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I am preparing a presentation on "Mind Reading Computer", and all articles that I came across were focused on reading interpretations from brain through sensors. Articles like this clearly show a distinction between them, but from an engineering perspective, I need scientific facts. Does "mind reading computer" imply "brain reading computer", or does the term "mind" have totally a different meaning in the context? Any help and facts relating to the topic will be highly appreciated!

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The Phil.SE Q Human Thinking versus Computer Thinking may be/become helpful. – labreuer Feb 16 '14 at 18:08
Jeffrey Schwartz's 'The Mind and the Brain' discusses this difference quite in-depth – Alex Feb 17 '14 at 22:19
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Sure, to some extent mind reading implies brain reading. For instance, if you were reading someone's mind by their behavior or their heart rate, it would be through their brain's effect on those organs. We largely do this through inference. Without a heart monitor or perspiration monitor, we have whole sections of brain dedicated to recognizing human faces and interpreting emotions and we tend to automatically assume things that look like us think and feel like us. This can be helpful for mind reading, but it can also lead to misconceptions, because not everyone responds the same way to stimuli. Some people laugh to cope with tragedy, some people cry. Additionally, some people use deceitful facial expressions to hide their feelings.

But the brain is a physical object, whereas the concept of the mind is more obfuscated. Some people emphasize the experiential aspects of the mind (phenomenology or subjective experience), while others emphasize the functional aspect of the mind (function, cognition). There is still a lot of arguing left to do over what "mind" means, whereas we can pretty much all agree what a brain is. So they're not the same thing.

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"obfuscated" - I love that word. Sounds like cartoon-speak for throwing a smoke bomb and then rushing past your stunned parents to the playground with your toy gun. Perfect word to describe the effect of the word "mind" on the mind. – what Sep 1 '14 at 13:05

Wikipedia is often a good place to start for basic questions like these. Wikipedia has separate pages devoted to the mind, the brain, and even the mind–body problem, which is one example of the many theoretical challenges implied by the distinctions between "mind" and "brain". Simply stated:

  • The brain is a physical organ. It's entirely possible that much of its structure has relatively little bearing on the nature of the mind. For instance, glial cells are more numerous than neuronal cells. Glial cells play a relatively more supportive function than neurons, the direct functions of which may be more closely related than glial cells' to the functions of what we consider to constitute the mind.
  • Wikipedia describes the mind as, "The set of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory." Google offers this primary definition: "The element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought." Neither of these definitions directly necessitate a physical substrate such as the brain. However, The Free Dictionary's primary definition includes the phrase, "Originates in the brain." These differences belie the controversiality of the term itself, as does @KeeganKeplinger's helpful answer.
  • Wikipedia's mind page has a section dedicated to its relation to the brain. This section mentions the mind–brain problem, as well as three philosophical stances on the problem:
    • Materialism: briefly, that there is no valid distinction, and all mental activities have neural bases
    • Idealism: essentially that all physical objects and processes are truly mental in nature
    • Dualism: that the mind exists somewhat independently of the brain and body, possibly as an aspect or property of the spirit or soul

Thus a simple answer would be that "mind" does imply "brain" for many if not most audiences, but some may opine that these are different (though probably not totally different) entities. Arguably the best approach would be to tailor your word choice to suit whichever entity your computer concept proposes to read most directly.

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In many languages, there is no word similar in meaning to the English word mind. In my opinion that fact illustrates an inherent problem with the scientific use of that word: that mind does not even denote a unified concept at all.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following current meanings of mind, among others (

I. Senses relating to memory.
    1. The state of being remembered; remembrance, recollection.
    3. That which is remembered, a memory.

II. Senses relating to thought.
    * The action of thinking or the occurrence of a thought, idea, or intuition.
    ** Intention or wish.
    *** Inclination.
    **** Opinion or judgement.

IV. Mental or psychic faculty.
            (a) The seat of awareness, thought, volition, feeling,
                and memory; cognitive and emotional phenomena and
                powers considered as constituting a presiding influence;
                the mental faculty of a human being (esp. as regarded
                as being separate from the physical); (occas.) this
                whole system as constituting a person's character or
        c. Freq. in theistic (esp. Christian) contexts: transcendent
           intelligence, rationality, or being, esp. that seen as
           initiating or controlling the universe.
        a. A person's cognitive, rational, or intellectual powers;
           the intellect; esp. as distinguished from the emotions,
           and freq. opposed to heart

As you can see, mind can take on almost any meaning relating to mental processes, from memory, to feeling, to thought, to attention.

Mind is not a useful scientific term and should be avoided in research literature.

