How Are The Mind & The Brain Different? A Neuroscientist Explains
For many people, the mind and brain are interchangeable. They use one word or the other to talk about the same thing: the organ in our skull that we use to think.
However, the mind and brain are actually two very different, but interconnected, entities. As a neuroscientist, this reality is the foundation of my life's research and work: The mind works through the brain but is separate from the brain.
What is the difference between the mind and the brain?
So what exactly is the difference between the mind and the brain? Well, the mind is separate, yet inseparable from, the brain.
The mind uses the brain, and the brain responds to the mind. The mind also changes the brain. People choose their actions—their brains do not force them to do anything. Yes, there would be no conscious experience without the brain, but experience cannot be reduced to the brain's actions.
The mind is energy, and it generates energy through thinking, feeling, and choosing. It is our aliveness, without which, the physical brain and body would be useless. That means we are our mind, and mind-in-action is how we generate energy in the brain.
This is a major part of the activity we pick up with brain technology. When we generate this mind energy through thinking, feeling, and choosing, we build thoughts, which are physical structures in our brain made of proteins. This building of thoughts creates structural changes in the brain, called neuroplasticity1.
In my recent clinical trials, we saw how energy in the brain changed as the subject was thinking, stimulating neuroplasticity. The brain was responding to the person's stream-of-consciousness and nonconscious activity.
The mind is a stream of nonconscious and conscious activity when we're awake, and a stream of nonconscious activity when we're asleep. It's characterized by a triad of thinking, feeling, and choosing. When you think, you will feel, and when you think and feel, you will choose. These three aspects always work together.
So, how does this affect us?
The brain is an extremely complex neuroplastic responder. This essentially means, each time it's stimulated by your mind, it responds in various ways—including neurochemical, genetic, and electromagnetic changes. This, in turn, grows and changes structures in the brain, building or wiring new physical thoughts.
The brain is never the same because it changes with every experience you have, every moment of every day. In sum: Your mind is how you, uniquely, experience life. It's responsible for how you think, feel, and choose. And your physical brain merely responds to these unique experiences.
Knowing your mind and brain are separate puts you in the control seat because you can learn to manage your thoughts and actions. Ultimately, it means you can choose what you build into your brain and how you choose to change what's already built in.
When you learn how to manage your mind, you can make feelings of depression, stress, anger, and anxiety work for you instead of against you. You can bring balance back into your brain and life.
Caroline Leaf, Ph.D, BSc, is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, specializing in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology. She received her masters and Ph.D. in communication pathology, as well as a BSc in logopaedics from the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
During her years in clinical practice and her work with thousands of underprivileged teachers and students in her home country of South Africa and in the USA, she developed a theory about how we think, build memory, and learn (called the Geodesic Information Processing theory). The learning process has been turned into a tool for individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), learning disabilities (ADD, ADHD), autism, dementias and mental ill-health issues like anxiety and depression.
Leaf is author of Switch on Your Brain, Think Learn Succeed, Think and Eat Yourself Smart, and Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. She teaches at academic, medical and neuroscience conferences, churches, and to various audiences around the world. Dr. Leaf is also involved in the global ECHO movement, which trains physicians worldwide on the mind-brain-body connection, mental health and how to avoid physician burnout.