by Gerald Epling
Neuroscientists occasionally refer to the brain as the mind, psyche, or spirit. It is an interesting way to casually assert, that all human experience is limited to the body or brain. This approach is consistent with an expectation, that people are no more than the physical elements; which are found in the body with some lucky sequences of events.
The importance of any science or theory is to predict events, explain future events, or explain existing circumstances. For correct predictions, the populace generally gives science wide latitude to the pursuit of knowledge. In order to keep the moving parts of an explanation manageable, scientific explanations are always limited to one particular framework or another.
By example, behaviorism assumes that thinking is irrelevant, talking is just a behavior, and the only thing you need to explain human experience is the stimulus, a response, and a lot of data. The behavioral approach has a place; if you want to discount the mind and avoid considering the inner workings of the brain.
In contrast with behaviorism, cognitive science accepts that people have thoughts. By considering the processes of thinking, cognitive science provides things for neuroscientists to explore. Neuroscience is limited generally to the body and focused on the nervous system.
The reasonable focus of neuroscience would seem to preclude an explanation of spiritual reality, elements of the psyche, or the soul. Yet, a few neuroscientists take the position that we are nothing more than elements, which could just as well be blowing in the wind. For these people the mind, spirit, psyche or soul is just a ghost in the machinery of the brain. I wonder. How is this position be tenable?
If the brain is the mind, then the relationship must be one-to-one and onto. This assertion comes to us from computer science. If one item is identical to another, then there must be a one-to-one correspondence of every element of one item to every element of the other item. Not only must there be a one-to-one correspondence, there must be an onto relationship. An onto relationship means that every element in one item corresponds to one and only one identical element in the other item. The one-to-one and onto relationship qualification means that after you compare each element of item 1 to item 2 and find them to be identical, there are no extra parts.
How hard would it be to prove that the mind is equivalent to the brain?
The concept of memory is the most basic description of the mind. We are at least 100 years out from being able to follow the way that a memory is coded and decoded in the brain.
Estimates of the number of neurons in the brain are around 86 billion. The number of neurons in the neocortex is estimated to be about 30 billion. Underneath the cortex are about 900 billion glial cells, supporting cortical and other activity. How can anyone be sure, that the mind has a one-to-one and onto relationship to the brain?
Because the current level of neuroscience is not capable of explaining the coding and decoding of memory in the brain, it is too early to say that the mind and the brain are the same. For this reason, the exploration of the mind continues to be a lively and interesting pursuit, as long as we do not allow the redefinition of the mind.
Cognitive science and human experience will continue to provide information about the mind and psyche as neuroscience continues to find new ways to save lives, treat disease, and explain the processes that support mental life. It is up to us to use the power of the mind to reap the benefits of the brain.