As for the human mind, I’ve often thought about the metaphor of the museum.

Our mind, one of the functions of our brain ‘and other parts of our body’ (Sledpress’ objection I found interesting,) contains and allows that we manifest the infinite traces of our past (past conceptions, language, behaviours) from Stone Age or earlier onwards. Evolution enters the equation, but we will leave it alone for now.

Whatever world region we are from, we should be concerned about probing such repository I believe, that is our roots or cultural ID.

Language is an important portion of this ID. What a great digging tool for example etymology is, ie history of words (shown a bit in our previous post, see a good on-line tool) although lots of things are there well beyond words (see points I and IV below.)


A few examples, to better understand.

(Italian-mind related, but they could hopefully work as a method example to different minds as well)

I. The Greek fear in gods’ envy, yet present in South Italy and Greece:

“Not long ago my friend Mario took me for a drive on his stupendous vintage 1960 Lancia Flavia (see image below.) Mario is from Naples, a South Italian city founded by the Greeks in the 8th cent. BCE.

On the way back I exclaimed merrily: ‘Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled as smoothly as olive oil!’

Mario snapped with a worried look: “Hush! hush! Don’t you say that!”

I well knew what he meant:

“Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down or anything bad to happen to us?” as if the mere utterance of happiness would attract ill luck or the envy from someone … Well, the envy from whom?

(read more).

The ancient classical Greeks (V cent. BCE) believed their gods lived an eternal blissful life and envied men too prosperous that dared to get close to their happiness. They then humbled and punished them. That ‘too prosperous’ means it was excess and arrogance (ὕβρις) that was basically abhorred by the Olympian gods, which made people afraid of showing their happiness, or of being arrogant. It was like a socio-religious regulation valve, plus a factor without a doubt of the mostly upper-class (tho not exclusively) marvellous ‘5th cent. BC’ Greek perfect equilibrium.

Polycrates tyrant of Samos (where Pythagoras was born by the way) led a too prosperous and arrogant life. Horrible was then his death, Herodotus notes

Now, 2400 years later (!) people in Southern Italy and Greece are still afraid of expressing satisfaction when things are going WELL, lest ‘something’ might spot them and whack them.

Such a great item in their museum mind allow me to say!!

(read more)

Phrases and the Wheel related to the Roman Goddess Fortuna:

  • A personification of Goddess Fortuna (“they invoked their fortune”) seen as something capricious (“the tricks of fortune”) is deeply impressed in modern Western minds and language;
  • The wheel of fortune also used in many popular TV shows is a survival of the goddess, often represented with a wheel at her side (read more)
Spectacular remnants of the Sanctuary to the goddess Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), located just a few miles from Rome

III. When we say ‘deep in my heartor ‘she / he broke my heart’ we refer to a scientific superseded idea that the heart, and not the brain, is the seat of emotions. The Stoics saw in the heart the seat of the soul, Aristotle the seat of reason and emotion, the Roman physician Galenus the seat of emotions etc.

The Roman laughter

“Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.”
(from How To Learn Greek and Latin (2). Some Inspiration From Penates etc)

Another great mind item this laughter – I must record it some day – that belongs to the modern Roman mind, certainly not to the Greek one, modern or non modern.

. Here is a sample of such laughter. Click on these words to listen to it: Marina’s (and MoR’s) laughter.

In short, before more details if you will

The γνῶθι σεαυτόν aphorism adapted to our 'museum' concept

There’s like a huge messy archive in our head so stuffed with things that just beg to be organized a bit and come to light.

Let’s get it all out dear readers. With meditation, concentration and fertile idea-exchanging let us make that inventory my good old Mentor used to mention us when we were so young.

As for my own cultural ID, I am trying to dig a bit with the present blog.


[see in-depth details from our posts. Skip the first section – similar to the above writing – and start reading from Socrates’ T-shirt big face onwards – like the one above]

Related posts:

Fighting with Grandpa’s tomes. My Parents’ Marriage & the Roman Laughter

33 thoughts on “Is the Human Mind like a Museum?

