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“Anyone with the concepts „mind‟ and „brain‟ is in a position to know that they are

not the same thing”


It is generally accepted by society that people have both a “mind”, being defined
as “the part of a person responsible for thought, feelings and intention”1 and a “brain”,
defined as “the soft mass of nervous tissue within the skull of vertebrates that controls
and coordinates the nervous system”2. However, only one of these definitions
encompasses the location of its noun. The brain is understood to be encased within the
skull, the mind, however, is not. So where does the mind live? There are a number of
answers to this question each differing depending on which philosophical standpoint is
examined. For the purpose of this essay we will assume that the mind lives in the same
location as the brain, whilst remaining an altogether separate entity. Is the mind different
from the brain, or is the brain simply the vehicle in which the mind functions through?
Perhaps, the mind and the brain are two parts of a collective entity that allows for mental
states: the brain is obviously dependent on the mind: otherwise thought, feeling and
intention would be impossible; but likewise, the mind is equally dependant on the brain;
in order to physically carry out these mental states. If this is true, then what do we call the
collective entity that the two unite to form?

First, let‟s examine the mind and the brain as separate entities. The mind now
becomes something immaterial, and the brain becomes an entity that is confined to the
limits of the physical realm. Dualism is a common philosophical idea that coincides with
this thread of thinking: the dualist believes that the soul is immaterial and immortal, and
survives the body after death. The particular dualism that best describes the division
between mind and body is Descartes‟ Substance Dualism, which argues that since the
mind is not a spatial entity and the body (and consequently, the brain) is, they must be
different things. Substance Dualism‟s main argument is based on a set of distinctions
between the mind and the brain: since the mind has no spatial properties (it has no size,
shape, colour, or distinguishing physical features or attributes) it cannot possibly be
equated with the body (or brain) which is a physical entity composed of matter with

1
Collins Compact Dictionary, 21st century edition
2
Collins Compact Dictionary, 21st century edition

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colour, shape, size and texture. Likewise, the brain has no mental properties that the mind
contains, such as thought, feelings, and intent. This serves the substance dualist to prove
that the mind and brain are in fact two completely different entities. In simpler terms,
Descartes argued that since he was capable of thought, he could not possibly doubt his
(mental) existence, but that did not necessarily prove the existence of his body, which he
could indeed doubt; thus leading him to conclude that his mind and body must be
separate as one was indubitably in existence (his mind), and the other one was in question
(body).3 But although this theory is plausible, it is not without its objections and
shortcomings. Firstly, how does it follow from Descartes‟ argument for his own existence
that the mind and body (and brain) are separate entities? Why does Descartes assume that
he cannot doubt the existence of his mind, but he can doubt the existence of his body?
Since there is no clear distinction made, it is unclear as to how Descartes decides that it is
his physical body that can possibly not exist. If we consider the obvious, Descartes is
thinking, and therefore he exists. But he is also feeling/breathing/perceiving, and so he
must also physically exist. To this Descartes would reply that perceptions can be a
deception of the mind, but there is no doubt that thought equates to existence, because it
would be impossible to have thoughts and not exist. But wouldn‟t it also be impossible to
have thoughts and not physically exist? The boundaries remain unclear as to why
Descartes‟ immaterial souls can exist without their bodies, and yet there is no way to
prove that they are still thinking (and therefore existing). Essentially, it cannot be proven
that the immaterial soul is capable of existing without its equivalent in the physical realm,
and so Descartes‟ argument depends on his body to exist in order for his mind to exist (or
else there would be no evidence of its existence.) Another objection lies in the laws of
physics: physical things are capable of interacting with themselves and forming „cause
and effect‟ relationships: but how do physical things interact with mental things? Dualism
depends on a necessity to suspend the laws of physics and assume that there can be
causes from outside the physical world (the mind).

The dualist theory advocates the definitive separation between the mind and the
brain as two separate entities, but it is not without its faults. On the other hand, type

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Descartes, Discourse on Method

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identity theory asserts that the mind is indeed the brain, and that mental states are
equivalent to brain states. As a reductionist theory, type identity theorizes that it is
possible to translate any mental activity in the „mind‟ into its equivalent physical activity
in the „brain‟, therefore equating the two. The theory is based on Leibniz‟s
“Indiscernibility of Identicals”, which states that if two variables are identical then they
contain the same properties. This theory has the benefit of uniting the mental with the
physical, which eliminates the questionability of an „immaterial‟, ethereal, and transient
„mind‟. Its simplicity also manages to avoid Ockam‟s Razor (the idea of explaining
things in their basest way out of necessity, without adding unnecessary and unverifiable
clauses) which scrapes through the Dualist approach. Another benefit to this argument is
that it explains various correlations between the mind and the brain as found in scientific
research: the effects of alcohol on the physical brain also effects the mental, dream
patterns that are identifiable states in the physical brain also equate to identifiable states
in the mind. But like all theories, this one too has its objections and inconsistencies. A
famous criticism is the analogy of the statue and the piece of clay. If a statue is also a
piece of clay, then are they the same thing? If the statue is destroyed, then theoretically
the piece of clay should be as well- but the piece of clay would remain in tact even if the
statue didn‟t. Essentially, the statue is the clay at a certain point of time- but the clay can
continue to exist for longer than the statue. However, it could be argued that the term
„statue‟ is subjective, and the piece of clay is only considered a statue by the creator or
observer. In this case, if the „statue‟ were „destroyed‟, it would only be destroyed because
the observer and creator considered it to be so, not because it would be physically
destroyed. That is to say, in its destroyed state, it could also be considered a statue, just
slightly altered into a different statue than its original- so it doesn‟t at any point cease to
be a statue. Another objection is the idea of “mental objects” which argues that the mind
is full of sounds, thoughts, colours and images, so it cannot be the same as the brain since
we do not see these things in the brain. However, the point of a reductionist theory is to
reduce/translate into simpler physical terms: so it could be argued that all those mental
objects do exist within the brain, simply translated into different synaptic connections (in
the same way that pain is translated into a firing of c-fibres).

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Other theories that examine the relationship between the mind and the brain
include behaviourism, which argues that two are connected, and so we know mental
states through the behaviour of an individual: but this theory has the obvious flaw of not
considering intent, and only focusing on action. The other popular theory is
Functionalism, which characterizes things by their function, and so mental states become
defined by their causal role. This theory manages to incorporate the physical and the
mental by the causal outcome. But we cannot be sure of the true distinction (if there is
one at all) between “the mind” and “the brain” since there are theories that support them
as two separate entities, and others that refute their individuality. Essentially, the most
logical conclusion is that the mind is a function of the brain: the brain being the physical
entity, whose function is to create thoughts, feelings and intent. In this explanation, we
find the brain as the vehicle in which the mind expresses itself physically. And so the
mind and the brain are both one (in that the mind is a function of the brain) and different
(in that the mind independently forms thoughts which are then executed by cause through
the brain).