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Thread: The brain as mind location

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    The brain as mind location

    When and how did we figure out that the brain was where thought occurs, and not, say, the heart, and that the brain was not for cooling blood or some silly thing like that?
    SHARKS (crossed out) MONGEESE (sic) WITH FRICKIN' LASER BEAMS ATTACHED TO THEIR HEADS

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    recently. For example the role of the hippocampus in memory was identified when patient HM (there's a book) had his removed while the surgeon tried to stop epileptic fits. That's well into twentieth century. Ironically the gut brain is now recognised as important too. Harvey and the circulation of the blood is 17th century so I guess the brain was recognised around then as important for thought.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Iím not sure, but I suspect that people always realized that their thoughts were taking place within their heads, because (if everybody else is like me) you feel like you are inside the head without being told so. I think it is natural to think that the heart regulates emotion because it speeds up when youíre excited, and itís easy to confuse cause and effect.


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    Pretty long ago. Hippocrates, Plato, Herophilus (4th and 3rd centuries BCE) all taught that the seat of consciousness was in the brain. The early Greek physicians and anatomists argued for the brain because they knew that a head injury could result in disordered thoughts or unconsciousness.
    (Aristotle was an outlier, claiming thoughts occurred in the heart, but his writing was disproportionately influential for many centuries.)

    I suspect the feeling that our thoughts are inside our heads exists because most of the sensory feeds that occupy our consciousness arrive through eyes and ears, so it feels natural to assume we're a little pilot sitting inside the head as it rotates.
    (Although that's easy enough to mess with, and I did once spend a fretful hour with my apparent locus of consciousness floating a couple of metres behind and above my head, while my body seemed pretty much to be ignoring my wishes.)

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    although Galen thought the brain controlled the muscles thanks to his anatomy experiments while spirits entered to produce thought, and Galen was revered right up to 18th or 19th centuries. While the "pilot" does seem to be behind the eyes, it's easy to sympathise with an idea that thoughts come unbidden from outside, dreams too, especially through the ages where the soul was a central plank of understanding. I would think the soul was not really challenged until the late 17th. with the "age of reason" and we are still working on that.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Julian Jaynes's The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is still an interesting take on this topic. He argues that the Ancient Greeks and their contemporaries (up to the end of the Bronze Age) experienced the world very differently from us, because they had not completely integrated the function of the left and right hemispheres of their brains. For them (Jaynes claimed) important decisions would be delivered inside their heads as a form of hallucinatory internal monologue - like a message from the gods.

    Grant Hutchison
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    although Galen thought the brain controlled the muscles thanks to his anatomy experiments while spirits entered to produce thought ...
    That seems to be in conflict with what I've read of Galen, who was a Platonist in many ways, and reputedly opposed to the idea of mind/body duality. See for instance the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and FR Freemon's article on "Galen's ideas on neurological function".

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    I have heard of that idea. For example that Alexander the Great believed he was inspired by gods, giving him the confidence to take on enemies. Indeed there are many stories of people literally driven by an inspiring dream which they fervently believe came from outside. The part about left and right brain now seems a false start but the hypothesis that some or all thought comes from outside is hard to test. We have now the null hypothesis that no soul or spirit intervention is required to explain human or animal behaviour but I guess a poll would not carry that motion. The personal experience of a creative thought springing without the conscious effort of showing the workings, or a solution being obvious after a night's sleep, could easily be influential. And the idea of ideas being memes that will out with some synchronicity is very seductive. The workings of the interoceptive neural map is my current interest and I am arguing with my mentors about whether those maps are correctly described as Somatic. That is to say whether the synaptic patterns of which thought consists can be abstracted from the neurons that support them.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    I snipped this from WP but am grateful for those further notes on Galen

    During the Roman Empire, the Greek anatomist Galen dissected the brains of sheep, monkeys, dogs, swine, among other non-human mammals. He concluded that, as the cerebellum was denser than the brain, it must control the muscles, while as the cerebrum was soft, it must be where the senses were processed. Galen further theorized that the brain functioned by movement of animal spirits through the ventricles. "Further, his studies of the cranial nerves and spinal cord were outstanding. He noted that specific spinal nerves controlled specific muscles, and had the idea of the reciprocal action of muscles. For the next advance in understanding spinal function we must await Bell and Magendie in the 19th Century
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    I snipped this from WP but am grateful for those further notes on Galen