  1. I will take you on about that idea of the heart being “scientifically superseded” as the seat of emotion. Do you know that peptides which transmit and inflect emotion are produced all over the body, many of them in the heart? Or that there is a small but emerging body of knowledge about the effect on emotional response when people are fitted with artificial hearts or other forms of medical heart hardware?

    But aside from preferring to think that the mind is all over the body rather than wholly in the folds of grey matter you picture there, I like “museum” — or maybe “library” — some combination of the two.

    Here in America we are such a salad that it isn’t easy to identify a long trail like the one leading back to the fear of the gods’ envy. And so many people have tried deliberately to throw away the past, I don’t know how we’d follow it…


    1. ‘Take on’? You mean ‘wrestle’? (I checked in Oh but it’s a mania you have this wrestling thing! 😉

      Interesting! MoR is certainly not the one to dislike an ancient scientific idea is not entirely wrong, or is partly true or just true. I’ll have a check. This idea of the mind all over the body fascinates me plus makes sense, although I think the brain must be important as the immense evidence collected via cases of brain-damage effects attests.

      (North) America is a total mystery to me, this is probably why I love it so much. I don’t really believe in this salad thing. 300-400 years are a tiny span, 16 generations maximum: what the hell did happen, did you get brainwashed by the aliens?

      Such library – or museum – could possibly be traced back to the palaeolithic (750,000 years ago!)
      And, that a person is a mix of many ethnicities, is not new and so lost in the darkness of time: one reason why ‘races’ do not actually exists. See the work of *Cavalli-Sforza* at Stanford.


      1. No question the brain is critical but I have come to think of it as the big switching station within a much larger network. And we all know about the other body parts that people think with! I can no longer go along with the science-fiction writer’s idea that you could transplant a brain into a robot body and get the same person, for example. There were some wonderfully crazy “immortalists” a few decades back who proposed cryonic brain preservation as a path to indefinite life. Umm…

        I am a weight lifter, not a wrestler! But I could probably put up a good fight.

        Re: American salad: the problem is that the mixing came with much active effort to wash away the past. So many came to America to escape something or forget something, and worked hard to obliterate personal history. They told their children nothing, or the children did not listen or both — at least that was my case.


        1. brain … come to think of it as the big switching station within a much larger network

          I think you are right.

          we all know about the other body parts that people think with!

          You naughty girl … I exert that off-brain ‘thinking’ to the extent I consider myself a philosopher of it 😉

          American salad..came with much effort to wash away the past.

          I understand, it pains me all the sorrow that led u people to leave – not that EU folks here were dancing cha cha cha – isolated, progressively provincial, here in the South totally forgotten.
          Plus I was hard lectured by Canadians commenters (a good one u see below, dear sage Paul) who said they are a mosaic while the US people a melting pot.
          And Italian Americans – like a bridge to me to better understand the US – have forgotten language and all and want to appear more yankees that the yankees, I know it too well, they had to prove they were not the sub-humans the Angli at Ellis islands thought they were.

          But they are still Italians!! THIS I can tell I being Italian too!! In the NYC subway I spotted them in a second – they spotted me too, but it’s easier, I’m European – and not from the skin colour etc., just from the expression in their eyes and whole non-verbal communication.

          I’ll tell you, sweet Madame Sled – I am a bad man to tell you ‘sweet’ I know: I’m no real scientist nor philosopher. I just follow my intuition.

          To me, in the brain or skin or whatever hidden parts, you people still GOT IT ALL still deep inside!
          Utilize yoga, meditation, a shrink damn, but do something.

          And pls at the same time remain American: such an interesting piece of this world!


        2. I can no longer go along with the science-fiction writer’s idea that you could transplant a brain into a robot body and get the same person, for example.

          Good for you!. Brain-in-a-vat is lots of fun, but that’s all, And don’t think it was only science fiction writers who were preoccupied with the idea. You can find serious treatments of it in articles on philosophy of mind if from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the stuff I used to waste my time on as a student.


