Are Our Minds Really Confined To Our Brains?

Via Reality Sandwich, Rupert Sheldrake argues no:

Materialism is the doctrine that only matter is real. Hence minds are in brains, and mental activity is nothing but brain activity. This assumption conflicts with our own experience.

In his study of children’s intellectual development, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget found that before about the age of ten or eleven, European children were like “primitive” people. They did not know that the mind was confined to the head; they thought it extended into the world around them. But by about the age of eleven, most had assimilated what Piaget called the “correct” view.

But not all philosophers and psychologists believe the mind-in-the-brain theory, and over the years a minority has always recognized that our perceptions may be just where they seem to be, in the external world outside our heads, rather than representations inside our brains.

My own interpretation is that vision takes place through extended perceptual fields, which are both within the brain and stretch out beyond it. Vision is rooted in the activity of the brain, but is not confined to the inside of the head. Like Velmans, I suggest that the formation of these fields depends on changes in various regions of the brain as vision takes place, influenced by expectations, intentions and memories. These are a kind of morphic field and, like other morphic fields, connect together parts within wholes, and have an inherent memory given by morphic resonance from similar fields in the past. When I look at a person or an animal, my perceptual field interacts with the field of the person or animal I am looking at, enabling my gaze to be detected.

Our experience certainly suggests that our minds are extended beyond our brains. We see and hear things in the space around us. But there is a strong taboo against anything that suggests that seeing and hearing might involve any kind of outward projection. This issue cannot be resolved by theoretical arguments alone, or else there would have been more progress over the last century — or even over the last 2,500 years.

77 Comments on "Are Our Minds Really Confined To Our Brains?"

  1. There’s a “taboo” about it because it makes zero philosophical sense, to say nothing of lacking any scientific support. Even Descartes, who first fully articulated the dualist idea, couldn’t actually defend it against the criticisms of his more perceptive students.

    • It makes perfect sense from an OBE perspective. Descartes, identified too closely with his thoughts. Lots of people don’t identify closely with their thoughts, for example anyone who meditates.

      • David Howe | Oct 26, 2012 at 6:05 am |

        so…..Descartes “identified too closely with thoughts” and everyone who meditates proves him wrong? really?

        • uh…yep. Even actor and comedian Jim Carrey. Google it. Its really common knowledge.

        • Kevin Leonard | Oct 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm |

          Agreed. Meditate deeply enough, find enough stillness, and it is very hard to identify with your thoughts. It is enough proof for me that “cogito ergo sum” is not true.

  2. Also, to go off of what Q said, there are a lot of things about our “experience” that we know are false. For instance, just picking on vision here, at any given time there is a giant hole in your visual field where your retina is. You only don’t see it because your eyes are often in motion and your brain fills in the blank space with visual data from short term memory (in other words, guesswork; your brain is betting on the immediate future being much like the recent past). The same is true about color in peripheral vision – most of the cones are concentrated in the center of the retina, yet we see color, or think we do, quite clearly out of the corner of the eye. And then there are the Libet experiments, but I think the point is made. An appeal to “experience” has to be justified – if there are reasons to suspect that our experience is profoundly misleading, which much good science provides, then you can’t just go “Oh, well, it doesn’t feel that way to me, so it can’t be true.” That’s just a terrible and fallacious argument.

  3. There is evidence that our existence is comprised of a hologram. The evidence is very interesting.

  4. Daniel Reasor | Oct 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm |

    The spectacles I wear to correct my astigmatism are not a magical talisman that helps me channel a morphic anything out at targets around me. They are an application of the science of optics. They work as theorized.

    Neither is understanding how the eardrum translates vibrations in the air into electrochemical impulses in the brain the same thing as there being a “taboo” against suggesting that hearing involves some outward projection. One is understanding how things work. The other is blowing smoke up your own ass.

    • Do you not hear things outside your head? Since it is your eardrum vibrating, you should hear it there, or in your brain, but you don’t, you hear it out there.

  5. Neurons extend throughout the body, and the second largest portion of them exists in our guts.

    Regarding the metaphysical aspect, I don’t know and neither do you.

  6. BuzzCoastin | Oct 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm |

    it doesn’t really matter where you think intelligence is located
    it matters if you use it or not
    but only a simpleton would buy the notion that the mind/brain model
    is an accurate reflection of the human cognitive process

    • David Howe | Oct 26, 2012 at 6:10 am |

      only a simpleton? well, this simpleton needs proof.