    During the Roman Empire, the Greek anatomist Galen dissected the brains of sheep, monkeys, dogs, swine, among other non-human mammals. He concluded that, as the cerebellum was denser than the brain, it must control the muscles, while as the cerebrum was soft, it must be where the senses were processed. Galen further theorized that the brain functioned by movement of animal spirits through the ventricles. "Further, his studies of the cranial nerves and spinal cord were outstanding. He noted that specific spinal nerves controlled specific muscles, and had the idea of the reciprocal action of muscles. For the next advance in understanding spinal function we must await Bell and Magendie in the 19th Century
    There's nothing there about thoughts entering from outside the body, though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    There's nothing there about thoughts entering from outside the body, though.

    Grant Hutchison
    "animal spirits through the ventricles" but I grant it does not say thoughts, rather functions.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    "Animal spirit" is just a common (but misleading) translation of Latin spiritus animalis, which was a translation of Greek pneuma psychikon - a fluid that was imagined to move through the nerves in order to transmit signals. So just a part of the nervous system's function, not some ethereal external influence.

    Grant Hutchison
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    "Animal spirit" is just a common (but misleading) translation of Latin spiritus animalis, which was a translation of Greek pneuma psychikon - a fluid that was imagined to move through the nerves in order to transmit signals. So just a part of the nervous system's function, not some ethereal external influence.

    Grant Hutchison
    Ah. that's good to know.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    "Animal spirit" is a terrible phrase, since the "animal" doesn't refer to animals, but to the anima, and the "spirit" doesn't refer to an incorporeal being or essence, but to the breath of life. We're kind of stuck with it as a term of art, however.

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    it's a pity Galen did not link to "Elekron" the name greeks gave to static electricity in rubbed amber. He was close to forestalling Galvani and discovering the way nerves work.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Elektron was just Greek for "amber". It was William Gilbert who coined the word electric, in reference to amber's ability to acquire and maintain a static charge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Julian Jaynes's The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is still an interesting take on this topic. He argues that the Ancient Greeks and their contemporaries (up to the end of the Bronze Age) experienced the world very differently from us, because they had not completely integrated the function of the left and right hemispheres of their brains. For them (Jaynes claimed) important decisions would be delivered inside their heads as a form of hallucinatory internal monologue - like a message from the gods.

    Grant Hutchison
    What does this mean? That the biological integration of our brains' hemispheres hadn't happened yet (in "Ancient Greek" times) or that because "we" now "know" how the brain works, it's altered everyone's idea of how .. ideas? .. come into our heads? Does this explain why some people still "hear voices telling them what to do", because they don't really know how the brain works?

    CJSF
    "What does it mean? (What does it mean?)
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    -They Might Be Giants, "Thinking Machine"


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    Jaynes's idea was that there was a neuroanatomical change in our brains 3000 years ago, driven by the development of complex language, in particular our ability to use metaphor. Up to that point, Jaynes claims, humans were unconscious - unable to think about themselves, because unable to carry a model of themselves in their own minds.
    In short, Jaynes claims that men in the age of the Iliad learned to speak, read, and write, as well as conduct their daily lives, yet remained nonconscious throughout their lives. Being nonconscious, they were not responsible for their actions. Who, then, made the decisions? Jaynes’ answer is that whenever a significant choice was to be made, an auditory hallucination intervened, telling people what to do. These voices, in the Iliad always and immediately obeyed, were called Gods. Before the cultural evolution of consciousness, the human brain was organized in a bicameral fashion: the right hemisphere (the synthetic, poetic, “god-brain”) used to transmit hallucinatory verbal instructions to the left hemisphere (the analytical, rational, “man-brain”), especially in response to unusual or stressful situations. It follows that human mentality was divided into two parts, a decision-making part (located in the right hemisphere) and a follower part (in the left hemisphere), and neither part was “conscious”. According to Jaynes, the bicameral mind is to be observed not only in the most ancient literature but also in the contemporary examples of throwbacks to bicamerality, such as hypnosis and schizophrenia, since auditory or verbal hallucinations (VHs) can be regarded as a remnant of this early mentality. Moreover, the bicameral mentality allowed a large group to carry around with them, in the form of VHs, the directions of the king. The leaders used these stress-generated “voices” to lead the masses in cooperative unison. The bicameral mind enabled men to build societies and the earliest civilizations (the Near East, Egypt, Southern Africa, India, China, Mesoamerica) developed through common hallucinating voices attributed to Gods and other rulers – i.e. external “authorities” – and to various symbols, such as graves, temples, and idols.
    Finally, Jaynes speculates that the development of modern human consciousness began as late as around 1400-600 B.C., when men were evolutionarily forced by the chaos of huge migrations induced by overpopulation and natural catastrophes, and by the widespread use of writing, to change their mentality.