          1. Vittorio Somenzi, an Italian polymath – epistemologist (philosopher of science), brain cybernetic and ethologist (ie evolutionary psychology, u might know the Dutch Nobel Prize Tinbergen) – loved the studies you mention.

            My friend Extropian attended some of his classes at Sapienza Univertity, and my wife was even a (good) pupil of him. So I met Somenzi a few times. Great guy.


  2. Last night in class, we read and discussed Machiavelli. Big part of the lecture was on Lady Fortune versus Virtu (not to be confused with virtue).

    How timely this post; how our lives intersect.


    1. Glad this is timely Cheri, and that our lives intersect.

      I envy your classroom work and miss it so much!

      But you, poor innocent gal, you’ve touched one of MoR’s favourite topics!! Now you’ll have to bear my rant (and hear things u probably already know lol).

      Machiavelli (and Renaissance) took from the Romans this Virtus -right, nothing to do with Christian virtue: courage, will, valour instead- vs Fortuna concept with their role in men’s lives.

      Fortune is basically capricious chance and this dualism is still fertile today, scarce doubts.

      I remember somewhere in NYC – a school or College -: Virtus victrix fortunae (virtus is winning over fortune)

      Which is optimistic, Fortune can send such blows only the true Roman Stoic could bear -, a religion for real supermen felt non human by the ‘just human’, where no salvation or consolation from sorrow was possible, were u not like them.

      No wonder the masses found this stoic gospel (highly noble, it must be said aloud) barren and mass turned to mysteries & all from basically the East. They had great advantages, these mysteries: with their warm fleshy erotic (true stoics were austere) exciting (or austere too) consoling heated AND, most of all, absolute truths.

      Christianity was the winner of them all – and possibly the better: you don’t win by chance, there must be some – non Christian – virtue too lol, no kidding at all.

      [Optimistic US motto I said? But aren’t Americans super a bit hence winners after all? I mean, they didn’t become a superpower merely by chance, they GOT to have virtue too, silly of me]

      Back to Machiavelli I checked his words (Il Principe, 25): the goddess, being a woman, likes a strong, even violent hand, which is why Fortuna aiuta, helps, gli audaci, the bold. Subtle, true, erotic (and typical from here lol).

      [to be continued]


      1. You know, I often hear about how Machiavelli was reviled in England and France, even if he was carefully read and applied by some, like Queen Elizabeth, but I wonder how he was received in Italy? Seems like the princes of his day would have seen his work on being a prince for what it was without any cavil. Did they? They don’t strike me as a particularly hypocritical group when it came to the facts of power politics.


  3. It all makes sense if you consider, whatever the names given, they all originate from the same fundamental, or founding, myth nurtured through thousands of years my evoluting and dispersing humanity.
    We are too much centered on the differences and not enough on the common denominator: the human need to explain the unexplainable so as to comfort mankind and make it secure.


    1. Which Myth Paul? Your comment arrived possibly before my to-Cheri-part-II reply, or before the final version of it.

      [I know you have some books I don’t have yet … 😉 ]

      This need of the human to explain the unexplainable and extreme sorrow we have in this life I’d add – why we suffer, why there is death, why my children or family were wiped out – brought mankind to search for comfort, for some security, consolation. Most of all to believe in absolute truths that reason (which the Greco-Romans loved so much) cannot challenge because based on emotion.

      There is a long list of mystery alternatives to, for example, the Olympian gods’ religion (or Christianity). I am fond of those that say we come from heaven and there we will return because our soul is divine (which weirdly remind of the aliens of StarGate). Also a Hindu concept. I am reading the Egyptian hermetics for example. They are interestingly linked to John’s gospel:

      In principio erat Verbum (= logos, reason)
      et Verbum erat apud Deum
      et Deus erat Verbum

      In the beginning was the Word (= logos, reason)
      and the Word was with God
      and the Word was God…

      I might be imprecise, but people from many mysteries – plus neo-platonism, gnosticism, hermetics and Christianity – might have interpreted it similarly:

      First line: semi-god / Plato’s Demiurge (in Timaeus logos is clear since Plato saw in a Demiurge the force that rationally fashioned the world from chaos / Christ which is Word in the mind of God, so he became Man to take the Word out of God’s mind and explain it to men

      Second line: God and this trait-d’union (Word) are close to each other, since he is Word in God’s mind, as I said.

