THE MIND

Citation: Huitt, W. (2010, May). The mind. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/summary/mind.html


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According to Hebb (1974), "Mind is the capacity for thought, and thought is the integrative activity of the brain--that activity up in the control tower that, during the waking hours, overrides reflex response and frees behavior from sense dominance" (p. 74). Farthing (1992) defined mind as "the functioning of the brain to process information and control action in a flexible and adaptive manner" (p. 5). In both instances, the definitions reflect a materialistic (or materialist monism) perspective whereby mind is viewed as a result of the functioning of the brain.

The relationship between mind and body or mind and brain is one of the most perplexing problems of psychology and philosophy. On the one hand are those who promote the idea that mind is a result of brain functioning, coming into existence as the brain develops and ceasing to exist when the brain stops functioning (e.g.,  Hebb and Farthing.) On the other hand are those who advance the idea that mind and brain or body are separate entities, differing in substance (e.g., Plato, Descartes.) They argue the dualist position that mind can operate separately from brain and incorporate a spiritual or metaphysical aspect of mind.

It is not the intent to attempt to resolve this issue here. There are strong arguments for both positions. If one believes that a human being is essentially a physical being and, in that sense, just like any other living organism, then it follows that one would adopt the materialistic position. If, however, one believes that a human being is essentially a spiritual being, incorporating both biological and spiritual aspects into his or her human nature, then one would adopt the dualist position. Both positions would agree that mind is the mental functioning of consciousness, whether that consciousness arises solely from the activity of the brain or whether it is an interaction of both brain and spirit. Therefore, while the functioning of the mind is an empirical question that can be studied using the methods of science, the issue of the origin of mind is a philosophical issue, not an empirical or scientific issue. Suffice it to say that the philosophical perspective adopted in these pages is one of dualism.

Traditionally, psychology has focused on three aspects of mind: (cognition or reasoning, emotion or affect, and conation or volition/will). In addition, there is a clear tradition in psychology to focus on overt behavior. It is my position that individuals entrusted with the care and guidance of young people should focus on the development of each of the aspects of mind and as well as on overt behavior. This viewpoint is incorporated in the design of the Brilliant Star framework.

Schooling is one of the most important influences on the development of mental functioning or mind. Traditionally, in the US educational system, school achievement has been equated to scores on standardized tests of the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. There is increasing consensus among parents and educators that this is a relatively narrow definition of the capacities of the human mind. In today's digital or information/conceptual age, with the requirements of living in a global, multicultural society, the desired outcomes for young people must be much broader. The Secretary (of Labor's) Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS,1991) report and Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2006) provide excellent overviews of the skills necessary to be a champion in the 21st century, although a critique of the SCANS report highlights some additional attributes that futurists and behavioral scientists deem important. The Brilliant Star framework provides a graphic representation of areas in which a person has the innate capacity to develop and demonstrate excellence.

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Internet links related to the study of mind

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