Friday Film: “The Mind, Explained” Brings Clarity to the Brain’s Complexities
Episode 1: “Memory”
What it covers: The first episode sets the tone for the overall series by giving us the broad strokes of how our memory works as well as how it can sometimes play tricks on us. Using 9/11 — a moment in time many of us remember — as a backdrop, the episode delves into how our brains form memories, where it stores them and what it takes to recall them. It also explores how different factors play a role in the way we remember something, which can make our memories unreliable at times.
“Memories aren’t high-fidelity recording we store away. They’re more like live performances created with input from different parts of the brain in the present moment.”
— Emma Stone, narrator
Episode 2: “Dreams”
What it covers: Moving, in some ways, like the structure of a dream, this episode bounces from topic to topic, trying to cover a lot of ground in a limited amount of time. It starts by explaining what causes us to dream and what happens to our bodies when we do. Then, it explores the history of dreams, from how ancient civilizations saw them as messages from the gods to how we view them today. The episode also touches on commonalities in our dreams, the phenomenon of lucid dreaming — where a person is aware they are in a dream and controls it — and other things the brain does while we are asleep.
“I don’t think the dreaming brain is trying to fix our conscious mind some sort of a message, but there is a story there, and it’s created from our own memories and our own emotions. One could think of dreams as being a sort of an idiosyncratic, a personal Rorschach test.”
— Robert Stickgold, neuroscientist
Episode 3: “Anxiety”
What it covers: After an engaging animation that explains the body’s fight-or-flight response, the episode summarizes the different kinds of anxiety disorders and what causes anxiety. It also touches on the recent rise in anxiety, which the episode notes is the most common mental illness. The episode also mentions ways to manage it, and enters into a realistic conversation on medication and potential side effects.
“Treating anxiety is much more about learning how to experience anxiety.”
— Ali Mattu, psychologist
Episode 4: “Mindfulness”
What it covers: Answering the overarching question of what mindfulness is, the episode first explains the differences between meditation and mindfulness. It then takes us back in time to 500 BCE when mindfulness was first developed and gives us an overview of the philosophy. As it turns out, mindfulness is not about emptying your mind, it’s about paying attention to what our mind is doing at any given time. Once we understand our reaction, we can better control it. The episode also covers what happens when our minds wander, and how mindfulness can literally change our brains.
“Slowly, slowly, [we] train our mind, like going to [the] gym. When you go to the gym and you do exercise, [you] develop your muscle; You become more fit. So [too our] mind become[s] more healthy and developed.”
— Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher
Episode 5: “Psychedelics”
What it covers: This episode primarily focuses on how psychedelics, including LSD, can be used to treat depression, anxiety and even certain kinds of addictions. The episode starts by introducing a cancer survivor who successfully used psychedelics to overcome his crippling fear of death. It then covers the complex history of LSD, from its discovery to its initial use in scientific studies to how the 1960s changed our cultural perception of psychedelics. Finally, the episode delves into how and why psychedelics could potentially be beneficial, as well as the way scientists at John Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, are currently studying this.
“Meditation is the tried-and-true course to investigation of nature of the mind, and psychedelics is the crash course.”
— Roland Griffiths, director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and a professor at Johns Hopkins University
Watch on “The Mind, Explained” on Netflix
By Emma Schkloven
Emma Schkloven is an award-winning reporter based in Virginia. She graduated in 2014 with a degree in English. Her work has been picked up by The Associated Press and The Washington Post, and her bylines have appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Las Vegas Sun and The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Virginia.