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Old 10-05-2019, 12:25 AM
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Ancient Discovery of the Brain.


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"The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree."
The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 2. (1596)
Anyways, there is a reason why I posted the above quote. Apparently by 1596 (when the play was written), they knew the brain was the seat of the consciousness.

My question is, when and how did they finally discover this?

I know the ancients apparently believed the mind was to be found all over the body. The emotions were in the heart (we still say, someone has a 'broken heart' for this reason). I think the liver was responsible for sadness, or something like that (hence the term 'melancholia'). And really it does make a lot of sense. The body is the person. So why wouldn't the mind be found all over it?

But again, my question is, who first realized the brain was the mind? And when? And while we're at it, really how did they realize this?

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Last edited by Jim B.; 10-05-2019 at 12:27 AM. Reason: Typo. Slight content revision.
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Old 10-05-2019, 02:12 AM
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Wiki has a relevant entry on their neuroscience page:

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During the second half of the first millennium BC, the Ancient Greeks developed differing views on the function of the brain. However, due to the fact that Hippocratic doctors did not practice dissection, because the human body was considered sacred, Greek views of brain function were generally uninformed by anatomical study. It is said that it was the Pythagorean Alcmaeon of Croton (6th and 5th centuries BC) who first considered the brain to be the place where the mind was located. According to ancient authorities, "he believed the seat of sensations is in the brain. This contains the governing faculty. All the senses are connected in some way with the brain; consequently they are incapable of action if the brain is disturbed...the power of the brain to synthesize sensations makes it also the seat of thought: The storing up of perceptions gives memory and belief and when these are stabilized you get knowledge."[2] In the 4th century BC, Hippocrates believed the brain to be the seat of intelligence (based, among others before him, on Alcmaeon's work). During the 4th century BC Aristotle thought that, while the heart was the seat of intelligence, the brain was a cooling mechanism for the blood. He reasoned that humans are more rational than the beasts because, among other reasons, they have a larger brain to cool their hot-bloodedness.[3]

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Old 10-05-2019, 09:38 AM
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I'd expect that in a coarse way this was understood many thousands of years ago.

Butchering animals would show that the skull contains a large organ. Observing the effect of blows to the heads of humans would show that these affect consciousness in ways that similar damage to other parts of the body does not.
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Old 10-05-2019, 01:05 PM
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Exactly what Xema says. The real question is how anyone (Aristotle) could come to the conclusion that the brain is not where consciousness and thinking happen.
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Old 10-06-2019, 02:18 PM
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Seeing as my thoughts form and are located in the area behind my eyes then it is hardly a huge leap to conclude the big squishy mass might be involved somehow.
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Old 10-06-2019, 04:21 PM
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Seeing as my thoughts form and are located in the area behind my eyes then it is hardly a huge leap to conclude the big squishy mass might be involved somehow.
This is actually cultural! If you were raised in a culture where the heart was thought to be the organ of thinking, you'd be imagining all your thinking as taking place there.

(Plus you'd be much more aware of your heart racing and such and how that ties to what you are currently thinking.)
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Old 10-07-2019, 02:20 AM
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This is actually cultural! If you were raised in a culture where the heart was thought to be the organ of thinking, you'd be imagining all your thinking as taking place there.
Perhaps, but the question was about when people started to think this and seeing as we have the ability to correctly locate thoughts, images and emotion right behind our eyes (absent of cultural misconceptions) then it is liklely to be a concept that occurred to people throughout antiquity.
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:10 AM
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Perhaps, but the question was about when people started to think this and seeing as we have the ability to correctly locate thoughts, images and emotion right behind our eyes (absent of cultural misconceptions) then it is liklely to be a concept that occurred to people throughout antiquity.
What's the evidence that we have the ability to correctly locate thoughts, images and emotion right behind our eyes, absent of cultural misconceptions?
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:17 AM
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What's the evidence that we have the ability to correctly locate thoughts, images and emotion right behind our eyes, absent of cultural misconceptions?
You don't think people do that?
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:23 AM
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No, but you do, and that’s an extraordinary claim. You know what they say about extraordinary claims...
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:27 AM
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You don't think people do that?
Many cultures locate emotions, at least, in the heart or in the guts. Our own did, sufficiently recently that the English language is still strongly marked by this. So I await evidence that the default is to locate them behind the eyes.

Images, right enough, we may link with the eyes because, duh, loss of eyes results in blindness. Thooughts? I see no evidence for that.

Last edited by UDS; 10-07-2019 at 03:28 AM.
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:30 AM
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No, but you do, and thatís an extraordinary claim. You know what they say about extraordinary claims...
I think you've mistaken what I'm saying.

