A little while ago I commented briefly on the Theory of Mental Thermodynamics , the brainchild of Joseph Richard Crant . Let us comment again on this subject so that we may understand his view of the process of mental thermodynamics, and also examine where the process may break down, causing problems. Specifically, let us examine how abusive and intrusive events such as trauma may lead paradoxically to mental growth but also to great stress on the mind. An understanding of this paradox can help us understand how some creative people (writers and musicians, for example) can be strong in some parts of mental health and weak (or “troubled”) in others.
According to the theory of Mental Thermodynamics, all events are singular and “absurd,” and the mind saying “no” to the experience is what begins the process of internal dialogue. This first state of mental thermodynamics is “chaos,” the state where one’s internal perception of reality is violated by external reality. In particular, let us note that events which disturb the mind’s internal equilibrium are likely to be perceived as traumatic. These could be experiences in warfare, dealing with rape or sexual abuse, the death of a relative, the loss of a job, or any event which is seen as unjust and unfair. Therefore, at the base of mental thermodynamics we have the traumas of life, some of the relatively “ordinary,” and some of them deeply troubling on multiple levels. The traumas of our life give us the raw material for mental (and spiritual) growth but also the seeds of great psychological trouble. Handled well, they can make us far stronger and wiser than we could be normally. Handled poorly, they can cripple us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. More often we can handle some aspects better than others, and so we show some elements of great strength and others of great weakness.
Once the mind accepts the reality of the trauma (and is no longer in denial or shock) the second state of mental thermodynamics begins. This state is called entanglement, and it represents the physical-emotional sense response to the traumatic event. These feelings are often very intense, and very mixed. There are a host of dangers attached to this stage. If the feelings are too overwhelming, the intensity of grief may actually shut down the body and mind’s ability to cope or process the overwhelming feelings. This walling away of emotions can cause long-term and crippling damage to not only the person (which may be manifested in an increase of blood pressure, crippling migraine headaches, autoimmune difficulties like chronic fatigue or Morgellons, and eventually death by heart attacks or strokes) but also to the person’s abilities to make and form lasting relationships with others. Additionally, problems can result if the person decides to cope with the trauma by becoming less sensitive to the world around, which can cause dangers from a lack of ability to recognize and respond to threats. When trauma comes from the family, children in particular may feel it is too dangerous to recognize the permanent state of threat and thus engage in double-think and denial strategies to cope with the constant danger without having to think about it. This refusal to ruminate—to struggle with the reality—prevents mental growth and healing from occurring because it shuts off the possibility of accepting reality. This is the first gate that must be passed to lead to restoration of equilibrium and contentment.
Once the mind has passed that gate and committed itself to wrestling with the problem, the third state, or commitment, is reached. In this state the mind wrestles over and over again with the problem seeking to defeat it by understanding it. The mind mulls over various ways of dealing with the problem in an internal debate, seeking to understand the reason and the purpose for it all. There are a few dangers in this stage of dealing. For one, the mind can be exhausted in dealing with it and loses commitment to keep wrestling, which forces the mind back on the previous gate’s problem of denial. Another difficulty is that at this stage the pain of dealing and wrestling with the problem is very acute—there are often very serious and very unpleasant implications of one’s ruminations, and often people try to dull the pain by medicating it away with alcohol and drugs, or distract it away with work or pleasure addictions. This leads to other abuse problems that merely complicate the initial one. It is at this stage that one finds many activists and writers—wrestling publicly and openly with their problems, without resolution but also without trying to escape from the force of the trauma or the ugly questions it raises.
The fourth state is rest. This state is reached when the mind finds closure or acceptance of the truth and gains insight from the trauma. No longer is it a raw wound sensitive to the touch, but it is a pearl of great price formed from the intrusive sand that for so long troubled the heart, mind, body, and spirit of the person. Through much (hard) work the mind reaches contentment and acceptance and there can be the enjoyment of wellbeing and health, as the trauma is no longer causing collateral damage. To reach this state, with any trauma, is to gain an accomplishment of making sense of what happened and putting it in its proper place. Once it troubles the mind no more, the mind can reach a new equilibrium. Many people fail, for whatever reason, to reach this point. Nonetheless, this is our goal with each trial and each trauma that we face in our lives.
This model provides a reason why some people may show up better on some measures of mental health than on others. For example, those who remain sensitive and responsive to the outside world will show up as being more “open” than those who have shut themselves off from painful and unpleasant realities. They will correspondingly show up as more healthy. Those who ruminate on the unpleasant aspects of life, like oysters trying to keep the sand at the core of a pearl from bothering them, will show up as healthier than those who engage in doublethink or other strategies of self-deception. However, until acceptance and closure is reached, all of those people will show some (perhaps serious) measures of mental and emotional stress as well. Perhaps they will be wrestling with chronic depression, or PTSD, or some other such disease.
This particular model offers some major conceptual possibilities, as well as the chance to quantify the “work” of the mind in terms of thermodynamics, allowing what has been until now a very nebulous and vague field to be quantified. There are a few questions that would need to be answered before such a theory could be seen as verified, at least in part. For example, what is the picture of a mind in each state? What parts of the brain are working and active during the states of chaos, entanglement, commitment, and rest? How can one quantify how strong a trauma is, or how “entangled” (or sensitive) someone is to their outside surroundings? How can one quantify how much work a brain does to ruminate about an unpleasant subject so that it an be understood? These tasks remain to be solved, and until they do mental thermodynamics will remain an interesting concept, but not something that can be seen as scientifically verified. Nonetheless, they remain at least within the realm of possibility of verification or falsification, or of tweaking in case it should be necessary to add other terms.