What is your mind?

What exactly is your mind? Is your mind totally subjective? Is it your nervous system that helps to create your mind or do other organs besides the brain play a part?

I would describe the mind as the information stored by the brain. If your brain were a computer, your mind would be the software running on it.

You can use an EEG to measure brain activity, and then map different types of activity to different mental states. This would indicate that the mind can be objective, as it is simply a function of the brain, and the brain can be objectively observed.

Considering that people can have organ transplants without having their minds altered, it would appear that the mind is solely a function of the central nervous system.

“What is a mind? No matter. What is matter? Nevermind!”
–Homer Simpson


Umm… I read in a paper the a few weeks ago that reputable scientists have now come up with the theory that the mind could be exterior to the body. Kinda flies in the face of established tradition but i guess it scores one for the god squad, what with souls an’ all.
Anyone else see the article?

Yeah, I saw it, just next to the article about the London Bus being found on the moon, being driven by Elvis.

When those in psychology speak of the mind, they are talking about all parts of the brain, or brain chemistry, that make up your persona. It is the root to whatever forms of human behavior you exhibit - at any given moment. It makes you unique! It makes you, you! :smiley:

This is not a textbook definition, but I hope it helps clarify. It is not identical to the brain, but people tend to use it interchangeably…adding to the confusion. - Jinx

I’ve recently been reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. If you are speaking of the mind as that little voice in your head that thinks and analyzes and essentially seems to be you talking to yourself, then listen to it some time. TPON suggested that the mind is not really “yourself”. Tolle states that the mind is somehow “external” to you, though not necessarily external to the body, a la Weekly World News.

Something that I’ve been coming to realize is that my “mind” is often active even when I don’t want it to be. It is always chattering away about something. Take note throughout the day what it is thinking. Notice how it seems to be thinking things that you may not want it to be dwelling upon. Noticing that it does seem to act very much on its own has given me some indication not of what the mind is, but what it is not. It is not “me”.

I never like it when someone answers a question of mine about what something is by telling me what they think it is not. But that’s the best I have to add to the conversation. And my mind was telling me to write it. Now if you’ll excuse me, the voice is telling me to go and burn things.

“Mind” is a rather vague catch-all term relating to brain function, but one element which most agree is centrally important is consciousness, the “feeling of being me” which I am experiencing right now.

Attempts to explain consciousness have advanced significantly in the past decade, even though the subject is only in its infancy. Some points which almost all respected authorities agree on are:[ul][li]Consciousness is not localised to one specific part of the brain, but emerges from the entire brain.[/li][li]There is no “magic threshold” upon which consciousness sparks fully into life - it emerges gradually as the brain develops.[/li][li]Memory is an essential element in its emergence, whether commiting sensory input to memory or retrieving that memory by running the neuronal response “backwards”. In the simplest models, all that consciousness need be is a sensory input and memory, such that at any time both present, future and past information is being processed creating a “fuzz of time”. Furthermore, identity is strongly correlated with the unique string of memories a brain holds - “I am my memories”.[/li][/ul]

Quadriplegics, whose spinal chord has been severed thus allowing zero communication with other organs, still have a mind as active and conscious as others by all accounts.

There are many worthwhile books in your local library worth reading on the subject. I would suggest Susan Greenfield’s “Journey to the Centres of the Mind”, VS Ramachandran’s “Phantoms in the Brain”, or perhaps “The Emperor’s New Mind” by Roger Penrose for some more radical ideas. The University of Arizona also has a department with a helpful homepage.

Just wanted to recommend Consciousness Explained by Dennet, for those interested in this subject. (Try to look past the boastful title.)

But surely someone suffering from total amnesia would still have a sense of “self”? :confused:


I was going come down on the position that it’s a self-created artificial construct, but now, I can’t make up my mind.

Good question, Shrinking Violet! – that would be the acid test. This must have happened (someone suffering total amnesia) and the “results” been documented…

If I was a betting man and this was a bookies, and, I had a spare dollar, I’d bet that SentientMeat is right (no memories=>no sense of self*), but either way I’d have learned something new.

Sentient, have you (or anyone) got the straight dope on this?
*of course, even if this implication was known to be true, wouldn’t mean that sense of self equals memories, merely that memories are necessary for a sense of self.

Here’s a site with the heady intellectual point of view:


Amnesia is usually associated with lack of contact between the conscious mind and the long term memory. Even a total amnesiac would still retain their short term memory, and other areas of the brain.
Much could be learnt from people with extreme cases of amnesia. Do they retain quirks from their ‘old self’ do they retain phobias etc. Your ‘self’ does not exist purely in your long term memory. Similarly study of multiple-personality sufferers would shed light on these questions. Unfortunately it seems very hard to get hold of information about such people outside of specially selected cases reffered to in books that are trying to provide evidence for particular theories.

Does anyone have a source for large scale studies of such people which will tell us what percentage of complete amnesia sufferers have been described as having a completely new personality by people who knew them before their amnesia?

Here’s a more direct link to the U of Arizona resources on consciousness.

I would also recommend the following books

The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life

Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are

I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self

‘The mind’ is the label we give to such awareness we have of the functioning of the brain.

ianzin is that not more a deffinition of consciousness?

Maybe the mind is that very functioning of the brain, and consciousness is the awareness of that functioning.

So animals can have minds, even insects, the mind just being the computational part of the nervous system.

About SnetientMeat’s third point

The memory being mentioned here is not just the memory we associate with long term memories. It is also the memory heald within every neuron no matter what its function in the form of increased or decreased susseptability to input from other neurons attatched to it.
So neurons having no association with the memory of events, non the less change with use and have a gained ‘memory’ as they become optimised to their particular role within the neural system. So the consciessness arrises out of the memory of all neurons not just those used to hold long term information.

Ultra-simplified example
If someone sneezes every time their nose is touched, then the neural connections between nose touch sensors and the sneeze reflex are extremely sensitive. Sneezing when their nose is touched is part of what that person is, part of their ‘self’ if you will. And that part of their ‘self’ can be seens in the sensitivity of the neurons between nose and sneeze.