of our brain, let us calculate it’s memory capacity first.

Have you ever felt like your mind was full? That you couldn’t learn any more? The human brain consists of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections. If each neuron could only help store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage!

 Now let’s talk about the processing power of our brain. Most of us think that calculations on the computer are much faster than on our brain. We couldn’t be further from the truth. Since it is difficult to accurately measure the processing power of the brain, let us consider the neural assemblies in the retina for comparison. The retina is a nerve tissue in the back of the eyeball which detects lights and sends images to the brain. A human retina has a size of about a centimeter square is half a millimeter thick and is made up of 100 million neurons. Scientists say that the retina sends to the brain, particular patches of images indicating light intensity differences which are transported via the optic nerve, a million-fiber cable which reaches deep into the brain.

Overall, the retina seems to process about ten one-million-point images per second. Because the 1,500 cubic centimeter human brain is about 100,000 times as large as the retina, by simple calculation, we can estimate the processing power of a average brain to be about 100 million MIPS (Million computer Instructions Per Second ). In case you’re wondering how much speed that is, let us give you an idea.

1999’s fastest PC processor chip on the market was a 700 MHz pentium that did 4200 MIPS. By simple calculation, we can see that we would need at least 24,000 of these processors in a system to match up to the total speed of the brain !! (Which means the brain is like a 168,0000 MHz Pentium computer).

 The most powerful experimental super computers in 1998, composed of thousands or tens of thousands of the fastest microprocessors and costing tens of millions of dollars, can do a few million MIPS. These systems were used mainly to simulate physical events for high-value scientific calculations.

To summarize, the brain has about 100 million MIPS worth of processing power while recent super-computers only has a few million MIPS worth in processor speed.

Wow. Feeling powerful? Well you should. Let’s take a second to gloat about it.

Ok, lets continue. Now you may ask, “If our brain is so powerful, why do we still struggle on small things?”

Leadership tycoon Warren Bennis once said,

“We seem to collect information because we have the ability to do so, but we are so busy collecting it that we haven’t devised a means of using it. The true measure of any society is not what it knows but what it does with what it knows.” 

There is a wealth of information at our disposal today on the latest discoveries in brain science. While we enjoy reading about these findings and expanding our intellect, how many of us actually apply these concepts? This article is aimed at explaining how powerful our mind is and how we can optimize it.

Before we start explaining more about the mind. Let us find out how memories are stored in our mind. My article “Memories? I don’t remember” covers this topic. Skip on if you’ve read it.

While we often think of our bodies and minds as two distinct entities, it turns out they are much more entwined than we might assume. Researchers are continually finding evidence that the brain has a distinct power to manipulate the body’s physiology. Let’s look into some mind-blowing examples.

Placebo Effect 

This is one of the most famous effects of the mind over the body. For those not familiar with the term, A placebo is an inert substance or belief which produces real biological effects in humans. It’s so widely accepted as fact that a placebo variable is included in most medical tests as way of proving if, say, a drug works on its own merits or because people “think” it works.

It was experimented on a group of students who were invited to a non-alcoholic beer party. The guests were NOT INFORMED that the beer was non-alcoholic and it was served in kegs of a familiar alcoholic brand. It was found that most of the guests acted drunk because for their mind it was the reaction anticipated from the drinks.

Placebo Effect is extremely useful in the field of medicine where many patients are cured when they are “convinced” that the medicine can cure them.

Nocebo Effect 

This effect is the opposite of the Placebo Effect. This effect produces negative results, such as a cancer patient vomiting before chemotherapy starts or someone breaking out in a rash because they thought they touched poison ivy, even though it was merely an ordinary plant.

An interesting result of the Nocebo Effect was studied by scientists who found that for persons commiting suicide by leaping off the top of a high structure, their death occurred even before their body hit the ground. This was because their mind expects the result and shuts down. A classic example of Nocebo Effect.

Maybe there really is some logic behind the old quote left in hospitals, “Be Positive”.

Boost your immune system by looking at pictures. 

Hard to believe? Well you should! Scientists have proved that your immune system can be boosted to a comparable amount by just looking at pictures of diseases. As you know, our mind is like a never ending video camera that never shuts down, it records everything and subconciously some of the scenes bring about invisible results. A notable example is how we sometimes have a sudden craving to eat a cupcake or a chocolate cake by merely seeing a mouthwatering picture (or even a well detailed description) of it. Our mouth waters and our stomach growls. This happens because our brain gets confused that the picture/image presented may be real. Well, this works in pretty much the same way.  When we see pictures of diseases, our mind gets confused and our  body beefs up its defenses. Scientists have performed the test on a series of test subjects by showing them pictures of people with bad rashes, scars, etc and noted that their White Blood Cells went into overdrive. Amazing, right?

Remember things using a memory palace. 

