Mind is not Brain

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts, Evolving Self 7 Comments

What is the mind? Most of us think about it as a storehouse of ideas and memories. It is the place where we experience the world. Sometimes we think about it as a movie screen that exists in our head and plays a continuous feature film of the world with us in the staring role. Or we think of it as a computer that tells us what to think and figures things out for us.

What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? If we don’t think too deeply we probably simply think that whatever the mind is, it happens inside the brain. We all know that the brain is the place where little electrical signals snap back and forth and that somehow all of those electrical impulses add up to our experience of the world – our thoughts, sensations, feelings and memories.

The fact is that no one knows what relationship that spongy grey thing under our skull has to our experience of mind. It is just a big question mark. Sure people have theories, but no one knows.

Recently I read Alva Noe’s book Out of Our heads for the second time. I don’t know if Dr. Noe would consider himself a Pragmatist but he is certainly starting from a Pragmatic assumption about reality. He starts with the assumption that the best way to understand what the mind is is to look at it functionally – what does the mind do for us?

The mind allows us to interact with the world. Minds grow in relationship with the world and at least according to Noe they only exist in relationship to the world. Mind is not something that exists in the brain although some brain function is certainly related to the mind. Mind exists partly in the brain, but also in the body, in our body’s interaction with the world, and in the world itself.

Mind is an ongoing, self organizing relationship of human beings and the world. Rather than thinking of the mind as a movie screen, or a computer, Dr. Noe believes that we should think of it as a dance.

If you go to a dance performance and the person next to you leaned over in the middle of it and asked, “Where is the dance?” You would look at him oddly. But, where is the dance? The dance is not in the brains of the dancers although the brains of the dancers are involved with the dance. The dance is also not in the body of any one dancer although the bodies of all the dancers are involved in the dance. The dance exists in the relationship with all of the dancers and the stage and the costumes and the scenery. The dance is the whole interacting event.

In the same way Dr. Noe says that we should not look for the mind in the brain. The mind is the whole interactive event of human beings living in relationship with the world. It is not a thing, it is an achievement. Just like a dance is an achievement. The mind is a performance that includes events that happen in the brain, but is not limited to them.

An online community of inspired individuals dedicated to spiritual transformation and mutual evolution.
Become a member
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tara Jones
Tara Jones
11 years ago

I love this exploration of what the mind is. Its kind of funny how we really do think the mind is just in the brain and when you examined it closer, I could see how it is so much more. All of a sudden I felt expanded. The mind really is the best invention ever and it seems the more we realize what a powerful tool it is, the more potential is at our finger tips.

11 years ago

“The world is not round…………………… anyone can see that! It is flat! The Sun revolves around the earth. People lived with dinosaurs.” These could have been historic blog headings. There is no empirical evidence that the mind is not brain…………….most evidence suggests that it is. We may not YET explain mind as brain BUT it’s looking like within 10-20 years we will have an understanding of consciousness…… that the world is not flat changed us utterly. My question is if it is “proven” that “mind is brain how” does that affect our answers to the big questions………….who are we, why… Read more »

11 years ago

Thanks, Jeff. I find that metaphor of mind as a dance very illuminating.

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Our brains / our minds

Can I submit that the brain can be thought of as hard-drive and the mind all the software that’s input into that computer? Like all analogies, this may be oversimplified and limited but it sort of describes the difference between the two entities, I submit.

Don Briddell
11 years ago

Yes, I agree with Frank, the dance analogy is excellent. No, I don’t agree mind is a product of brain as Anonymous seems to conclude. The Vedic view, one I highly regard, says that the mind is independent of the brain (body). The brain body is like an antenna that vibrates in sympathy with a particular mind set. If you are identified completely with the body, then all that goes on in your brain you naturally assume is manufactured by the brain. This is like saying the parts make the whole, a concept rejected not only by Vedic sages, but… Read more »

James Vornov
11 years ago

It seems clear to me that our current crop of pragmatist, neuroscientific philosophers of mind are avoiding the problem of what “mind is” by taking the view that mind is what brain does. Its an activity, not a thing. So it isn’t real in the physical sense that the brain is real. Now if you want to grant abstract entities “existence” of some sort, that’s your business, but pragmatically, I think that kind of existence doesn’t have any import and can be ignored. Brains think and brains activate muscle, moving bodies around. I think that the idea, finally, of the… Read more »


[…] Evolutionary philosophy, Mind is not a brain, e-article. http://evolutionaryphilosophy.com/2011/11/03/mind-is-not-brain/ […]