What’s The Difference Between The Mind And The Brain?

We all know what our brain is, right? It is that three pounds of “convoluted mass of gray and white matter” in our heads “serving to control and coordinate mental and physical actions.”

OK.  Now, define the mind. Not as easy, eh?! You may be surprised to find that there is no single, agreed upon definition of the mind.  The psychiatric, mental health and medical professions each have their own functional definitions.  Equally surprising to me is that, by default, a healthy mind is generally thought of as one with the absence of any symptoms of mental illness.  Really?  I would hope it can get better than that.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA school of Medicine, co-director of the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, executive director of the Mindsight Institute and author of several books, teaches the concept of the Triangle of Well-Being to depict optimal mental health.  He developed this into the field of study which has become known as interpersonal neurobiology.  Interpersonal neurobiology weaves together research from many disparate fields to form a framework of mental health based on the commonalities.

He coined the term “mindsight”  to describe the human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others. On his website, Siegel writes:

It is a powerful lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, integrate the brain, and enhance our relationships with others. Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us get ourselves off of the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses. It lets us “name and tame” the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them.

It is a common belief that the mind is the activity of the brain. He proposes that this is only one part of it.  On the Triangle of Well-Being, each point of the triangle is an essential component to mental health.  One point is the physical brain and nervous system which are the mechanisms by which energy and information flow throughout our beings.  Our senses take in information from the environment.  These become electrical signals which travel through the nervous system to the brain which, then, gives them meaning and responds by releasing neurochemicals and dispatching electrical signals which, in turn, regulate the body, control movement and influence emotions.

A second point on the Triangle of Well-Being is relationships which are the means by which information and energy are shared. An integral part of the mind is comprised of the relational process of energy and information flowing between and among people.  This happens through the spoken or written word.  In person, this also happens through eye contact, facial expression, body language, posture and gesture.  In  his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, he writes:

Our minds are created within relationships – including the one that we have with ourselves… Each of us has a unique mind: unique thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories, beliefs, and attitudes, and a unique set of regulatory patterns.  These patterns shape the flow of energy and information inside us, and we share them with other minds.

The third point on the triangle is the mind which is the process that regulates this flow of information and energy. In Mindsight, he writes:

Consider the act of driving.  To drive or “regulate” a car, you must both be aware of its motion and its position in space and also be able to influence how it moves.  If you have your hands on the wheel but your eyes are shut (or focused on your text message), you can make the car move, but you are not driving it – because driving it means regulating the car’s movement, its flow across time.  If  you have your eyes open but you’re sitting in the backseat, you can monitor the movement of the car (and make comments, like one particular relative I know), but you can’t actually modify its motion yourself. (No matter how hard you try.  Sorry.)

The mind observes and monitors the flow of energy and information across time while modifying it by giving it characteristics and patterns.

Because of neuroplasticity, which is the capacity of the brain to create new neural connections and grow new neurons in response to thoughts and experience, each point on the triangle influences the others, and the flow of energy and information along this triangle goes in all directions.  The mind can change the structure of the brain and relationships.  The brain can change the structure of the mind and relationships.  Relationships can change the mind and the brain.

Mindsight integrates the different parts of the system to cultivate well-being or mental health. On his website, Siegel explains that:

The ultimate outcome of integration is harmony. The absence of integration leads to chaos and rigidity—a finding that enables us to re-envision our understanding of mental disorders and how we can work together in the fields of mental health, education, and other disciplines, to create a healthier, more integrated world.

We all can develop mindsight through mindfulness practices.  Developing mindsight, on a personal level, can lead to a better functioning brain, a  healthier mind, and a happier, more vibrant, fulfilling life with enriched, more satisfying relationships.  Mental health practitioners, educators, and parents can take advantage of this information to promote more compassionate, kind, resilient, emotionally intelligent, and mentally healthy individuals.

image source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mckaysavage/

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57 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the relationship, brain, mind theory Debby. Science continues to prove to us how powerful mindfulness exercises can be. How often do we each pay attention the mind that impact our lives so much? Not very much at all and more the reason we should be ramping up our personl mindfulness practices:)

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hey, Vishnu! We can all benefit most certainly by ramping up our mindfulness practices. The mind does, indeed, impact our lives tremendously. Taking control of the mind and changing it allows a person to take control of and change their life.

      • Thanks for your research and posting, it is an eye-opener.Well done Debbie.