      Third line: more Christian to me, self-explanatory: the Word is God himself.

      By-passing possible mistakes – I have to digest a lot – what counts here is Christianity in my view can be better understood within the cultural context it grew within, which is obvious.

      Which is abhorred by our Church and many Christian churches possibly: to all of them in fact the Word is revealed (the protestants are tho freer to individually analyse it) hence out of history.

      To me faith and science can instead coexist though travelling in different tracks, we discussed it a lot together.

      I was yesterday in a *Mithraeum* a few yards from home (Basilica di San Clemente) and bought the official guide: a lot of it is dedicated to prove there is little or no link between Christianity and Mithraism! Understandable but amazing.

      I’ll reply to your longer French comment in a while. You and Sled have been demanding (my fault.)



      1. I’ve replied to your Email before reading this. Maybe you could copy my reply in here for the benefit of all? Never mind, I found how to do it:

        The founding myth that of a supreme being, king of all the lesser gods or goddesses and architect of all things such as Chronos, Horus-Osiris, Shiva, the Great Manitou of our First Nations, El, Yaweh etc. The One possibly behind the Big Bang. I can’t figure when my comment arrived, the sequence on your blog is a bit baffling to me.


        MoR: the sequence is also baffling to me, like WordPress had hiccups these days


        1. The Gnostics seem to say that Yahweh (by extension probably similar creator-gods) was a bit of a narcissist who succumbed to the temptation of creating a world that he could control. And that a feminine Wisdom, whose animal attribute was the serpent, appeared to shake up the game.

          The basic implication being quite close to the Buddhist or Hindu one that everything is illusion except for a timeless existence that fills all of space, which has sort of a Goddish sound about it.

          Perceive it this way and all those gods who created the world and then wrote rules for it are sort of local and a bit too big for their britches.


          1. All those gods, as Cheri writes, are but one going under many aliases and the oldest monicker was “Mother Earth”. It would seem that the masculine god appeared as a mix of man and woman. The Dogons of Mali are very interesting in that sense. For them they originate from deities who were first male and over a sixty year cycle evolved into female. It ensues that their whole society is organised along male/female pattern.
            Their first ancestor, they believe, was a blacksmith who feared not getting his female side so he stole it and fled to earth with his anvil gliding to earth on the foreskin of the deity he had tcheated. Their Cosmogony is most intriguing.


          2. Oh, I like that! Blacksmith gods have always attracted me — something about the practical and dirty coming to grips. It’s even more gritty than potter-JHVH working in red earth.

            How ever does an anvil go foreskin-surfing?


          3. Well the anvil fell over the blacksmith and broke all his limbs that became serpent like and, if I remember well turned into people. Of course a god’s foreskin has special powers, no?


  4. @Cheri (continuation)

    Caesar possibly knew this – and was addicted to women (a real don Juan – read *here* my take about don Juanism (his, and Italians’) – hence liked goddesses too so it is said he played with Fortune all his life – he attacking the Gauls ahead of his soldiers at almost 50 (!) how the hell can we interpret that, he was no foolish man. He seemed to have been daring also because he expected the goddess to favour the bold (we’ve seen Machiavelli). But he finally lost his game with this Beauty, not listening to warnings and all and was killed we know how.

    Now, is it a legend, this Caesar & Fortune thing? (a *page* I wrote on this was naive?) was it just courage (but courage is not stupid, religion is)? Wasn’t it rather the more complex stoic Providence? How can we explain the big risks he took often endangering career, troops, life? I’m digressing, but it could be useful to your Fortune classes, one never knows.

