Mental faculties

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Pre-frontal cortexIn this section we will focus on the conscious part of the brain in more detail, particularly the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is at the front of the brain just behind the forehead (it is the foremost part of the neocortex).

Refer back to the description of the Brain Lobes.


We all “think” thoughts, but there is no generally agreed model for what thoughts are and how they are created.  Traditionally there is a split between:

  • Concrete thought – cognition, language and memory.  This is the mind dealing with facts, logic, reasoning, paying attention, problem-solving and decision-making.  Some people do this better than others, but most of us spend a considerable period each day using concrete thought.  Animals also display some basic degree of problem-solving, language and memory.
  • Abstract thought – it seems that only human being have the capacity for abstract thought.  Abstract thoughts may be imagination, day-dreaming, introspection or the appreciation of beauty such as admiring a sunset or a work of art or music.

A number of brain components are required for cognition (concrete thought).  Cognition is defined as the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.  Sensory input is delivered to the sensory cortex where it forms one of the inputs to the reasoning centre.  It uses short-term memory and a set of moral codes in order to determine what sort of action or inhibitory response to take (vmPFC).  The amount of motivation we have to undertake problem-solving activities comes from the limbic brain (the cingulate gyrus – which in turn is influenced by the reward centre) – hence some people are more motivated than others and it may not be immediately obvious why this is the case.  Some people at school “enjoyed” doing maths because their reward centre was stimulated by using those parts of the brain.  Other people “enjoyed” playing sport, and were not at all motivated when it came to problem-solving brain activity.  The reward system in the Limbic brain was discussed in the page on the emotional body.  The differences in the reward areas between individuals comes down to the number and presence/absence of reward receptors in different areas of the brain.  Natural variation leads to a population with a wide range of skills and interests, and variety is good for a resilient biological population.

What we need to do to maintain a healthy mental body.