Your Mind & Your Brain

Your Mind & Your Brain

The Brain is Complicated!
The Brain is Complicated!

Your mind and your brain. Is your mind floating about in there somewhere inside your brain? Your brain as an organ at the top of your body, inside your head. When one thinks about them separately like this it feels like they’re different things. This way of imagining how we fit together as a person is not an accident. It was planned and devised deliberately a long time ago. Like having printed books and gears that mesh and turn, things and ways of thinking are invented and then stick around for a long time. After a few centuries we don’t even think about them anymore. They just are, they’re part of our lives. And everybody, at least almost everybody in the Western World, thinks this way. But here’s the thing. It’s not true! It just a shared version of the world. We’ve all agreed to believe this is true.

Who Invented the Separate Mind, Brain, and Body? And, Why?

René Descartes has gotten the credit for inventing this way of understanding how individuals are put together. Though he didn’t really invent it. A few others thought this way for millennia before Descartes. Recall that Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone. It was invented first by Elisha Gray, and even others before him. And Guglielmo Marconi didn’t invent the radio, Nicola Tesla did. But while Descartes might not have been the first with the idea of a separate mind and body, he was nonetheless the guy who sold it to the world of medieval Europe. René Descartes was a French philosopher who lived from 1596 to 1650. This was the period when the astronomer Galileo Galilei, the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and Blackbeard the Pirate were alive.

Why Did René Descartes Promote the Separation of Mind and Body?

Descartes was trying to prove the existence of God. We need to mention at this point that in medieval Europe the mind and the soul were pretty much thought of as the same thing. So what he was saying was that the soul and/or the mind is separate from the body. He believed that the mind and body were different because he thought that the mind/soul could exist without the body but the body could not exist without the mind/soul. In his view of the world, the mind or soul was capable of thinking while the body was made up of matter that could not think. This conceptual framework allowed science to study the physical world and assigned the soul/mind to religions as immortal. Descartes thought he had solved a problem.

But Cartesian Dualism Didn’t Solve the Problem

Descartes’ idea that the soul and the body are separate is called Cartesian Dualism. It refers to the dual parts: mind and body. Though Descartes thought of his ideas as new and never before considered, in fact, the puzzle of how we as individuals are put together had been discussed for at least two thousand years. And, while he stirred up a great deal of interest in who we are, he really didn’t solve the question. He did again raise public awareness of the question. The debate over whether we are of two parts, one temporary and one immortal, has continued through the past four hundred years. It’s the Mind-Body problem.

A Reader Asks:

Who cares?

A great question, and the point is well made. Many people don’t care, and that’s fine. But there are inquisitive people who want to know how we’re put together. Dr. Darko knows a 36 year old woman who recently read a book on autism and wondered then if she was autistic. Of course she wasn’t, but this successful professional woman was searching, questioning, how is she put together as a person. She empathized with some of the struggles of people with autism, confronted by a puzzling world. So, those who care about the mind and the body really do care. And it affects the choices people make. Will taking a medication for depression help? Or, will psychotherapy help more? Will anything help or is it just human nature to be depressed? Maybe how we’re put together doesn’t matter until we start to feel we’re not put together very well.

The Problem Part: Saying It With Soul

The ideas of mind and soul were not very different in medieval Europe. And for many it’s still not a clear distinction. So it can become a problem to talk about his area and start talking about the immortal soul. Especially if someone is religious, saying the soul and the body are one unit can really upset them. It’s easier to get everyone to agree if you say that the body and the soul are separate. But then, are the body and the mind the same or separate? These days, in 2021, where do you draw the line between the mind and the soul? This is the part that makes some people very upset, that is, whether the mind is separate from the soul.

Watching Our Brains in ActionYour Mind & Your Brain

With the miracles of medical science we can now watch people think and feel emotions. We can watch our brains in action. A huge amount of scientific research has been published during the past twenty years. One can make images of the brain working, the brain as it works. It’s possible to actually see the brain solve arithmetic problems. We’re able to see our living brains as we react to images and feel emotions. Many images can be taken quickly over time and then can be fit together as “movies” of our brains while they are working, that is, while they are thinking thoughts and feeling emotions.

Seeing Thoughts and FeelingsYour Mind & Your Brain

So these brain images spliced together into movies allow us to see our human thoughts and feelings. Really, it’s true. And here’s what has been discovered. Every time you think a thought, every time you feel an emotion, your brain is working. When you review your credit card statement, when you watch your children play, when you enjoy a good meal, circuits in your brain light up with activity. Specific areas and circuits go into high gear, depending on what are the thoughts and emotions. The brain’s nerve cells are active, using energy, sparking with electricity, pumping out chemical transmitters to talk to other cells. We now have been able to record these moving images of brain activity.