    Roman Fortuna (leaving Machiavelli aside) was a poor-&-middle-class deity. Most Roman upper classes, in Caesar’s time and later, were Stoic – as we said – hence believed in Stoic Providence (different from the Christian one, Seneca’s book ‘On Providence’ is a great text) rather than Fortuna considered vile hence superstitious (not by all tho: some merged her – and ennobled her – with the more abstract Greek Tύχη. I wonder whether reading Plutarch’s Περί τύχης (On Tyche) can clarify things, I got no idea).

    Now Caesar was a democrat who tho belonged to the highest possible nobility, with Venus (which might explain is sexual addiction) as ava like the Trojans. Such complex, great Caesar, so many contradictions in him he mastered calmly with intense intellect – the best specimen of Roman rationality no doubts here really!

    According to Suetonius etc. he was raised in Subura, Rome’s slums, since penniless. So my doubt remains. He ‘possibly’ met Fortuna [update: in Subura] with slaves, Celts, Germans and prostitutes, and my doubt remains.

    Terribly exciting.


  5. I have copied, pasted, and printed your words so that I might digest them slowly.

    No,I don’t know any of this. My studies have always been in American literature, so this material that I am now studying in my foundation class in this program (unless they are core works of world literature that I studied in college so long ago) are entirely new to me.

    You are a dear man to spend this time elucidating these ideas for me (and your lucky readership).

    Now, what’s wrong with your going back to school?
    My idea started with 2 of my younger colleagues ( ages 30 and 41) deciding to go back to school. I remember thinking, why not me? And why not apply to one of the best schools in the area just to see if I could get in?

    I wanted UC Berkeley but they did not offer an MA in English, only a Phd. and I have too much going on in my life (running a business and teaching) to jump into a full time Phd program.

    Go for it.

    More later after I read your comments above.


    1. You are a dear woman too Cheri. And thank you for your interest.

      what’s wrong with your going back to school …go for it

      Which is evidence of the first sentence above = u good and perceptive.

      I might, but according to my degree I’d have to teach Italian literature (many hours) and ancient history (little hours). I instead am interested in researching & teaching stuff related to the topics of this blog, it’s too important to me. While getting seriously back to Dante’s universe – mesmerizing tho it can be – would mean energy dispersion. I might try some private thing.

      Ciao e grazie


  6. @to readers

    People, I have been away for a looong Roman dinner at the Pantheon. We had fun and laughed the Roman laughters. Full of nice restaurants out there, with the extra advantage of all gods being present, as the word suggests.

    I love u all.


    (it is 1:39 am)


  7. Ok MOR, I have a challenging question for you and hope other like Lichanos (who is an engineer with a philosophical bent) can offer their thoughts:

    When I look at that gorgeous Lancia and further consider your ruminations on culture and history – that is a big picture look erasing national borders. You look at things from a civilizational stand point (as I’ve done through out my University career) – sometimes I wonder if a work of art is not necessarily just a product of one culture but a culmination of many cultures.

    For example, that Italy possesses the majority of Europe’s and good portion of the world’s art treasures, is well known. But what is Italy? Part of its historical fiber constitutes (as is the case with many countries by the way) of prior great civilizations from Germanic tribes, to the Arab world, to Ancient Greece and Rome to influences from modern empire occupying its spaces?

    So, is a Ferrari not just Italian but a collective memory of past artistic creations? What I’m trying to say is does an Italian carry the artistic blood of past cultures within its “DNA?”

    My architect friend,who, as a professor has a strong philosophical and intellectual disposition, once concluded to me, in a conversation trying to explain away Italian creative brilliance, it’s “simply in their blood.”

    I recognize this can be applied anywhere and to anything but still found this abstract exercise interesting nonetheless.


    1. Personally, I don’t think much of notions such as “in their blood,” or “collective memory.” They sound too vague, too Jungian, to racially-based to mean much, even if used in the most benign manner.

      Yes, why do those Italians make such goddamn beautiful cars, among other things, e.g., shoes, and housewares? I would analyze it cultural-historically. In the case of cars, there is a tradition of craft that was kept alive for centuries, from coach-making to fashioning of automobile “skins.” Such a thing is very much dependent on a certain economic niche for survival. Ferrari and the other great marques are now part of large international conglomerates – will they perpetuate their traditions? They have such a small customer base that is willing to pay, perhaps they can.

