8 Sep 2022


Mental Representations and the Mind-Brain Relationship

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Academic level: Ph.D.

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Often, contemporary controversies underlie the interpretation of the mental representations and the mind-brain relationships through concepts such as monolism, dualism and exclusivity. In my view, the dualism concept helps us analyze the mind and brain from different point of view. In essence, A tendency towards dualism underscores the mind and brain as separate while conceptualizing on human functioning besides emphasizing that our minds are more than just our brains. Therefore, in addition to the physical aspect, the mind stands out as a non-material, spiritual and cognitive dimension that constitutes consciousness and the eternal attribute. One way to interpret this concept is to consider ourselves as containers consisting of the physical brain, the physical body and a separate non-physical mind. The latter is attributed as the conscious portion that manifests itself though the physical brain. Although in most cases the mind and brain are underpinned as holistic part within the monolism concept, it’s clear that such assumptions limits the exploration of innate contributions to behavior in psychotherapy analysis. 

On the other hand, the assumption that the mind and brain are separate aids in elucidating the contribution of the duo in human functioning. Perhaps dualism makes it easy to explain the expectations of things like desires, beliefs, emotions, thoughts, free choice and consciousness as crowned in the functioning of the mind. In this case, the cognitive processes and states predates the notion of mental representation as cognitive theoretical construct and construes the assumption of it being a mental object with semantic characteristics including reference, content and truth value. With the physical positioning of the brain and the underlying physiology of neurotransmission, the analysis of the duo as separate fosters an understanding of mental representations. I concur with the classical dualism concept that the mind and brain are separate and the casual relationship between the duo determines human functioning including mental representation. Therefore, the paper explores different aspects of the mind and brain relationship in delineating the concept of mental representation. 

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Differing conceptualization of the mind and how the mind it is studied 

To begin with, the successful navigation within the social world necessitates making appropriate inferences regarding the contents of other people’s minds and the ability to represent in one’s own mind, the beliefs, thoughts and intentions of others. Therefore the differing conceptualization of the mind is rooted in the theory of the mind which gives us the ability to predict and explain other people’s behaviors in relation to their mental states. Notably, individual differences in the ability of the theory of mind relate to the differences in the cognitive abilities including language intelligence and memory. Although such abilities have an impact on the execution tasks as per the theory of mind, research indicates that there is no substantial effect of the skills on the mental-state representation. 

In some instances, the mind is conceptualized from a monolism approach that considers the mind and brain to be one. Besides the holistic representation, dualism perceives the mind and the brain to be separate and as coined by Descartes notion of the mind being in control of the body. Additionally, conceptualization of the mind that explores the different approaches including cognitive, functional and behavioral mechanisms. Broadly, the differing conceptualization of the mind stems from the diverse components of social interactions which include perception of social clues, knowledge of shared context and the interpretations of actions. First, as humans, inferences to the mental states of other rely on the perception of various presented cues. Despite the mental states being inherently cognitive, the repertoire of human behavior is substantially manifested through facial expressions, gaze cues and vocal cues explores the diverse degrees of expressing mental states. In most cases, gaze-based cues have been reported to be effective in inferring the knowledge of others. Similarly, vocal and facial cue integrates emotional recognition which gives humans the ability to perceive or discriminate mental states. In this case, the purview of the emotional content determines the ways it’s conveyed, whereby positive emotions and negative emotions are reflected by facial expressions, prosody, vocal intensity and the rate of speech .Similarly to the perception of social cues, interpretation of action and knowledge of shared context are crucial in conceptualizing the mind from a behavioral point of view. In general, the differing conceptualization of the mind gives humans the ability to process information about behaviors, actions, knowledge about others in making inferences on the respective beliefs, thoughts, intentions and feelings. 

In one way or the other, the perception of social cues forms the framework for the studying the mind. For instance, the gaze cues provide signals alluding to the direction of one’s attention. Some of the traditional approaches employed in the study of the behavioral approach to emotion recognition and gaze cues include the observation of the dyadic interactions. Besides, the study of the mind involves the use of experimental paradigms in which participants being studied make inferences from external stimuli represented through static images. In stark contrast to the third person approaches, emerging approaches seeks to focus on building the first and second approaches to studying the brain. However, simulation based computational methods are being used as the preferred approach towards studying the mind (Friedenberg & Silverman, 2012). For instance simulated social interaction entails the generation of social behavior in artificial characters which are embedded in the virtual world or as humanlike robots. Also, cognitive simulation relies on experimenter-controlled protocols to generate diverse and interactive experimental scenarios. As inclined in the simulation theory, the cognitive-based method entails the robot establishment of representation of mental states similarly to their human counterparts by aligning and tracking their states to its own. 

