Mind & brain: Are they the same?

We are ‘aware of’ the mind, but we are not ‘aware of’ the brain, writes Dr Shrirang Bakhle

 Have you ever seen a school? Personally, I have never ‘seen’ a school! All I have seen are some buildings, some children and some adults. What is all this? And what has this got to do with mind and brain? Let me explain.

What is a ‘school’? Is it the building or the children or the men and women? The building may change. Children pass and leave the school. The men and women retire. And yet the ‘school’ remains! Even after all these have changed, we point and say, “This is my school’! So, what exactly is the school? The ‘school’ is ‘functional organisation’ of different ‘functional parts’. When does a room become a classroom? When does a child become a student? And, when do men and women become teachers and Principal etc.? The building, the children and the people are the physical parts. When each physical part does its function, it becomes a functional part. So, classroom, students and teachers are the functional parts.

When all these functional parts interact with each other, they form an organisation: the functional organisation. But it is important that all these functional parts interact with each other. A teacher has to teach and the students have to learn. And then this interaction can be called a school! Now, you tell me: Is it possible to ‘see’ a school? You can see the physical parts, but you cannot see the functional organisation called ‘school’ – the organisation that remains even if all the physical parts have changed. But you can understand what a school is.

And now, we come to our main topic of the day: What, exactly, is the mind? Is it the same as brain? What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Since millennia, this topic has been considered a philosophy topic. But now it is possible to describe mind and its relationship with the brain scientifically. With tremendous advances in Neuroscience, scientists have discovered that specific parts of the brain do specific functions. For example, there is a specific area of the brain that does the job of identifying faces. There is a specific area for recognizing movement. And so on.

All these parts can be considered as the physical parts. When each part of the brain performs its function, that becomes the functional part. For example, some parts of the brain produce emotions (happiness, sadness, fear and anger). Thus, emotions are the functional parts and the brain parts are the physical parts.

When all such functional parts – beliefs, wishes, emotions, mental abilities – interact, they form the organisation called the mind. A functional organisation is capable of receiving inputs and processing them to produce outputs. For example, the school receives ‘raw’ children. Then the school ‘processes’ them. The final output: ‘educated’ students. This is the job that the school is capable of.

The mind is a similar organisation. The mind receives so many inputs: everything that we see, hear, smell, touch becomes the input into the mind. The mind then processes all these. For example, right now, you are reading this article with your eyes. Your mind is processing it, understanding it. Similarly, our mind constantly receives inputs from the senses and keeps processing them – as we move around, talk, work and so on.

Thus mind is a functional organisation made up of different mind parts such as beliefs, wishes and emotions. All these mind parts are created by different brain parts.

In the case organisations, such as schools or companies, all the functional parts must interact with each other smoothly, cohesively. Only then will the organization function properly. If there is damage to any of the parts, the functioning of the organisation suffers. For example, if the teachers go on strike, the functioning of the school collapses.

Similarly, when different brain parts are damaged by illnesses, the mind parts, too, get damaged. So illnesses such as strokes that affect parts of the brain can lead to disturbances in the organisation of the mind. Then we can find problems in thinking or emotions of the patient.

Different brain parts can also be altered by chemicals such as alcohol and other drugs. When these chemicals reach specific brain parts, they lead to disturbances in the functioning of that part. For example, all of us are aware of alcohol-related changes in the functioning of the mind that are caused by chemical changes in some brain parts.

Sometimes, some problems develop in different parts of this organisation called mind. Some people become too sad, too anxious, etc. These are the mental problems. Thus, we can realise how the mind is created in the brain, but mind is not the same as brain. We are ‘aware of’ the mind but we are not ‘aware of’ the brain!

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