Does the Mind Create the Brain or the Brain Creates the Mind?
There has been along-standing mind-brain debate, which involves mystics, laymen and scientists. Although the terms “mind” and “brain” are often used inter changeably, scientists historically preferred to consider the mind an epiphenomenon — a secondary effect, or a byproduct of — the brain activity. It has often been speculated that the brain (as a physical organ in the body) is the one that creates the mind (associated with our awareness, thoughts, perceptions, beliefs and behaviors). But is it really so? In his book “Mind to Matter”, Dawson Church makes an argument for the opposite causal relationship between the mind and the brain.
Below is an excerpt from the book “Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science on How Your Brain Creates Material Reality,” published by Hay House, USA, 2018, 24-26:
Our brains are on the boil. Frenetic cellular activity cycles through the brain constantly, creating and destroying molecules and cells, whether we are awake or asleep (Stoll & Müller, 1999). (…) Even the structure of neurons is constantly changing. Microtubules are the scaffolding that gives cells their rigidity, similar to the way girders shape a building. The microtubules in the brain’s nerve cells have a shelf life of just 10 minutes between creation and destruction (Kim & Coulombe, 2010). That’s how quickly our brains are changing.
In this seething mass of activity, selected neural circuits are enhanced. The ones that grow are the ones we use. Pass an information signal repeatedly through a neural bundle and the bundle starts to enlarge. Just as the arms of a bodybuilder get bigger as he practices lifting heavier weights, our neural circuits grow when we exercise them.
The Speed of Neural Change
Studies published in the 1990s stunned neuroscientists with findings that even people in their 80s rapidly add capacity to frequently used neural circuits. On November 5,1998, the headline “news of the week” in the most prestigious research journal, Science, read: “New Leads to Brain Neuron Regeneration” (Barinaga, 1998).
The speed of the process caused an earthquake in the world of our scientific knowledge. When the neurons in a neural bundle are stimulated repeatedly, the number of synaptic connections can double in just an hour (Kandel, 1998). If your house acted like your body, it would notice which lights you were turning on, and every hour it would double the amount of electrical conduit going to that light circuit.
Within an hour of repeat stimulation, the number of synaptic connections in a neural pathway doubles.
To obtain the raw materials to rewire the rooms in which you turned on the lights the most, your smart home would strip wiring from other sources. Our bodies do the same. Within three weeks of inactivity in an existing neural signaling pathway, the body starts to disassemble it in order to reuse those building blocks for active circuits (Kandel, 1998).
Increasing the Mass of the Brain’s Most Used Regions
This process of neural plasticity is evident when we learn new mechanical or intellectual skills. Take an adult education class in Russian at your community college; by the end of the first hour, you’ve already learned a few words. By the end of a year of practice, you’ve built up those neural bundles enough “to speak simpleRussian sentences without conscious effort.
Or you might decide that chess is a mental challenge that will keep your mind sharp into old age and start playing. At first, you’re terrible; you can’t remember whether it’s the castle or the knight that moves diagonally. But after a few games, you move the pieces around purposefully and even develop plans for long-term strategies.
May be you decide you’d like to manage your money better. You take a look at your retirement plan statements and notice that under the tender loving care of your fund manager, they’ve been growing at 2 percent a year. Someone’s getting rich here, but it’s certainly not you. You think you might do better on your own, so you take an online course in stock market investing. At first, even the language seems baffling. What’s a covered call? How is return on investment (ROI) different from return on equity (ROE)?
Your first few trades might not make money. But after looking at charts and reading investment news for a few months, you gain confidence and discover that you’re getting better at the money game.
Whether you’re learning a new language, mastering a new hobby, navigating a new relationship, grappling with a new job, or starting a meditation practice, your brain’s process of building and unbuilding is at work. You’re adding capacity to the neural circuits you’re using the most actively, while old ones wither away, a process called pruning.
Eventually, whole regions of the brain that are being actively used start to gain mass. With MRI scans, researchers are able to measure the volume of each part of a living human brain. They find that people who use their memory actively, like London cabbies who navigate a tangle of ancient streets, have a larger volume of tissue in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Dancers develop more mass in the part of the brain that manages proprioception, the holographic understanding of the body’s location in space.
Your mind is constantly making decisions, such as whether to enroll in that Russian class or join the chess club. What the mind does then determines which brain circuits are engaged. The neural pathways in the brain that the mind’s choices stimulate are the ones that grow. In this way, the mind literally creates the brain.
- Stoll, G., & Müller, H. W. (1999).Nerve injury, axonal degeneration and neural regeneration: Basic insights.Brain Pathology, 9(2), 313–325.
- Kim, S., & Coulombe, P. A. (2010). Emerging role for the cytoskeleton as an organizer and regulator of translation. NatureReviews Molecular Cell Biology, 11(1), 75–81.
- Barinaga, M. (1998). New leads to brain neuron regeneration. Science, 282(5391), 1018–1019. doi:10.1126/science.282.5391.1018b.
- Kandel, E. R. (1998). A new intellectual framework for psychiatry. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155(4), 457–469.