CONSCIOUSNESS BEYOND THE BRAIN

Mind and brain! This debate has been going on since the days of Aristotle and Plato. How do you differentiate between the brain and the mind? Is it the mind that never sleeps or is it the brain? What is responsible for the many dreams and nightmares you have? Love, fear, joy, sorrow, hatred- where do all these arise from? Why do you ‘feel’ an emotion? When you feel threatened, does your mind warn you or is it your brain? How really can you differentiate between the two?

 

The physical brain

The human brain has three principal structures. The largest structure called the cerebrum is the centre of intellectual understanding and reasoning. The second part is the cerebellum. This is responsible for maintaining balance. It is located in the back of the brain and makes sure you stand tall and don’t fall over. The last part is the medulla. This is a stem leading into the spinal cord, which is in charge of all the involuntary actions of the brain, like respiration. The three parts work together and contribute to the cognitive functioning, but this is not the mind. The mind is not a physical quantity.

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Some doctors theorise that memories in the brain are stored chemical structures, like in neural networks. On the other hand, some doctors are pointing to evidence of awareness in the brains of people, even after they were declared ‘dead’. If memories were merely a part of a network, then there should not exist any source of ‘awareness, right?

In the news

3 days ago, news of a paralysed man moving his hand with a microchip in his brain made the headlines. Bill Kochevar was left paralysed from the shoulder down after a cycling accident. Now he can feed himself in his wheelchair using a microchip in his brain. Doctors used a microchip that reads thoughts and translates them to the muscles, hence allowing motion of the limbs.

Now ask yourself this, is the functioning of the brain similar to the functioning of the mind? If your answer is no, then you are a duelist. You belong to a class of people who believe that the brain and mind are made of two different things.

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Duelists and Monoists

We, humans are material objects. We have solidity, weight and are composed of solids, liquids and gases. What sets us apart from other material objects is our ability to think and differentiate. In short, we all have ‘minds’. Typically, characterising humans as having a non-physical mind and a physical brain is called duelism. It views mind and body as separate entities.

Monoists on the other hand can be segregated into two types. Materialists believe that there is only a physical body and that mental processes are a function of the brain. According to them, mental processes can be identified with basic physical activities and that, humans are more physiologically complicated. Phenomenalists on the other hand, believe that physical objects and events can be reduced to mental objects and the mental object, or the mind, is the only thing that exists.

Debate on the difference

The mind is entirely about mental thoughts, processes and thinking activities. The body, on the other hand, is the physical aspect of the brain. This includes the neurons and the millions of cells which contribute to the functioning of the body. The problem or the debate arises because of one simple question- how do the brain and the mind interact or are they one and the same?

One of the central questions in psychology and philosophy concerning the mind- and- brain problem is: is the mind a part of the brain or the brain a part of the mind? If they are separate entities, how do they interact with each other? And who among the two is in charge of who? According to behaviourists and biologists, only one type of reality exists- that which we can see, touch and feel. They argue that the brain should ultimately be in the mind. That is, the behaviourists and biologists approach follows materialistic monoism.

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Hypnosis and hypnotism

When you hear the word hypnosis, the first image that pops into the head is that of a wizard in a long hat waving a pocket watch back and forth in front of the subject, guiding them into a semi-sleep, zombie- like state. This however has no resemblance to actual hypnotism.

Psychiatrists explain hypnosis as a trance state characterised by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It is comparable to day-dreaming or the feeling of losing yourself in a book or a movie. You are fully conscious, and merely tune out most of the stimuli around you. You exclude every other thought from your mind by focusing and concentrating intently on the subject at hand.

Dream on!

The mind can therefore be compared to a software allowing a variety of different programs to run. This can be compared to the different reactions you have when exposed to the same stimuli. In computer analogies, we have a new version of duelism, by which we can incorporate modern terms instead of the old, “I think, therefore I am!”

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