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What is the Mind and What Is the Brain?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

In psychology and psychiatry, there is a lot of interest in and focus on the brain and how it functions. Research has shown that nerve cells or neurons in the brain and their chemicals, called neurotransmitters, affect how people feel and behave. If these neurotransmitters are out of balance, a person will feel depressed, anxious and possibly psychotic.

Psychology and psychiatry also speak of such concepts as personality, ego, mind, consciousness and the self. Are these things the same as the brain? If you think about it, the mind and self cannot be located anywhere in the brain or body. Where can consciousness be found and where does it come from? It may be said that they come from the brain but that does not answer the questions of where in the brain and how does the mind and consciousness come about?

Simply put, mind and brain are different. The brain is a physical organ of the body. It’s made up of 10 billion neurons along which messages travel with the help of neurotransmitters or brain chemicals produced by the body. The messages sent along the neurons stretch from different parts of the body and from the outside world. A person becomes aware of a stomach ache because the message is sent to the brain which then processes and registers the information. That allows us to take action. In the same way, the five sense organs send information about sound, taste, touch, smell and odor to the brain with the same result.

None of this important information about how the brain and body work tells us anything about the mind.

There are those philosophers who consider the mind as something that is different than the brain because it cannot be located as a physical entity. In other words, the mind is something greater than the brain, just as the gestalt psychologists say, “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. For some scholars this means that the mind may be thought of as something that has spiritual characteristics and that does not exist in the physical universe.

This is important because, if we are not limited by a physical organ such as the brain, we can learn, grow and change the way we are.
Think about it. Are you just your brain or are you something larger than that. Aren’t you capable of learning, growing and changing? I believe the answer is yes.

Who knows, maybe this concept of the mind as something separate from the brain, something with spiritual characteristics, means that a part of who we are transcends death because it continues to exist even when the brain and body die?

So, who are you? Where are you located?

What do you think? What are your opinions?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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