Pedro: Sometimes people talk about brain and mind as if they are the same. But surely they are different. How do you see brain as a basis for mind?
Mary: It’s just a hunch. I don’t really know yet. The physical heart is not a basis for the mind for sure, as far as modern science is concerned.
P: I like the idea. However, scientists have studied the brain very closely. So much details have been discovered about brain cells, neuro-chemistry, synaptic connections, and impulse transmissions. They use that to find medicines to treat mental illnesses, or to find ways to make computers or people smarter.
M: Ah, mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, dementia, schizophrenia... It’s the modern curse, a suffering that we can’t seem to escape.
Worried Matildi's Turned Four.. by Filipa Machado
P: And so much money has been poured into research to find cures for them. Still, no bridge is found that connects the brain to the mind. The doctors can control the symptoms, but they can’t cure the cause.
M: The brain is a physical thing. The mind is not. You can't have a bridge that connects a physical brain on the one side and a non-physical mind on the other. If it can, then the bridge is somehow physical and nonphysical at the same time. Will it be a 4-dimensional bridge, or a 5-dimensional thing? Oh, this sounds like metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.
P: Well, I agree that we do muddle language very much, and we don’t even notice it when physical and non-physical things are mixed together in one sentence. But our language comes from our mind. If the language is mixed up, then the mind is probably that way, too.
M: Remember that part in the Surangama Sutra (楞嚴經) where the Buddha asked Ananda where the heart (mind) is? Ananda gave many answers but all were refuted. Finally the master gave the answer that the mind was not in the body, nor was it not not-in-the-body. Everyone in the audience was confused by the discussion going back and forth between the master and the disciple. I think the Buddha talked that way because the mind is not physical. It has no weight, no size, no shape, no location. 2,500 years ago there’s no language to describe such concept as ‘non-physical’, except maybe in words like god or ghost or spirit. But even those have appearances (相) as storytellers can tell you. So the Enlightened One used the expression “it is not here, and it is not not-here”. Maybe he did it to shake people’s habit of using physical attributes to describe non-physical entities. Another example is that in Zen meditation sometime a master asks a novice to contemplate the question “who is the real ‘I’ before my parents were born?” I think that’s also an exercise to make the novice recognize that ‘I’ is a word that describes a non-physical entity, not a physical body.
P: So what then?
M: If we can help it, we need to use precise language to describe the mind. There are new concepts to help us do this. Instead of using a ‘bridge’ to link the brain to the mind, we can use ‘equivalence’ or ‘correspondence’ - something happens in the physical brain is equivalent to something happens in the non-physical mind. The whole business of astrology and fortune-telling is conducted this way. Some planetary/stellar positions correspond to a person’s personality. Some combinations of cards or numbers are equivalent to the prospects of a person’s affairs. ‘Equivalence’ is a phenomenon, while ‘bridge’ is a thing. People may chase the mind-brain ‘bridge’ forever but never find it, kind of like physicists chasing some sub-atomic ghost particles, or philosophers chasing 'the nature of ego'. To me, ‘equivalence’ is a much simpler model than ‘bridge’, and that’s what I will use.
I still have a strong feeling that the brain is a basis for the mind, metaphysically speaking. Because when the brain is damaged somewhat, the mind loses some capabilities also, like not recognizing someone familiar. When one takes drugs such as cocaine or dope or alcohol, one's mind becomes sharp, or relaxed, or euphoric. That shows that when drugs enter the brain, the mind gets high.
P: OK. It’s a new perspective on the mind. In Buddha’s time people had no knowledge of what went on inside the brain. So they didn't consider the brain. They thought the heart was the mind.
A painting done without perspective.
M: I can look up what’s known about the brain. That may yield more clues about the mind.
P: Maybe computers and evolutionary biology also have something to do with it. I will look into that.
A few weeks later…
Mary: I've got some rough sketches that can be a starting point for our investigation of the mind.
Brain: a biological circuit where chemicals and electrical impulses flow.
Mind: a cybernetic circuit where information flows.
Cybernetics: the study of feedback loops that have a steering and a sensor components.
Circuit: a looping pathway where something flows and transforms.
Information: en-formation. A formation that triggers another formation.
Pedro: What's this? Where do you find all these?