      • BuzzCoastin | Oct 26, 2012 at 8:34 am |

        look inside your own mind
        most simpletons don’t

        only a simpleton would think that present mind/brain/body model
        is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
        but sometimes I don’t spell everything out
        assuming the readers here aren’t usually simpletons

        • bobbiethejean | Oct 26, 2012 at 9:15 am |

          We’re not assuming brain/mind duality is the only truth and that’s all there is to it, but if you’re going to make psychic/supernatural claims, you better damn well be able to defend them.

          • BunkersTrust | Oct 27, 2012 at 2:16 am |

            > if you’re going to make psychic/supernatural claims, you better damn well be able to defend them.

            Who died and left you rule maker? Nobody can prove anything to anybody. You either experience it or you don’t. If you don’t; that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Those of us who do, will saunter on in our delusions, thank you please.

            Oh & BTW: You can’t experience anything you think is impossible to experience. Absolute incredulity blocks the possibility of experiencing the impossible.

          • bobbiethejean | Oct 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm |

            [Who died and left you rule maker?] Pfft. Far be it for me to disabuse you of whatever nonsense makes you feel happy, regardless of whether or not it’s true. I don’t really care what you believe. But don’t expect those of us with the ability to think critically to believe you.

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm |

            that’s quite a philosophy of life: “I’m not going to and you can’t make me” – says all that needs to be said about people who believe in magic.

  7. I can detect people’s auras. So to me its not hard to accept. People can expand and contract their auras and imbue various objects in their environment with their energy. I just want to say I know what you are talking about, but its hard to have this conversation with hardcore materialist skeptics.

    • David Howe | Oct 26, 2012 at 6:04 am |

      can you prove that you can detect auras?

      • I never try to. I am interested in these discussions in order to make sense of my own experiences.

        • But anyway, just in case anyone is curious, auras really weirded me out until I learned what they were. I had no frame of reference for them. My Aunt is a reiki practitioner and works with peoples auras. I mean I guess you can continue to believe all these people are simply fools-People doing Reiki, Qi Gong, tai chi, through traditions, extending thousands of years into the past of very advanced cultures. Whatever floats your boat.

          Seems more reasonable to me that its simply something outside your current experience. I guess if I had no ability to detect auras at all, these people would make me nervous because I would have to take what they say about my chi on faith, simply taking their word for it. But what it is, is they are simply more tuned into it than I am. I experience what they are referring to, but not as expertly.

          It may be a thing where if you were open to it you would eventually sense it. I don’t think its something you can be argued into accepting, because its not a faith proposition. It has to do with perception.

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 9:30 am |

            the more plausible explanation is that you are imagining all of this.

          • Calypso_1 | Oct 27, 2012 at 10:13 am |

            Or that experiences such as these could be explained as a form of synesthesia from multiple perceptual sources. This could actually be tested unlike claims of and without resorting to theoretical energy emissions of unknown nature.

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm |

            agreed. that’s a perfectly reasonable, rational explanation and obviously the correct one. I agree that “psychic” people are often sensitive, but they are mistaken in their belief that it’s an extrasensory power. they are simply very adept at reading non-verbal signals. we all do it to some degree I’m sure. having said that, I’ve had countless encounter with “psychics” who read me completely wrong.

          • I don’t think its “extra sensory” I think some people dull these senses on purpose in order to make life easier to deal with. That way they have more manageable “chunks” of sensory input.

            I also think peoples ego or “rational minds” (to flatter the ego) like to take over certain people. Chakras can compete with each other.

          • Not if other people seem to be imagining the same thing at the same time. I mean if three people are enjoying a sunset and the fourth guy isn’t maybe he can’t see the same thing they can. He might simply conclude “these people are idiots.” Is that more plausible?

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm |

            people are more alike than they are different. it makes perfect sense that people would imagine that same things. having said that, I’ve always assumed that people who “read” other are simply reading non-verbal signals with a high level of sensitivity. Nothing magic about it and highly measurable if someone would simply do so.

          • Some Reiki practitioners are better than others. I suppose I imagine that too. They imagine that they aren’t as good also. That’s just what a con artist would do right?

          • Actually while we’re on the subject, I’ve only seen one aura,(total surprise, one minute everything normal, next BAM) and it was black, only extended a couple of centimetres away from the person and moved like fire or ink in water. It was extremely horrible to look at at the time. I’m only aware that people have reported seeing colours (and apparently auras usually extend much further out than that) from reading about it. I’ve only ever detected black before now, and anyone I’ve asked who might know has been extremely tight lipped about how I might go about developing this. Can you give me some pointers?

          • Here is a pointer: If you every see anyone with an aura like that again, stay the fuck away from them!

