Thursday, May 13, 2010

So, why does common sense say the mind is in the head?

As I've tried to document, the EC literature has the meme that in-the-head cognition is a mere a priori prejudice.  But, that seems to me pretty unlikely.  Here is a speculation.  I would bet that humans came to this view pretty early in the history of the species.  When they fought in hand to hand combat, many were injured.  They probably noticed that serious leg wounds might keep you from walking, but still allow you to think.  They probably also noticed that serious head wounds made thinking a lot more difficult.  So, they came to the view that legs are walking thingies; brains are thinking thingies.  This is surely defeasible reasoning and one might even think it is defeated reasoning.  Still, it is not a priori reasoning.  It is dispels the claim of the mind being in the head as mere prejudice.


  1. Interesting. But walking is not in the legs. Walking is affected by injury to the legs, but walking takes place in space.

    Injury to the head affects the ability to think, reason, decide etc. But it does not follow that thinking, perceiving, deciding etc takes place inside the skull.

    Or am I mistaken?

  2. What about hearts? Damage to these prevents walking and thinking - would our ancestors infer that hearts are walking and thinking thingies? For that matter a head wound might well make walking (etc) difficult. And would anyone want to say that walking is "IN the legs"? Legs allow whole humans to walk. Maybe brains allow whole humans to think? Head wounds may indicate that brains, like hearts, are clearly important for thinking to occur, but to say that they are the repository for our thoughts is a further claim – perhaps one that is due to a priori reasoning/prejudice.

  3. Thanks for your comments.

    "Injury to the head affects the ability to think, reason, decide etc. But it does not follow that thinking, perceiving, deciding etc takes place inside the skull."

    It doesn't follow as a logical consequence, but a reasonable empirical conjecture is that injury to the head affects the ability to reason, because that's where reasoning takes place. It is like, perhaps, the empirical conjecture that injury to the lungs affects the ability breathe, because that's where breathing takes place. Maybe this reasoning is defeasible. Maybe it is even wrong. But, it is not a priori, right?

    Regarding hearts, one needs to note the patterns of damage that are likely to have been observed by humans millenia ago. Presumably there were mortal wounds to the heart, where the heart no longer worked, but people were still able to walk for a bit and still think. (Surely wounds to the motor cortex would have made walking difficult.) So, one has to be more careful than I have been in this very informal post about "affects". But, the idea is this. Damage to the heart affects thoughts differently than does damage to the brain affects thoughts. One manifestation of this is the time lag (in some instances) between heart damage and impairment of thought and the lack of a time lag (in some instances) between brain damage and impairment of thought.

    But, the gist of the approach here is to try to make a reasonable empirical conjecture about what is going on in the body based on patterns of injuries.

    But, let me ask a question, let's say that brains allow whole humans to think. So, what is it that brains contribute to the thinking enterprise?

  4. Wittgenstein once conjectured that we are prone to think the mind is in the head because sight and hearing occurs there. If so, it´s not a totally a priori prejudice. Besides, various epochs and cultures have placed the mind in the heart, etc.