Brain & mind . . .

Brain: an apparatus with which we think that we think.

Mind: a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain.

Ambrose Bierce

Reading and researching around who we are as people and what makes us tick are two of my favourite things. However, the more I find out about a certain topic, the more I want to know and the more I realise I don’t know about so many things. And yes, we all feel like this at times, and that’s how life should be; a constant learning process . . . it’s still amazing, though! We take for granted that our brain can continue taking on more and more information throughout our lifespan, and really the more we throw at it and into it, the healthier it stays. It’s a shame that our stomachs don’t work quite the same!

I have been sitting at my desk, reading a book about what the brain is, and what the mind is.

I guess much of the time we use the two words interchangeably, yet they are distinctly different. We talk about ‘brain drain’, ‘blowing our minds’ etc . . . do we mean the same thing? The brain is physical, we can hold it with our hands, we can now track its activity on ‘mind-boggling’ scientific equipment. The mind however, is much more difficult to define, because we can’t ‘see’ what it produces, or how it works. Daniel Siegel defines the mind as ‘a relational and embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information’ Whoa! Did you hear that loud noise? That was both my mind and my brain imploding! Does everyone already know this stuff? Probably, but I am going to rave on about it anyway! I think we often know in which circumstance to refer to the mind or the brain, yet we can get quite muddled as to where one stops and the other begins.

Siegel describes the mind as a relational process, an ‘energy and information flow between and among people’. This makes perfect sense of course, and communicates beautifully what I think we instinctively know but can’t necessarily articulate. What a wonderful minefield of possibilities for us to consider. There are many professionals from varying fields who all seem to agree on one thing: we continue to acquire more and more knowledge about the brain and how it works, but remain absolutely dazzled by its intricacy and inner workings. I do hope we don’t ever get to the bottom of it!

Susan Allport (from Explorers of the Black Box - The Search for the Cellular Basis of Memory, 1986) 'Most of us have spent some time wondering how our brain works. Brain scientists spend their entire lives pondering it, looking for a way to begin asking the question - How does the brain generate mind? The brain, after all, is so complex an organ and can be approached from so many different directions using so many different techniques and experimental animals that studying it is a little like entering a blizzard, the Casbah, a dense forest. It's easy enough to find a way in - an interesting phenomenon to study - but also very easy to get lost'.

‘Imagine the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse-gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasuredrome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag . . . We take for granted the ridiculous-sounding yet undeniable fact that each person carries around atop the body a complete universe in which trillions of sensations, thoughts, and desires stream . . . It's where catchy tunes snag, and cravings keep tugging.’ ~ Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain.

Someone close to me has recently had a head injury; a concussion. It has been surprising to experience the difference of reaction that the news of this occurrence elicits in some people. They range from “Oh, okay . . . is he all right ” (yawn), before moving on to another topic, to “Oh my goodness, that’s worrying. How is he recovering?” As with anything like this, if a person has not been directly affected in a similar way they have no point of reference for how serious or not a concussion might be. I remember seeing a very impacting experiment on television of just how fragile the human brain is. A watermelon was strapped securely into a bike helmet and then dropped from over the presenter’s head. The helmet stayed intact but the watermelon completely smashed. Sobering stuff! Whilst a helmet can protect the brain from some impacts, what it seems it cannot protect it from is the jarring of the brain, as it is sitting in fluid inside the skull.

This amazing brain of ours is so delicate. It can be used to develop ideas, carry and process massive amounts of information. It is so adaptable, so teachable – yet we have not yet mastered how to use it even to a modicum of its true potential.

As parents, we can keep this perspective at the forefront of our own minds during days when bringing up children seems full of the mundane and repetitious, and when our own needs seem to retreat further and further into the distance. Growing and developing brains are precious and fragile. Developing them is worthy of our time and energy, patience and love. They deserve our admiration, even when the carriers of these marvellous brains seem like mini tyrants sent to destroy our ordered lives. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is pretty challenging when you think about it . . . with both your mind and your brain!

I leave you with the confounding wisdom of AA Milne:

“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully. "Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever." "And he has Brain." "Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain." There was a long silence. "I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”

Find more quotes on the brain:

Choose some great quotes and display them around your house!

Check out: Daniel Siegel’s ‘Mindsight’. ‘Transform your brain with the new science of kindness’

© 2015 Rose Stanley.  All rights reserved.