            As for developing how to see them. Hell if I know. I heard you can develop it by looking at a friend standing in front of a white wall. You have to be relaxed and in kind of a meditative mindset. I can’t see them myself and am not really worried. Its probably a hallucination or some type of synesthesia. I have 20/10 vision and am an artist. So if it were actually there I would see it I think. I think its something you see with your third eye.

            I just feel them. I feel hostility and sexual energy the strongest. I do test it too for myself. I think most women are more in touch with this than most guys.

      • Kevin Leonard | Oct 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm |

        I had a friend who could read auras in a very clear way. I could never see them, but I could get a different intuitive sense about people. After much discussion with her, we determined which psychological factors tended to produce which colors in her visual field. Then we would go sit in public places and I would tune into people and tell her what color I thought she was seeing. We were in agreement about 90% of the time. It was enough proof for me. It may not win Randi’s million dollar prize, but Randi is a douchebag. Fuck him. (my aura just flared yellow).

        • Calypso_1 | Oct 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |

          I see a number of flaws with your study as you have related it.

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 27, 2012 at 1:18 pm |

            Why is it so common for people to put words in others’ mouths. Where did I call this a study? A little tongue-in-cheek about Randi’s prize and you are suggesting that I am ready to offer my experience as a study?

          • Calypso_1 | Oct 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm |

            You have misatributed the source of my response as being related to your statements regarding said ‘prize’. I have no interest in Randi nor have I made any comments related to that topic. In replying to your comment I considered other words such as experiment or investigation or making it ‘study’ – but that would have conveyed irony which was not my intent. As I did not use any misattributed quotations from your comment, the claim to placing words in your mouth is spurious.
            However, since you did lay claim to deriving personal proof from your endeavor and the methodology used, it is not out of bounds to observe the presence of faults in the method lest others ascribe to your experience a degree of merit that is unwarranted.

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm |

            Sorry. I forgot the group I was talking to for a moment. Let me put my egghead hat back on.

          • Calypso_1 | Oct 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm |

            Capital idea! Perhaps that will indeed make easy remedy of your future efforts.

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm |


        • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 9:29 am |

          how convenient that you have no proof. I’m sorry that your standards are good enough for you. You’ve validated your imagination. Congratulations.

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

            Do you need validation from third parties for all of your experiences, David?

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm |

            obviously not….we’re getting off the topic here. All I need is proof that there is such a thing as an aura. A simple observational test will suffice. I’m willing to forego theory and philosophy if you can simply validate that you are actually seeing auras. For example:Write down your impressions of someone’s aura (unknown to them) and then have someone else (unknown to you) interview them to determine how his/her psyche would create such an aura. The results should be startling.

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm |

            For one thing, I never said that I could see auras. And for another, I have indicated that my friend and I were not conducting a scientific test, but rather a personal experiment. As I pointed out recently to someone else, “empirical” is defined as being verified by experience or experiment. Given that my friend has repeatedly demonstrated impeccable integrity, I didn’t feel the need to conduct a double-blind experiment. Nor do I feel compelled to tell others that their experience is invalid without one.

    • Calypso_1 | Oct 26, 2012 at 11:20 am |

      You can detect or you can see?

  8. bobbiethejean | Oct 25, 2012 at 10:45 pm |

    Oh not this again. *face palm* There’s a reason James Randi’s million
    dollar prize has gone unclaimed. If you want to see this viewpoint
    utterly annihilated, and I do mean UTTERLY, check this out:

    you get through those two videos and you still believe in mind/brain
    duality, there is something wrong with your mind/brain singularity.

    • BunkersTrust | Oct 25, 2012 at 11:50 pm |

      > There’s a reason James Randi’s million dollar prize has gone unclaimed.

      Yeah, that’s because Randi decides if your claim is valid & if you get the prize.

      As to the issue of duality vs non duality, this really wasn’t the main thrust of this article. Rather, it’s thrust was, does the “mind” extend beyond the boundaries of the mind/body?

      Sheldrake’s conjectures that the mind exists in, “extended perceptual fields, which are both within the brain and stretch out beyond it.” So it’s not a question of whether the brain and mind are one, but whether the brain and the cosmos are one.

      Give that we are ultimately energetic particles and the cosmos consists of energetic particles, his conjecture seems warranted.

      Sheldrake on Scientific Fundimentalists

      • David Howe | Oct 26, 2012 at 6:09 am |

        all Randi needs is proof….the requirements are clearly stated in advance…no bad faith here…mutually agreed upon protocols….no, Randi doesn’t decide…your accusation is false…and there’s still no such thing as psychic communication….