I do it. Therefore it can be done. I have no doubt that in history humans that weren't culturally conditioned otherwise had the ability to do the same.
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:31 AM
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So I await evidence that the default is to locate them behind the eyes..
yeah, you haven't properly read what I've written
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:35 AM
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I think you've mistaken what I'm saying.

I do it. Therefore it can be done. I have no doubt that in history humans that weren't culturally conditioned otherwise had the ability to do the same.
You did it under the influence of cultural conceptions, surely? What makes you think that people not exposed to your cultural conceptions would also do it?
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:55 AM
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You did it under the influence of cultural conceptions, surely?
I don't know, how can I know? who remembers their first conscious thought and where we instinctively located it? Our culture correctly reinforces that the location of thought is the brain.

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What makes you think that people not exposed to your cultural conceptions would also do it?
I think it pretty much a certainty that other people in antiquity will have located their thoughts and their "self" in their head without cultural pressure to do otherwise.

The only other option is that none of them did so and they all considered areas of the body for locating it but never the head which I find extremely unlikely, especially given that we have our key primary sense organs located right next to the brain.
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Old 10-07-2019, 09:24 AM
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The brain's function was considered to be cooling the blood. The seat of consciousness was considered to be in the organs of the torso. The idea of consciousness being in the brain would have been as alien as you find the concept of consciousness being in the gut.
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Old 10-07-2019, 10:25 AM
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It was certainly known to the Jews of the Talmudic era (c 200-450 CE). In one Talmudic statement, a rabbi says, after hearing the argument of another, "It seems to me he has no brain in his skull."
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Old 10-07-2019, 11:08 AM
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The brain's function was considered to be cooling the blood. The seat of consciousness was considered to be in the organs of the torso. The idea of consciousness being in the brain would have been as alien as you find the concept of consciousness being in the gut.
I don't see on what grounds you assert this, you think no ancient people located consciousness in the head? I find that an extravagant claim and one at odds with some of the ancient people and texts mentioned here in this thread.
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Old 10-07-2019, 11:59 AM
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I would also think as soon as humans started bashing each other with heavy objects (a few million years before 2001, perhaps) they realized that the head was fragile and contained a very important organ for life. People could be stabbed or bashed all over the body and tended not to die instantly, but serious damage to the brain and the person lost consciousness immediately.

This reminds me of previous threads about "when did people realize sex leads to pregnancy?" Old-timey people were not as dumb as we are, they had plenty of time to contemplate the mysteries of life without smartphones and video games to distract them. They figured out there were five other (visible) plants and they figured out their motions. When's the last time you noticed anything other than the moon moving in the sky? (For me, it was the ISS zipping over in a few minutes).
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Old 10-07-2019, 01:49 PM
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And yet, in one of the greatest of ancient empires, the Egyptians were very careful to preserve the heart in mummies but scooped the brain out and threw it away as useless gunk.
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Old 10-07-2019, 01:59 PM
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They figured out there were five other (visible) plan[e]ts and they figured out their motions.
This actually took record keeping to be certain. Preliterate societies generally didn't know that the number of planets was only 5 and didn't track their motions. For example, they usually considered the Morning Star and Evening Star to be two different things, rather than two manifestations of a single planet.

As far as the brain-cooling-the-blood meme, I think that was Aristotle's idea and not necessarily one shared by others, at least at that time.

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Old 10-07-2019, 03:42 PM
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we have the ability to correctly locate thoughts, images and emotion right behind our eyes .
How correct is that?

How much of our emotions are affected by our glands, which are located various places in the body?

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I think it pretty much a certainty that other people in antiquity will have located their thoughts and their "self" in their head without cultural pressure to do otherwise.

The only other option is that none of them did so
That's certainly not the only other option.

Two additional options, entirely off the top of my head:

1) Some people in antiquity located their thoughts and their "self" in their head; while other people in antiquity didn't.

2) Some people in antiquity located various components of their "self" and their thoughts in their head, and other components elsewhere. It's entirely possible, for instance, to consider that one's thoughts about what one sees occur in the head, one's thoughts about sex occur in the sex organs, one's love for one's children occur in the heart. (I don't know whether there's a specific culture that assigns them that way. I've certainly known people to write/talk about them that way.)

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you think no ancient people located consciousness in the head?
Who is saying that? [ETA: Maybe susan is; that isn't clear to me.]

We have no idea where most ancient people located consciousness, or for that matter how many of them thought of "consciousness" in the same way most modern people do.

What [at least most] people [in the thread] are saying is that we don't know that all ancient people located consciousness in the head; and there's at least some evidence that some of them didn't. That's an entirely different statement.

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I would also think as soon as humans started bashing each other with heavy objects (a few million years before 2001, perhaps) they realized that the head was fragile and contained a very important organ for life. People could be stabbed or bashed all over the body and tended not to die instantly, but serious damage to the brain and the person lost consciousness immediately.
That's a better argument, and I think there's something in it. I think we probably did figure out pretty much right off that whatever's in the skull is important.

