Mind and Brain

October 27, 2010  |  brain, intelligence, mind, neuroscience, worry

What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Is the mind an “epiphenomenon” of the brain, a byproduct that develops when the neuronal architecture of the brain is complex enough to allow it to become aware of itself? Or is the mind a primary force that uses the brain and body to accomplish its purposes in life?

The short answer is that nobody knows. We do know that the mind and brain are so intertwined that it behooves us to understand more about both. For our purposes here, it’s useful to think of the brain and mind like the hardware and software of a computer—they are intricately interdependent and neither one is much use without the other. If we use this simple model, we could consider the Worry Solution program to be a software upgrade that will make your brain hardware more efficient and user-friendly. Whether worry originates in the brain or mind, and whether it is a “hardware” or “software” problem, the brain clearly provides the physical pathways that signal the body to respond by either taking action, letting go, or stewing in its own “worry juices.”

The adult human brain weighs about three to four pounds, and most of it is fat. Men, on average, have somewhat larger brains than women, and in this case, it really isn’t the size that counts–it’s how you use it. Surprisingly, humans don’t have the biggest brains on earth, not even relative to body size. An elephant’s brain is six times bigger than that of a human, and a bottle-nosed dolphin’s is about the same size. The mouse has three times the ratio of brain size to body size. Yet we have a type of intelligence that the other creatures do not, perhaps as a result of the complex interconnected nerve networks in specific brain areas that have allowed us to develop speech, mathematics, symbolic and abstract reasoning.

The brain contains somewhere between 11 and 30 billion neurons (nerve cells) and 10 times as many support cells, called “glia.” Each nerve cell has approximately 10 million synapses (direct connections with other nerve cells) and the amount of information flowing through this network (a minimum of 100 quadrillion – that’s 100,000,000,000,000,000 – connections) is almost unimaginable. Because of the tremendous flow of energy through this immensely active network, the brain, which accounts for only two to three percent of body weight, uses twenty to twenty-five percent of all the energy produced in the body.

We know where many functions are physically located in the brain, although the connections between these areas also have a lot to do with how the brain ultimately works. The speech centers are normally found in specific regions of the left brain, while the body image is in a similar location in the right brain; vision is mostly processed in the occipital lobes in the rear of the brain; and hearing along the sides in the temporal lobes.

Fear and anger are modulated in a part of the emotional brain known as the amygdala, and significant experiences are routed through the hippocampus to be placed in long-term memory.

Thirst, hunger, and sleep patterns are regulated in the hypothalamus, a tiny center at the base of the brain which, depending on the information it receives from the rest of the brain, sends either alarm or all-clear signals to the body.

Planning, judgment, and decision-making functions largely reside behind the forehead, in the prefrontal cortex, especially on the left side, whereas spatial relationships and emotional recognition are more the province of the right side of the cortex.

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