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 7:23 pm |

            oh come on. You’re not even trying.

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm |

            When the skeptics start saying that their poster boy’s challenge is “illegitimate from a scientific standpoint,” there might be a problem.

        • BunkersTrust | Oct 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |

          Randi is a professionalism magician, a trickster by profession and a skeptic with a well defined counter position. He offers the prize for a demonstration that does not require scientific analysis.

          He’s not a scientist and he doesn’t accept statistical results as proof. He retains all rights to the results & controls their publication.

          Additionally, he been caught lying in order to prove his point.

          Psychic communication includes the use of language too.
          The use of belches to make meaningful sounds is pretty paranormal.

          • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm |

            …and yet people who profess to communicate telpathicly cannot prove it, even with a simple observational test. “psychic” communication is NEVER any more reliable than simple chance. Psychics are the placebos of religion.

    • I wish all skeptics were good looking women who are also bad assed artists. Not being patronizing at all. I could see myself dating an outspoken atheist chick. You are way sexier than Christopher Hitchens, even if he were alive still.

    • Ceausescu | Oct 26, 2012 at 2:27 am |

      I wish I were a supernova and blow up the singularity in your brain.

      • bobbiethejean | Oct 26, 2012 at 9:16 am |

        Oh, threats of violence now? How very intelligent and rational of you.

      • Calypso_1 | Oct 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm |

        Are you referring to the transhuman singularity? If so you are attributing to your opponent intelligences beyond the ability of your own limited human understanding. Unto what effect a supernova would have upon said intelligence is debatable given the possibilities for such intelligence to encode itself in extreme plasma environments.

        If instead you mean a gravitational singularity, there are number of directions this could take, but in short the energy from a supernova would be completely subsumed across the event horizon, or in the case of a theoretical naked singularity, directly into infinite mass itself.

    • Ceausescu | Oct 26, 2012 at 3:30 am |

      Those 2 videos are putting you in an embarrassing position.

      You will, eventually, realize that you’re only harming yourself. What you’re doing is just another way of getting to the same universal idea that everyone gets to at some point. Some are just less efficient. I could easily translate inefficiency as masochism in this context.

      We humans are so special. I’m falling more and more in love with us. However, the Universe uber alles !

      • bobbiethejean | Oct 26, 2012 at 9:16 am |

        You did not watch the videos. Or you didn’t understand them. Which is it?

        • Ceausescu | Oct 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm |

          I watched the first one.

          Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, right ?

          The author argued very little on the veracity of the monist model, and very much on discrediting the dualist one.

          He gives dumb, childish arguments and he’s clearly biased. More than that, he lacks any credibility. Yes, he cites some sources, but it’s not enough for this kind of debate.

          I would rather trust men and women of science who believe the mind can transcend in time and space, rather than a Hitchens fan who can’t even argue in a scientific manner.

    • Bobbie Jean,

      I started to watch this, but I just have to say I don’t consider consciousness a “non-physical substance” I think of it more like an empty space. Should I keep watching or will it not apply to this view?

      • I suspect that consciousness might exist on a spectrum of existence adjacent to matter. It is clearly connected with matter, and not a duality–like yellowish green is to yellow. In my opinion the Big Bang, singularities and quantum particles strongly suggest that matter and timespace as we know them are not the only things that exist. I’m not claiming there is a God or afterlife, though.

        • BunkersTrust | Oct 27, 2012 at 2:07 am |

          Matter is merely energy slowed to a vibration different from “empty” space. (E = mc2) In reality, there is nothing adjacent to anything else, because everything is energy and only vibration rates are different, Which drop of water in the ocean is yours?

          Presently humans can perceive ~5% of the known universe and consciousness is one of those things unseen. You can’t know it, but you can be it.

          • Perhaps, or maybe “energy” is to “verb” as “matter” is to “noun.” Without the concept of “matter,” there is no concept of “energy.”

            “Dark matter” is another bit of existence we cannot directly perceive, but I’m not sure we can “be” it.

    • Kevin Leonard | Oct 26, 2012 at 1:41 pm |

      Here is my reply from the other post where you offered these videos, which you did not respond to:

      The fundamental argument here is flawed. Substance, by it’s very definition is “that which has mass and occupies space; matter” so, non-physical substance is a misnomer. Further, I think most of us here, well, I can really only speak for myself, use the phrase “non-material reality” to mean “that which cannot be measured,” specifically, by today’s devices.

