Mind matters 

What is the difference between the brain and the mind?

The brain is an organ and a vessel in which the electronic impulses that create thought are contained. With the brain, you coordinate your moves, your activities and transmit impulses. But you use the mind to think. You can muse at what happened, what is scheduled, and what maybe will happen.

I recently came across an article by the Australian neuroscientist Jared Cooney Horvath called “Change your mind about the brain”. He suggested that most of the research around learning tends to centre on what is happening in the brain. He also points out that “Teachers don’t teach brains – they teach minds”.

The mind is the promoter of thought, perception, emotion, determination, memory, and imagination that takes place within the brain. The mind is often used to refer to the thought processes of reason, the awareness of consciousness, and the ability to control what we do and know what we are doing. In essence, the ability to understand.

We know that animals can interpret their environments but may not be able to understand them. Humans appear better able to understand what happens around them, therefore, adapt accordingly. Although there may be individuals that you have come across that may cause you to disagree with that statement.

The mind vs. brain debate has been going on since before Aristotle. He and Plato argued that the soul housed intelligence or wisdom and that it could not be placed within the physical body. Rene Descartes, the 17th-century French Philosopher, meanwhile identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness, with an ability to distinguish itself from the brain. However, he still called the brain the seat of intelligence.

Regardless of whether the mind is contained in the brain or exists beyond these physical boundaries, it is evident that it is something immense. The question is how we should maximise its potential.

Cooney-Horvarth advocates that the key is not just to involve or engage the brain in learning but also the body and the environment. We need to make sure that each of these are included in planning the approach to educate children both at school and at home.

For parents trying to manage home learning, it will be essential to support regular movement breaks or allow structured movement such as the use of a Tangle tool and perhaps encourage and not discourage fiddling whilst their child is working at the computer screen.

In addition, although routine should be encouraged, there may well be the opportunity to create some different work or activity areas in the house to change the environment. If this is not possible, then at least try to adapt the work area through a range of different sensory experiences using colour, smell, sound and textures. Some basic examples could include allowing music to be listened to or by letting the dog or cat be in the room with them when they are studying. Be creative.

None of the above may appear radical or unusual as most people know that exercise and a change of scene or situation can stimulate the brain and reduce boredom. However, structuring this approach on a regular basis is important in order to maintain a productive mood.   

As your mind determines your mood, therefore for effective learning and behaviour we should develop systems and strategies that focus on linking the brain, the body, and the environment. In this way, you shall be able not just survive but prosper through a year 9 History Teams lesson at 2.30 pm on a windy Tuesday in February.

Fin