    Cavanna et al. (2007) The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Julian Jaynes's The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is still an interesting take on this topic. He argues that the Ancient Greeks and their contemporaries (up to the end of the Bronze Age) experienced the world very differently from us, because they had not completely integrated the function of the left and right hemispheres of their brains. For them (Jaynes claimed) important decisions would be delivered inside their heads as a form of hallucinatory internal monologue - like a message from the gods.

    Grant Hutchison
    That is super weird. I think entirely in images or sensory stimulus, never words. The closest I can come to hearing "words" is remembering what other people have said or imagining what they would say. When I was a kid, I never had a good description of what I experienced. The closest I can describe my personal "internal monologue" is Bumblebee from the Transformers movies. It's almost like I don't hear my own voice, but I do know what it feels like to form sounds.

    Needless to say, I have volume, tone and mood issues when I speak. It is sometimes amusing, I can deadpan better than most. I have to watch that because I can quickly cross from sounding humorous to terrifying in the same sentence.

    I find it odd (or massively alarming) that other people have some sort of crazy hive-mind internal debates, complete with "voices". Yeah... that's just creepy. I'd make a very judgey telepath.
    Solfe

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    In a contrary view in the book Sapiens by Harari he argues that the ability to imagine invisible concepts such as gods, allowed much larger groups of people to coordinate their activities and conquer territories and this stage would be much earlier, going back into the ice age. The early gods might be closer to animalism, the belief that every thing has a spirit, a tree, a mountain, and so on or the idea of ancestors guiding the living. He suggests this imagination enabled sapiens to conquer neanderthals, by both numbers and strategies. It is quite persuasive but whether those people were self aware enough to think it was their idea or an idea that arose from outside their heads is debatable. Interesting stuff, the combined efforts required to build those ancient cities that we wonder about, was it leadership or just unthinking belief in an idea "from above"?
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Jaynes's idea was that there was a neuroanatomical change in our brains 3000 years ago, driven by the development of complex language, in particular our ability to use metaphor. Up to that point, Jaynes claims, humans were unconscious - unable to think about themselves, because unable to carry a model of themselves in their own minds.

    Grant Hutchison
    Does this seem plausible? I'm having a hard time considering humans before 3000 years ago being "unconscious". Aren't there writing examples and other artwork that would contradict this? It seems absurd.

    CJSF
    "What does it mean? (What does it mean?)
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    Quote Originally Posted by CJSF View Post
    Does this seem plausible? I'm having a hard time considering humans before 3000 years ago being "unconscious". Aren't there writing examples and other artwork that would contradict this? It seems absurd.
    Jaynes's point was that there really is something very odd about the behaviour of people as described in The Iliad and other ancient narratives. His argument works from ancient writing to the conclusion that these people did not have an introspective consciousness like us.

    I think it was Richard Dawkins who said something to the effect that Jaynes's thesis is either completely mad or completely brilliant, and it's difficult to decide which.

