The Brain, The Mind, The Spirit, (What is the Self?)
December 22, 2007 10:12am CST
Time for more philisophical thoughts and musings for today. This discussion focuses on the self and the existence of the self in general. The easy statements of this musing, I know I exist since I think, therefore I am. That's simple, but there could be more to it. I'll review each item I highlighted in subject and compare my thoughts on them. First, the common item, the brain. Well, maybe its not the common item since its incredibly complex and scientists still have no clue how everything fully works. Of course the brain does fully work but there are scientific and non-scientific theories that provide more growth and potential for the brain itself. These same groups also place all interest, all activities, all being into the brain itself. Others claim higher theories based on the existence of the mind. The mind being something intangible, traced back to nearly the very beginning of true thought and civilization (and some origins in ancient philosophical thought). Some circles, philosophers and scientists put an emphasis on the existence of the mind as a formless item, one that is pivotal to human existence. The mind is a collection of personality, thoughts, beliefs, some traits, strengths, weaknesses, fears, and much more. There are also those who place more emphasis on the "spirit" or "soul". Some tie in the spirit with the mind itself but others separate the two as distinct entities. The spirit used in more religious terms and the distinction between it and the mind is also emphasized in this particular context. The brain. The only one of the three items that can be physically detected through scans, dissection and the like. Some scientists, philosophers and people all think of this as the whole when it comes to "self" and human existence. Depending on the scan in question one can map the entire brain by hemisphere or whole; or they can monitor life signs and specific brainwaves (Electroencephalography/EEG). Additionally, changes to the brain yield changes in thought, personality, pretty much changes in the self. When the brain is influenced by endorphins or relevant neurons, there are light personality changes (slight or moderate mood changes). If the brain is damaged or injured, the self also takes damage. A piercing or damaging to the brain (usually the frontal lobe) can cause memory loss, personality disorders, headaches, confusion. A person that was bright as a flower would end up bitter as a brute in a brain damage situation (or something different can occur with personality change). Slow damage and even addictions can cause subtle but noticable changes in a self. Irritability, false euphoria, dependence, memory loss, confusion... they can all occur here too due to the effects of alcohol, substance abuse or slow internal damage to the brain. Its quite a lot and more can be described, but basically a good case can be made that humans are only the brain and not anything intangible. It could indeed be fact that you and I are just physical matter, and by some circumstance or chance, "we" exist as we are... simply to live, learn, die, and fade from all of reality. A different possibility is that the brain does not really "exist". It could all be a fabrication, a vagary of perception to ease a person into what reality truly is. I stroke my temple and head, thinking they may or may not really be there. I do know that if I was to simply destroy my brain, it would no longer "exist" and likely neither would "I". Again, only facts and experience really point this out, there is no true way to know unless its done to me. Things could be right...or completely incorrect. The mind... other philosophers, scientists and people believe in this. One classic example of this is Descartes describing the self and mind: the famous quote I highlighted in the beginning... "I think therefore I am". A person knows they exist because they can think, they are aware of the thought, and nothing anyone says, not even this posting can change either of that. As far as you can think, feel, remember and know... "you" "exist". Another example is self-perspective. The mind itself can gather information about the world through senses; it can make judgments based on this information and observations; it can think, deduce, imagine, remember, predict. The mind is also capable of creating things both tangle (art, science, literature, houses) and the intangible (thoughts, ideas, beliefs, imagination). A third example tying into this is the hypothetical about a mind controlling the brain and body like a machine (arguments for the spirit or soul also point to something like this or similar). Basically the mind is intangible and has control over the brain and hence dominion over the physical body. Items highlighted in the second example relate to this. Take this example with the brain mapping. No technology can truly decipher the entire mind itself due to its intangibility and intricacies. Downloads and copies of an entire person's mind are impossible as technology stands. Even its full analysis is only based on partial information of science. Other pieces of the cerebral puzzle are still left to interpretation. With these combined examples a different picture of the mind creating thought, validating the existence of the self, the "You", and the inexplicable explaination of the entire process. Still, there is also a chance the mind does not exist either. Its possible even thinking is just all part of a chain of matter, sequences and events (similar to the brain arguments or traditionally "passivist" arguments). Another example is the mind is still physically intangible, meaning it cannot be touched, measured, held or seen. It is beyond senses and no scientific method exists to distinguish this "object". Psychology tries to measure this item along with philosophers and some scientists... yet all of these people cannot truly measure the "mind". It has nearly infinate in measure, collectives, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, memories... a physical measure of this in any sense would prove fruitless easily. The mind seems to define the self, but some thought processes require a mind to be aware of the self so it can shape the mind into various thought, beliefs, hopes. Without either, "human existence" would be futile, an extrodinary impossibility if thought of properly. There is also another possibility the real world and your entire self do not truly exist. Like the last example, it could be the thought of another, an atom, a building block of life interpreting its role in "true" reality. Its more of a mystery than people realize. The Spirit... to some its just another name for the mind and the self, but to others its something completely different. Religious circles and some scientists consider this entity as an existing "object". It is intangible like the mind and requires "faith", belief or some sort of validation from the self (sometimes others are needed to "confirm" this or enforce similarity). As mentioned, to some the mind and spirit are interchangable. The mind-brain-machine example is a basic example of this. The self or soul is exchanged for the