Why the Brain Creates the Mind
There is an unclear boundary between the terms “brain,” “mind,” and “consciousness.” From the early times, people try to solve the mystery behind these three words. Thanks to neuroscience, we have discovered the brain as a physical structure, and we are able to understand how structural changes to the brain affect our lives. However, we are not able to understand the nature of such fundamental ideas as consciousness or mind.
In the following article, I'll try to draw an explicit line between the terms "brain," "mind," and "consciousness." Understanding the difference can help us to understand the nature of our thoughts as well as limits and possibilities of psychological change. When we understand how thoughts are related to the brain and mind, we can stop blaming ourselves for hard to understand emotions and opinions. By understanding the nature of the Mind, we can see the line between our responsibility and free will and issues that are beyond our control.
Opinions on the Mind fall into two categories. Idealists, like Aristotle and Descartes, regard the Mind as a distinct entity from that of the body. On the other hand, the materialist view of modern neuroscience considers the Mind to be purely a product of the brain, with no clear margin between them. Less obvious is the fact that both approaches, in some way, equate consciousness (or one's sense of “Self” or “I”) with the notion of the Mind. But the unity of the terms “Mind” and “Consciousness” is where the blurriness begins. To understand the origin and purpose of the Mind requires liberation of the term “Mind” from the notion of “I.” By doing this, instead of a blurry understanding of the Mind, we end up with a clear concept of “Mind” and a blurry sense of the term “I,” which will undoubtedly remain a mystery for some time.
To understand the difference between the Mind and the notion of “I,” we have to use a bit of imagination and the right metaphor. The metaphor I'll use here is the computer screen. Computer science calls the computer screen the “Layer of Interaction” because it is the interface through which the user interacts with the computer. The screen shields the user from the intimate details of computer architecture and functionality and presents only the information relevant to the user.
We don't have to be familiar with the complex inner-workings of a computer, such as how it uses a processor or how it retrieves content from the Internet, in order to achieve functionality. The computer uses metaphors. Windows and buttons are such metaphors. The computer creates them for us so we can use its functionality.
The Mind is similar to a computer screen in that it is the layer of interaction provided for us by the brain. There is a one-to-one relationship between the computer and the brain and between the screen and the Mind.
To better illustrate this relationship, consider the emotion of love. The experience of love is driven by our brain, genes, and hormonal system. The brain performs a checklist on the people we encounter to mark those who pass as a potential love/life partner (evaluating pupil dilation, skin color, body smell, and posture) and combines that information with our past personal and human experiences encoded in our genes, needs, and traumas. The sensation of love is how the brain notifies us of the outcome of its “desire formula.” If everything matches, the brain creates the sensation of love and projects it on the Mind―the screen of our brain. Love is the metaphor the Mind uses to hide the biochemistry behind the sensation. The “I” remains the same in the case of the computer screen example and the example of the sense of love.
The “I” is the entity that is aware of and can actively work with the content of the Mind.
We also use the Mind to communicate our intentions to the brain. What happens when we decide to grab a glass of water? Do we think of which muscles to activate? Do we think of the electrical impulses the brain has to send to activate those muscles? Do we think of the synchronization of impulses needed in order to move the muscles in the right sequence?
The only act needed to move one’s hand, in this case, is to make an intention. The brain receives a decision and breaks it down into steps. Every move has to be precisely calculated and synchronized with other moves. The whole idea of grabbing a glass of water is broken down into hundreds of electrical impulses. When communicating from consciousness to the brain, the Mind acts as a decomposition layer.
We need mental structures like the Mind to hide the complex processes of the brain and provide us with simple, easy-to-understand outcomes. We don't need to perceive all the biochemical processes within the brain or understand how the brain internally records and stores information. The only thing we need is a way for the brain to communicate the results of those processes and findings to us.
Just as a computer manifests itself through the screen, the brain manifests itself through the Mind in the form of emotions, pictures, and opinions.
The provided description of the nature and purpose of the Mind leaves space for the scientific exploration of brain processes. It also provides space to include the unknowns of our psyche and spiritual experiences.
For me, the relationship between the brain and the Mind is not a metaphysical one. We do not see behind the curtain of our Minds. The Mind is a product of the brain with a clear purpose. The Mind is not consciousness, and it is not a process of thinking either. The Mind is the playground where consciousness, using the tools of cognition, plays with the metaphors of the brain.