The Materials of the Mind

Nash Popovic profile image

Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

As is the case with the body, the soul also sustains itself and grows through interaction with the environment (which is mediated by the brain and the body during our physical lives). There are two types of ‘food’ for the soul: information and experience. Information can be defined as a comprehended relation between the objects of attention. Experience is a comprehended relation between the subject and the object. They both generate movement – and movement is energy.

The most important facet of information and experience is that they can affect the soul. Information affects its ‘surface’, which allows cumulative change. Experience, on the other hand, affects a deeper or inner configuration of the soul[1]. Thus, information has a horizontal trajectory, while experience has a ‘depth’ trajectory. Information involves understanding, while experience involves qualia. Information is therefore usually cognised (belongs to the cognitive domain), while experience is felt (belongs to the affective domain). Experience is more direct but less constructed and precise than information, which is why it is easier to share information than experience. In short, the soul can expand through enlarging its surface by the inclusion of new information, or by incorporating new experiences. Exercising agency can also contribute to the growth of the soul (such as physical exercises making the body stronger).

These three often go together and it is hard to establish a strict demarcation – an event can provide an experience and information at the same time; our experiences may also involve choices (e.g. where to look); our choices and actions usually involve some information, and so on. However, they are not the same. Information is possible without experience, and experience is possible without information. For example, scenery may be experienced with no regard for its informational content, or items of information can be gathered about the scenery without experiencing much. So, it may be helpful to see information, experience and agency as three dimensions:

[1] For the difference between the parts of the brain that process information and experience see, for example, Block, 1998, p.329.

Some possible questions

Is information an intrinsic property of energy?
If we take on board that awareness is necessary for sensations to become information, nothing can be information if somebody is not aware of it. Computers are not aware, and cannot feel or understand, so strictly speaking they don’t contain information – only micro-switches and electrical impulses that become information when perceived by a user. Hence, in the absence of sentience, information is only a potential rather than an intrinsic property of energy. This is not to say that this potential does not exist objectively (a book that nobody reads still contains some potential information).

Does experience and associated information always remain linked?
Not necessarily. Information (a cognitive component) and experience (a felt component) often come together. However, as we know, experience usually has a greater impact than information, and may be retained even after the associated information is lost or forgotten (e.g. people with dementia may still love their children although they cannot recognise them anymore).

Are all experiences deep?
Experiences can be deeper than information as they can have effects beyond cognitive structures and the rings. However, most experiences are close to the surface. Deeper experiences (which should be distinguished from strong emotional reactions) require quieting the mind to some extent, as mind activity create barriers to depth. A quieter mind is more permeable, which allows more direct and more penetrating experiences.

What determines the quality of experience?
Experiences create energy shifts in the soul. In other words, they are vibrations or a set of vibrations that can be sensed or felt. If these vibrations are harmonious, they are felt as agreeable; if not, they are felt as disagreeable. An orchestra could be used as an analogy. At any point, an instrument can add a new tune (perhaps due to external triggers), which may or may not fit well with the rest. This is experienced by the conductor and the whole orchestra as being in tune or not, as pleasant or not.

Are all information and experiences useful?
Not every information or experience facilitates the growth of the soul. Some are useful, some are not (the intrinsic energy of stimuli, such as a photon emission bouncing from a printed material, for example, is not completely irrelevant but is not the most important factor here). Only information that is incorporated can expand the surface of the soul, and the same applies to experiences. The factor that enables this will be discussed next.


Information, experience and agency only potentially contribute to the soul. The common ingredient needed to do so is meaning. This is why new information, for example, is not attractive if not perceived as meaningful (e.g. reading a phone book). Meaning arises from the realisation of relations.

If relations are deemed meaningful, they are preserved. If not, they are either rejected or we try to find their meaning. We may recognise: relations between objects of our attention, effects of objects on us, or our effects on objects (effects being vectoral relations). These are the three dimensions of meaning that correspond respectively to information, experience and intent.

The informational or horizontal dimension of meaning arises from the recognition of relations between sensations, between words (or other representations such as numbers), and between sensations and words (e.g. the sentence ‘sound is bigger than colour’ is grammatically correct but still does not make sense). Hence, the significance of any cognitive material does not arise from its elements, but from its relations: ‘When we become conscious of the meaning of a word and understand it, our understanding of the word, our subjective sense of it, is of the relations that constitute its meaning.’ (Rosenfield, 1992, p.99)

The experiential or depth dimension of meaning arises from a relation between the subject and object, recognising the effects that an experience has on oneself (what it means to oneself). An experience that does not mean anything to the one who is experiencing, it is not really an experience. Seeing a frog, for example, is incorporated only if that event means something to us (which may be based on previous experiences). In other words, experiences become meaningful when they lead to a congruent re-alignment of the energy field. This is why when we have a bad experience, we either try to eject it or to make sense of it, find meaning in it (we don’t have this urge with good experiences because they lead to a harmonious energy realignment, which we spontaneously find meaningful).

The agency or vertical dimension of meaning is related to our choices and actions. To be meaningful, an action has to be perceived as constructive (beneficial). Destructive actions are difficult to perceive as meaningful, which is why even the most horrendous actions in history have been accompanied with some forms of justification (e.g. future or greater good; protecting a true faith, etc.). This means that, as in previous cases, meaningfulness of our choices and actions is not intrinsic to them. It arises from our grasp of the effects that our actions have (understanding the consequences). All this involves metal faculties that we will examine next.