Marc Salem


How did you become interested in the workings of the mind?

Even as a child, the mind and how it worked, fascinated me. I would have my younger brother sit in dark rooms and think of numbers and I would try to get them. Certainly, I would try to understand why people said things based on a given situation or a given time, and try to understand through their tone of voice, or the way they moved, the things they were thinking about! I love to go to train stations and airports. To me they are places of endless fascination. There you have a bunch of strangers coming and going - happy moments, sad moments, going who knows where - to a vacation or a funeral - are they greeting people they're glad to see, or is this some sort of tribulation? Look at them from a distance, so you don't hear words, you just see the information that they're giving off.

I did my undergraduate and graduate work constantly studying the mind, psychology and communication research. I worked with The Children's Television Workshop as Director of Research working to understand the developmental areas of the mind and, at the same time, what kinds of messages are most effectively processed by kids. Is it better to teach something through a song? A poem? A cartoon or a piece of live-action footage? How do we learn? How do we make meaning out of the world? To a large extent, I think that's our job as human beings; that's what we do from the moment we're born: to make meaning. The more you learn, the more you see a different world. The more you open yourself up to literature, to books, to science, to fiction, whatever it may be; the more your world is going to change.

So I love theatre, I love psychology, I love the mind! I took all of those and combined them. I worked my way through graduate school doing a Mind Games type of program. I was constantly growing, rebuilding it, and changing it. And so here we are!


Something you said struck me, about going to an airport to watch people's body language - that's an exercise an actor may do. There is a sense in what you do of the theatre, but what would you call yourself? You're a performer, but somehow something more -

I'm a performer, but I'm also a teacher. In many ways, I think every good teacher is an entertainer, and the best of entertainment, I think, teaches. Am I much different in the theatre than in my classroom? I don't think so. The sense of play, the sense of astounding with new ideas is the same - it's part of what a teacher does. Eli Wallach, one of the founders of the Actor's Studio, said "that is how every actor should see." He's talking about the nuances an actor has to see in other people to be able to integrate them into himself. So while teaching I am perhaps theatrical, in the theatrical context I am somewhat educational!


What do you teach?

I teach non-verbal communication, group dynamics, organizational psychology, behavior and principals and theories in communication research. In other words, all the areas that deal with how we make meaning, how thoughts are conveyed. I always find it so fascinating when people say, "Nobody can read thoughts." And I answer, "Don't you do it every day?" If someone nods their head, you're reading their thought. If someone is crying, you know they're sad. Most of what we convey to other people isn't what's said, it's how we say it. I'm afraid we lose touch with that sometimes.


You have an image of the brain on your set, but that's not what we think of as "the mind. " What's your definition of the mind?

Think of it this way - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The mind is what all of our body put together provides us with in terms of feeling, thinking and knowing. You can say it's in the brain, but I could say if I removed your heart you wouldn't have a mind either, you'd die! Our organs are interdependent with each other. The healthier you are, the healthier your mind is. The mind is your wits, your wisdom, your playfulness, your perceptions.


A neurologist I know told me that the study of cardiology a hundred years ago is where we are now in the study of the brain and the mind. What is the future of the study of the mind?

I think the more information that we get in a new variety of forms, the more new thinking patterns we're going to have. I recently read a report that said that I.Q. tests are going up. I think our intelligence is increasing; I do think we are getting more sensitive to other people. I think we are on the verge of people being able to think electronic devices to work. There are pilots in the Mid East today who know how to think their controls, because it takes too long to do it by hand. Remember, your brain sends off little bits of electromagnetic energy. We're so close to breakthroughs of what a hundred years ago would have been called telekinesis - I walk into a room, I think the light on, and it goes on!

But that's the brain, just a bunch of neurons and synapses firing. Where could the mind go in the future? The great mystery of the mind is that we're only limited by what we perceive. We are reaching areas, in physics and other sciences, where the metaphysical meets the scientific.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become more sensitive to the workings of the mind?

Well, one thing we don't do is listen. I think one thing people can do is realize there's a difference between listening and hearing. Consume all information around you. Read with a passion. As shy as you may be, force yourself to be gregarious. Meet people - what good is all that knowledge if you're not interacting? We're social animals, and a lot of people who turn to books are often times closed off. Interacting with other people, hearing what they have to say and seeing what the world has to offer. Never, ever stop learning.

Don't forget, ideas are fun. The mind is the most fun part of your entire body, even if you don't know where it is!

Copyright © 2008 Marc Salem. All rights reserved.