mind or used as part of the mind to explain the example and the existence of the soul. Even some religious thinkers and faiths place the spirit and mind as the same item or a unified item. Meaning, you are born, you experience what you experience, you live, you die, and somehow the self/soul(or spirit-mind) continue on to a different plane of existence (or to another life, or some sort of "endpoint"). Others view the spirit much differently. They place it as an intangible item like all others, yes, but these believers claim the spirit is detached from the mind and may or may not be accessible by the mind. In this example, one is born, lives, dies the same as before. Only now, the spirit accends to referenced "endpoint" or to another life, while the mind and brain simply fade from existence. The spirit keeps a fragment of the mind while travelling to said endpoint, but if that endpoint is another life or other imperfect "end" then that spirit continues on in the rules of the new realm with no memories of the past mind, only a very small fragment of it...something to remind the person they are still "human"...perhaps. In this example of the "end" is actually eternal life, then that may mean the spirit has enough fragments of the minds of many "lives" and can share them with the "Creator(s)", lost loved ones, other ethereal kindred... its endless. Same as the other examples, there is a chance the spirit and everything associated with it do not exist at all. The spirit is intangible like the mind, and just like it by physical standards the spirit does not "exist". Like the mind (and "reality") the spirit/soul could be a construct of our "self" to understand what our role in "reality" truly is. Speaking of the "self" it seems that this item is needed in order to confirm the spirit (maybe similar to the mind's case too). With this, we end up with a paradoxical frame of thinking. Did the spirit create the mind to control the brain and body... or does someone need a mind to create a spirit (to have faith or connection to the idea/item)? Is there some other intervention in the spirit's creation, or again, is it another construct of human thinking. Following many of the premises, either could be true... or both could be false. And finally, what is the self? Is it just a collection of neurons firing off via autonervous and central nervous reaction; a floating "image" in or above our heads; or a spirit bequeathed to us by "Creator(s)"? Could it be something completely different? Or could this be a combination that perfectly creates the self? The brain solution is likely from the scientific sense since its the only item out of the list that can be measured in some physical capacity, but not completely in current senses.
4 people like this
17 Feb 08
Self is more a state of being and is void of a sense of individuality. To experience this sense of Self requires a discipline of inward stillness to reach. And paradoxically when you reach it you are more in touch with who you Are, yet it is nothing like you think you are, yet you know this state is more real than the part of you who typed the question you asked. When you come out of the experience you have no way of cognizing what just happened. The experience of Self (Atman in the Upanishads) is difficult to discuss with words, there are no words. But there is no sensory perception involved, ie no smell, touch, sight, sound The Brain and Mind. I see the brain as a physical receptor to thoughts. Thoughts are not a product of the physical brain but act like the conveyor belt to putting thoughts into action. A serious meditator, one who can slow down thoughts will have the ability to see where thoughts emanate. We pull thoughts into our heads. Experientially it is possible to see this. There is a discipline to this. States of Self are way beyond the ability to do this. Scientifically it is difficult to prove these experiences as the only part of your question that is physically measurable is the brain. At this point in time there is nothing manufactured that can measure non physical experiences like thoughts beyond the brain. Yet isn't it interesting when you see cartoons where there is a light bulb above the head. Where did that vision come from? Inspiration is sensed as something that comes from 'above the head.' You see people looking up - your first thought is that perhaps they are looking to a higher being, maybe they are pulling from the pool of inspirational thought forms that are not in the brain but above it. This takes you into the realm of consciousness. Thoughts, the Mind, the Spirit, the Self are states of consciousness. Beyond the physical body. That's a stretch for some. But if you can experience thoughts coming into your head then you see that they are not a product of your physical body (the brain). Experience is the greater meaning of Knowledge. Why it is so is the most difficult question to answer, but how is more attainable.
• United States
26 Feb 08
Ah good. I believe your definition of self removes all outside influence even the "individual" a person is. A blank slate as it were. Once this entity is known to the person, the person has better knowledge of what they are and who they are. Digging deeper, its possible that this true self maybe unattainable due to all of the influences a person absorbs throughout life and through the sciences (nature-nurture, society, experiences). Very good observations on the brain and mind problem/experiement. The brain is the physical aspect but the mind is the true point of ideas, thoughts, ability. Something above the head and something beyond what pairings of neurons activated by neuroelectrical impluses. I would wonder if there is really just a "self" or states of self like you have brought forth. Your answer seems to indicated a singular self, but the self can also have states to them. I believe I'll be exploring this topic again further (identity... can it ever truly be defined?). In any case, scientifically the brain is typically the given response to questions like this. It is physically there and there is detailed knowledge of the organ and how it influences various patterns in human behavior, and even in thought itself. However, the science is still evolving and more discoveries are being made in the field. Its also possible further typical study and (perhaps) even more philosophically damning advances could prove something else altogether. I knew this question would be difficult to answer (well, maybe too difficult due to the response and response time ratios)... but I still wanted to pose it. I had so many thoughts on the subject I just sat down and put it to discussion. Back to topic, its a difficult question and it may never be truly answered. Some would argue for the brain being the end all, others the mind, and some others the spirit. There are even those that question, hypothesize, wonder and go much further with the subject (like you Tet =3 and myself of course). In reality everyone has to have thought of this subject in their own way and have come up with their own conclusions. I did want to see at least a few responses to that end. Either way, thank you for your thoughts and for seriously addressing the discussion.
