Where is your mind?

Posted by on Jan 20, 2009 in Uncategorized | One Comment


Many Ancient Greeks, for all their love of reason, thought that the mind rested in the breast but for most of the modern era we've assumed that it lies inside the head (except for those who still insist that mind is made of different stuff from body).

Which is jolly good for neurofolk because it gives them a place to look. But is even this an accurate description?

2 new books reviewed in this week's New Scientist that challenge this "brainbound" position. Nice additional weaponry for wrestling with the neuro guys who think grey matter (and the fMRI scans that colour it) is the modern equivalent of the homunculus – the little fella in charge, the nerve-centre of everything.

Cognition certainly happens beyond the individual skull – think of the distributed memory that every family or friendship group displays when it gathers together or the wisdom of crowds-type collective guessing that John & Co have used to such good effect; it also clearly works in other parts of the body (the nervous systems for example) and in things attached to the extended body (which these books deal with). Consciousness is a little harder to pin down, but maybe the example of the Greeks serves to suggest that what goes on in the skull is far from a given as the location of our experience of it.

Either way, it's not just between your ears that we find the mind.

So please PLEASE PLEASE if you want to understand thinking, please stop looking at pictures of what is supposed (erroneously) to be the "control room"?

1 Comment

  1. Matt Grist
    January 27, 2009

    Hi Mark – I like this idea that the brain is not the control room of cognition but rather the brain as embodied and in the world. Have you read about extended mind and distributed cognition?
    On a slightly more philosophical note I remember reading a review of this book in LRB http://www.lrbshop.co.uk/inner-touch_3663.html It argues that the modern Cartesian sense of self as located in the head has an older competitor that thinkers like Montaigne and Rousseau favoured. They thought the sense of self and agency was the sense of being in your body in the normal unreflective way of going about your business. Thus you only notice this ‘inner touch’ when you (for example) fall off your horse and get badly shaken up. Heidegger’s ‘being-in-the-world’ is also like this.