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The Relationship Of Mind To Brain

The Relationship Of Mind To Brain

Conceptualizations and theories of mind differ as a function of chronological time, religious belief and culture as well as ancient and modern philosophies. In early theoretical accounts of mind (Plato and Aristotle and, later, the medieval philosophers) mind was associated with soul, itself being considered immortal and divine. Most accounts, including modern views, characterize mind as thought and consciousness in the context of experience and environment. That the mind is often considered a property of the private self as is evident in such popular expressions such as "make up my mind", "change my mind" and "know my mind". Memory, attention, logic, insight, problem-solving, the ability to communicate and, depending on the theory, emotion, depression and unconscious processes are among the main characteristics of mind.

The relationship of mind to brain is evident in all discussions of mind, and most recently in psychiatric and neuroscientific discourse. Cognitive science and neuroscience are presently engaged in understanding how brain processes, behavior and cognition interact. Cognitive neuroscience is actively involved in investigating how human beings, active and thinking organisms, use their brains to achieve their goals and fulfill their needs in the context of complex and changing environments. This research shows inextricable links between cognition, which is considered to be mind-based, and environment and between cognition and action, which is considered to be physically based[1]. Recent fMRI research [2] shows that specific aspects of basic sensory and motor cognition as well as higher level processes of face and word recognition as well as thought, all considered mind-based, are supported by brain regions that are highly and uniquely specialized for those processes, suggesting that the mind-brain interaction occurs through highly specialized unique brain mechanisms. Episodic memory, for example, the ability to remember what happened to the self and when, and believed to be uniquely human, is an important ability of the human mind. It has been well researched [3] using neuroimaging research and specific frontal lobe episodic memory brain regions (different from those associated with semantic memory) have been identified that further link the brain to the mind.

The relationship of brain and mind is especially important for the field of psychiatry which has long implemented treatment within the brain vs. mind dichotomy. Gabbard 2005, claims that the brain and the mind are not separate entities but that "the mind is the activity of the brain". Gabbard, 2005,[4] deplores psychiatry's broad association of genes, medication and biomedical factors to the brain entity, and environment, psychotherapy and psychosocial factors to the mind entity, and argues for the unity of the mind-brain entity by stressing the inextricable nature of the interaction between genes and environment, as well as that between psychosocial factors and brain structure. Polarization of brain and mind in contemporary psychiatry, and the subsequent view that medication is indicated for biological or brain-based disorders whereas psychotherapy is appropriate for psychological or mind-based disorders, is, in his view, a misconception and it retards the implementation of comprehensive treatments that are bio-psychosocial.

In this context of psychiatric brain research, there is neuroimaging evidence that mind-associated mentalistic variables play a role in the neurophysiological basis of behavior in humans[5]. This conclusion is reached based on the results of neuroimaging investigations of the effect of psychotherapy in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder or unipolar major depressive disorder, which show that the functions and processes implicated in the psychotherapy affected brain activity and plasticity. Results from studies on the placebo effect also converge towards the same conclusion that mind-based mentalistic processes occasion brain activity[5]. Those studies show that the mere belief and expectation created by ingestion of a placebo medication, modulated brain physiological and chemical activity.


[1] Makeig S, Gramann K, Jung T, Sejnowski T J, Poizner H, Linking brain, mind and behavior. International Journal of Psychophysiology, Volume 73, Issue 2, August 2009, Pages 95-100; Neural Processes in Clinical Psychophysiology

[2] Kanwisher N. Functional specificity in the human brain: A window into the functional architecture of the mind. PNAS, June 22, 2010 (vol. 107, no. 25, 11163-1117)

[3] Tulving E. Episodic memory: From mind to brain. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2002. 53:1-25

[4] Gabbard G.O. Mind, brain, and personality disorders, American Journal of Psychiatry 2005; 162:648-655)

[5] Beauregard M. Effect of mind on brain activity: Evidence from neuroimaging studies of psychotherapy and placebo effect. Nord J Psychiatry 2009; 63:5-16.

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