The Mind vs. Brain Debate (What is Consciousness)

“The brain is the organ by which we think that we think.” (Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce)

The mind vs. brain debate has been going on since before Aristotle. He and Plato argued that the soul housed intelligence or wisdom and that it could not be placed within the physical body. In a well-described version of dualism, Descartes identifies mind with the consciousness and self-awareness of itself, with an ability to distinguish itself from the brain, but still called the brain the seat of intelligence.

Other scientists and philosophers argue that the mind does not exist without the brain. So is our brain the rocket that sails the ship or the fuel? Is it the rocket itself, or something else entirely?

In yogic science, the mind is considered to be pure vibrating energy. It is an element (non-physical by nature) which conducts “thought” faster than the speed of light and retains all experience whether consciously addressed by the thinker or not. It can create substance from nothing. It contains the aura, or energy body and can project to other minds, and receive from them also. It communicates in the language of feeling. It has a profound effect on the energy level of the physical body, which temporarily houses it, and has the capacity to heal its own physical house as well as that of others. It is often referred to as a Spark of the Divine or as a wave on the vast limitless ocean of the cosmic ever-present possibility of what is. Our minds, due to their nature as a spark or wave of a much greater, infinite intelligence, are capable of unbelievable things.

In yogic science, the brain is simply a physical manifestation of the mind itself. This is a complex idea to grasp. Let us look at one profoundly odd phenomenon to try to understand the mind/brain difference.

About 80% of people who have lost a limb due to accident or illness report feeling excruciating pain, burning, aching, or even as though this absent part of their bodies is being crushed even when it is no longer there. This is often referred to as the phantom limb. The sensations of pain are created by the brain and are experienced no differently than someone with a present limb.

This incredible phenomenon has stumped doctors for over a hundred years. Only now are they beginning to understand, partly through research by Dr. Ramachandran, that “the touch signals from the entire surface of your body are mapped on the surface of your brain – in a strip between your two ears called your sensory cortex. The area that ‘feels’ your hand is very close to the area for your face.”

To make a complex phenomenon simple, when patients that were blind folded were touched on the face, they felt corresponding feeling of being touched on the phantom limb, say on the middle index finger. The feelings are very specific. In order to eliminate the pain felt by the patient with the missing limb, Drs. Giraux and Sirigu have shown that merely training patients to imagine their paralyzed arms moving in relation to a moving arm on a screen in front of them can relieve phantom limb pain. That posits an interesting set of questions. Is it the mind feeling the limb, or the erroneous assumption of the brain? Why would the brain feel something that wasn’t there? Is this true consciousness?

Consciousness Beyond the Brain

The human brain has three principal structures. The largest is the cerebrum and is the center for intellectual functioning or reasoning. The cerebellum is the second structure, located at the back of the skull. It helps us to stand tall and not fall over. It is in charge of balance. The third structure is the medulla, a stem leading into the spinal column, which helps to handle involuntary tasks like respiration. These three structures work together to help carry out the role of cognition, but they are not mind itself. Mind is not a physical entity.

Although it is theorized that memories in the brain are just stored chemical structures such as in a neural network, some doctors are pointing to evidence of awareness once the physical structure of the brain is considered “dead.” Dr. Peter Fenwick has studied the phenomenon of near-death experiences in his patients and documented people’s accurate descriptions of what is happening in the room after they have flat-lined and been pronounced clinically dead.

Peter Fenwick, M.D., F.R.C.Psych., is Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London, and associated with the Mental Health Group at the University of Southampton. He is also Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital and at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. His studies have shown that across cultural differences, sex, age and type of death there are remarkable experiences reported with many similarities by patients who experience near-death.