Remember when you went to a store with a list of things and found that you couldn’t remember each item very clearly? Well there’s a way to improve your memory and memory-champions have been following it for years now. The whole reason we tend to forget things is because our mind is not engaged solely with the list of items but also with the surroundings. Semantic Network Theory states memories that have more meaning are easier to remember; Our surroundings have more meaning than a mere list, hence we tend to remember things on the way to the store over the actual list of items to buy ( or the reason to go to the store in the first place). Items are easier to remember if we associate each item with some location (or a scene) rather than just as a list. Imagine having to remember a list having milk, eggs and bread. Picture a familiar place like your home. Picture a cat drinking from the milk platter. Imagine having to force yourself to eat an egg sandwich because the bread got too burnt. Isn’t this much easier to remember?

Write down things (Even if you won’t use the written list later) 

Have you noticed how writing down something makes it easier to remember it later and wondered why? It’s underlying principle is the same as the above principle (Memory Palace). Our mind tends to remember details of the paper, the pen and other surrounding changes when we write down something, hence making it easier to remember. Probably why it’s difficult to recollect things as easily when we type them on a keyboard as there is hardly any distinguishable changes as we type different words.

Achieve your goals by keeping your mouth shut 

This idea was popularized by Derek Sivers, a professional musician, in his presentation at TED. As he explains, psychology tests have proven that when you tell someone your goal, and they acknowledge it, you are less likely to do the work to realize that goal. This is because your brain mistakes the talking for the doing—that is, the gratification that the social acknowledgment brings tricks your brain into feeling that the goal has already been accomplished. The satisfaction you experience in the telling removes the motivation to do whatever it takes to actually make it happen.

Heed this information and keep your goals to yourself. It might just spur you to work harder to achieve an important goal.

Smile to improve your mood 

Facial Feedback Hypothesis indicates that facial expressions representative of an emotion trigger changes in your body that are similar to those that happen when you experience the actual emotion. For example, your brain cannot tell the difference between a posed smile or a genuine smile. A posed smile will elicit, physiologically, the same pleasure or happiness response as a genuine smile. Your facial muscles cue your brain to experience that positive emotion. Taking notice of this, consider how this information can help you to regulate some of your emotional reactions by controlling your facial expressions.

Try this the next time you are in a bad mood: Instead of frowning, which reinforces a negative mood, consider smiling. Research has shown that by doing so, you are likely to experience a more positive mood.

Understand the physiology of emotional pain to develop empathy 

Research has discovered that social or emotional pain is as real and intense as physical pain. The same brain networks are activated when a person experiences a physical injury as when they go through a painful emotional experience. Your brain cannot distinguish between physical and emotional pain.

Consider for a moment that when we hurt someone emotionally, it may very well be the equivalent of breaking one of their bones. We can create a better world in our sphere of influence just by being mindful of this thought and using it to help develop our empathy towards others.

Emotions can be controlled at will with proper practise. 

Have you noticed how an incident which normally creates an adverse emotional effect is much reduced when it is introduced after another incident which is more severe? Or how we generally adapt better to situations we are prepared for? This is because in the first case, our mind weighs the cases and is confused to react less for the lesser of the effects and in the second case, our mind is already set to deal with the consequences. Crying/Palpitating are all self-defence mechanisms of the mind when it is unsure about what to do. With lots of practice, we can learn to control our emotions so that our mind does not employ its traditional methods of self-defense.

To conclude the article, let me bring up the most fascinating part.

An interesting proof of the limitless capability of the human mind and how we can use it to push our limits further each day is Multiple Personality Disablity or dissociative identity disorder, which is a mental condition that’s interesting on many levels. Perhaps most intriguing of all is how some sufferers not only exhibit personality and behavior changes as they switch between their different identities, but some also have measurable physiological variations between each persona. For instance, one of a patient’s personalities may need eyeglasses and another won’t. Or, one identity might be diabetic and another will have perfect health. In such cases, it isn’t simply a matter of the patients thinking they need eyeglasses or insulin, their bodies actually go through legitimate alterations, such as differences in intraocular pressure or blood sugar levels.

In one case, published by the American Psychiatric Press, a doctor noted how medications prescribed to a dissociative identity disorder patient had different effects depending on what “personality” took the drug. For example, when a tranquilizer was given to the person’s childish persona, it made the individual sleepy and relaxed. However, when the adult personality was administered the same drug it made him anxious and confused. Similar results were found with other patients and with a variety of different medications. Doctors even noticed visibly apparent traits, like lazy eye, would come and go depending on which personality was present.

This phenomenon is especially fascinating since no one, including the patients, is claiming mysticism is at work. On the contrary, it is a genuine example of the mind altering the body.


  1. I was born creative, but education ruined me 🙁

    From childhood itself, we’ve been trained to memorize something, but never taught how to use it or apply it. I think we must have a good education system where we can really make use of our mind-powers to win the life.

    The article was interesting, and I have experienced the “keep a smile always” part!


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