Thursday, January 29, 2009

The mystery of the mind

The fifth grade class I'm working with had a wonderful discussion this week about the mind. We talked about what the mind is, whether it is the same thing as the brain, and, if not, what it might be. We began with the students asking various questions, including: What's the difference between the mind and the brain? Why do we have a mind? Why do we use our minds for certain purposes? What do minds look like? How do we know we have minds? What is the imagination?

One student was convinced that the mind and the brain are the same thing. "When you talk about the mind, it’s the same thing as when you talk about the brain." he said. "The mind/brain is what stores all your thoughts. It controls everything you do."

"I'm not sure about that," another student commented. "I think that the mind and brain do control what we do, but I don't think they are the same thing at all. I think that the mind is the practical part of you. Your brain thinks about doing something, like eating a cookie, and you know you shouldn't, and it's your mind that stops you from doing it."

"Like a conscience?" I asked.

"Yes, I think the mind is the part of the brain that helps you remember the right thing to do."

"So is the mind part of the brain, or a separate entity?" I asked.

Another student replied, "I think the mind is separate. I think the mind runs all through your body, while your brain is in your head."

"Is the mind physical, then, something like your blood?"

"No, not really. It's more like your soul."

"Okay, so what am I going to ask you now?" I said.

"What is the soul?!!" several students chorused.

“I think the mind is the place we imagine and dream,” another student stated. “Our brain controls the things we do automatically, like breathing or walking, but the mind is where we think about what we do, where we dream, where we can imagine things that don’t exist.”

“I don’t think we can imagine things that don’t exist,” another student declared. “How could we think of something that we don’t know anything about? If we think of vampires, it’s because we know about people and about bats, and we put them together.”

“Do you think it’s possible ever to think of something completely new?” asked a student.

“What I want to know is why do I have a mind,” said another student. “What does it do? And why do we imagine and dream? What’s the point?”

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