Minds and Brains

Hello again! It’s me! The random guy from the blog not nearly so cool as this one! That’s right, it’s Juensung from steelandink.wordpress.com, fresh from a sojourn into the deepest wilds of Korea.

Which has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m here to write about. As I mentioned in my previous waste of Sophia’s blog space, I’m into philosophy and psychology. In psychology, specifically an interdisciplinary branch called cognitive science, which aims to explain exactly how you’re aware that you’re reading this. What parts of the brain render you awake, conscious of your own existence? What is the biological basis for “Cogito, ergo sum?” Is there one at all? Can we replicate this mechanism and use it to create artificial intelligence?

Which, by the way, also has nothing to do with what I’m writing about. I just prefaced the meat of the matter with that little explanation so that you might understand where I’m coming from. What I’m going to do is intrude on Sophia’s territory wielding my own, more philosophically-inclined scalpel, and attempt to tackle the difference between your mind and your brain. See, most people use the terms interchangeably, and that bothers me. “Mind” is one of those really vague terms, much like “soul.” Except unlike souls, general consensus amongst human beings is that we do indeed have a mind, that it is a vital part of our existence, and that it is destroyed with the rest of our body. But is the mind part of the body?

I, personally, don’t think so. I believe the mind is something that is developed, housed in, yet distinct from the brain, much like how “vital force” is something housed in yet distinct from bodily systems. The argument can be and has been made that you don’t actually have a mind until early childhood, when you develop self-awareness. Conscious memory recall is developed somewhere around age 3-4, and it is then that a human being develops a “mind.” A former teacher of mine, a cognitive science professor at UofT, told me that he actually remembers the day when his youngest son became self-aware.

So then, how is self-awareness developed? Well, when we answer that question, we’ll finally know what a mind is and how we can go about producing one artificially. I’m almost certain that somebody much smarter than me and with a few more letters after their name has done something with regards to the nature of the mind, but I believe I have a theory.

The mind is not the brain, much for the same reasons that you are not your body. Ever hear of the Ship of Theseus paradox?  If you’ve not, let’s say there’s a ship. A wooden sailing ship. It’s a good, sturdy ship, sails along nicely. But like all ships, it wears down eventually. So we replace a plank here, a sheet there, a nail, some tar, until the entire thing has been replaced. Then we take all of the old pieces and construct a ship from them. Which is the real Ship of Theseus? For those of you who jumped to say “the one made of old parts,” stop and think for a second. Your body is made of cells. Cells die. They are then replaced with new cells. It is estimated that every seven years, your body has eliminated all the cells of the previous seven years and is composed entirely of new cells. Rather like Theseus’ ship. So are you still you then, or are you an impostor?

Now, now, don’t get all indignant. It was just for the sake of illustration. Contrary to popular belief, your brain cells die and regenerate as well. On top of this, the brain is unbelievably plastic. You can cut it up, scoop parts of it out, reconnect neurons, and given time to adjust, it’ll keep plugging along just fine. Thus, the mind cannot be the same as the brain, otherwise we’d find ourselves with new ones a lot more than we actually do. So we can establish that the mind is, in fact, separate from the brain.

How do we develop a mind? My theory is that your mind is an amalgamation of both the biological system that houses it and a process called internalization. We can call these things “voice” and “language.” They’re about the same idea. Though we might be speaking the same language, we have things like differing vocal cords (“nature”) and differing accents (“nurture”) that make the words we speak sound slightly different from one another. It’s the same with the mind and the brain. My hardware is a little bit different from yours, colouring my perceptions a bit. My perceptions are further coloured by the different experiences I’ve had that make me distinct from you.

But how do we learn this “language?” How do we develop “mind?” Well, how did you learn to speak? Likely by listening to people around you talk to one another and produce certain reactions in other individuals through differing patterns of vocalizations. My theory is that it’s the same with the mind. We create a mind by copying the minds of those around us. Through a process called internalization, we can learn and imitate the behaviour patterns of other individuals. This basically amounts to your brain asking “What would Uncle Smith do?” a few billion times a minute. And the best part is that your brain will ask “What would X do?” for every single person, animal, plant, or even thing that you’ve ever encountered. Your mind is essentially an amalgam of every single other mind you know. You start with your immediate family and friends, of course, and that’s why people say that you’re a combination of the 6 people you spend the most time with. Your brain asks what those 6 people would do and then asks who else would agree with them. And voila, there is your mind, your behaviour, your very personality, for what is a mind but the thing which compels you to action?

In summary, your brain is hardware, your mind is software. The software is written around the quirks of the hardware, ensuring that everybody’s mind is a little different from everyone else’s. The software is created by observing and copying the software of the people around you. In turn, your mind will be copied by others’ brains, internalized, categorized, and perused when needed.

Monkey see, monkey do. And it’s the brain that lets us do it. Fascinating, no?

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About hwonsoong

About myself? I don't know, actually, and that's why I'm starting this blog. I tried Tumblr, but a lot of my friends are on it, and all I want to do is write. The heck with reblogging. I'm going to ponder, I'm going to think about stuff. That's who I am and what I do. This blog is for thinking, both about myself and everything else.
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