We can see one, while the other is completely intangible. The brain and the mind are different, but both start from that amazing structure made up of more than 69,000 million neurons. While scientists point out that we almost know more about the universe than we do about this fascinating organ, we’re constantly discovering new answers to its mysteries.
An important point that we know from psychology is that what we think about changes the brain. Psychological therapies can reduce amygdala hyperactivity and even increase neural connection. Although, for a long time, it was assumed that the brain governed all behavior and thought, the truth is that the mind has more power than we think.
Knowing the differences between one entity and another will be as revealing as it is interesting. Dig deeper below.
The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —
The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do — (…)
– Emily Dickinson, The Brain (1862) –
Are the brain and the mind the same?
Aristotle was perhaps the first figure to initiate the attempt to understand the phenomena of the mind, separating it from the biological. In his work On the Soul, 350 BC, he wrote a remarkable treatise that, although it addressed the soul as a central theme, also outlined the basis of biopsychology itself. The mind, he said, is everything that is thinkable.
Now, what’s obvious is that the mind requires the brain to exist. This makes the first look like an epiphany of the second, leading to a certain reductionism.
It’s assumed that all psychological phenomena are restricted to the neurological. However, that’s not always the case. Understanding the differences between the mind and the brain allows us to have a broader vision of who we are and how we act.
In this way, works such as those published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science allege something interesting. It’s true that psychology and neuroscience are required to work together. But biology and neurology don’t explain everything.
Cognitions, emotions, memories, self-esteem, and beliefs are more complex than we think. We’ll detail the distinctions below.
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1. Biological vs. phenomenological
The mind is a phenomenon of the brain, an abstract entity that integrates consciousness and an infinite number of cognitive processes. The brain, for its part, is part of the central nervous system (CNS) and constitutes the most voluminous area of the brain. It’s a complex organ that stands as the result of thousands of years of evolution.
Therefore, while the latter is made up of tangible and observable areas such as tissues, cells, or neural networks, what happens in the mind can’t be seen. All its processes, subjectivities, and operating mechanics are addressed by psychology, while neuroscience deals with the brain.
To this day, no one knows what the mind is and how the brain creates it.
2. Hardware vs. software
We can see the brain as the structure, the components (hardware) and the mind as the software that runs on it. Thus, it’s important to understand that although they’re intimately linked, the brain and the mind have differences in their functions. Below, we’ll help you understand the processes that each one carries out.
- Self control.
- Heart rate.
- Sleep cycles.
- Motor activity.
- Balance and coordination.
- Process sensory information.
- It’s responsible for homeostatic functions.
- It regulates the functions of different organs.
- It regulates endocrine and hormonal functions.
- It creates the foundations for cognitive and emotional processes.
- It regulates emotions.
- It shapes our identity.
- It gives meaning to what we see and what happens to us.
- It carries out all cognitive processes (thoughts).
- The mind works on three levels: Conscious, subconscious, and unconscious.
- It processes and shapes beliefs, self-esteem, emotions, judgments, and memory.
- Consciousness is part of the mind because, thanks to it, we make sense of the person we are, what surrounds us, and every experience.
Although we still don’t know the functions of the mind exactly, works such as those published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience indicate that we’re entering an era of great advances, in which the science of neurophenomenology will reveal more data.
3. Location vs. distribution
At present, science still can’t answer how the brain creates the mind or consciousness. That’s one of the biggest mysteries to solve. We do understand each region, function, and process of the brain. We know that it’s housed in the cranial cavity, which is distributed in two cerebral hemispheres interconnected by the corpus callosum and it also contains the cerebellum.
Now, the mind isn’t in a physical and concrete place, but it manifests itself thanks to the neurological networks and the world of experience and is linked to our body.
4. The brain and the mind, the biological and the psychological
The brain is a biological organ, the result of our evolution, which follows the principles of neurobiology, physiology, anatomy, and neurobiology. It’s governed by biological processes, while the mind is governed by psychological processes.
While neuroscience addresses the understanding of the brain and its processes, psychology has spent decades trying to understand how the mind works. At the same time, it should be noted that cognitive psychology is the most complete approach to respond to all those phenomena that occur in the mental universe.
Research such as that published in the Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy reviews all this work and its historical perspective in this regard.
Brain alterations such as a lower production of serotonin or a more hyperactive amygdala affect the functioning of the mind.
5. Diseases of the brain vs. disorders of the mind
The brain can develop diseases and disorders and suffer trauma, all of which are easily diagnosable. The same can’t be said of the mind. An alteration in the mind can’t be labeled as a “disease” because it’s not observable with an X-ray, MRI, or an ordinary medical anamnesis. In these cases, we refer to psychological disorders.
There are common elements to highlight. Any disease, brain problem, or alteration in neurotransmitters affects mental health. An example of this is having a serotonin deficiency, which would affect the mood. However, this can be reversed if we take care of our mental focus and go to therapy because the mind also modifies the brain.
6. The brain controls physiology; the mind controls what you think and feel
The brain and the mind are two wonderfully interconnected dimensions. The first acts like a building, while the mind is the entity that gives it life, decorates it, and inhabits it. Thus, while the brain structures every physiological process, the mind is the intangible expression of every thought, emotion, processed experience, built belief, or overcome fear.
“It’s very likely that the best decisions are not the result of a reflection of the brain but the result of an emotion.”
7. Reductionist vs. holistic
It’s interesting to know that the study of the brain tends to take a reductionist approach. Neuroscience focuses on studying the smallest processes in order to understand the mechanisms that orchestrate each function. It’s an analytical, experimental, and very objective task.
The mind, on the other hand, is holistic and phenomenological and integrates processes of all kinds to try to understand it. We can see it from a cognitive, emotional, philosophical, and even spiritual perspective. Because while the brain is a collection of tissues and nerve cells, the mind is like the cosmos: Something vast, infinite, and full of possibilities.
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Although they have differences, the brain and the mind are interconnected dimensions
To conclude, we must point out a small aspect. Although we have listed the most notable differences between the brain and the mind, both dimensions are interconnected and, in order to understand them, it’s impossible to separate one from the other.
Because of this, it’s important that neuroscience and psychology work together. Let’s avoid reductionism and broaden our gaze.