The Brain is in the Body, the Mind is in the Brain

This website is nominally about body and mind interactions. The body includes the brain. And the mind depends on the brain to function. Everything is connected. In the not too distant past, the mind was seen as totally ineffable. The words ‘spirit’ and ‘mind’ were often used interchangeably. That is, they were both considered beyond understanding. Today, with MRI devices, we are able to correlate the physical actions of a person’s brain with their subjective experiences of thoughts and feelings. In other words, we can relate body phenomena to psychological events.

Freud was a neurologist who built a psychological theory of the mind. He knew, of course, that the psychology depended on the biology. He thought that 100 years after he built the theory of psychoanalysis, we would be able to see connections between mental and physical events. It turns out he was exactly right! The field of Neuropsychoanalysis came into being in 1999, 100 years after Freud’s publication of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams” of 1900.

The biology of dreaming began to be be studied in the early 1950’s. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) was discovered then. Kleitman, Jouvet, and others found that the person had the most vivid dreams while their eyes darted back and forth during REM–a clear connection between biological and subjective experience. Animals from sharks to humans have REM sleep. So, certainly, REM sleep has been conserved over evolution as a key feature of maintaining brain functions, and it seems reasonable that lions, dogs, cats and apes have subjective experiences when in REM states.

Besides being able to measure brain and mind connections via MRI and EEG methods, a great deal is now know about how chemicals, especially psychiatric drugs, operate to affect feelings, thoughts and overt behavior. Antidepressants like prozac, stimulants such as ritalin, mood stabilizers like Lithium, and antipsychotics like Seroquel affect subjective experiences in more or less reliable ways. These drugs work at the level of neurons, the single cells which make up the brain and its connections to the rest of he the body.

So body-brain-mind connections are being increasingly illuminated. Today, there are more neuroscientists than any other kinds of scientists. Formerly genetics research drew the most biologists. Now it’s neuroscience. Computer technology is very related to brain-mind studies. Computers made it clear that concrete, physical things could do something like thinking. Such insights have transformed the world. This is very exciting and sometimes disagreeable. While these discoveries can enhance our lives, they also can be used by nefarious forces within governments, the military, and corporations. The world is now in a very unstable condition driven in large part by advances in computing which affect energy, agriculture, communication, manufacturing, education, medicine, government, the military, and frankly everything else.

I am not too optimistic about the short term effect of humankind’s scientific advances. Some lunatics deny the validity of science altogether. They want to think what they think regardless of scientific knowledge. This has been on stark display during the politicization of the Covid pandemic. But whenever one of these science deniers needs heart surgery, life saving medications, or even a root canal procedure, they run to the best scientific medical professional they can find. Go figure.

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