Further Musings on the Mind's Dependency on the Brain

Published on 20 April 2023 at 10:48

        The relationship between the mind and the brain has been a topic of debate for centuries, with some arguing that the mind is separate from the brain and others contending that the mind is dependent on the brain. In recent years, scientific research has provided compelling evidence that supports the idea that the mind is, in fact, dependent on the brain. In this entry, we will explore this argument by examining the premises that mental events are

caused by neural activity in the brain, and that the mind is dependent on the brain. We will also examine the evidence from studies of brain damage and disease, drug effects, brain imaging, and brain plasticity, all of which support the conclusion that the mind is dependent on the brain.

Lets start this entry off with an argument for the dependency of the mind upon the brain. 

Premise 1: Mental events are caused by neural activity in the brain.

Premise 2: If mental events are caused by neural activity in the brain, then the mind is dependent on the brain.

Conclusion: Therefore, the mind is dependent on the brain.

Premise 1 is supported by scientific research that has shown a correlation between specific patterns of neural activity and mental states, such as emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. For example, studies using brain imaging techniques have identified specific regions of the brain that are activated during tasks such as decision-making, memory recall, and visual perception.

Premise 2 follows logically from premise 1, as if mental events are caused by neural activity in the brain, then the mind cannot exist independently of the brain. This means that changes to the brain, such as those caused by injury or disease, necessarily  result in changes to the mind.

 While some argue that the mind is independent of the brain, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the mind is, in fact, dependent on the brain.

One of the primary pieces of evidence for the brain-dependence of the mind comes from studies of brain damage and disease. For example, individuals with damage to specific areas of the brain can experience changes to their mental states, such as difficulties with memory, language, and decision-making. One study found that patients with damage to the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in decision-making and self-control, showed impairments in their ability to make decisions and regulate their emotions (Bechara et al., 1997).

Furthermore, research on the effects of drugs on the brain and mind also supports the brain-dependence of the mind. Many psychoactive drugs work by altering the activity of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that help to transmit signals between neurons. For example, the drug amphetamine increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in reward and motivation. This increase in dopamine activity can lead to changes in mood and behavior (Volkow et al., 2010). These findings suggest that the mind is influenced by the chemical activity in the brain, further supporting the idea that the mind is brain-dependent.

Another line of evidence comes from studies of brain imaging. Advances in brain imaging technology, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have allowed researchers to observe the neural activity associated with different mental states. For example, studies have shown that specific regions of the brain are activated during tasks such as reading, listening to music, and experiencing emotions (Lindquist et al., 2012). These findings strongly suggest that mental events are caused by neural activity in the brain, further supporting the brain-dependence of the mind.

Further, studies of brain plasticity provide further evidence for the brain-dependence of the mind. Brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences. This ability is essential for learning and memory, and also has implications for mental health and rehabilitation. Studies have shown that changes in the brain, such as those caused by meditation or cognitive therapy, can lead to improvements in mental states such as stress and anxiety (Tang et al., 2015). These findings suggest that changes in the brain intrinsically lead to changes in the mind, further supporting the idea that the mind is brain-dependent.

The evidence from studies of brain damage and disease, drug effects, brain imaging, and brain plasticity all point to the conclusion that the mind is dependent on the brain. While there is still much to learn about the relationship between the mind and the brain, this evidence suggests that the brain plays a crucial role in generating mental events, and that changes to the brain intrinsically impact the mind in significant ways.

Studies of brain damage and disease have shown that damage to specific areas of the brain can result in changes to mental states. For example, damage to the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory, does lead to impairments in memory recall (Scoville & Milner, 1957). Similarly, damage to the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in emotional processing, does lead to changes in emotional responses (Adolphs et al., 1994). These findings strongly suggest that the brain is essential for generating mental states and that changes to the brain can have significant impacts on the mind.

