Briefly, in the analytic philosophical tradition, particularly among philosophers of mind, there is a general recognition that the self is distinct from the mind (parts of which are subconscious) and the brain (which is inaccessible to thought other than conceptually). This is stated in the quotation:
To get beyond them, we need a way to understand how you're not your brain without your being separate from it. The embodied and enactive approach in cognitive science gives us this understanding: you are an embodied being, and your brain enables your cognition to take place, but your mind isn't the same as what happens in your brain.
Making sense of this relationship, then is one of the central challenges of the philosophy of mind; the self which is taken to be self-conscious and have experiences has to relate somehow to both the mind writ large and the body. Trying to understand how the self has qualia and phenomenal experience that are related to the mind and the brain is known as the hard problem of consciousness. On this topic, including whether if it's a philosophical problem, there's little agreement, and certainly, no response deemed widely to have dissolved the problem. Mindfulness by Buddhism, Western psychology, and cognitive science is generally taken as an attempt for the self to become more aware of the range of phenomenal nature of experience and to use that knowledge for personal betterment.
To shed some light on this circumstance, note that it is intuitively acceptable to claim that 'my brain' and 'my mind' imply by intension 'I have a brain and a mind'. That is to say, that the 'I', the ego, or the self has parts of which the mind and the brain can be counted. Notice that the following phrases in English are also comfortable:
- I struggled to keep my mind from wandering.
- I must have left my brain at home today.
- I am of two minds on the subject.
What should we make of these SVO constructions where there appears to be a self manifesting philosophical intentionality over what appears to be both a physical and an abstract part through the act of possesive predication? In other words, are we declaring that somehow experience necessarily involves having a bunch of parts, some physical and some not, which are particulars of this universal category of the self? Is it just metaphorical language not literally true, or does it denote some greater metaphysical reality and form the basis of some sort of ontological declaration? As you might guess, it depends on metaphysical presuppositions.
Generally, the 'I' or the conscious self is presumed to be different from both the mind and the brain. The nature of the relationship among these three concepts, 'self', 'mind', and 'brain' are distinct and have distinct, but related entries in dictionaries and encyclopedias. This is easily demonstrable by the sensibility of a simple claim such as:
I'm working on myself in therapy to improve both my mind, through talk therapy, and my brain, through medications. I'll be a better person if I can regulate my thoughts and ensure that my brain functions properly.
What's going on here? Let's follow the linguistc turn into what contemporary linguistics suggests. It's that the three concepts have different prototypical definitions which are generally subscribed.
The self is an individual person as the object of its own reflective consciousness. Since the self is a reference by a subject to the same subject, this reference is necessarily subjective. The sense of having a self—or self-hood—should, however, not be confused with subjectivity itself.6
The mind is the set of faculties responsible for mental phenomena. Often the term is also identified with the phenomena themselves.29 These faculties include thought, imagination, memory, will and sensation. They are responsible for various mental phenomena, like perception, pain experience, belief, desire, intention and emotion.
A brain is an organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrates and most invertebrate animals.
How is it then, that mindfulness is a path to self-improvement? Strictly speaking, if one has more knowledge about one's states, one can simply choose better. Think about it this way. The mind has portions that are called subconscious, but the fact that the self has the capacity to move awareness to different objects of the mind, from feelings to beliefs to arguments to pain, means that the self can neglect important states of the mind that might have an effect on the self's experience. A person may be convinced of a truth intuitively, but upon the self's reflection on some of those perhaps unexamined beliefs or feelings, the self may then move to new beliefs. In the language of philosophy, mindfulness affects propositional attitudes of the first and second degree. As the self grows more sophisticated in beliefs, then psychological "problems" may dissipate. This in fact is the philosophical basis of a therapeutic strategy known as ERP.
Can a thing change itself? Well, the argument implicit in the distinction between self, mind, and body is yes; that is to say, that the self has to consciously and reflectively choose to make choices and change. This is one of the core tenets not only of Eastern Buddhism but also of existential therapy and other humanistic approaches to psychotherapy. Are these settled philosophical matters? Not among all camps of philosophers, psychologists, and self-improvement gurus, but it is common enough that it is often presumed in these circles. The question about ontological first principles, is never really settled, however, the widespread adoption of the language, such as the presented definitions, and practices generally presume these ideas.