The Brain Is Not The Mind


What Is The Mind?

It is a well-accepted understanding that no one knows what the mind is. However, over and over again authors write about the mind and the brain as synonyms. The brain is a physical property; we can see it, measure it and study it using the scientific method. But the brain is not the mind. We cannot study the mind with the scientific methods of today that involve observation and hypothesizing. We can’t observe the mind and we have to use our minds to hypothesize about the mind. It is our minds that dream up the questions and seek out the answers. (Doesn’t this create a double bind?)

Since we can’t observe the mind, this has caused neuroscience to study the mind by studying what it can observe — the brain. Recently the popular literature has been full of books about neuroscience research on the brain using the new scientific tool, fMRI. The reported implications and generalizations of these studies have been amazing — and controversial. Because, don’t forget, the brain is not the mind.

Today there are a lot of books criticizing these neuroscience implications and generalizations.  For example, in his 2013 book, A Skeptic’s Guide To The Mind, Robert Burton says, “While some neuroscience observations are real advances, others are overreaching, wrongheaded, self-serving, or just plain ridiculous.”

Since 1995, human consciousness (the conscious and unconscious mind) has been called “the hard problem of science”. Today it is becoming the possible impossible problem. Robert Burton suggests: “What’s sorely needed is a long-term method of contemplating the relationship between the brain and the mind that will not be made obsolete by the next study or observation.”

Understanding the mind is like understanding gravity. No one knows exactly what gravity is or the state in which it exists. Gravity is presently only known to us through its effects, not by any direct observation independent of its effects. The mind, like gravity, is presently only known to us through its effects. And we do know something about its effects. What I have been writing about, creative decision making, positive uncertainty, and the process of illumination, is about the effects of the mind. I am not the only one.

But I am not optimistic about a long-term scientific method to study the relationship between the brain and the mind. Employing the subjective mind to study the subjective mind is not a science of objectivity. Maybe we should accept the mind the way we accept gravity and continue to gain our understanding by studying its effects.

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2 Responses to The Brain Is Not The Mind

  1. Gene Unger says:

    H, it’s like thinking about God. No God, no mind. No mind ,no think. Could a brain come from an explosion? A mind? The mind of God? Can’t say no! Closed mind thinking. Yes, closed mind thinking? Let it be and pretend that we know what we’re thinking about. Know? How can we know anything? Love , anger, hate, depression , elation . States of mind not states of brain. So,Will we understand brain function? Fully? Not likely, the mind runs the show,——- you know. P.s. watching the Giants ,mindless . Pss see you Tuesday .Psss how’s Whitie? Gene I think Sent from my iPad

  2. carl e thoresen says:

    Hi All,
    I don’t think there’s room for holding on any black/white answers about brain and mind, despite the demanding ways we crave answers of true or false, right or wrong. Gazzaniga 2011
    ( Who’s in Charge?) argues most neuroscientists believe they will be able to show eventually how the brain ENABLES the mind to exist in a upward causal pathway, in a very deterministic manner. Instead he disagrees arguing in his Gifford Lecture it’s not that simple. Rather than the brain enabling mind, it is the emerging mind that CONSTRAINS the brain. In this way mind and brain interact in a very mutually dependent manner. No brain, no mind/ no mind, no brain. Just as traffic emerges from cars, traffic does ultimately constrains cars. In that way mind constrains the brain that generated it. No one knows how the mind first emerged, perhaps long ago it emerged from a big bang of its own.
    Some argue that mind is flat out beyond scientific study. I like Firestein’s ( Ignornace,2012) metaphor of science in its seeking to reduce ignorance applied to mind/brain issues. He suggests science at it’s best starts with “conscious” ignorance, not willful ignorance ( I’ve already made up my mind!). He suggests real science is like entering a completely black room looking for a black cat, not sure it’s even in the room.
    I do believe facets of mind ( feelings, thoughts, images…) can be documented. Actually religious mystics were students of their minds down through the ages, dating back to at least 1500 -2000 BCE spanning all 5 major religions. Huston Smith wrote about the commonality of these early “scientists” in the sense of their recording specific experiences.
    We need to remember creative curiosity is the hallmark of science, not its current explanations and facts, none of which survive. Whitehead back in 1920’s talked about science’s facts keeping like fish.

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