The mind vs. Brain debate has been going on since before Aristotle. He and Plato held that the soul housed intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn’t be placed inside the physical body. That 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 folks who’ve lost a limb due to accident or illness report sensation excruciating pain, burning, aching, or as if this absent part of their bodies is being crushed even when it’s no longer there. This is frequently 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 physicians for over one hundred years. Only now are they starting to understand, partly through research by Dr. Ramachandran, that the touch signals from the whole surface of the 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 quite close to the area for your face. To make a complex phenomenon simple, when patients who were blind they were touched on the face, they felt the corresponding feeling of being touched on the limb phantom, say on the middle index finger.
The emotions are very specific. Giroux and Sirigu have shown that merely train patients to imagine their paralyzed arms moving in relation to a moving arm on a screen in front of them may relieve phantom limb pain. That posits an intriguing set of questions. The largest is the brain and is the center for intellectual functioning or reasoning. The cerebellum is the second structure, located at the rear of the skull. The 3rd structure is the medulla, a stem leading into the spinal column, which can help to handle involuntary tasks like respiration. These 3 structures work together to help carry out the role of cognition, but they don’t mind itself.
The mind isn’t a physical entity. Even though it’s theorized that memories in the brain are just stored chemical structures like in a neural network, some physicians are pointing to evidence of consciousness 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 peoples accurate descriptions of what’s happening in the room after they’ve flatlined 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’s also Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital and at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.