Jeffrey Schwartz on the Mind and Brain

Jeffrey_schwartz_1 [Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee]

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz is taking the stage. He is the author of The Mind & The Brain.

He explains that he got interested in the question of the mind a long time ago studying philosophy at the University of Rochester, preparing for a career in psychiatry.

There is, he says, an overriding philosophy that materialism can solve all problems. If you don't believe that intention has an effect and that "you-as-you don't have anything to do with results," then what can be done in psychiatry is limited to medication. 

The relationship between the mind and brain, in the 21st perspective, is changing. A scientifically-informed opinion will show how, in fact, the mind does affect the brain.

In obsessive-compulsive disorder, his specialty, brain scans reveal areas of the brain that turn on and don't turn off. The brain gets stuck in gear.

By reframing how you understand what is happening, coping mechanisms come into play. That has now been mapped. Cognitive reframing has a big effect on the brain by lowering negative emotion. One can quite easily train people to reframe in response to upsetting pictures, and he demonstrates how in his research that has happened.

This is a major change. Reframing "markedly, radically" changes how the brain responds to the scene, and, in fact, college kids can do this after only couple days of training. What happens is that the frontal cortex area is activated and a marked decrease in fear in the brain is observed. 

He recommends a book, "The Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and Participative Observer." Perhaps the mind and the brain are one and the same. "Mind and matter are present in the world."

"The brain puts out the call, the mind decides whether to listen." The brain will respond in an animal-like way, but the human mind has the capacity to focus a very special kind of attention, one that can change or damp down damaging or fearful responses.

Question: How do you cognitive therapy techniques to make more permanent the positives? He answers "practice, practice, practice."

Is the mind a part of the brain or is it a separate? One quote: "The brain doesn't create consciousness, but perhaps modulates the consciousness that it receives."

He believes that prayer and meditation can be used to help with the reframing. Maintaining a positive perspective, that, whatever may be occurring in this fearful situation, things can work out, can help. "Ramping up" the expectation "that we have control" can be helpful as well.

This has been a fascinating talk that I'm certain my notes don't capture adequately.