What is the difference between mind and brain?

The question about the difference between mind and brain has been debated by scientists, theologians and philosophers for centuries. The functions of the mind and the brain are so interwoven that it is hard to separate them, despite the fact that the brain has a definite shape and can be seen and touched. The mental health, psychiatric and medical professions all use different definitions of the mind.

Some people believe that the mind exists independently of the brain and others believe that it does not.   Interesting studies of people who have undergone traumatic brain injury or who were born without certain parts of the brain add to the debate about the complexities.

Take, for example, the  44-year old man who went to the doctor in 2007 because he was experiencing  weakness in his left leg. When he was 6 months old he had a shunt installed because he was suffering from postnatal hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). He was now a married father of two, working as a civil servant. He had no idea anything was wrong with his brain but scans showed that his lateral ventricles were so filled with liquid that the rest of the brain had been replaced, leaving only a thin layer of neurons.  He was a normal, functioning human being although he lacked vital brain regions.

A  case was reported in 2014 of a woman who is missing her cerebellum. Despite the fact the the cerebellum contains about half the brain cells, this woman lives a normal life and is married with a child.  She only experiences minor issues such as clumsiness.

It would appear from stories like this that brain functions are supported by many regions instead of just one and that if one structure breaks down or is missing, others are able to step in and take over. The brain doesn’t function like technology where one part has one function. Very slowly, over time, the functions of defective or missing parts seem to be taken up the other areas.

brainThe brain looks rather like a huge walnut. The skull is like the shell of the walnut, protecting the soft brain inside. The organ is quite heavy and by the age of six it has reached its full weight. It is the control center of the body, receiving and sending messages to and from all parts of the body.

The brain can be seen as an incredible machine that responds according to the signals it receives. Some people liken the brain to a vehicle and the mind to the driver of the  vehicle. Others say the brain is like the hardware and the mind is like the software. Another way of looking at it is to see the mind and the brain as two different frameworks.  It’s a complex issue that the greatest thinkers throughout the ages have debated and none of the illustrations used to try and explain the difference between the two adequately capture the complexity.

More understanding of how the brain functions is of the utmost importance for developing treatments for illnesses such as schizophrenia, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.  The technology being used to study the brain is improving daily and understanding of the brain as a physical organ is increasing by leaps and bounds. More understanding of the realm of the mind that holds our desires, beliefs, attitudes, emotions and perceptions is equally important if we are to understand what drives our behavior as human beings.







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