Mind is the ghost in the electro-chemical machine we call body. Philosophers have long struggled to understand the relationship of thought to the physical brain, the mind-body problem. The concept of dualism was a typical philosophical explanation, in which mind was considered to have a non-physical basis and hence was independent from the brain. The prevalence of such thinking may be linked to a need to support the religious concept of soul, a disassociated expression of a human life that survives the body’s death.
At the functional level, mind is the human capacity for memory, feeling, and knowledge acquisition. This capacity is made unique in kind and degree among animal life by the enlarged portion of the human brain supporting cognition, the collection and application of knowledge. Cognition is a set of cooperating facilities including consciousness, emotion, abstraction, symbolic reasoning, and language. Aspects of mind deriving from cognitive ability include intentionality, volition, judgement, affection, and executive decision-making. Personality is the expression of mind.
Consciousness is awareness. Humans are uniquely aware of their environment and their relationship to it. Humans are uniquely aware of the immediate past and its relationship to the immediate future, enabling prediction of what will come next. More rudimentary awareness is shared with other animals as well, awareness of the social relationships amongst themselves, of needed provisioning and protection for offspring, and of their need for and impetus to find food. Humans elevate awareness beyond these bare necessities of life.
Much of cognition happens below the conscious state. The human brain is uniquely attuned to its current frame of context, which provides automatic retrievals from memory to provide inputs to cognitive information processing. Understanding of memory encoding, storage and retrieval, processing context, and context frame switching, are essential to understanding mind.
Evolutionary neurobiology has now removed the mind entirely from its prior position within the purview of philosophy or religion. The brain is evolutionary both in its cellular complexity and size, due to genetic selection over hundreds of millions of years, and also due to its adaptive synaptic selection, its adaptive wiring, in encoding memory and enabling thought over a human lifetime. As with all mechanisms too complex to admit logical explanation, an evolutionary process must be the head designer in chief of the brain, embodiment of mind.