Brain and Mind Distinction

Need of objectivity in the enquiry of Brain and Mind

The Buddha emphasized on the need for objectivity and sound reasoning for any enquiry. He said:

“Just as a goldsmith tests the purity of the gold
By cutting, burning and rubbing the gold,
You should also examine my words before putting into action
Not simply because you respect me.”

Whether it’s just 1) the brain and no mind, or 2) mind as an emergent property of the brain, or 3) brain and mind are two distinct entities, one really needs objectivity in the methodology of enquiry. The following approach will help us to analyze objectively.

Three classes of phenomena

While modern science is such a rigorous discipline, we need to know what areas of phenomena modern science enquires out of the three kinds of phenomena.

  1. Evident phenomena like photosynthesis,
  2. Slightly obscured phenomena like quantum theory, and
  3. Very obscured phenomena like why the world operates in the way it is happening now.

Science answers to the question ‘How’ but not to ‘Why.’

Science touches only part of the first and second class of the phenomena. The study of brain falls in the first category which is quantifiable, empirical and replicable. Whereas although the study of mind falls in the first category of phenomena, but is non-quantifiable, non tangible, and not replicable in the form of experiences. The moment modern science attempts to touch this area, as of now, modern science loses its rigor. The strength of modern science is the rigor it has. The unwitting drawback of it, as of now, is that its scope of enquiry is confined to only a part of phenomena that exist, thus is not exhaustive.

What is mind? What is brain?

Before delving into this question, we need to know that while mind is the most important thing which drives the whole humanity into motion to seek happiness, we tend not to be aware of it, and worst still neglect it. This attitude can easily make the people slide down to seeing animals such as human beings as not more than just mechanical objects. This can easily lead to severe repercussions such as cold-hearted experiments of extreme kind such as extreme researches on stem-cell and cloning, creating strange beings such as partial human beings, which totally takes one away from the ethics of science.

What is mind ? And, what is brain ? While mind is defined as the agent of clarity and cognition (those interested, please study more from Buddhist Psychology), to identify mind, in its simplest form, imagine you are thinking of your mother smiling while you are put under fMRI scan. The neuroscientist can see the brain waves, but cannot read what you are thinking. Whereas you are fully aware of what you are thinking but not see your own solid brain and the brain waves. What you alone experience so clearly – the smile of the mother – which the neuroscientist cannot read is YOUR MIND. What the neuroscientist could vividly see by his eyes of the solid part and its electrical waves and is not seen by you, is the brain. This is the basic distinction.

by Ven. Geshe Dorji Damdul

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