Tanzia Mustafa, MD
Human intelligence reached its pinnacle in the 21st Century. We have explored the depths of space and the ocean. We have made enormous advancement in medical and material sciences.
The only field of knowledge grappling with obstacles, is mental science. The origins of human intelligence and thought itself remains a mystery.
Before we can explore these ideas, it is important to establish the difference between the mind and the brain. The brain is the central organ from which the mind originates. The brain is a complex structure that governs the body and each section of the brain is designed to perform specific mental functions. Even when one of those sections of the brain is malfunctioning, the overall functions of the mind remain intact.
Think of the brain as a switch board for the mind. If a switch is off in one room of a house, that room will be dark but overall electrical functions of the house will remain intact. The brain works in a similar fashion.
Another way we can examine the mind/brain relationship is by thinking about it like a computer. A computer functions like a brain in many ways. Computers have varying components such as chips, microchips, wires and circuits, each physical component has a designated job. These individual pieces work together to retain and store information as well as process and retrieve data. However, a computer is not able to think, feel, perceive, or experience. The brain works in a similar manner. It is a tangible processor of information.
The human mind is an added layer over the brain which makes us capable of thought, emotion and perception of our everyday reality.
As per philosopher Rene Descartes, "I think, so I exist."
Many philosophers have attempted to define the mind in their works. Most noteworthy are insights of Aristotle, Descartes, Emmanuel Kant, and the Milesians.
If we analyze these philosophers’ various teachings we learn the following concepts:
Milesians, a school of thought founded in the sixth century, believed that everything originates from the identical source and has some mental processes, whether they are living or nonliving.
Aristotle, Descartes differentiated mental functions like perception, emotion, memory and imagination. The most canonical work accomplished by Descartes was distinguishing thinking as the core function of mind from its other functions like memorizing, processing information, and perceiving. Hence the phrase, " I think, so I exist." This is known as the mind-body dualism concept.
If we look at major religions of the world for answers regrading human mind and mental processes, we see most creeds declare the mind to be immortal. One religion describes mind and body functioning as two different realms. The mind functions from the realm of spirit and body functioning from the material plane. This supports Descartes dualism theory.
Moreover, some religions, especially monotheistic religions, divide human minds into two levels, lower mind and higher mind.
If we turn to modern science we see similar facts are emerging, which conflates the concepts we learned from the philosophers and from the world’s prominent religions.
1. Modern science describes the human mind as an electrical phenomenon, ie, electron running to and from. Electrons are subatomic particles which are unperishable. Century long observation on electrons showed no decay.
2. We have studied the anatomy and physiology of the brain. Many findings indicate higher, or executive, functions of the brain such as love, compassion, empathy, spirituality. Whereas our lower brain usually deals with our basic selfish needs, like hunger, sexual desire, and other pleasure principles.
Compiling that various theories and findings from these different branches of knowledge – philosophy, religion and modern science – we find a similar theme running through them and a centralized message. You can find more on commonalities among these sciences in my book “Spiritual Mechanics.”
The human brain and the human mind are vastly different structures. While we have a thorough understanding of the processing duties of the brain, we are still untrained in comprehending the power of the mind.
Tanzia Mustafa, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist of 15 years, affiliated with Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She is a faculty member and Assistant Clinical Professor at The State University of New York, Stony Brook.
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