Some have argued that near-death experiences could have been caused by chemical reactions in the brain due to drugs being given at the time of death; however, “Thirty-seven percent of our respondents reportedly were receiving drugs at the time of their NDEs, and 63 percent were not. So the theory that NDEs are all drug induced could not be correct. About two thirds had their NDEs during illness, operations, childbirth, or accidents. Two percent occurred in suicide attempts and 20 percent in other circumstances that included anxiety states, dreams, relaxation states, or quite spontaneously in the normal course of life.” Neuroscience
maintains that conscious experience is not possible during physical unconsciousness, so that leads to the question of mind or consciousness being something alive beyond the confines of brain death.

More double blind, randomized, controlled trials on many aspects of spiritual medicine are being conducted, many with the focus of determining the locality of consciousness. But with the ideas of Fenwick and others, the medical world is not the only field of science asking questions about consciousness. Physicists have been asking this question too. In his last autobiographic paper, Einstein wrote: “. . .the discovery is not the matter of logical thought, even if the final product is connected with the logical form.”

Two other philosophers seconded Einstein’s feeling. Neither Hume nor Kant understood Newton’s laws as laws of the Universe. Hume thought that there really were no natural laws for the reason that all theories claiming that fact are underdetermined and subject to rebuttal. Kant would say that Newton’s laws concerned only the appearance of things and not things as they really are, therefore, all things are not laws of the universe but products of human thought. To Kant, Newton’s laws were “transcendental” but not transcendent. Quantum mechanics is now struggling with these same philosophical questions, which all lead back to an understanding of consciousness. The emergence of quantum mechanics forces physicists to be become philosophers again.

One of the basic premises of quantum study is that the quantum (of energy) is indivisible. In Neils Bohr’s words, there is "an indivisible wholeness, an unanalyzable wholeness. At the moment of observation, the observer and observed make a single, unified whole.” The wave/particle theory also describes the presence of greater intelligence at least insofar as understanding the power of the mind. Not only is intelligence not relegated to the workings of the brain, it is not even relegated to the atoms and quarks we observe. When looking at waves and particles and their behavior physicists find that they act differently once observed. Consciousness, in fact, may create them.

Further, Max Born’s colleague Pascual Jordan declared that observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it. In a measurement, “the electron is forced to a decision. We compel it to assume a definite position; previously it was, in general, neither here nor there, it had not yet made its decision for a definite position…We ourselves produce the results of the measurement.”

So is consciousness merely the collection of chemical functions in our brains, of neuronal networks of billions of cells communicating with one another, or is it even more complex, existing not just outside the brain, but completely separate from it? Does the brain’s functioning proscribe the ability of consciousness to exist without this physical apparatus? Kant, Bohr, Einstein and others would say no. It seems philosophy and science have circled around themselves to return to the same house on the cul-de-sac.

Consciousness or mind is not matter. But even quantum mechanics is having a hard time describing consciousness.
In the Quantum Mind Theory, supported by the well-known mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, it is assumed that large-scale quantum coherence is necessary to understanding the mind and brain. Quantum coherence is a state of balance when two quanta’s individual frequencies are in constructive interaction.

The main argument against the quantum mind is that the brain is warm, wet, and noisy and that the structures of the brain are much too large for quantum mechanics to be important. Consequently, it is difficult for coherent quantum states to form for very long in the brain, and impossible for them to exist at the scales on the order of the size of neurons. These issues have led Penrose to argue that consciousness is not a consequence of interactions between neurons in the brain but arises as from microtubules within cells, which are much smaller and for which quantum effects could be significant. This was originally the theory of Stuart Hameroff.
On the other hand, a system does not cease to be quantum because it is wet and noisy. And then, what was previously dismissed as “noise” in the brain has recently been discovered to be complex signals. Then again, if the brain is fractal in character, it may well exhibit sensitive dependence on initial (quantum) conditions. Given the fractal character of dendritic arborizations, brain function may depend on self-similar processes at lower spatio-temporal scales. Or, neural form follows quantum function. If all matter consists of quantum fields, as Dyson makes explicit in his Scientific American article on “Field Theory,” then the brain just is a collection of such fields.