27 Feb 08
It is such a fascinating topic. I had a discussion with another cyber friend quite a while ago now which I kept. It's on Thoughts and the Brain. You may be interested in reading it as a matter of interest. It certainly helped me integrate knowledge I had through meditation experiences. http://hubpages.com/hub/Consciousness__Thoughts_and_the_Brain It is difficult also to have good discussions on this subject as most are not able to cognize the magnitude of the experience. It doesn't quite work with only hypothesis. To understand the concept of thoughts beyond the physical brain it is better to know through experience otherwise it is vague. Thank you also for asking the question, it's a breath of fresh air for me.
4 Mar 08
Just to add to this discussion, a description of what Self is: "State of pure being, or is-ness, devoid of sense of individuality. The transcendental level of human consciousness. This is consistent with the atman (Self) of the Upanishads and of Hindu philosophy at large." So most times when a person says they are being themselves, it is not the same as being devoid of senses and pure being at all.
• United States
6 Mar 08
That is something I've encountered as well. Some would say though that how could something devoid of individuality count as the self? Especially since we as humans, thinking sentient creatures place a lot of investment into being individuals. Without this individuality, what then differentiates people/minds/spirits? What identifies one self from another if it is not influenced internally? Perhaps it is influenced through some sort of conduit or connection (as stated), but the self is also defined as pure being... seemingly untouched by antyhing else. I do understand the self could also be the spirit as I've stated before, and that either entity is inaccessible to the person and outside factors (environment, society). Still, does this self, devoid of individuality, determine what we really are? Its quite possible the self could be what we were meant to be. Without physical restraint, outside influence or anything else... self could be the defining item of our individual existence. Again, one could wonder how does this self define the person/"self"/identity if its collective rather than individual.
28 Feb 08
Hi theprogamer, This little bit is rather more coarse and less refined than Tetchie's excellent response, so I'll try to be brief. Firstly, what a superb summary you posted to initiate this thread! It's rather inspiring to see such a coherent approach to the subject of the mystery of being. Here's just a few thoughts from my own limited faculties & experience - 1. We each consist of three essential elements - a physical self, a mental self and a spiritual self. 2. The physical self, our bodies, is the interface between or inner essence and the material realm of time and space (whatever that actually is). It expresses something of our inner being to others like us, through the medium of the material world. 3. Our mental self includes our conscious mind, and perhaps deeper components such as the so-called "sub-conscious" mind, and whatever else might hiding unseen in there. Our mental self might be temporally regarded as the seat of our personality with all its peculiarities and defining qualities, but its actual substance is the ongoing communion between our physical self and that "something" which exists outside of time and space, that core essence of our being, which is the spirit or soul. Thus we each consist of three "selves" which are each quite different in nature, but each intimately related. Thus our minds are closely related to our physical bodies, but are not of the material realm. And thus too is our spirit connected to, but also of a very different nature, to our minds. On the question as to which is the source of our being, and which is the result, I'd hazard a guess that our spirit is the core from which our body and mind are derived. The logic here is that one can leave one's physical body, but a body of which the mind is aware continues to manifest, albeit without the constraint of inertia. So the body perhaps constitutes the interface of our being with whatever realm is occupied by our spirit, and the mind expresses the communication between that body and the spirit. I do question the basis of Descarte's assertion. Is it also true to say "I do not think, therefore I am not"? That is to say, is thought necessary to being? Perhaps not - perhaps thought is only necessary to be aware of one's interface with an external reality, and is not required to substantiate the spiritual essence of one's existence. That is to say, perhaps thought as a process of interchange between a spiritual essence and its boundary with an existential domain is necessary for the manifestation of conscious awareness. If so, then the absence of thought would imply that the spirit's essence has disengaged from (for example) the realm of space and time. That state of being - without body or mind - might be unattainable if the spirit's existence interfaces with any other realm. Some things don't have words that I know of to express them - but I find the allegory of "me, myself and I" nicely embodies our triune nature.
• United States
16 Feb 08
Well I am here and I see where your posting very long posts. I could not ever see this as something I could read all of. It's like I said before I can't boggle my eyes down to reading all of this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Good luck
6 Mar 08
I am going to give a short response to this as most things have been covered in other responses. The Brain, the Mind and the Spirit are all parts of our Inner Self, which I believe to be the Soul. Only you knows your Inner Self, and you have to dig down deep into your Soul to find it. The Brain, Mind and Spirit aid you to do this, so they are just a small part of your Inner Self. Brightest Blessings.
• United States
5 Apr 08
Indeed. No one else can really know what is going on exactly inside of you. Be it the brain, the mind, the spirit, the soul, or whatever else could possibly be there. Thats also why I approach questions like this with open views (same with spirituality).