      • Ron Meyer-Hagen Reply

        Debbie,

        Great article. I think the mind is definitely something outside, well maybe inside, but separate from the physical brain. The best explanation of this I have found is in C. S. Lewis’ book Miracles.

  2. I’m a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and appreciate your “objective” research. Keep me posted. Thanks.

  3. Hi Debbie,
    Thank you for such an insightful article. It’s the clearest piece of writing I’ve seen on the subject.
    Raji

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Wow! Great. Raji, thank you for your kind words.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Most welcome! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. I guess Mind is the side effect of the functioning of the brain similar to how magnetism is caused by moving charges

  5. matson mathias Reply

    I appreciate your work here, it is great one keep it on for more.

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  7. Thanks for writing this.
    I had Googled ‘what is the mind’ and was led here.
    However, I have a gnawing feeling that my quest to resolve this mind conundrum is still incomplete (I have read other articles and textbooks). Could you please suggest a good read that delves into the question and offers clarity?

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I’m sorry, but one book does not come to mind. It depends on what aspect you want to explore. Some of the best material I’ve seen on this are several videos by Deepak Chopra and Rudolf Tanzi on “what is consciousness?” The works of Dan Seigel may answer some of your questions more about the physical aspects. Hope that helps.

  8. Joaseph Dabon Reply

    Very interesting. At least I have now a vague idea of the mind and brain in a less-clinical perspective.

  9. If the brain isn’t in control and the mind isn’t in control, but I can change my life by taking control….. What is me?!?!?!??

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Janie, it’s confusing and confounding, isn’t it?! While philopsophers, scientists, religous scholars, and everyone else has an opinion here because it is not a simple, known answer, I would say that “you” are energy which is determined by a combination of physical and mental influences. You can make conscious choices regarding your relationships, behaviors, and thoughts which, in turn, actually change your physical brain which, in turn, can change your body and your life. That’s my take on it and has been my experience….which allowed me to heal from a brain injury and turn my life around in the process. Every one has to decide this for themselves. What makes sense to and resonates with you?

      You may enjoy reading: http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/beyond-the-brain

  10. Anyhow, brain is physical because it has protine cells and blood etc. But” mind ” this is thinking only and we are receiving this thinking throu perception. Question is that “from where this mind and brain is taking energy”?

  11. A newly developed model of mind, Dichotomized Operating System Model (DOS Model), explains what mind is, how it emerges from the brain, how it develops over time and why do we have it, besides solving thousands of years old mysteries like consciousness, free will, etc. without any requirement of prior knowledge to understand the same. The model is available on the website whatismind.com.

  12. This article was wonderful.Please keep me posted with your other brilliant articles on mind and Brain.thanks.,
    Shani.

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  14. Art Alvarez Reply

    Thank you for being there Debbie. Like so many of your followers, I was googling
    What is the difference between the brain and the mind? I thought it was such a
    childish question and then I get you. What a pleasant surprise. Thoroughly enjoyed
    your article and the video. I hope to be a part of your blog if that is the correct term.
    Just to let you know, I am 82 years young and I find that the more childish I get, the more I enjoy my life. Again, thank you so much for being there for so many people like me who need people like you.

    • Art, thank you so much for your thoughts and words of encouragement. I like that you said you are 82 years young. In my studies of the brain, the one thing I am absolutely sure of is that you do not have to become old mentally. Take care of yourself and your brain and never stop asking questions! 🙂

  15. Splendid post Debbie!!!! I too get asked this and people always seem surprised when I say neuroscientists haven’t really figured it out what the mind is yet!

    • dblhampton Reply

      Thanks, Sarah. It is hard to believe there is no single accepted definition among professionals even if all the details aren’t clear yet. May be that could be your neuroscientific legacy! 🙂

    • I don’t really believe neuroscientists will ever figure out what the mind is, because I see mind transcending the physical substrate of the brain. Whether the brain generates the mind, or it is the result of an external non-physical entity operating the body, mind is not something that is understandable by studying neurons, any more than a computer is really understandable by studying it’s components and ignoring the programs it is running or the person deciding which programs to run.

  16. Colin Sansom Reply

    Excellent Debbie….I have been down a similar path to yours… If you do not mind me adding: “I The mind is activity. Your brain is not your mind. Your brain is an electronic switching station that alters the vibration you are in and the vibration you are indictates what you attract.”

