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Science and Mind

This is a very, very  important area, which cannot be spoken of properly in a brief little essay.  I'll probably be back to rewrite this repeatedly over the years, because this interface between our self and our attempt to understand our selves has guided my education and my own learning efforts all my adult life.  There will be more to say as brain research moves along.  For now I just wanted you to know that I don't think "it all comes down to brain chemistry", or that there's nothing particularly miraculous beyond that.  Our brains are an obvious part of some magnificent mysteries.  They also seem built to be able to wonder about things, and that's what this website is for, in part -- to help you wonder.  

Here's a big part of the mystery to wonder about, which may illustrate how the information on this site is intended: 


Your sense of "you", the personal sense of identity that allows you to remember yourself at age 16, and 20 (and maybe even older now?) -- is something every human seems to have.

You can remember yourself at age 16, right?  There was a "you" back then that, although your body has changed, is basically the same "you" as the one you experience now.  And the same "you" at age 20, and 30 maybe, and so forth.   That "you" is a central human experience, of identity.  And that personal identity is a wonderful puzzle: we have only the slightest clues as to where that sense of "you" comes from in your brain.  

Meanwhile, however, there are places in the brain that are responsible for certain wishes, like the wish to eat when you are hungry.  "You" experience that hunger.  Yet you would not if a certain part of your brain was injured.  

These Brain Tours are about the parts of the brain that seem to be clearly involved in certain human experiences, especially those that become involved in mental health problems.  Philosophers and theologians and scientists have been struggling for several thousand years to understand how our sense of ourselves, our "mind", relates to the chemical factories of our body, and our brain.  I do not presume to speak directly about something so vast and full of implications.  At the same time, you may find that the brain structures you will learn about here seem to have implications about our humanity.  The Tours will try to teach you clearly agreed upon facts about brain structures and their functions.   "You" can do the thinking from there.  

UPDATE 1/2004:  for a stunning view of a woman "thinking" about a simple task, in some of the most striking pictures of brain activity I've seen yet, check out the HHMI's essay on new brain image machines:

  1. click on the sidebar at the bottom right to see an incredible series of pictures of the brain in action (sorting and remembering a few letters); 
  2. click on the green-background brain picture at the upper right and read the story about how fast the brain reorganizes itself when conditions change; and
  3. see a dramatic demonstration of visual illusions that uses your computer very nicely, to show how your brain is built with assumptions:  e.g. light always comes from above; things farther away will look smaller; and, if missing information, just fill it in from the last data you have (take the link in this sentence). 

I can't recommend these three visits too highly, if you're interested in how your brain works... (home)                                                            Brain Tours