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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 at 18:08
Jeffrey Schwartz's 'The Mind and the Brain' discusses this difference quite in-depth –  Alex Feb 17 at 22:19

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Sure, to some extent mind reading "implicitly 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.

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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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 (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/118732):

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 at 19:22

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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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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