In a recent article in EnlightenNext Magazine, Stuart Hameroff, MD describes microtubules as a possible quantum-physics-based solution to the question of consciousness, “ Microtubules are molecular assemblies; they’re cylindrical polymers composed of repeating patterns of a single peanut-shaped protein called tubulin that can flex “open” and “closed.” The tubulin proteins self assemble into these beautifully elegant hollow cylinders with walls arranged in hexagonal lattices. . .neurons need a lot of microtubules. If you look inside a single neuron, there are hundreds of microtubules composed of something like one hundred million tubulin protein subunits. You could say the neurons are actually made of microtubules.” Hameroff supposes that although heretofor scientists believed that communication between neurons was the basis for consciousness, the presence of microtubules may actually explain the physical basis for consciousness.

Even though there are one hundred billion or so neurons in our brains, there are 100 times as many microtubules in every neuron. So, every neuron has consciousness or at least some structure to support consciousness. This brings is to the question, yet again, of how to get mind out of matter. Sir Roger Penrose believes that consciousness involves something non-computable. This is described in G?del’s theorem. G?del’s are actually two theorems of mathematics. They establish inherent limitations “of all but the most trivial axiomatic systems for mathematics. The theorems, proven by Kurt G?del in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics. The two results are widely interpreted as showing that Hilbert’s program to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all of mathematics is impossible, thus giving a negative answer to Hilbert’s second problem.

The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an “effective procedure” (essentially, a computer program) is capable of proving all facts about the natural numbers. For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem shows that if such a system is also capable of proving certain basic facts about the natural numbers, then one particular arithmetic truth the system cannot prove is the consistency of the system itself.”

Hameroff used Penrose and G?del’s findings with his own intuition to conclude that it isn’t just a human observer which is required to collapse a state of superposition (often called the Copenhagan interpretation of quantum mechanics), but instead, superpositions naturally collapse themselves. In this model, consciousness happens as a series of discrete events (these collapsing superpositions in the quantum field) that we experience as consciousness. Still, the conscious moment and the quantum wave function are one and the same event. It goes back to Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Roger assumes that the gravitational curvature of spacetime also occurs in this very small scale, such as in the functioning of microtubuls in the brain. So, to these thinkers, mind is not matter, but consciousness and matter are inextricably linked.

The yogic philosopher, Patanjali told us that “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Regardless of whether mind is contained in the brain or exists beyond these physical boundaries, it is evident that it is something quit immense. The spark of an eternal fire or the wave of a vast ocean are apt metaphors to describe it. The cosmic nature of mind has been described for centuries prior to Kant and Plato, Descartes, Einstein, Bohr, and Socrates offered their musings. Mahatma Ghandi told us, “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.” If mind is indestructible, and vast beyond our perception, then do the semantics of its origins really even matter? It is natural for the mind to want to know itself, and this era of human development marks the ability for consciousness to know it is conscious. This alone is an evolutionary leap.

Perhaps we can agree with David Chalmers, “. . .much of the work going on now in neuroscience and psychology, where people are studying the relationship of consciousness to neural and cognitive processes without really trying to reduce it to those processes. . .[I agree with that.]” The brain vs. mind debate may not be a question of either or after all, but a question of quantum reality: the interweaving of mind and matter into one. This is the simple definition of yoga. From the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to control,” “to yoke” or “to unite.” Yoga derives from “yujir samadhau,” which means “contemplation” or “absorption.” Perhaps we will yoke our mind with the body by the contemplation of consciousness itself.

Christina Sarich


Could relate with the following:

Consciousness or mind is not matter.

