My favorite topic at the moment is the Mind.
I read so many revealing and interesting facts on-line this week. What is the part of me that is thinking, reasoning, perceiving, willing and feeling? The mind feels almost like a transistor radio raving and ranting, talking and commenting. On and on in my head. Sometimes nearly all day.
The mind seems to be a part of the brain, it is part of my body. But what is mind? And excuse my asking: How can I switch my transistor radio off? Don’t worry, the facts will be stated in ‘Jack and Jill’-language so that anyone can understand more about the brain.
“What is mind?”——“No matter.”
“What is matter?”——“Never mind.”
“It is immaterial.”
First a definition of mind
1. The human consciousness that originates in the brain and is manifested especially in thought, perception, emotion, will, memory, and imagination.
2. The collective conscious and unconscious processes in a sentient organism that direct and influence mental and physical behavior.
The free dictionary on-line
Number 1 takes an interesting approach. The mind equals the human consciousness that lives in the brain. In other words it shows up in what I see, hear, feel, touch and smell. This is my objective faculty to experience the world and make sense of it. This makes for a side step to understand what the brain is.
Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson have written two articles on the brain. They make mention of the earliest reference to the human brain.
The organ that we commonly refer to as the brain has not always held a revered status in the eyes of men. In fact, the brain was given little importance by ancient Egyptians, who believed that it cooled the body, and did little else. As these skilled preservers of the dead prepared bodies for mummification, they excised the brain through the nose with a wire loop, and then discarded it. Often, the brain simply was tossed into the sand (primary attention was given to the heart, which they considered the most important organ of the body).”
Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson –
The Origin of the Brain and Mind I
Wikipedia states that
“… the brain was regularly removed, for it was the heart that was assumed to be the seat of intelligence.”
Plato and Aristotle had their own opinions on mind. I quote Harrub and Thompson again from the same article:
“Plato also taught that the brain was the “supreme organ” of the body, assigning to it such things as emotions, passions of the heart, and even appetites of the belly. Aristotle, a student of Plato, contended on the other hand that the heart was the center of both thought and sensation, while the brain worked as a refrigerator to cool the heart (which is ironic, now that we know the brain generates the most heat!).”
Harrub and Thompson –
I also like their story on how Leonardo da Vinci was the first to make a wax model of the brain of an ox. It showed the true shape of the cavities. To get the model he poured melted wax in the open spaces of the brain and then removed the flesh.
Dualism of body and mind
The debate about what the brain was and did continued for many years. The French philosopher Descartes opened another line of thought by proposing that fluid in the ventricles (open spaces) in the brain controlled the activity of the brain. But this was only enough to explain certain bodily functions. The higher mental capabilities of human beings existed outside the brain in the mind. This is the beginning of the dualistic view of the brain and the mind or put in another way the body and the mind.
A workable definition of dualism could be this one.
“The best-known version of dualism is due to René Descartes (1641) and holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes was the first to clearly identify the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and to distinguish this from the brain, which was the seat of intelligence.
Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind/body problem in the form in which it exists today.”
Many authors – Wikipedia on René Descartes
Perhaps you have heard of the Latin statement Cogito ergo sum. In English: I think, therefore I am. That is from Descartes as well. What did Descartes mean with the term thinking?
“Descartes defined thinking as the whole range of conscious mental processes—intellectual thoughts, feeling, will, and sensations. He was of the firm opinion that the mind always worked, even during periods of sleep.”
Philosophy of mind
I have no more to add on the mind/brain distinction for now.
Apparently opinions differ.
Brain surgery or Craniotomy
In science of course the brain has been researched extensively. First literally by the anatomist of the old days. Soon the difference between the heart and the brain was clear. The heart was a pump and the brain held more secrets. Most of them came to light when the brain malfunctions. Nice to know is the next quote:
“Some theories die hard. For instance, we challenge you to find a Valentine’s card containing a picture of a brain with an arrow going through it. While we know that the heart is not the center of our emotions, many people still make references such as “you always will hold a special place in my heart.”
Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson –
The origin of the brain and the mind I
With more modern equipments and tests much is now known about the brain and how it works. Chief of neurosurgery and Clinical Professor at New York University Medical Center, John Mangiardi explains in easy words what the brain is physiologically and chemically.
“Firstly, the brain is an incredibly complex organ. Like a true resident in an Ivory Tower, the brain lives apart from, and quite differently than, the rest of the body. The brain contains about 10 Billion (10,000,000,000) working brain cells. They are called neurons and make over 13 Trillion (13,000,000,000,000) connections with each other to form the most sophisticated organic computer on the planet — maybe even the universe. By today’s computer standards, the brain far exceeds any network of linked state-of-the-art computers.”
John Mangiardi –
ABC’s of Brain Tumors — From Their Biology to Their Treatments
One of the methods to find out about the functions of the brain is Brain Mapping Surgery.
“At the beginning of the surgery, the patient is sedated and numbing medications are administered so that the patient feels no pain. During the procedure, the patient’s head is placed in a comfortable, fixed position to keep the head still and ensure accuracy of the brain surgery.
At a specific time during the surgery, the patient is awakened. While the neurosurgeon stimulates the brain, the patient is asked questions by the speech pathologist or asked to make movements by the neurologist. The patient may be asked to look at cards and identify objects pictured on the cards, to count numbers or to raise a finger.
The medical team also uses three-dimensional computer images of the brain taken before and during the surgery as a guide in brain mapping. This is critical, because currently there is no good way to track these brain connections using just magnetic resonance image (MRI) scans. The neurosurgeon then maps the brain by marking each area identified as functional brain.”
Brain mapping surgery
EEC and EEG
I really like this information and I still do not understand what the transistor radio is doing in my head. It is talking all day and just before I fall asleep it shuts up. What changes take place in my body so that I can fall asleep? It makes me think of something I read about ECG, that is short for Electroencephalography. It is a way to measure the electrical activity in the brain by using electrodes on the scalp. The electrical traces are made into the EEG, electroencephalogram.
The electrical activity shows up in waves on the EEG. Most well known waves are the beta waves. They have 12 Hz (12 cycles per second). In ordinary life they show up when I am normally awake, let’s put it as if it is the ordinairy consciousness. I sit still and observe the world around me.
The next one is the alpha wave, with a range of 8 to 12 Hz. I would now have my eyes closed and I am still awake. I can still hear and smell and feel my environment. Only the eyes are not encouraged to do anything.
By the way, EEG Biofeedback training can teach you to alter your brain waves. I once played a biofeedback game from Deepak Chopra called Wild Divine. I wore sensors on my fingers and this way I got feedback on my heart rate and skin. This way I saw the power of my thoughts and emotions, breathing and total awareness immediately. I noticed after several games that I felt more relaxed and also got better results in the game. Have a look at the demo.
With eyes closed I will tend to become sleepy or drowsy and then I enter the Theta waves, between 4 and 8 hz. Interesting thing here is that these waves are normally not present in healthy adults that are awake. But children under 13 years of age still have them when they are awake. In me these waves can be found sometimes when I sleep or when I sit still with eyes closed and do some kind of meditation.
The next wave has less than three cycles per second and is called Delta. This activity is characterized by frequencies under 3 Hz. As long as I am healthy and awake, I don’t have these waves in my EEG. Children under 13 years of age however still have them! This would mean that I can only have them when I am in a deep sleep. Adults that have brain injuries or who are comatose will show delta rhythm.
With this I can answer how I can slow down and switch of the transistor radio in my head. When I close my eyes and begin meditation or quiet contemplation the transistor radio show begins to shut up. When I sleep it is completely silent. Hurrah, now for another meditation.