Is the mind separate from the brain. Understanding biological influences on behavior often makes me pause. It is so counter intuitive and interesting to think that the brain underlies our thoughts, feelings, and actions. If someone suffers from some serious brain damage, they often will experience a profound change in thoughts, feelings, or actions, for example. When researchers have manipulated the brain, they find that individuals will experience new and sometimes unexpected thoughts, feelings, and activities. This has led many biological scientists to conclude that the brain determines thoughts, feelings, and actions. I can totally understand why someone might draw this conclusion.
However, I often have wondered how to reconcile the biologically deterministic view with the idea that we are free to choose our thoughts and actions. One way that I have framed this in my mind is to question whether there is a mind separate from the brain. That is, is there a non-physical part of us (mind, soul, or spirit) that is capable of choosing our thoughts and actions, separate to some extent from the brain? Clearly, this part of us does not exist entirely separate from the brain, as suggested by brain science, and as mentioned above, but might there be a mind that is connected, but not completely reducible to, a brain Is the mind separate from the brain
Treatment of diseases of the brain by drugs or surgery necessitates an understanding of its structure and functions. The philosophical neurosurgeon soon encounters difficulties when localising the abstract concepts of mind and soul within the tangible 1300-gram organ containing 100 billion neurones. Hippocrates had focused attention on the brain as the seat of the mind. The tabula rasa postulated by Aristotle cannot be localized to a particular part of the brain with the confidence that we can locality spoken speech to Broca’s area or the movement of limbs to the contralateral motor cortex. Galen’s localization of imagination, reasoning, judgement and memory in the cerebral ventricles collapsed once it was evident that the functional units–neurons–lay in the parenchyma of the brain.
Experiences gained from accidental injuries (Phineas Gage) or temporal lobe resection (William Beecher Scoville); studies on how we see and hear and more recent data from functional magnetic resonance studies have made us aware of the extensive network of neurones in the cerebral hemispheres that subserve the functions of the mind. The soul or atman, credited with the ability to enliven the body, was located by ancient anatomists and philosophers in the lungs or heart, in the pineal gland (Descartes), and generally in the brain. When the deeper parts of the brain came within the reach of neurosurgeons, the brainstem proved exceptionally delicate and vulnerable. The concept of brain death after irreversible damage to it has made all of us aware of ‘the cocktail of brain soup and spark’ in the brainstem so necessary for life. If there be a soul in each of us, surely, it is enshrined here.
You might wonder, at some point today, what’s going on in another person’s mind. You may compliment someone’s great mind, or say they are out of their mind. You may even try to expand or free your own mind.
But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?
Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.
No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of a recently published book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.
He first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those wrestling with the question across these fields.
After much discussion, they decided that a key component of the mind is. “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” It’s not catchy. But it is interesting, and with meaningful implications. The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions.