How does the mind arise from the brain?
Research notes from the Minamiohya Clinic, 2012
Human behaviour is controlled not only by instincts but also by the mind. However, the relation of the mind to the brain has not been fully explained. In conventional interpretations, the mind is not believed to be located at any one spot in the brain, which, if true, suggests that we will remain forever unable to explain the mind completely, regardless of our understanding of the brain’s local functions. Brain development resembles the branching process of the cherry tree, in which the trunk branches off into limbs and limbs into twigs. As a novel method of understanding the mind, we compared the patterns of neural stem cell activity with the growth patterns of meristematic cells in the cherry tree. Studying plants in the natural world enables us to keep an open mind.
Each neural stem cell ( meristematic cells in the cherry tree) in the cerebrum (the branches) changes into neurons or glial cells (the buds, flowers, and leaves) in response to information from the external environment. New tissue is added to the memory (new stems). Meanwhile, old neurons die (just as twigs that have long been in the shade will break off). Growth continues as long as life continues.
This novel perspective suggests that the mind encompasses the entire cerebrum, whose neural stem cells (meristematic cells in a cherry tree) retrieve information from both the external environment and internal memory (the tree’s stem and limbs).
脳 brain 大脳 cerebrum
神経幹細胞 neural stem cells
生長点細胞 meristematic cells
MEDICINE FREE LIVING MEDICINE FREE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. On what grounds can we compare neural stem cells and meristematic cells ?
3 What is the mind? － Neuroscientific approaches up to the present
3.1 Where is the mind?
3.2 Understanding the mind with psychology
3.3 Understanding the mind with neuroscience
3.4 The problems with neuroscience
4. Development of the brain and a cherry tree
4.1 A new theory based on the existence of neural stem cells
4.2 Neural stem cells and the meristematic cells
5. How does the mind arise from the brain?
5.1 Conjectures based on brain development
5.2 The relationship between form and function
5.3 The role of time
6. The development of the mind
Despite recent technological advances, many things about the brain remain unclear to us, such as the structures that give rise to brain function,; the activity; an brain disease; and their treatment. Our current knowledge is merely the tip of the iceberg. Research has shown only that every part of the brain contains a great number of nerve cells (neurons), as well as supportive glial cells, with blood vessels that crisscross its surface.
Under the surface of the brain, there are hidden things that we have not even begun to understand (Masao Itō, 1998). － For example, we are compretely unable to explain how memories, thoughts, and emotions are created simply by neurons and glial cells, even if we vainly attempt to explain these process based on the phenomena of physics, the chemical reactions that we have discovered, or even the latest computer technology. This is because the brain comprises an uncountable number of cells, each of which has its own individual life, and is able to alter itself and divide ―. Biology researchers have gone all the way down to the molecular, but the relationship between the brain and mind remains unclear.
The workings of human life and the growth of a plant – for example, the symbolic broad-leaved deciduous rosa multiflora sakura (hereafter referred to as ‘the cherry tree’) – are comparable in that they have a common life process. That is, as living things, both have cells, that continuously differentiate into new cells. Similar to the human brain, the cherry tree has mechanisms, that allow it to recognize itself and respond to its environment. Those structures are located at the ends of the tree’s roots and leaf stalks and are called growth point cells. These cells actively devide, and are the points at which new tissues are created. Of course, this is not to say that a cherry blossom tree – which is, of course, a plant – has an organ like a brain that can react simultaneously to external stimuli and give rise to thoughts and reactions. However, through cytodifferentiation of its innumerable growth point cells, the cherry tree adjusts itself to the changing seasons, and, develop buds that grow into flowers, leaves, and branches. For a single tree, this is a marvellous achievement in terms of growth.
In recent years, cells known as neural stem cells have been discovered in the brains of human adults. These cells can be thought of as acting in a similar way to a plant’s meristematic cells. They possess what is called ‘diversity characteristics’, meaning that they have the potential to become many different types of nerve cell, but have not yet undergone cell differentiation at the most detailed level. This discovery, overturned the widespread belief, that ‘regeneration of neurons does not occur in higher animals’ (Gerd Kempemann, Fred H. Gage 1997). The discovery of these new neural stem cells suggests that the brain possess and operate on the same kinds of growth mechanisms.
By using simpler modes of thought that differ from previous purely neuroscientific methods, we may now be able comprehending the mind is said to be the greatest challenge left to mankind; it is also one of the most difficult in principle. We cannot expect any significant progress if we persist in clinging stubbornly to traditional scientific methods.
In this article, the growth point cells of plants and the neural stem cells of the brain are compared as a fun for a novel theory the workings of the brain. Rather than using standard scientific methodology, we will attempt to apply an intuitive approach to the question: ‘How does the mind arise from the brain?’-
2. ON WHAT GROUNDS CAN WE COMPARE NEURAL STEM CELLS AND MERISTEMATICS CELLS ?
The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623－1662) said: ‘Man is a thinking reed.’ －What kind of living thing did he mean by a ‘reed’? It is thought that plants neither think nor have feelings; indeed, for a plant, neither of these functions is necessary. Plants are easy to understand as living things. However, they have keenly developed senses: they cleverly adjust to changes in the natural environment, and even possess have the ability to propagate by means of cloning.
In the distant past, biologists maintainined that only plants and animals that could be seen by the naked eye should be classed as ‘living things’. However, with the invention of the microscope and other such equipment, microbes and other organisms that could not be seen with the naked eye came to be classified alongside with animals and plants under the general term of ‘living things’. What－ Living things differ from inanimate objects because the former have cells. The cell is the smallest unit possessed by all living things, and acts as a microscopic ‘room’ for the organism’s genes (DNA).
When it comes to the phenomenon of life, all living things on Earth－ not just animals, but plants, amoebae, and bacteria, too －share the same basic mechanisms. In addition, they are largely the name in their basic cell structure, basic metabolic functions, genes, and even so far the decryption code of their chemical molecules are all largely the same. Thus, when comparing them as living things at the cell level, animals and plants are basically the same. One large difference between them, however, is that plants do not have to acquire energy from other animals, because plants obtain their energy from the sun. Furthermore, animals have various internal organs. Of particular interest -is the brain, which allows animals to distinguish themselves from others, control the other organs of the body, and operate as one complete organism.
The most unusual role of the human brain is that it enables us to recognize our surroundings (i.e.,‘self awareness’). Understanding the structures of the brain is part of our work, but we believe it is absolutely vital basic knowledge for all of us. Due to the unfortunate fact that my clinic does not have the relevant specialized research facilities, we have been restricted in terms of methodology to observing the daily lives and activities of human beings, along with the cherry tree that we can see from our windows.
Since ancient times, Japanese have considered the cherry tree a symbol of their psychology as a people. Alongside us, the cherry tree changes with the seasons; first it sprouts buds, then it flowers, then bursts into full bloom, and finally sheds its leaves and remains bare throughout the winter. The thought occurred to me that the grace, beauty, and strength of the cherry tree exhibit the very meaning of what it is to be alive – after which we was possessed to ask: ‘What is the mind?’
3. WHAT IS THE MIND ?－ NEUROSCIENTIFIC APPROACHES UP TO THE PRESENT
3.1 Where is the mind?
When we awaken from sleep, all our sensory organs－, our eyes, ears, and skin－naturally become aware of the world around us. In addition to this awareness, we think and recognize based on our memories of our existence in society (otherwise known as self-awareness). Until now, what we called the ‘mind’ had been defined simply as ‘the origin of all mental activity in the brain’, or, alternatively, as ‘the general term for mental activity’. These vague definitions were due to the fact that the brain has no muscles; thus,, we cannot directly view ‘mental activity’ with the naked eye. These invisible ‘brain activities’ are indirectly based on various external stimuli, e.g., facial expressions, behaviour, body language, and spoken language. Moreover, we also sometimes define the mind as a complicated ‘awareness’, that we can neither see nor describe in words. Sometimes, the mind is defined as the thoughts and ideas that arise seemingly of their own accord.
What is the mind? Where is it located? Human beings have asked themselves these questions since the dawn of civilization. Six thousand years ago, in Egypt, it was believed that ‘the heart was the seat of the mind’; four thousand years ago, in Babylonia, the mind was said to be in the liver. In Ancient Greece, with the advent of more systematic scholarship, it was said that the mind was originated in the functions of the brain or heart. For example, Hippocrates (c. 460 BCE – c. 377 BCE), called the father of medicine, believed that the mind was ‘the functions of the brain’,. the philosopher Plato (c. 428 BCE – – c. 347 BCE) believed that ‘the mind lies in the spinal cord’, and Plato’s pupil Aristotle (c. 348 BCE – -c. 322 BCE), thought that the mind was to be found in the heart.
Because Aristotle’s ideas had a great influence on European thinking, it was long believed that ‘the heart was the seat of the mind’. However, with the birth of modern science in the 17th century, the brain once more became the focus of attention. The French philosopher René Descartes (1596 – -1650) claimed that the origin of thoughts, and the mind, was in a very deep part of the brain called the pineal gland, which was connected to the nerves of the eyes, thus making it able to sense light and secrete hormones. Similar-ly, the second-century Roman physician Galen (c. 130 – -c. 200), who devoted himself to anatomical research, believed that what he called ‘the flow of the spirits’ was not to be found in the brain itself, but inside cerebrospinal fluid-filled channels within the interior of the brain which, he called ‘brain rooms’.
There were many other such theories, but after the 17th century, it was generally agreed that there was some relationship between the mind and brain. However, the nature of that relationship was an issue that split thought broadly into two schools. The first – the monistic theory – claimed that the mind and the mental activities of the brain were the same thing, and that they were just two words for the same process; the second – the dualistic theory – claimed that the mind and brain were different things, different processes, and that the mind was independent from the brain.
The two theories fundamentally differed, which led to a long intellectual standoff. However, the dualistic theory was predominant – because it was compatible with the principles of Christianity. As an example, in the 18th century, the French physician, Julian Offroy de la Mettrie (1709 – 1751), propounded a monistic mode of thought, and demonstrated that according to the principles of physiology, nothing other than the functions of the brain could be responsible for human mental activity. Upon publication of his findings he was faced with a storm of vitriol from the Church, and was forced into exile.
Today, however, we do not have the luxury of doubting the monistic theory. We accept that what we call our ‘mind’ is a function of brain activity. It is undeniable that the human brain is created from a mesh of innumerable nerve cells, and that all mental activities are spun from inside this mesh. However, regardless of where we search in the brain, there is no physical proof of this fact. Furthermore, there is still no answer to the question: ‘How does the mind arise from the brain?’
3.2 Understanding the mind with psychology
After plants put down roots into the earth, they cannot move. Instead, they must use their keen senses to adjust and adapt themselves to the seasons and environment in which they grow. We humans, however, do not simply repeat the same actions over and over in this way; we are aware of our environment, and our actions are controlled based on memories, emotions, moods, and thoughts that come from the brain.
Scientific research on human mental/psychological development began in 1879, when the German physiologist and philosopher Wilhelm Wundt (1832 – 1920) founded the world’s first laboratory of psychological research at the University of Leipzig. However, the inner workings of the human mind are obscure, and cannot easily be measured directly or objectively; thus the science of psychology attempts to clarify these internal psychological and emotional processes by means of objective research based on quantifiable external behaviours. In psychology, which deals with the relationship between hidden mental processes and external behaviours, and uses both experiments and observation as research methods, the word ‘reactions’ is used rather than the word ‘mind’. Furthermore, psychology divides the processes of human life from birth until death into three stages－ the activities of the mind, the actions born of these activities, and the human meaning that those actions have－, and regars the mind as composed of many components. Due to recent developments in neuroscientific research methods we have managed to understand the relationship of some of these components to the brain itself. However, we still cannot explain the essence of the innermost component that controls the other components on a fundamental level – . This innermost component has been variously referred to as the ‘self’, ‘ego’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’ or ‘one’s self’, and is thought to be the quintessence of life.
3.3 Understanding the mind with neuroscience
In ancient times, it was believed that pneuma was at the origin of all nature, human life, and all their associated workings was. This word in Greek has various meanings, including ‘breath’, ‘wind’, and ‘soul’. Pneuma was invisible to the naked eye, but its movements could be heard and felt; It connected human being to human being, and human being to nature; and its existence was credited with enabling humans to live together and achieve greatness as individuals.
In 1791, Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1798), an Italian anatomist and physician, discovered electricity using the leg of a frog and thus paved the way for the discovery of the neurotransmission system. The English chemist and theologian Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804) developed an innovative method of experimentation. Beginning with his discovery of oxygen in air, he also separated various different gases, and eventually found that the heat within the human body was caused by chemical reactions. In 1774, Priestley visited France and explained his discovery of the constituents of air to the chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743 – 1794). Lavoisier immediately realized the significance of the fact that even things that are invisible to the naked eye are made up of many different substances. This led in turn to the chemical revolution that would form the foundation of modern chemistry, and that thoroughly negated the idea of the existence of the metaphysical substance pneuma, which had been thought to be responsible for thermogenesis in the human body.
At this time, in an effort to keep up with developments in modern physiology, brain research also entered a period of extremely significant developments. Research by the English physiologist Charles Scott Sherrington (1861 – 1952), revealed that transmissions between neurons were caused by electric signals, and that transmission of these electric signals was due to a chemical agent found in the connective parts between neurons (the synapses). Thus information is transferred within the brain via two types of transmission system: chemical and electrical. The discovery of this ‘information transmission circuit’, which is known as a ‘neural circuit’ or ‘neural network’, provided a stepping stone for continuing efforts to understand brain structure.
After the Second World War, W. Penfield (1891 – 1976), a Canadian neurologist and neurosurgeon who had studied under Sherrington, put into practice the contemporaneously formulated theory of the localization of brain function, which was based on the idea of electrical stimulation of the cerebral cortex during brain surgery. After obtaining the patient’s advance consent, he attached electrodes to various regions of the cerebral cortex, applied electrical stimulation, and observed the patient’s responses. The results he observed when he applied the stimulus to the region of the brain just above the ear, had a decisive impact on neuroscience as a whole:. Penfield’s experiment effectively proved the localization theory. However, despite the fact that he had proved that brain function was localized, Penfield concluded that ‘The mind is not inside the brain – it is located elsewhere.’
In 1958, D.H. Hubel (1926 –) and T.N. Wiesel (1924 –) discovered the optic nerve cells, which respond only to specific stimuli and specific conditions. －This discovery set the precedent for the various hypotheses related to recognition cells, which were put forward during the 1980s and 1990s.
When we see the image of an object, our various nerve cells respond to that image. There are currently two basic schools of thought on how we recognize an image. The first suggests that there is a specific cell in the brain designed to respond to each individual image of an object. This idea takes the localization of brain function all the way down to the individual cell level. If we were to accept this hypothesis, it would mean that we each have, for example, a specific ‘granny cell’ that responds only to our grandmother’s face, and, similarly, a specific ‘grandpa cell’ that responds only to the face of our grandfather. The second theory is that we have cells that all selectively respond to various characteristics of shapes, i.e., an object’s image is displayed to us via a combination of these cells. According to this idea, each image of an object is displayed to us as a combination of the object’s particular characteristics; the information we receive is not necessarily localized down to the level of individual cells, and the information is displayed by a group of incomplete cells that have a number of possible responses.
From the 1970s to the 1980s, the discipline of computer science made immense advances. In parallel with this technological progress, the idea that the mental activities of the brain were similar to the data-processing functions of a computer gradually gained strength. With advent of the computational theory of neuroscientist David Marr (1916 – 1998), the monistic theory of the brain became persuasive. Using as an example the fact that the information transmission circuit found in the synapses of the brain works in exactly the same way as a computer, Marr proved in theory that it was possible to explain both the brain and a computer by invoking the same system.
The existence of such an information processing system showed that the brain is constantly processing information at extremely high speeds. However, at the same time it was recognized that the brain is an information processing system so complicated and so fast that no matter how many supercomputers one might link together, a machine did not stand a chance of keeping up. Despite this, computer science has expanded the methodology which can be applied to investigating the many questions related to the mind that are raised by those invisible brain activities. Along with increased knowledge in the fields of anatomy, electrophysiology, experimental physiology and developmental physiology, new brain activity scanning systems such as magnetic resonance imaging(MRI) and positron emission tomography(PET) were introduced during this period. These allow us visualize, via an on-screen image, the region of the brain that is responsible for recognition functions. Simulation technology, which is able to reconstruct neural networks/neural circuits and nerve systems, is also being utilized. With the use of these technologies, neuroscience research is advancing at a rapid pace. We are getting ever closer to the crux of the monistic theory which states that the mind is to be found somewhere within the brain.
3.4 Problems with neuroscience
It is thought that the brain’s processing of information in the sensory mechanisms is carried out by the approximately 14 billion nerve cells that make up the cerebral cortex. Nerve cells are bound to each other at the synapses. The total number of synapses in the entire cerebral cortex is as high as 100,000 x 14 billion. These synapses combine together, creating innumerable nerve circuit meshes. The nerve cells in these meshes do not remain fixed in place like part of a machine; rather they are constantly undergoing cell division and reproducing. Thus the nerve circuit itself is also constantly changing. Although these numberless billions of nerve cells all have the same genes, the cells have been created in different environments and at different times via cell differentiation. So, even if we regard all nerve cells and all synapses to be identical, and add them together, this still does not explain the workings of the brain as a whole. The reality is that even if we focus our efforts and manage to ultimately explain the mechanisms of one part of the brain in detail, we are still unable to explain the mind, which is the sum of the functions of the entire brain.
Natural science aims to explore universal truths and laws, and neuroscience then applies that systematic knowledge. However, both natural science and neuroscience ultimately regard the brain as if it were something inorganic. The knowledge obtained in this manner is taken as objectively proven fact, which is then applied to every given phenomenon, no matter how limited the sphere or in what type of organism it was found to hold true initially. The prevailing belief that comprehending every phenomenon on a basic level requires that we be able to understand and interpret it has been the dominant mode of thought since the scientific revolution. Therefore, based on this idea, scientists believe that if only we can discover new facts about the brain, these facts can be interpreted via the brain as inorganic-matter’ mode of thinking that has held sway until now. Basically, this mode of thought leads to the incorrect notion that the ‘phenomenon of life’ and the ‘functions of the machine’, which both have living cells as their basic components, act based on the same structures. In the end, for us as human beings, the act of clarifying and understanding some given phenomenon is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy ourselves, to feel secure, or, alternatively, to replicate said phenomenon so as to make use of it in our daily lives.
With the abilities we have as human beings we must realize that just because we can understand, accept, be satisfied with, and make use of the simple and universal structures as they are, we cannot expect to understand and be able to replicate the basic structures of the phenomenon of life in the same way as we would a machine.
4. DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN AND A CHERRY TREE
4.1. A new theory based on the existence of neural stem cells
There are several hundred billion nerve cells in the brain. These are made up of the meshes of electrically activated neurons and non-excitable glial cells, which help neurons function properly, and whose number is ten times greater. Unlike other normal cells, a neuron is surrounded multiple dendrites; one of those dendrites is longer than the others, and is called an axon. Neurons communicate through a structure called a synapse, which connects the neurons together. Electrical signals arising from a neuron go through the dendrites and the axons, and are sent to neighbouring neurons by chemicals in the synapse. It is thought that this network, which sends signals to the neurons through the synapses, is the brain’s basic cellular tissue structure (which we shall refer to as the neural network).
It used to be thought that most of the neural network, which produces the essential neural functions, was formed during foetal development and that the cells would not divide again after they were formed. It was also believed that the adult brain was larger than that of a newborn baby due to age-related increases in the number of glial cells (which are separate from neurons) and myelin, (which acts as an insulator for synapses and for electrically excitable neurons and is produced during infant development) period. Furthermore, it was thought that although tens of thousands of neurons perish every day in the adult brain, they could not be replaced. Thise ‘textbook’ theory, went utterly unchallenged until relatively recently.
In 1997, Peter S. Erikson (1936－) , of Sahlgrenska University in Sweden, and Fred H. Gage (1940－) , the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, discovered that neurons are newly created every day – at least in the hippocampus, which is located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain and plays an important role in memory and learning. Furthermore, in just the last few years, the discovery of neural stem cells－, which do not differentiate into the cells of the nervous system and therefore have the potential to become different types of cell－, has overturned the conventional wisdom that neurons are not newly created in the brains of adult higher-order animals.
As it has become clear that neurons are replaced in the adult brain, it can be further assumed that the structure of the neural network is not fixed, but rather is constantly changing. Moreover, this discovery has given rise to the hypothesis that the mind is formed by the accumulation of new information that is stored as memories.
4.2 Neural stem cells and the meristematic cells
Once a cherry tree has matured, it appears to have stopped growing. This is because as the tree is buffeted by winds and damaged by insects over the years, only the strong branches survive, and the number of growing point cells － the cells able to produce new buds －continues to decrease. However, even an old tree with a severely depleted number of meristematic cells continues every spring to produce a small number of buds ( which then bloom into flowers), puts out fresh green leaves, and thus continues to grow for as long as it lives. We can interpret this in terms of the brain by saying that although the number of neural stem cells decreases with age, the brain, just like the cherry blossom tree, continues to put out new ‘buds’, so to speak, and continues to develop as long as it lives.
Over the years, substantial effort has been devoted to understanding the extremely complex functions of the brain. Perhaps this is because we human beings see ourselves as special organisms, and therefore believe that we must have special qualities or mechanisms. However, if we treat human beings as just one type of organism, we can see that all living creatures― including plants, animals, fungus and viruses – have mechanisms in common. In other words, from birth until death, at all times, every organism recognizes its self and its non-self and possesses undifferentiated growth points. Those growth points, which have finished differentiating, leave traces of themselves behind as memories, and as this process is repeated, the memories one possesses as one’s ‘self’ change over time. It is thought that these growth points, (which are able to differentiate), and memories, (which have been created from these differentiated growth points,) are the building blocks of life.
Through asymmetric division, neural stem cells, which are the brain’s growth points, grow into two different daughter cells: a new neural stem cell and a nerve cell. Because of the very large number of differentiating neural stem cells, the brain can play an important role as an organ (the neuron network structure) – namely, the continuous creation of an individual’s personality by means of the constant differentiation of neural stem cells into nerve cells, in combination with information gleaned from the outside environment and accumulated memories. Once these nerve cells have finished their duties, the glial cells are left as memories. In the meantime, the next group of neural stem cells begins to differentiate; thus the neuron network is constantly updated and the brain keeps developing, just like a cherry tree.
Again, this concept is easier to understand if we liken the brain to a cherry blossom tree. A cherry blossom tree growing outdoors is constantly subject to natural stimuli; it is buffeted by wind and exposed to the sun and rain. The countless number of growth point cells in the buds on the tree’s branches sense light and temperature, differentiate, and put out buds, flowers, and leaves. In this way, the new branches that have grown over the years remain as ‘memories’, while new meristematic cells are produced. These growth cells gather together and eventually form a whole cherry tree, from the thick trunk to the numerous small branches growing out from it, that keeps growing. In short, both the brain and the cherry tree continuously change and develop, without limit.
5. HOW DOES THE MIND ARISE FROM THE BRAIN ?
5.1 Conjectures based on the development
When considering how the mind arises from the brain, it is important to understand on a basic level how the brain occurs and how it is structured. The human brain comes into existence when one fertilized egg differentiates, producing a vast number of cells. This egg has the potential to differentiate into all of our given organs. At around the middle of the third week of the prenatal period, neural stem cells appear. In the early stages of the embryonic period, after repeated cell division and propagation, stem cells of the central nerve system called neural epithelial cells form a single blind-ended tube. On the upper end of the tube grow three ampulae which will eventually turn into the brain. These three ampulae, from top to bottom, are called the prosencephalon, or forebrain; the mesencephalon, or midbrain; and rhombencephalon, or hindbrain. The forebrain develops further, growing into the telencephalon, or cerebrum, which swells out on both sides. It resembles the shape of a hemisphere, and thus is called the cerebral hemisphere. The midbrain does not develop much further, but the hindbrain further differentiates, into three sections: the pons, the cerebellum and the medulla oblongata. The pons and the cerebellum together are referred to as the hindbrain, while the medulla oblongata is known as the myelencephalon.
The basic structure of the brain in vertebrates has unchanged little throughout evolution, and, but the greatest evidence of evolution can be seen in the development of the cerebrum. For instance, in reptiles the cerebrum exists only as an appendage of the olfactory bulb, while in mammals it is responsible for most of the functions of the central nervous system. In human beings, the cerebrum is extremely large, to the extent that it covers most of the diencephalon and the midbrain. In allometric growth studies investigating the differing brain capacity of various species, a line of continuity is apparent from mice all the way up to whales. This enables us to make conjectures regarding the evolutionary process of the central nervous system. In particular, the highly developed forebrain of human beings’ (which later differentiates into the cerebrum and diencephalon, or ‘interbrain’) is very interesting due to its large size and the functions for which it is responsible.
The same thing can be said of a cherry blossom tree. That is, a single seed grows into a trunk, branches, foliage, and flowers, to form a tree. Of all plants, the cherry tree in particular, responds to the outside world by putting out buds, then flowers, then produces green and finally red foliage in accordance with the changing seasons and years, which is very similar to how the human cerebrum functions.
5.2 The relationship between form and function
The outside world provides stimuli that our sensory organs take in and respond to. For example, a sound stimulus is responded to by a hearing organ such as the vestibulocochlear nerve;, a light stimulus is responded to by the eyes, the retina, and the optic nerve; and the warmth produced by light is felt by the skin. When the brain recognizes things in the outside world, as well as the various matters that arise within the mind, it recognizes both the form of the thing as it exists at that moment in time, and the functions that will arise from the changes that the form will undergo. Function is a phenomenon that is tied to changes in form. For example, our eyes recognize a cherry blossom tree as a form. Changes in this form take place so slowly that we cannot recognize these changes as functions. However, because we have a stored memory of the changes in the cherry blossom tree’s flowers (i.e., the fact that they are in full bloom for a very short period of time, after which they all fall to the ground), when we see the cherry blossom tree in full bloom, in an instant our brain recalls the changes it will undergo. Thus we are made aware of the transience of the life of the cherry blossoms.
Our senses of sight and touch can recognize the form and function of what we are seeing or touching; however,, sounds, smells, and flavours are invisible.; Thus the brain cannot directly recognize their form through our remaining three senses of hearing, smell, and taste. However, it can recognize their function, and finally, through those functions, the brain is able to grasp the form. This is why we are able to reproduce in our memory the forms and functions of things we have seen, sounds we have heard, or scenes or situations that have made an impression on us. Stimuli from the outside world are instantaneously converted into electrical signals at the various sensory organs throughout the body, and these signals in turn activate the respective nerve cell networks of the organs able to respond to the signal. The signal is then recognized by the nerve cell network of the brain as a whole. This influences the differentiation of nerve stem cells, and becomes a new memory. Due to this endless process, our brain can reconstruct what we are not actually seeing, hearing, tasting, or touching as if it were reality.
5.3 The role of time
When it comes to our self-awareness, we are not aware of any changes as they happen; it is as if every moment is the same as the last. However, just like the cherry blossom tree, our brain keeps developing. A group of neural stem cells in the cerebrum continues to respond not only to changes in its environment but also to our previously extant memories, which are based on the flow of time. Therefore, time is an extremely important factor in recognizinge the flow from past to future in the huge number of memories in the mind.
A newborn baby sleeps almost all the time. When it gets hungry, it wakes up and cries, is fed milk by its mother, quietens, and goes back to sleep. A baby’s life consists of repeating this daily cycle of short periods of wakefulness and long periods of sleep. During this earliest period, the baby’s brain and sensory organs are immature; it cannot yet clearly distinguish between its self and non-self. However, after this earliest period of infancy, as the eyes and ears develop, the baby gains the ability to recognize (reconstruct) the outside world inside his or her brain, even without the input of information from the outside world. Further changes occur as the cerebral cortex rapidly develops, and the baby is now awake for longer periods of time and can better recognize its external environment (the outside world). It also begins to recognize itself (self-consciousness). Thus, with this clear division between how wakeful periods and sleep periods are used, new memories are accumulated in the brain with the passage of time, while unnecessary memories are discarded.
Recognition of the sense of being alive has at its foundation the so-called ‘time factors’ of past, present, and future. In nature and society, on the other hand, there exists the ‘time factor’ of history, which is based on the passing of months and years. On the basis of this factor, we recognize the four distinct seasons in Japan, through which the cherry tree proceeds in its growth cycle. Thus we see that our memories are linked to concepts of date, time, and season.
The brain, like the other organs, develops to completion in womb. Immediately after birth, the brain has no consciousness, and of course cannot recognize itself or anything else. However, with stimuli from the various sensory organs, the brain continues to develop, and by around the age of three years, it can recognize its own existence. In short, it is able to recognize its ‘self,’,or ‘ego’, (‘oneself)’. This ‘self’ is based on the new memories that the brain creates by what it takes from what is around us (the outside world) and what it obtains from thinking of intangible things (the interior world). This is what is known as self-consciousness. This process is basically no different from the process of the cherry blossom tree. Every year the cherry blossom tree puts out an abundance of buds, from which sprout twigs. Of course, not all of these new twigs remain; some are broken, cannot grow, and fall off the tree. This is how a cherry tree ages, and the tree form changes.
Self-consciousness develops when the sensory organs, located throughout the body, recognize the outside world and send information that is deemed important to the group of undifferentiated neural stem cells in the brain. This information is then compared with the fundamental memories (the self or the ego), and the brain creates new memories (the neuron network). Even with our eyes closed, we can picture an immaginary scene that appears real to us, because these neuron networks, which continue to work and develop every second, become what we could call ‘a momentary self’, search for the old memories stored in the network, and display them in the mind’s eye. The cherry tree, of course, does not have a neuron network like that of the human brain. Instead, its ‘self’ is its countless meristematic cells, which all differentiate and develop according to their environment.
The phenomenon of dreaming – i.e., seeing images in the brain while asleep, despite the absence of information from the outside world – can also be explained in this way. By combining various memories, the brain is able to create an internal scene that we think we are seeing, and compare it with previous existing memories. The act of thinking is basically making judgments based on a comparison between the world that surrounded you in the past and that which surrounds you in the present. At the time in question, we tend to always believe our judgment is correct; however, with the passage of time, we often come to reconsider our original decision. In short, we are constantly recognizing things anew. The decision we made at that time, or what we thought at that time, is accumulated in the brain as memories. It is belived that this mechanism of self-consciousness is a function of the cerebrum, which has developed enough to reproduce and recognize many versions of our ‘self’.
An infant, even though it is not able even to talk, discriminates events around it and responds to them with intense curiosity by smiling endearingly or crying loudly. It is thought that it is during this stage that neural stem cells differentiate most actively in a person’s lifetime. At this time, of course, knowledge based on scientific principles and so on is unnecessary; the infant’s brain develops simply via the process of intuition developing into mind, just as the cherry tree does.
Intuition is the keen and instantaneous feeling we have towards even the smallest of stimuli, without thinking deeply or imagining anything consciously. This is the most important element of the mind. Intuition is basically close to instinct, or our animal-like mind. What we take in from our intuition develops into a clearer mind – that is, our own intentions, or self-consciousness – when the thought process proceeds further. The difference between the ‘intuition’ possessed by the brain and by the cherry tree lies in the difference in the characteristics of neural stem cells and meristematic cells. What is essential to understand is that the intuition that the brain shows regarding the changing seasons is neither inferior nor superior to the intuition displayed by meristematic cells in the cherry tree.
There is a theory that in ancient times－, before calendars existed, when the seasons were not yet clearly defined-, people managed their agricultural activities by observing cherry trees. When they saw the cherry trees in full bloom on the mountainside, they could determine when it was time to plant rice seedlings, or how much harvest they could expect in the autumn.
6. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MIND
We are not born with a distinct self-consciousness. We are completely dependent on the person who rears us for the lifelines of nutrition, temperature regulation, protection from outside dangers, and so forth. During this early period, the ‘mind’ is not yet among the brain’s functions. With time, the body grows; however, if an infant does not receve stimuli or information from the outside world, the mind cannot arise spontaneously within the brain, based on things that the infant has never seen or heard. The mind develops to completion by obtaining knowledge, acquiring techniques, and learning the ability to be independent as an individual. It takes as long as twenty years for the mind to grow into that of an adult member of society.
There are some expressions frequently used in Japanese such as ‘having a heart’, ‘having no heart’ and ‘having a good heart’. We can assume that these expressions come from the fact that from the birth of human society to the present day, humans have always depended on one another. In short, our minds develop on the basis of our brain’s memories of individuals, of society, and of nature. Indeed the mind itself is proof of a person having been raised in human society. The above expressions represent the fact that human beings have recognized that, in order for us to live in nature or in human society, we need to follow the proper rules of mutual reliance, the rules of nature, and the moral codes of human society.
The human mind is made of inherited memories that have accumulated in the long and difficult history of human mutual dependence and of human dependence on nature. The Japanese expression o-tagai-sama (‘we are both of equal status in this regard’) symbolizes the desire to settle issues calmly, through compromise and mutual understanding. This is wisdom that has been cultivated over the history of human society ― it is not easily dislodged. The brain, with its huge capacity of memories, can acquire a mind unfathomably rich in wisdom, built on the basis of human
interdependence and mankind’s dependence on nature. With this wisdom as a foundation, the brain not only preserves its own existence, but also keeps on learning and developing as it makes careful choices to preserve its own existence.
In summary, the mind is not included in our genetic information. If cloning technology advances sufficiently, it would be possible to create a human in a short period of time by simply copying the genes of cells. However, to create a copy of a human being with exactly the same mind as the source, the copy would have to spend exactly the same length of time alive and be raised in exactly the same environment in which the source was brought up. In short, it would be impossible.
Until now, we have long believed that ‘an affluent society can be created on the basis of scientific ideas’. At present, however, regardless of the how much scientific knowledge we have managed to accumulate, we are surrounded by changes in our environment – the problem of ageing societies, explosive increases in the world’s population, severe disasters, and so on – as well as other such unpredictable events that have created more complex and difficult problems for us to solve. If this situation continues, then distress and anxiety, worries about not being able to have a stable life, and a general feeling of despair will all undoubtedly increase because, behind the curtain of ‘scientific advancement’ and ‘scientific ideas’, there are problems we have either failed to notice or have avoided discussing: those problems that cannot be explained with science.
For instance, although it is true that we now live longer, we cannot avoid ageing. The number of elderly people hospitalized for treatment of health problems and anxiety is constantly on the rise.
No means have been found to halt these fundamental changes. Life does not let us die easily. Neither science nor medicine has managed to show us a way to adapt to today’s super-ageing society – a phenomenon that we are experiencing for the first time as a species. They tell us nothing about how we can live a peaceful, easy life.
What we must not forget by is that there are limits to human abilities, and that humans have managed to live in nature by depending on our intuition and mind. The ‘scientific way of thinking’ only focuses on the benefits to be gained through comparative research; modern science does not place great importance on dealing with difficult and/or unexpected problems. We wonder if the side effects of the issues that have been marginalized will not become more and more apparent in coming years. Furthermore, people have accepted so-called ‘scientifically-based ideas’, calling them ‘proven facts’, even though they have not confirmed them for themselves. -Moreover, depending on their requirements, people interpret these scientifically- based ideas in different ways. This leads to the discussion branching off in multiple directions, taking on an uncontrollable life of its own.
So what does the advancement of science really mean to us? Is it absolutely necessary for human happiness? If it is necessary, then to what extent? Are we sure there aren’t some serious hidden disadvantages behind the initial advantages? Has the interpretation of conventional science and its direction thus far been stretched, and has now slipped into self-complacency?
To answer these questions, we believe that we need to consider in turn the following ones. What is the mind that we have been given? How can we fulfill the mind? What did our ancestors think about the difficult problems of life, and how did they overcome them? We must each as individuals also recognize the problems caused we have caused in nature, and society, and not be afraid to express them. If we live without fearing failure, recognizing our own individuality in the midst of the workings of nature, and recognizing the role we have to play, then perhaps we can eventually achieve happiness.
When we see patients in our consultation room, we realize that for human beings not only the symptoms of the body, also but the condition of the mind that lies behind those symptoms, is important. If we can help someone to lead, in his or her own way, a principled, enjoyable life by helping that person to understand the questions,: ‘What is the mind?’, ‘What is the self ?’, ‘How does the mind arise from the brain ?’, and ‘Why is the mind necessary ?’, then we would feel very privileged.