Examining the True Nature of Consciousness: Our Brain is Not Our Mind
There’s a fundamental question that’s been asked for ages – are our brain and our mind the same thing? If not, what’s the difference?
First, let’s take a look at the standard definition of mind: “The element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Now let’s look at how they define brain: “An organ of soft nervous tissue contained in the skull of vertebrates, functioning as the coordinating center of sensation and intellectual and nervous activity.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
The first aspect you’ll notice is that the definitions are very different. The second aspect is that the mind focuses more on thoughts and feelings, while the brain focuses more on physical features.
There is no doubt that what we are thinking originates in the brain, but are the mind and the brain the same thing? Is there more to our consciousness then just the firing of neurons across soft tissue?
Most people use mind and brain interchangeably. The truth is that in order for them to be the same, the mind needs to be made up entirely from the brain. In reality, our mind does not care what our brain thinks. Psychologists think that the mind can actually control our brain.
Our Mind Can Smile
A great example of how the mind and the brain are actually two different components is by examining our ability to smile.
“For example, your brain will interpret the muscles you use to smile as a sign of happiness, even if you are sad. Thus, you can trick the brain into thinking you are happy by placing a pencil in your mouth and biting down on it, because you use the same muscles. Likewise, cortisol levels that habituate slowly are misread as the continuing presence of threat, even though the threat does not exist. This is problematic for the brain, which has not evolved much; it is not problematic for the mind, which constantly changes.” – Billi Gordon, Ph.D.
This is what really separates the two. Our mind is something that is constantly evolving based on feelings and experiences. The brain is only there to interpret these things and provide feedback. This means that the mind is really about our desires and the subconscious self. We can form opinions and change them without any input from the brain. This is why there are mental health benefits from just changing our habits.
Right and Wrong
Our mind and the brain cannot possibly be the same as they do not share the same attributes. The brain is highly physical in nature. It can process physical pain, which helps us react to danger. It can process light to ensure our eyes operate at optimal efficiency.
However, the brain cannot decide whether or not to walk, to work or ride a bicycle. It cannot decide if you should call your mother this weekend or not. In fact, the brain cannot make any decisions. The brain is like a computer that simply takes input and provides an output.
Decisions are emotional, not logical. Our brain may store the information, but it is up to the mind how to use it.
Our brain cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. It is up to our mind to sort that out. The brain simply takes physical inputs and translates them. Much like the smile example above, the mind is able to manipulate the brain. If you can change your mind on whether or not something is right or wrong, your brain will react accordingly, even if the outcome is identical.
For example, if you made up your mind to push someone over for no reason, your mind knows this is wrong, and you will feel bad. These feelings are communicated to the brain, which causes you to physically feel sadness, regret, etc.
If you push someone over to help them avoid getting hit by a train, your mind knows that this is right, and you will feel good. These feelings are communicated to the brain, which causes you to physically feel joy, happiness, etc.
Even though the exact same action and result occurred physically, your brain processed them in two different ways and sends two different signals to your body. What affected these different responses was in the mind, through the decision you made.
July 8, 2019