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"Chiefly in phrases," seems like an important part of the first definition. Only a few words of context seem to determine the meaning of mind and rule out many of these alternatives in each case, though maybe not all. Regardless, I agree that there are probably better alternatives in most cases. Here's a high-profile offender BTW! At least the rare uses here other than mind-wandering – which they define – are for the sake of glib one-liners, and not to be taken overly seriously anyway. – Nick Stauner Feb 19 '14 at 19:22
Great answer. I find many 'problems' simply come down to definitions (and in this case, mind is useless scientifically), such as consciousness: if well defined it can be studied, but 99% of the time it so loose that even researchers in the same field can't agree on a definition. Perhaps if 'mind' was defined as 'that which 1) does not manifest from the physical brain and 2) has no physical substrate' then we can separate it from 'brain' and consequently ignore it as it therefore lies outside the purview of empirical science. – James Oct 4 '14 at 9:21

Modern neuroscience has left behind the notion of mind-brain separation. Neuroscientists typically accept that everything from our breathing to our emotions and the complex sense of "self" that we have is a product of our brains. We have yet to discover exactly how/when/why the "mind" emerged from the brain, but we do know that most of our mental processing happens unconsciously.

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This is a good summary, but would be strengthened by citing sources and elaborating on your answer. – user30295 Sep 6 '14 at 14:11

Short answer: Mind and brain are the same system, and reading the mind is just a matter of a) knowing which brain states represent the (more abstract) 'mind' information you are trying to read, and b) being able to monitor these states with appropirate technology.

Long answer: what is to some extent right when he/she says that "mind" is not a scientifically useful term - it adds no explanatory value to our conceptions of mental function. However, since the brain is a complex biological system that can be described on many levels, it can be useful to make a distinction between the higher ones and the lower ones - the brain sciences (neuroscience, neurology, biology, biological psychology, etc.) are different enough from the mind sciences (psychology, cognitive science, etc.). The main way in which they are different is that they describe cognition on a more abstract level - the properties that psychology describes emerge from the underlying biological structure. So, in a practical sense, it may be useful to keep the term "mind" to describe these higher-level sciences. Furthermore, one could argue the so-called "dual-aspect monism" position - mind and brain are (obviously) the exact same system, but one can view them from two different perspectives - objectively and subjectively. Scientists who study the brains of bats, for example, will never feel what it is like to be a bat. This is the reason some researchers say we should correlate objective data with subjective data for a complete pictures of how the brain works. For a theoretical overview of how such a position fits into brain science, see

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The brain is a physical object whereas the mind is an abstract entity consisting of thoughts. There is a mapping between the two which works bilaterally,each one can influence the other. A mind reading computer would receive its inputs in physical form and would then map out the mind by using the corelations between the two. These corelations would be complex sensory inputs to the brain can influence the mind but the mind also receives inputs of a non sensory kind which can influence the brain. If it is hardware and software analogy then we are dealing with a software which changes the hardware.

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Welcome to cogsci.SE! We are a community based in science and fact, and encourage citing sources for this purpose as well as giving interested parties somewhere to start for further reading. – Krysta Oct 7 '14 at 12:26

I would like to equate the brain with computer hardware while equating the mind with the software. Interestingly the brain executes the steps or the perceptional aspects of human thinking while the mind interacts with the world and changes, alters and re-configures ones perceptions and operational brain functions. For example when one is interacting with the outside world the same scene or stimuli may have different brain response under the depressed state of mind while it may be totally opposite when in an elated state. So the plasticity of the brain can change by the operations of the mind. So how do we define mind, simply said it is the collective contribution of ones memory of past experiences, current state of being and the relationship between the two, while resolving the current perception.

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Do you have a reference to back this up? Right now it's a mixture of inaccurate philosophy and conjecture. – Chuck Sherrington Oct 4 '14 at 9:10

I think hardware and software are both brain-the matter and function. Mind decides what you use it for, and is based on your learning based on experiences. The learning is not only over one life but continues and is updated. I think the gist of learning is in the soul and is updated based on new experiences. I think soul is software for learning with Data/information (learning) and has also a java like program that enables updating of the laerning. It also has rules - soul can only be in a living organism, hence leaves at death. the program also calculates the frequency ( to define how much you have learned and zero frequency means you have learnt the Truth). At death, the soul leaves the body and keeps wandering, until it finds a body being born that has a matching frequency in it's previous life and the other soul lodges in it. The soul when it leaves one body goes just like a wireless cell phone. my hypothesis- not proven but scientifically plausible. Kul razdan

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Welcome to cogsci.SE! We encourage answers based in science and fact--right now this answer is pretty lacking in both, and is more on the philosophy side than anything else. – Krysta Oct 6 '14 at 12:39

protected by Chuck Sherrington Oct 6 '14 at 20:15

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