Heart and Soul, I Fell in Love With You…

“Heart and soul, I fell in love with you…” is a line form a song, and we offer due apology to Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, who wrote the song in 1938. This part of this topic is another area that can stir some individuals to object. As we said above, people understandably are sensitive about their immortal soul. They don’t want science types messing with the part of them that’s going to heaven (or not). Where does our heart come into play, heart meaning feelings, not that pumping organ in your chest? And the difference among the heart, the mind, and the soul can start to feel pretty vague at times, pretty abstract, to many people. They feel, and rightly so, that, “I know what’s in my heart and it’s not the same as what’s in my brain.”

This Is Not Science vs. ReligionYour Mind & Your Brain

As you’re starting to understand, when these topics come up many people run for safety, saying, “You’re arguing science vs. religion!” Not so. All this medical science is not an argument against religion. We at the Neuroscience Research and Development Consultancy value our immortal souls as much as you do. Science has no way to study or talk about souls or religious beliefs. It’s likely, or at least quite possible, that this whole other spiritual world exists, heaven, immortal soul, hell, and so on. (It is interesting, however, that everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.)

But the Scans See What They SeeYour Mind & Your Brain

Brain scanning machines go by many big names. Magnetic resonance imagers (MRI images). Computed tomography (CT or CAT scans). Positron Emission Tomography (PET scans). Magnetoencephalography (MEG images). Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NRIS scans). Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT scans). But all these big names for big machines are simply recording devices. It’s like taking a video with your mobile phone. It just records what the camera lens sees. The fact that God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world does not change what scientists around the world have discovered and seen. That is, every time you think a thought, every time you feel an emotion, some part of your brain is working, and working in a way that we can see. The active areas of your brain light up on a scanner. It’s there. It’s real.

But the Scans Don’t and Can’t “Read Your Mind”

Are you telling me that doctors can read my mind with a brain scanner? Nope! Happily, it’s not possible to read anyone’s mind. And not to let any cats out of any bags, but we at the Neuroscience Research and Development Consultancy would be really upset if brain scan machines could read our mind and tell what we’re thinking. The scanner can tell what part of your brain lights up when you think a thought or feel an emotion, but the scanner cannot tell what you’re thinking or what you’re feeling. Thank God that part is very private.

But, Maybe Medical Science Can Read Your Mind a Bit?

All that privacy stuff said and agreed, medical science might have a window into the brain more than we thought possible. In 2016, the National Geographic Channel carried a documentary with actor Morgan Freemen as host, entitled The Story of God. In Season 1, Episode 4 Morgan Freeman met with a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Andrew B. Newberg, MD. Dr. Newberg has created a field of study called neurotheology, the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences.

Neurotheology: Does it Sound Spooky, or Great, or Scary?

In the list above we mentioned a type of brain scan machine called Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography, or SPECT for short. With a SPECT brain scan Dr. Andrew Newberg measures blood flow in brain areas during mental activities. In his scans, when truly religious people, believers in God (for example, Franciscan nuns in prayer, or Tibetan Buddhist monks while meditating) were scanned, the brain’s frontal lobes became more active during their spiritual mediations. But, when an atheist who was a long-term, experienced meditator was scanned there was no similar increase in frontal lobe activity. The individual who did not believe in God was not able to activate the structures usually involved in meditation on God, even when he was focusing on the concept of God.

To Get To The Bottom Line on This Topic We Need to Visit Automotive History

Yes, it’s true. We really need to take this digression. We need to take a short side trip into the history of automotive construction. A hundred years ago engineers would build a vehicle frame, a metal square with the four wheels, holding the engine and transmission. A coachmaker, who used to make horse-drawn carriages, would make the car’s body, with seats and windows and such niceties. The car body would be bolted onto the car’s frame. Starting about seventy years ago, maybe a bit more, car makers started making the car all in one piece, not a separate coach and chassis. This was called a unitized body, or unibody, construction. We are like this. We have a mind and a body and often they are thought of as separate. They aren’t. We are all one piece, not a separate brain/mind and body. We are made with unibody construction.

The Problem with Medical Specialties

In the early days of medicine, and still mostly still now, it’s easier to study one organ system at a time. And the doctors interested in each systemt worked together. So evolved cardiologists to study hearts, gastroenterologists to study stomachs, endocrinologists to study glands, rheumatologists to study bones and joints, and so on. And psychiatrists and neurologists to study brains and nervous systems. But this is not reality. These are scientific training wheels on a child’s first bicycle. We are unibody construction. And eventually medicine will get there.

Helpful Links:

National Center for Biotechnology Information on Neuroimaging in Anxiety Disorders

PubMed Central, National Library of Medicine on Neuroimaging the Effects of Psychotherapy

Mass General Hospital Psychiatry Research on Mindfulness and Brain Grey Matter

UCLA Newsroom on Feelings into Words Effects on the Brain

Progress in Neurobiology on Neuroimaging of Emotional Self-Regulation

University of Colorado, Boulder on Thoughts as Things

American Psychological Association on Scanning the Brain

Andrew B. Newberg, MD on the Nature of Theology

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