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    Wasn't there also a theory I heard somewhere where, until 3000 years ago, humans were color-blind, also based on early writings?
    SHARKS (crossed out) MONGEESE (sic) WITH FRICKIN' LASER BEAMS ATTACHED TO THEIR HEADS

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    colour blind seems particularly unlikely and the left brain right brain myth has been debunked although there are differences they are not so extreme as the myth. It seems unlikely that the structure of the brain has changed that much while the ideas running in it have evolved. However the role of nurture is huge and if you are brought up to believe ideas come from outside it could persist for generations. Just as the various gods persisted for many generations. One avenue for Jaynes idea could be a pinch point in the population or large extinctions and challenges requiring more imagination to survive.The brain is plastic, note the changes in structure from London taxi drivers or polylinquists. It is highly adaptive so psychology could shift into self awareness if the environment changes.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
    Wasn't there also a theory I heard somewhere where, until 3000 years ago, humans were color-blind, also based on early writings?
    Yes. There certainly something odd about the colour terms used in the Iliad and Odyssey. Homer's "wine-dark ocean", for instance. The Ancient Greeks seemed to parse the colour map more strongly in terms of saturation than hue. But that could equally be cultural, or literary convention.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Jaynes's point was that there really is something very odd about the behaviour of people as described in The Iliad and other ancient narratives. His argument works from ancient writing to the conclusion that these people did not have an introspective consciousness like us.

    I think it was Richard Dawkins who said something to the effect that Jaynes's thesis is either completely mad or completely brilliant, and it's difficult to decide which.

    Grant Hutchison
    Would there not be a way to tell if certain physiological changes in the brain were that recent, via genetic information or something? Regarding color-blindness - color has such a subjective component, I'd be careful to draw any conclusions like that without (again) physiological evidence.

    CJSF
    "What does it mean? (What does it mean?)
    What does it mean? (What does it mean?)
    I'll put it in my thinking machine"
    -They Might Be Giants, "Thinking Machine"


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    Quote Originally Posted by CJSF View Post
    Would there not be a way to tell if certain physiological changes in the brain were that recent, via genetic information or something?
    The genetics of higher mental function is very complicated - lots of genes slightly correlated with this or that. One also wonders how much nurture might be involved - children's brains are extremely plastic, so maybe all it takes is exposure to the concept of metaphor during some formative phase in order to acquire the neural mechanism in later life. There's a definite developmental process by which children acquire an understanding of metaphor, and they don't really get "double function" attributes (saying a person is "soft" or "cold" or "sweet", for instance) until they're seven or eight.

    I'm not particularly arguing for or against Jaynes - I just find his ideas worth reflecting on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    "Animal spirit" is a terrible phrase, since the "animal" doesn't refer to animals, but to the anima, and the "spirit" doesn't refer to an incorporeal being or essence, but to the breath of life. We're kind of stuck with it as a term of art, however.

    Grant Hutchison
    Would a better gloss than "animal spirit" be "animating essence?"

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    My impression is that some visual interpretations are learned. For example, I recall reading an anecdote (which I have no way of locating now, of course) about members of some relatively isolated Pacific island tribe being unable to interpret 2D photographs of individuals. This might be consistent with how colors might have been interpreted (or described) by the ancient Greeks.

    A related issue might be how individuals brought up speaking some specific languages find it difficult or impossible to recognize or pronounce certain phonemes common in other languages. Native speakers of French apparently have difficulty with the various "th" phonemes common in English, for example. Similarly, I seem to recall a (TV?) program where it was demonstrated that various other "th" phonemes which were quite distinct in the languages of some Eskimo tribes could not be distinguished by native speakers of English. Also, I believe that some Asian language speakers have problems differentiating between "r" and "l".
    Selden

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    Would a better gloss than "animal spirit" be "animating essence?"
    That seems good. Galen recognized three kinds of pneuma ("breath"). Pneuma physikon (now referred to in English as "natural spirit") was produced by the liver, and flowed in the veins to the lungs and heart, where it was mixed with air to produce pneuma zootikon ("vital spirit"), which passed through the arteries, and in the brain was converted to pneuma psychikon ("animal spirit"), in order to work the nerves. Direct translations would be something like "natural breath", "animal breath", "soul breath" - a sort of hierarchy of fluids that supported vegetative, animal and mental function.

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