      QualiaSoup, himself, says “Increasingly sophisticated computers and state-of-the-art machines can now what our human ancestors might well have thought impossible.” Indeed. I look forward to the day when machines can measure what we are talking about. I will accede that the phrase “non-physical reality” is inadequate, but I would have to lay out an entire cosmology to use the terms I would otherwise use.

      QualiaSoup also states that “Whether what’s being proposed [the mind] is a thinking thing with literally no physical existence, or a kind of stuff declared to be beyond science, what’s striking about dualism from the outset is its reliance on a concept that defies investigation”

      I have major sources of contention with this statement. I would never say that a mind is a thinking thing. In actuality, I would not say it is a thing, at all. But my definition would have to get metaphorical and analogical and QualiaSoup would find fault with that, though he uses analogies, himself.

      I would, however, say that a mind is beyond science (for now), but I would also never say that the mind is beyond investigation. To the contrary, there exists a plethora of meditative traditions that explore consciousness and the mind, often in very methodical and critical ways. Many authentic traditions even denounce imaginings and “flights of fancy” and rely, instead, on reproducible experiences.

      A mind is not beyond investigation, it is just beyond measure.

      For the record, I do not identify with the term “dualist.” I have never heard of Swinburne and Plantinga and I also find their arguments to be weak. So those whole segments should be considered strawman arguments.

  9. BuzzCoastin | Oct 25, 2012 at 11:00 pm |

    by looking at the up & down votes
    eye noticed the trolls have been visiting

    i wonder who the trolls among us are
    Matt, are you at it again?

  10. mannyfurious | Oct 26, 2012 at 10:58 am |

    At this point it’s pretty hard to argue that the “mind” is not in the brain. There are dozens of brain injuries that have dozens of different effects on the mind. To argue otherwise is to be in denial.

    With that said, this shouldn’t create a spiritual existential meltdown in anyone. This is because there is some kind of a “mind” outside of the brain that my brain is connected to. This is hard to articulate to people who haven’t had the insight, but the fact alone that there is a brain, it is “designed” and works and looks a certain way, is more than enough proof of some kind of mind outside of it. Sometimes we refer to it as “DNA” (or DNA is simply one more manifestation of that “mind”) since DNA is the “blueprint” of how we look and and work and so forth. But what is it that gives DNA it’s “intelligence” and so on and so forth?

    Once this is understood, then we understand how the mind/body dualism dissipates (as do the materialism/idealism, physical/metaphysical dualisms). It’s a language problem, not a problem of “actuality.” We simply lack the language necessary to describe the situation. The mind and body are not one, and they are not separate. It is both cases at once, and yet it is neither. (I apologize if this is vague and/or pretentious sounding, but it’s the best I can do with my limited skills).

    • BunkersTrust | Oct 27, 2012 at 3:23 am |

      > At this point it’s pretty hard to argue that the “mind” is not in the brain. There are dozens of brain injuries that have dozens of different effects on the mind. To argue otherwise is to be in denial.

      No scientist has yet been able to define mind, let alone fix it’s position in the human body. To argue otherwise is to be uniformed. Many cultures located consciousness in other parts of the body or distributed it throughout out the body, and all of them had proof for their beliefs.

      We actually don’t know the state of the mind/consciousness due to brain damage, we only see the effects upon the functions and personality. There are many who have reported being conscious while in a coma or in the grip of some brain disease that cuts function but not consciousness, like Stephen Hawking.

      The West seems to prefer the head as location, because of the Western visual bias. The mental pictures created by the visual processing systems are to the Western mind, reality as it is perceived by consciousness. It rarely occurs to most that the question is up for debate.

      • David Howe | Oct 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |

        …therefore those who claim to “feel” or “experience” things that cannot be objectively measured or observed are correct. got it.

      • mannyfurious | Oct 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm |

        I once got elbowed in the back of the head during a game of pickup basketball. I lost consciousness. I didn’t simply lose my visual perception of the world. I lost, for all intents and purposes, my mind. There was no perception of time, no noises to be heard, no thought process, no taste, no smell, no tactile feeling.Nothing. Roughly 20 seconds of my life failed to exist to me. My mind was gone. There is no memory of even the several seconds prior to the injury.Nothing. Blank. Empty.

        Sorry, but there’s no arguing that the mind that most of us experience on a day-to-day basis is the mind of the brain. Again, there is a mind that minds the mind, but most people will never experience that aspect of the “mind.” Or, we experience it, we just aren’t aware that we experience it. Or, maybe, we aren’t aware that we’re aware of it. Again, language kind of fails us here.

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