Research on the effects of drugs on the brain and mind provides further evidence for the brain-dependence of the mind. Many psychoactive drugs work by altering the activity of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that help to transmit signals between neurons. For example, the drug LSD binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to changes in mood and perception (Vollenweider & Kometer, 2010). Similarly, the drug cocaine increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in reward and motivation, leading to changes in mood and behavior (Volkow et al., 2010). These findings suggest that changes in the chemical activity of the brain does, in fact have significant impacts on the mind.

Studies of brain imaging, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have provided further evidence for the brain-dependence of the mind. By observing the neural activity associated with different mental states, researchers have identified specific regions of the brain that are involved in tasks such as decision-making, language processing, and emotional regulation. For example, studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in decision-making and self-control, is activated during tasks that require inhibition and impulse control (Aron et al., 2004). These findings suggest that mental events are caused by neural activity in the brain and that changes to the brain can impact the mind in significant ways.

Finally, studies of brain plasticity have shown that changes in the brain intrinsically does lead to changes in the mind. Brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences. Studies have shown that changes in the brain, such as those caused by meditation or cognitive therapy, can lead to improvements in mental states such as stress and anxiety (Tang et al., 2015). These findings suggest that changes in the brain intrinsically lead to changes in the mind and further support the idea that the mind is dependent on the brain.

Overall, the evidence from studies of brain damage and disease, drug effects, brain imaging, and brain plasticity all point to the conclusion that the mind is dependent on the brain. While there is still much to learn about the relationship between the mind and the brain, this evidence suggests that the brain plays a crucial role in generating mental events, and that changes to the brain intrinsically impact the mind in significant ways. 

Bechara, A., Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S. W. (1997). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50(1-3), 7-15.

Lindquist, K. A., Wager, T. D., Kober, H., Bliss-Moreau, E., & Barrett, L. F. (2012). The brain basis of emotion: A meta-analytic review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35(3), 121-143.

Tang, Y. Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M.


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The Schoolbook Suppository
10 months ago

An excellent and compelling read. It is difficult (at best) to argue with verifiable and conclusive scientific fact. But I find myself wondering if something is being left out. Let me explain.

I may have mentioned before that I have a particularly strong and vocal inner monologue - more than just a monologue, in fact, many, many layers of thought all vying for attention. You might call it a barely-contained babble, like a cocktail party in my head. But usually there is one "voice" stronger than the others. I'm going to call it the Voice, capitalised, for clarity.

I also suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, severe depression and borderline personality disorder, so I am very familiar with the way moods can change and the influence that drugs and mental techniques have on them. Again, I believe I may have said something similar in the past, I am aware that my Voice is not emotional. My moods may influence what I think about, but my Voice doesn't laugh, doesn't cry, doesn't scream and shout - it's always very measured and dispassionate. However, my ability to *express* what I am thinking is affected by my mood. Taking an obvious example, when I am drunk I slur my speech, I muddle my words, I get lost in sentences; but my Voice does not have these problems. My Voice knows what it's saying, but it gets lost somewhere between my head and my lips. It is as if my Voice is being *filtered* through my brain.

Most frustrating of all, I am *aware* that this disconnect is happening, yet seem powerless to stop it. And that leads me to another aspect of consciousness: I am *aware* of my inner monologue; I am *aware* of my Voice. Which means that there is another "Layer" of consciousness, a mute Listener that is parsing whatever my Voice is saying and somehow silently relaying that awareness back to my Voice.

So perhaps speaking of "The Mind" or of "Consciousness" as a single entity it should be noted that there are many different things going on at different levels of awareness. (It can be difficult to express linguistically the idea of some Uber-Awareness being aware of being aware of my awareness!) I'm sure the concepts of Id, Ego and Superego fit in here somewhere, but I don't know enough about them to comment (I feel an urge to research them now!).

Further complicating my assessment of Mind is the fact that different people in my family report completely different experiences of being "in their heads." Some of them think in imagery, others are not aware of any Voice or Image and yet are able to think quite well! I find it hard to conceive of a blissfully quiet mind, because mine never is.

One can walk a mile in another man's shoes, but doing it in someone else's head is a different matter!

Anyway, just some more of my thoughts for you.

xx