?Consciousness? and ?mind? are not the same. Pure consciousness is infinite, unchanging and omnipresent. Mind is finite, always changing and conditioned. It is a tool that processes the sense impulses and generates out of them meaningful constructs via thoughts. Thoughts create cognition and then awareness. While consciousness always ?is?, awareness is dynamic until it learns to be independent of mind and to turn from ?being aware? to just ?being?.
Subtle produces gross. Mind creates desires, desires create thoughts, thoughts conceive objects and over a timespan long enough mind ends up creating myriad objects. Mind, the subtlest and the inert grossest objects form a single continuum of matter. Subtleness and versatility causes a virtual Universal mind to dwell in a body as a dwarfed localized individual mind. Mind uses brain and its subtle counterparts as the equipment for churning sense data into subjective information. Mind defines and redefines our world.
Thus, the mind is a very subtle, brittle, and malleable substance that is invisible, and interpenetrating. Thinking instruments (like the brain) and the mind go hand-in-hand, but they are distinct from each other. The brain is a physical organ, fairly inert. The brain stores data and processes thoughts through interaction (exchange of mild electrical charge) between various parts of its functional network. The mind provides energy for this interaction when it interpenetrates the brain.
The mind does not belong to a body as an organ nor does it reside at a given location. It manifests itself in various ways depending on which aspects of it are at work. Maharshi Vyasa, one of the most insightful commentators on Yoga-Sutra, has enumerated these aspects of mind:

  1. Mind, a manipulator of thoughts: Our functionality, a legacy of past incarnations with seeds that materialize as body features, susceptibility to illness, talents, actions etc that define a personality and the state of health. This influences the choices in the thought-processes.
  2. Mind, a pre-processor of thoughts: Our Structure of predispositions, accumulation of preferences, likes and dislikes, repressed impressions etc that sustain ego and impulsive reflex thinking. They act as pre-processors before the thoughts form and dictate reflexive thinking.
  3. Mind, a consolidator of habits: Autonomous body functions, a legacy of human evolution that brings automated body functions like metabolism, heart-beating, breathing etc. They convert repetitive thoughts into behavioral habits.
  4. Mind, a supplier of subjective bias: Latent impressions of past experiences unavailable to normal awareness, spring up in the process of ?new? cognition and in dealing with the unknown. They sculpt the ?learning? by adding the subjective bias.
  5. Mind, a driver of thoughts: Prāṇa energy in its purest form is the Universal Mind and various grades of contaminated prāṇa is the individual mind. This energy drives the thinking process.
  6. Mind, a distractor: Universal Mind pulsates with Cosmic Rhythm; individual mind loses its ability to be in tandem with that and instead remains just fickle and vulnerable to changes in the gross bodies. This makes the mind unstable and inherently incapable of concentration.
  7. Mind, a power: Universal Mind is a mother and the controller of all gross matter; while the individual mind becomes subservient to the gross matter. Individual mind in its process of becoming the Universal Mind regains that control in the form of psychic powers, called siddhīs.
    Thus, a mind that is burdened by the legacies of past seeds and memory, captivated by the latent impressions, lured into the thinking process, fickle and subjugated, has to become what it originally was, Universal. That process of transformation is Yoga. And that is why we concern ourselves with annihilating the seeds, bypassing memory, upgrading prāṇa, restraining mind modifications and investing the psychic powers in advancing these efforts. In each of these aspects there is a certain progression on the path of Yoga. Sage Patanjali shows us how this transformation leads to a self-realization that we are essentially pure consciousness.

The yogic philosopher, Patanjali told us that ?When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.?

First, calling Patanjali a philosopher robs away from him his greatest contribution of giving us a practical handbook of Yoga discipline. In the same vein, phrases like ?some great purpose? shows lack of courage to recognize enlightenment as a legitimate life mission and for the same reason, the end result adorns an unspecific yet nice-sounding verbiage ?find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world? that appears deliberately diluted.

Not deliberately watered down at all. Enlightenment is a very worthy aspiration, but I prefer to present my opinions as just that. Calling Patanjali a philosopher does not reduce his significant contribution any more than calling a enlightened man/woman a Swami or a Guru. They are just descriptive words, nothing more, and they are not meant to reduce anything/anyone. I believe that is up to your interpretation. Thank you for your comments about mind, though. They are well presented.

