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Mindful : April 2013
Mind vs. Brain Let’s try a little experiment. Using your right index finger, point to your brain. Now using the sa me finger, point to your mind. Not so easy. We don’t necessarily think of our brain and mind as being exactly the same thing. One is not as easy to pinpoint, and this has led to two distinct ways we have of talking about mental activity: mind talk and brain talk. To those of us without a degree in neurobiology, it seems completely natu- ral to refer to the mind. We talk about feeling this way and thinking of that, of remembering one thing and dreaming of another. Those verbs are examples of mind talk. Using mind talk, we would say, “I recognized my first-g rade teacher in the crowd because she was wearing the necklace with the beetle scarab, which was so unusual I still remembered it after all these years.” We would not say, “A barrage of pho- tons landed on my retina, exciting the optic nerve so that it carried an electri- cal sig nal to my lateral geniculate body and thence to my primary visual cortex, from which sig nals raced to my striate cortex to determine the image’s color a nd orientation, and to my prefrontal cortex and inferotemporal cortex for object rec- ognition and memory retrieval—causing me to recognize Mrs. McKelvey.” That’s brain talk. That there is an interplay between mind and brain may seem unremark- able. The mind, after all, is gener- ally regarded as synonymous with our thoughts, feelings, memories, and be- liefs, and as the source of our behaviors. It’s not made of material, but we think of it as quite powerful, or even as who we are. Scientists insist on talking about the brain while the rest of us talk about the mind. In her first installment of this column, Sharon Begley sizes up the two sides of the mind/brain conversation. Sharon Begley is the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Illustration by Malin Rosenqvist 30 mindful April 2013 mind/body