      For all their brilliance, one cannot say that Italians retained their dominance over the production of art in the last century. Clearly, the blood will not always tell. Culture shifts rather quickly while blood does not.


      1. @Lichanos

        Commentator knows the ‘racial factor’ to me is meaningless. We have discussed it many times, and with you too as for the Roman Jews, remember?

        why do those Italians make such goddamn beautiful cars, among other things, e.g., shoes, and housewares?

        The answer is simple. And it is not the bloody ‘blood’, it is cultural transmission. The Romans met the Greeks. They were taught beauty. Beauty stuck in them and it was by them taught to the French, the Spanish etc. the south-west Germans. Period. Anglos have other virtues, perhaps more valuable. Beauty, they have a bit less.

        For all their brilliance, one cannot say that Italians retained their dominance over the production of art in the last century.

        They did not, but they had it from the days of ancient Republican Rome [update: when they met Italian Greeks, possibly from 285 BCE: Magna Graecia’s Turi (Apulia) menaced by Lucani asked for Rome’s help] up to the Roman Empire until 1700 CE perhaps [update: Canova, they were still the Mecca of music etc.] .

        Then they were overwhelmed although coming up now and then in bursts of light.

        The French tho were / are there, Latin America too (I am waiting for Brazil etc.)

        Other civilizations are now taking over as for non-related-to Greece-beauty (or a tiny bit, via Alexander the Great). The Indians, I mean, and Far Easterns are great producers of beauty. I saw the pictures of sweet (Bengali) Reema’s marriage. Well, I assure you, man … amazing!

        Cultural transmission is powerful. That to me is the museum thing. Innate things certainly exist. They are part of the museum too. But it takes an evolutionary scientist (who is a great polymath btw) to discuss that. If my daughters were adopted by Chinese parents since zero year old, what would remain in them of ‘non Chinese’? Colour of skin and body and some behavioural stuff. But I am not qualified to go any further. All I know is that races do not exist as we tend to think of them, not even as for larger categories like the proto-semitic and the proto-indoeuropean. Here again it is cultural transmission.


        1. Yes. I realize the way I framed the question was clumsy. Cultural transmission explains it better than “blood.” As Lichanos explains, too vague and leaves itself open to all sorts of “bad” things. Myth of the superhero and all that.

          Take your time, MOR. I know how you feel.


          1. I have replied a bit to him thence to u too. He talked of race, so I jumped off the chair and had to clarify a bit. I need some rest and reflection. Ciao


        2. If my daughters were adopted by Chinese parents since zero year old…

          My son was adopted from Korea when he was four months old. When he was a tot, people used to ask if he understood Korean. They said, “Oh, he’s Asian – he’ll be really smart!”

          They [Italians] did not, but they had it from …[ancient Rome] … until 1700

          Yes, that’s a pretty long run! True also, the Indians and Chinese have their own marvelous aesthetics that they have been refining for centuries. The Japanese are relative newcomers, but their cultural sense of beauty is extraordinary.


          1. Maybe not dominant, but, yes, Italy did continue to have movements of note.

            I point to the avant-garde artists – ideas of function over form and all that. In fact, Italian design has been ubiquitous in many fields and industries.

            Yes, Lichanos, these type of questions lead to the sort of things you highlighted. My friend has adopted two Korean kids and she’s heard some doozies herself. To her credit, she doesn’t get upset. She rationalizes it with a “they mean well” attitude.

            Nonetheless, I still think it’s something worth exploring. Equally interesting, while we can wonder about why certain nations dominate a roster of significant figures, why certain geographical areas were at the center of major and innovative activities.


  8. I have to completely disagree that laughter is more Roman…Greeks are always laughing and a very joyous people.
    Romans have a ( to me much funnier) sense of humour because of their cynical wit. for sure !..but it is completely untrue that the Greeks do not laugh the same in fact i heard far more uproarious laughter/ music and joyous conversation in Greece far more than when I was in Italy !


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