In The Head

'I maintain an opinion which all other philosophers find shocking: namely, that people's thoughts are in their heads.'

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development (1959)

I experience the sensation of my thoughts being spatially localized in the region of my head; they appear to be coming from inside my head. And i think everyone gets this feeling.

But why do we get this sensation? Is this sensation inherently biological in nature? Is it secondary to our knowledge that brain is the seat of our intellect? Is it an unconscious inference made from the fact that ears, eyes and mouth are present on the head? [I think it is inherently biological.]

More importantly, is this sensation of any significance? Does it mean anything? Does it tell us something about the mind-body problem?

Philosophers who have always described mind as having no spatial extension, how did they explain this sensation to themselves? Perhaps they ignored it, or perhaps they thought that it didn't mean anything.


Anonymous said…
Bert was a card, with a beautiful line in sarcasm, don't you think?
Komal said…
Loads of interesting questions you just asked. Addressing them one-by-one (because I have to, of course :P):

I think most people experience their egoistic self as in their heads. Higher mental intuitions -- including in the appreciation of music -- are experienced as above the head as well. I experience 'Platonic intuitions' as in and above my head.

Since I am not a materialist, I do believe the mind exists (and is not identical to the brain), and my answer to your question is very simple: your thoughts are experienced as in your head because that's where they are. But other conscious phenomena are not experienced as in the head -- emotions, for example, and higher mental and spiritual phenomena. A thought in the colloquial sense is an egoistic mental phenomenon, and the relevant part of the human being to that is in the head area. I do not know why it is there, but I do have reason to believe it is (the reason being my own and other people's experiences, which is good enough for me since my approach to knowledge and truth is phenomenological).

Is this a biological sensation, you ask. I'm not sure what that means. What other kinds of sensations are there, in your view, besides biological ones? That is not a rhetorical question, btw :).

Does this have any implications for the mind-body problem, you also ask. Our intuition that consciousness is something fundamentally different from matter and irreducible to it, IS the mind/body problem. Or rather, has a huge part to play in the problem (the other part being, our unwillingness to accept that fact, lol :P). But the intuition that thoughts are localized in the head does not have any implications for the problem, as far as I can tell. A position on the mind-body problem is presupposed at this point (and on the role of introspection).

Philosophers have tended to think the mind has no spatial extension, presumably because it cannot be seen and measured. This is a mistake, IMO, and personally I think that thoughts out to be seen as being the way that they are experienced; which comes down to my epistemological views once again.
Anonymous said…
I've been thinking about this idea of a spatial extension since you posed the question why have philosophers ignored the sensation that you assume we all have had? I wonder if you have asked yourself if the feeling might not be peculiar to you, and that people have thought that thought is seated in the brain, not in a separate place? With so much else at stake it seems odd to ignore the blindingly obvious (and if not blindingly obvious, perfectly functional) explanation that thought is the result of synapses within the brain. As to how 'did philosophers explain this sensation to themselves?' I would suggest they may not have felt it needed explanation because they didn't have it. It may be that the whole issue is based on specious reasoning. Just a thought!
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

"What other kinds of sensations are there, in your view, besides biological ones?"

I meant, whether the sensation is innate, or whether it is secondary to the knowledge/inference that brain is the seat of intellect.

@ Alec

Specious reasoning, it could be... but it seems unlikely to me.
Komal said…
I don't think it's secondary to our knowledge of the brain. Those who do not believe the brain is the 'seat' of thoughts still have this sensation. Children, who presumably haven't thought about this, do have this sensation as well (or so I think). Further, it's too immediate and intuitive to be influenced by such knowledge.