I couldn’t help but notice the absence of Yoga in the article, there were a few stray references here and there, but the majority of it was about contempoary debates on the mind-body problem. You should have included more of the Yoga arguments on the mind-body problem, such as looking at what Sankara has to say or contemporary Vedanta gurus.
Yoga literature abounds in discussions on the mind-body problem.

There is some bit of faith required in doing yoga… It is one of the most important pre requisites.

IF they faith happens, then the mind and the intellect can be handled easily


Consciousness is unfettered by name and form. Mind however is nothing more than a field of thoughts, constantly in flux, in the infinite ocean of consciousness. Only way to ennter consciousness pure and objectless is to cease the fluctuations of the mind.

[QUOTE=YogiDiva;50476]"The brain is the organ by which we think that we think." (Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce)
[/QUOTE]Brain is just pyramid that reflects divine rays. Divine Rays are the seeds/see Parable of the Sower/. If Sahasrara is open the seeds will fall on good soil.
Real Mind is in our chakras and our Spirit ? Atma, because they control our body.

[QUOTE=Dwai;57033]Consciousness is unfettered by name and form. Mind however is nothing more than a field of thoughts, constantly in flux, in the infinite ocean of consciousness. Only way to ennter consciousness pure and objectless is to cease the fluctuations of the mind.[/QUOTE]Mind is divided in two parts Ego-Ahamkara and Superego-Manas. Thoughts are coming from these both sides.

a good presentation

”Other scientists and philosophers argue that the mind does not exist without the brain. So is our brain the rocket that sails the ship or the fuel? Is it the rocket itself, or something else entirely?”

Those scientists and philosophers have been speaking about mind, thinking about mind, but neither the scientist nor the philosopher have had any methods for the expansion of consciousness. To know of what mind is, you will have to investigate into the innermost depths of ones own being. Otherwise, entangled in a dream, one continues speaking of a dream. These scientists and philosophers continue entertaining themselves with all kinds of assumptions and speculations, questioning into almost everything - but as to themselves, they have remained in a deep unconsciousness.

It should be understood that when the scientists have been speaking of ”mind”, it is not without a certain prejudice and belief system behind it. Because in modern science everything in existence is just a by product of matter, although it is not stated as a commandment in any of the books or experiments of science, it is implied and taken for granted. Even though even modern science has yet to discover what ”matter” is. They speak of matter, but they do not even know what matter is. Even something as apparently basic as electricity, scientists still do not know what electricity truly is. And this idea that the mind is just a projection of the brain is just an assumption. Certainly, the mind is inseparable from the body and cannot exist without the body. But the mind does not require a brain for its existence. Anything in existence which has a body, has a mind - it is just a question of the level of evolution of the mind. Either it is in a largely unconscious state, a subconscious state, or a conscious state - but it is still the same mind. In fact - the mind which man has is just a result of thousands of years of evolution of life - from a single celled organism, to plants, to animals, to the human being. Jellyfish, for example, have a mind and they have senses - but they do not have a brain. They have a decentralized nervous system which enables them to live without a brain. Plants, too, have a mind - although they are in a deep sleep. But the problem is with the scientists is that they have assumed ”mind” means a conscious mind - a mind which is self aware. But even when you enter into a deep dreamless sleep - although you may not conscious, you still have a mind. So this is the first thing that the scientists should realize if they are to have a better understanding of mind - that mind does not mean self-awareness.

Tough one!
I think that consciousness is a layer behind the mind… while it works through the mind, it is free of ego and not so biased as the mind can become due to stored experiences creating pride and prejudice. I think consciousness is the same for all living beings and it is the capabilities and inclinations of the mind that differentiate various species.
I think in consciousness we’re all connected…all one…

Cosmic Consciousness = Universal Awareness, and is being expressed through our individualized consciousness as “soul.”