    • dblhampton Reply

      I like it. Thanks for the extra clarification. I agree that your brain is not your mind and vice versa, but are they totally separate? Yes, one can exist without the other, but is one fully functioning without the other? Like dualsim, up has no meaning without down. Hmmmm Just something to think about. 🙂

      • Colin Sansom Reply

        We can control our own thoughts by using a number of techniques e.g.affirmations meditation or frequency impulses, that are transmitted through the neuro-pathways of our own brain. Can the brain exist without the mind? One can lose functionality of the brain,which from what I have discovered, can repair itself and has been proven. However, the mind, is a very powerful resource that for most people is highly under utilised. The Subconscious/ unconscious part of our mind, (which controls 95 % of our thoughts), is an untapped reservoir that hold the key to our success and prosperity. 🙂

  17. Interesting so the mind is non physical in nature formed by the thoughts, beliefs over time? So the brain is the physical console (computer) if you will and the mind is “programs-beliefs, thoughts”.

    So if you control the beliefs systems in some way you can control a whole group of people. Let’s say you program the entire race to be Christians (nothing against Christians just an example) you could actually predict and move the human race to act and behave in a certain predictable pattern?

    • Junior, You got it right. Everything influences the other. The mind influences the physical brain which, in turn, impacts the mind. Controlling belief systems does control the people. Isn’t that what many have done …for both good and bad.But, I don’t believe anyone can control the masses like they used to. Too many people are awake and aware and think for themselves…Thank Goodness!

  18. Greg Lawrence Reply

    body (brain) / mind / soul
    knowledge / understanding / wisdom
    physical / metaphysical / cosmic
    needs / wants / desires
    feelings / thoughts / emotions
    patterns / principles / perspectives
    structure / function / behavior
    image / likeness / living soul
    His breath…
    not scientific equations literary equations synergy
    actions x reactions < interactions

  19. Deric Curry Reply

    I love the fact that intellectually u can manifest in the direction of positive people and not condone metaphorically to the intellect of ignorance. I always try to tell people EVERYTHING is a choice.

    • It has the power to create our worlds, and we can use it to our benefit or detriment. {I like having it on my side much better!)

  20. Renatus Cartesius Reply

    After reading the text, I haven’t the impression that even touched the answer to the question what is the ontological status of what we call “mind”. Of course, probably text not pretended to it answer on this qestion, it is a question of fundamental science – scientie fundamentalis – metaphysics or ontology and philosophy of mind as one of the most propulsive modern philosophical disciplines, rather than the particular science, even if they are neuroscience, psychology, physiology, etc (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mind and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness/ ). If the mind is identical to the brain, then the mind (and the consequent consciousness) is not an irreducible and independent non-physical entities or substances, mind = brain. Consequently mind and consciousness can be described in terms of physicalism and / or materialism. However there is very strong arguments in support of the thesis that the mind is not a physical entity. First of all, there is no way that one’s content of consciousness or mind objectifies. For him, knows only the one who owns it, and no more. The content of the mind is not public or extended in the space such as material entities. Addition, the same neurological function in the brain give different mental properties. And last, away the most difficult problem for described in the study of the mind and consciousness, the problem of qualitative experience called “qualia (see:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia/). Summa summarum: consciousness is one of the most evident facts of existence because I can doubt the whole outdoor world, but I can not doubt in the contents of my mind (Descartes’ argument), while on the other sides we believe that out there physical world exist, and therefore it is crucial the question of how to reconcile these two worlds, and in which relationship our physical world and our mind and consciousness, what is the interaction between the mind and our body!? Such there is a wide gap, or “bottomless pit” between the physical and the mental world!? Last (rhetorical) question: is consciousness primordial substance or the nature of reality, or is it only a secondary derivative of something….In the end, look at the leading contemporary philosophers of mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTIk9MN3T6w

    • Wow! Renatus, thank you for your thoughts. I don’t even know where to begin to respond to all that – or what it all means even. I think we all have to work out definitions of the mind and brain, our physical existence, consciousness, and spiritualness that make sense and feel right to each of us. That is going to be different among all of us. Some are going to be in agreement with modern day philosophies, ancient philosophers, and some science. I don’t believe there really is any one single”right.” I’m glad you have figured it out in a way that works for you.

    • I like it. I especially agree with this part:

      “If you wish to know the truth,

      then hold to no opinions for or against anything.

      To set up what you like against what you dislike

      is the disease of the mind.”

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  22. from what i understand, brain is the the physical or anatomical part but mind is the brain and its action. mind= brain action + anatomical brain.

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