Is the human mind contained in the brain? Where? Actually, they are trick questions.
In our everyday conversations it happens quite often that when we want to talk about the “essence” of people, let’s talk about their minds.
The film (Martín Hache), for example, popularized one of the proclamations that best express this idea applied to attraction: the interesting thing is not the bodies themselves, but the intellectual facet of human beings, something like their psyche. In other cases, we think that although the passing of the years modifies our aspect, there is something that remains more or less the same and that that is the mind, which identifies us as thinking individuals.
Now … do we know anything about that what we call mind? Where is it located to start? This is a trick question and that gives rise to make us quite provocative reflections accounts.
The location of the mind in the body
Decades pass in the history of psychology and neuroscience, but we still do not attribute a specific place to the mind; At the most, the brain is the set of organs to which we attribute, quite inaccurately, that ability to house mental life . But is this successful? To understand it, let’s go to the origins of the question of where the mind is.
The dualistic theory of Descartes is perhaps the first major effort in the history of mankind to locate the mental life of human anatomy: the French proposed the pineal gland as the structure of our thoughts emanating. Now, the whole conceptual building was falling apart at the moment in which we denied the possibility of the soul. Not for nothing, Descartes was a strong advocate of the division between body and spirit, something that is not scientifically supported.
But in spite of the fact that Descartes’s ideas are theoretically rejected by current science, we tend to assume that the right thing is to think as this philosopher did, although changing the concept of soul for that of mind . Human beings have an innate tendency to create categories for any phenomenon and plot of reality, and that is why we believe that there is something called “mind”, from which all thoughts, emotions, decisions, etc. emanate. And, when assigning a place to that source from which the entire psyche arises, we choose the brain, just like Descartes.
The mind beyond the brain
As we have seen, we have an almost instinctive tendency to believe that minds are in our heads, piloting our bodies as if they were tiny little men . In turn, many scientists, both in psychology and neurosciences, assume that the mind is located in a specific place in the body. For example, the frontal lobe is often given great importance, since this part of the brain has a very important role in decision making and in the initiation of movements.
Other researchers have done the opposite, associating the mind with larger locations. Beyond pseudoscientific theories that speak of cosmic minds that hold memories about past lives, there are advocates in other ways of the idea that the mind is beyond the nervous system. For example, from the theory of embodied cognition it is considered that the positions, movements of the body, as well as the stimuli they capture, are part of mental life, since they condition what we think and what we feel.
On the other hand, authors such as Andy Clark, defenders of extended mind theory , believe that it goes beyond the individual body of people, and is also in the environment with which we interact, since both those external elements and the parts of our organism are essential for the mind to behave as it does in the here and now. Computers, for example, are places where we store information, and our way of functioning already fully includes them as part of an expanded memory.
The fundamental question: does the mind exist?
So far we have seen attempts to locate the mind, but to ask where the mind is it is necessary, first of all, to ensure that there are sufficient reasons to consider that it exists.
Behavioral psychologists have been characterized precisely by rejecting the existence of something called mind … or at least one that can be located somewhere. In the same way in which the movement of a train or the money we have in the account cannot be understood as something limited to a site, the same goes for the mind.
From this perspective, believing that the mind is something similar to an object or a subject is the result of having fallen into a conceptual trap. The mind is not a thing, it is a process; a set of provisions that make sense when a series of responses to stimuli are given. This is where the concept of the mereological fallacy arises , the tendency to attribute to a place (in the case that concerns us, usually, to the brain), something that is characterized by being a set of changes.
And if something characterizes our experiences and our way of behaving, it always occurs in different circumstances. In the same way that spring is not in a landscape or in a specific country, what we call mind should be understood not as a noun.
The idea that the mind does not exist may sound provocative, but it is no less true that we assume that it does exist as a dogma, without stopping to think if it is really right. What is clear is that this is a topic that gives to debate long and hard. And you do you think?