We had consciousness before we know we have a brain.
Consciousness is an expereince. Having a brain is knowledge.
Sure, you might say, that if we see another human brain exposed, when we have a sensorial experience of it, we deduct that we must have a similar organ. Yet this is still done through thinking. Expereinces, perceptions are only relative, and we conceptualize them through thinking.

Now, what is consciousness ? What is it to know anything ?
Truth is, that everything starts with thinking. Subject and object are concepts. How do we realize that we are subjects, something separate from the world, as opposed to it ? By directing out thinking to itself. Basicly, we must admit, that in our thinking we are in a realm what exists on it’s own. Only when thinking is directed to perceive the world, something other than itself, only than we arrive to the concept of not-me, or objects of perception (mind you these not need to be real objects in the common sense, a feeling can be an object of our thought perception just as well)
What does this tell us ? That thinking in reality is something higher than just a subjective process. No, as it has been shown, subject and object only separates after the thought processes have started. To feel that we are the ones who are thinking is an illusion. Rather, thinking is what creates our lower self, or the experience of me-ness.

If thinking was something subjective, how could we ever arrive to understand each other ? Now, I am not talking about verbal thoughts. Surely, if we don’t know other languages, we cant understand what others think, as most of the time, thinking is verbalized in us. Yet, the very fact, that languages can be translated, shows, that thoughts, concepts ideas, like subject and object, cause and effect, they are the same in all languages, and if we would meet aliens of human level (having physical bodies), I am sure that their langugae would be translatable too.

Basicly I am presenting here a view what is more honest than the usual materialist accpetion that we are biological organisms, and our brains somehow evaporate thoughts and build a consciousness upon them.

The world of thoughts, ideas, concepts have been called spiritual. According to Hegel, thinking is what raises the soul (what animals are endowed with too) to human level.

What is done here, on this thread is nothing else than an exchange of thoughts, concepts, ideas. The problem only appears when one tries to understand thinking and ideas based on somehing not of it’s nature. Perceptions (whatever they might be, except the self perception of our thought processes) brings external, secondary elements into this world.
Thinking cannot be comprehended and explained coming from the direction of sense perceptions, not even from feelings or desires. Everything goes through the head. When you meet a person you start to like, and before you start to love her, you create a mental representation of her qualities, and only after that the way to your heart opens.

Why don’t people give credit to their thinking nature ? Because most of the time, it is not clear, not conscious, but it is a chaotic conglomerate of arbitrary concepts flowing here and there, induced by sense perceptions, earlier experiences, disturbed by likes and dislikes. So the work of self knowledge starts by trying to build a conscious activity of thought, using in the beginning the concepts and ideas the sense world provides. Later on, when we have gained strenght in directing and controling our thought process, we can shift focus to more “spiritual” fields, a world of concepts, ideas, thoughts not generated by sensorial, external stimuli, but the likes ususally philosophers arrive. The more ones is able to maintain a thought process on it’s own, a perception free one, the more in control one is in one’s thinking. Sooner or later one will arrive to an awareness of the subtle pranic (etheral) forces what are behind one’s thinking. When we are able to bring these forces into our consciusness and direct them at will, even when there are no ordinary thoughts or ideas connected to them, than we have passed the treshold. Because behind everything what we experience normally, as world, there is a whole vital-mental-spiritual universe, built by the same forces than ourselves, and when we have gained control of these in ourselves, they become new senses of perception. Just as when we see with our eyes, and through this perception our consciusness flows out into the world of the senses, and reaches the sky and the high mountains, so when these new senses are developed, or found, our spiritual nature flows out into the great spiritual ocean of the world. Than the veil of Isis have fallen, and we see through maya, and expereince reality in all Her splendor.

This is also called initiation.

Somehow I missed the edit button, so many typos, mistakes could not been weeded out. I hope it won’t interfere too much with the texts comprehension. :wink:

so who is kidding whom? our conscious mind or vice versa? I don’t know who is the boss in our body and spirit…:o

Brain is matter/ interface. WHen dead useless.

Mind goes on to the next thing.