Influence of external and internal environment on memory 

The influence of internal and environmental conditions on what is recalled from certain kinds of memory/representations stems from the internalism and the externalism philosophies. Internalists argue that mental representation is determined an individual’s intrinsic characteristics while the externalists consider one’s natural or social environment as partial determinants of the content of mental representation. Conversely, memory is constructed on the knowledge acquired through the innate and the external environments. As encompassed though the nature-nurture debate, a recollection of the innate or in-built traits and those acquired along the continuum of social interactions with the environment elucidates the mind-brain relationship. Although rationalism and nativism concepts proposes memory to be a recollection of things that we already know, a wide scope of literature emphasizes that empiricism serves as a fundamental tool that favor nurture over nature. Moreover interpretation and memories are built on the associations of simple ideas to form complex ideas over time. Therefore, besides the external stimuli, the internal environment plays a role in processing the sensory inputs and ultimately activating the recollection mode. 

Through the stimulation of the artificial neural network of the mind, during learning the networks are flexible however they tend to remain the same once learning is complete. Contrary to this notion, the representation of the mental states will change and be written as new things. Drawing reference from the dynamic perspective, the mind constantly changes as it adapts to new information. Therefore, representations formed when we first learn a particular concept are altered every time we experience information that somehow relates to the prior concept. In most cases, external stimuli from our surroundings induce the above changes in our mind and the underlying learning process. Using the analogy of cars, a child who sees a red car for the first time might think that all cars are red. However the next time the child sees a car with a different color , let’s say blue, the mental concept of the child will change to accommodate the changes (Friedenberg & Silverman, 2012). Therefore, it’s improbable to assume that biological representations that we see in humans remain the same over time. 

Correspondence of representation in the mind to neuron/synapse in the brain 

The casual relationship between the brain and the mind underscores the necessity for a one-to-one correspondence between specific representation in the mind and physico-chemical condition in some specific neurons/synapses in the associated brain. For instance smell preference is a form of innate behavior of the mind yet integrates a set of reflexes that are governed by the brain’s neurotransmission activities. In this case, different odors trigger the olfactory receptors in the nose to send signals to the olfactory bulb of the brain, a part that functions to identify smell. Besides, the smell information is also sent to the thalamus which transmits the signal to the amygdala, a region that inflicts emotional response. Although the signaling and processing of the intricate neural code that resulting influences on perception and preferences. 

Visual verses Speech Stimuli 

In interpersonal communication the ability to see as well as hear the speaker are attributed to the visual and the speech stimuli. Visual stimuli form critical pathways that aim at creating and retrieving visual representation. The visual perception that is created in the mind relies substantially on the recognition of object features. Arguably, recognition of individual structural components contributes to the overall configuration of visual elements within the context of the whole. The speech perception is a mind-based mental representation that relies on the auditory functions that aids in processing acoustic speech stimuli. Word recognition is integral part of speech recognition and it forms the framework for mapping the speech perception through processes of acoustic analysis, the lexical as well as the semantical processing stage. However some of the challenges faced by listeners in mapping the speech variances are attributed to the McGurk effect that underpins the influence of vision on the physiology of the audition. 

Experienced Verses Imagined Stimuli 

Experienced stimuli reflects the conceptualization of things that one has had an external encounter with while the imagined stimuli corresponds to the uninstantiated approach of anticipating or imaging things that one has not a had a previous encounter. The experienced stimuli are a connotation of mental consciousness that results from daily experiences. Intriguingly, the perceptual natures of experience through the actual encounter of sensing as introspect to being conscious of external stimuli. For instance, a recollection of the last pizza eaten manifests the actual experience of known external stimuli. 

On the other hand, the imagined stimuli integrate the hypothetical mental imagery. In this case, mental representation of a scene or an object is characterized by the activation of cognitive experience in the absence of the corresponding stimuli. Theoretically, mental representations are formed of pictorial notations that correspond to the spatial attributes of the surroundings that are mentally represented. Despite lacking a prior encounter with an object, a scene or a person, the physical space can be accessed from an imaginative point of view that employs cognitive process through sensory organs, majorly the ears, eyes and nose which collects information about the environment, facilitating the construction of the diverse metal images or representations of the subject matter. For instance, one can imagine of something for dinner that one has never had before based on the mental imagery of the experience that resembles the perceptual experience according to the nature of the virtual visual and olfactory stimuli involved. In delineating the dualism effect, the mind explains the highlighted perceptions while brain imaging serves a fundamental tool in demonstrating the neural representation of mental imagery and perceptual images within the visual cortex. 


To sum it all, different philosophical and physiological approaches explore the debate on the mind- brain relationships. As emphasized in this paper, the brain and mind are separate and characterized by physical and non-physical forms respectively. On the basis of the functional approach, kinds and entities are differentiated by underlying tendencies and actions. In this case when classifying the ideas of the mind, the latter is separate but does not exists exclusively from the brain since the casual relationship between the duo underscores mental representation and human functioning . Arguably, response to innate and external stimuli corresponds to the differing conceptualization of the mind; the anatomical and physiological viewpoint of the brain. 


Friedenberg, J. D., & Silverman, G. W. (2012). Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Study of Mind (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. 

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