However, I note that damage to just about any part of the body can cause serious disturbance of thought patterns, if infection and fever results; and sometimes much faster due to shock and/or blood loss. So there would also have been evidence that a hole in one's chest or abdomen, or for that matter in one's foot, can mess up one's consciousness. And some people get hit in the head and don't lose consciousness; and, while damaging the skull badly enough can cause apparently instant death, so can damaging the heart badly enough; and tearing a major artery open pretty much anywhere comes close.

Last edited by thorny locust; 10-07-2019 at 03:46 PM. Reason: remove duplicate word
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:44 PM
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Two additional options, entirely off the top of my head:

1) Some people in antiquity located their thoughts and their "self" in their head; while other people in antiquity didn't.
Ok, now I'm very confused. This is exactly what I've been saying.
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:55 PM
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What's the evidence that we have the ability to correctly locate thoughts, images and emotion right behind our eyes, absent of cultural misconceptions?
Are you asking when we got the idea that the brain is the center of emotions, images and thoughts? As I remember, a big leap forward in this came with the case of Phineas Gage, who had an accident in which an iron spike impacted his head and destroyed much of his left frontal lobe. Those who knew him noted personality changes after this.
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Old 10-07-2019, 05:07 PM
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Ok, now I'm very confused. This is exactly what I've been saying.
Oh, okay; I misunderstood you, then.

I think what confused me was your appearing to insist that cultural conditioning has nothing to do with it. Maybe you meant not that cultural conditioning can't or doesn't influence what one thinks about where (and if anywhere specific) one's seat of consciousness is, but only that cultural conditioning wasn't necessary to come up with the idea in the first place. I think that's true; but that it's now impossible to tell whether cultural conditioning is why anybody in this society might feel that their seat of consciousness is in their brain, because we've pretty much all been taught that since before we can remember. (Despite which some people still say that they hold their love for their child in their heart, or that a horny man is 'thinking with his other head'.)
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Old 10-08-2019, 04:00 AM
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I think what confused me was your appearing to insist that cultural conditioning has nothing to do with it. Maybe you meant not that cultural conditioning can't or doesn't influence what one thinks about where (and if anywhere specific) one's seat of consciousness is, but only that cultural conditioning wasn't necessary to come up with the idea in the first place.
Correct. Cultural conditioning can get you to believe any old bollocks that isn't necessarily true, religions being the prime example and the concept of thought primarily being located in the organs of the torso is another.

You can, of course, conjure up a strong enough cultural influence to make people believe that but not every ancient people will have thought that way. Even within cultures that do there will be a non-zero amount of people that will give lip service to it but internally will think "that's bollocks, my thoughts are behind my eyes". Those people may have been the heretics but they aren't wrong.

Considering how malleable and variable our minds and perceptions are it is highly unlikely that no-one came to conclusion of brain=self, even against the pressure of the prevailing culture. e.g. I've heard people talk about their "internal monologue" and it seems to be the cultural norm but I can't wrap my head around that. Whatever thoughts happen in my head are not perceived by me as words, I don't "hear" myself think. Brains are weird.
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Old 10-08-2019, 05:12 AM
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But again, my question is, who first realized the brain was the mind? And when? And while we're at it, really how did they realize this?

Since the above has been well covered from the Western perspective, I'd like to add from the Eastern (Indian) perspective.

Atreya was the founder of Indian "school" of medicine known as Ayurveda circa 600 BC. Six sub-schools were founded subsequently by his students. Notable is the anatomy school by Charaka.

But not so well known is the treatise by his colleague Bhela Samhita. The Sanskrit version of the book can be found on the Calcutta University website.


In the book : Encyclopaedia of Indian Medicine: Historical perspective, By Saligrama Krishna Ramachandra Rao (Available on Google Books). Page 40 :

"A view found in this work is rather unique : that mind is lodged in the brain (chittam hrdaya-samsritam). That the expression hrdaya {"heart") actually means 'brain' is borne out by the description of hrdaya found in the work itself. In cases of insanity (unmada), the mind as the faculty of sensations (manas) is first affected, then the intellect (china), and finally the faculty of determination (buddhi). "

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Old 10-08-2019, 11:41 AM
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One nice thing about Julian Jaynes' book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is the amount of material he gathered to make his point. (Fun to read ... but not exactly a believable idea.)

The quotes he gives from The Iliad really do present the notion that the "mind" was seen as located in the chest. One issue is whether this was "Homer"'s world view or actually those of late Bronze Age people. There's several centuries of slop there.

But given that even some classical Greek writers believed likewise or something similar suggests it was still a common notion even then.
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Old 10-08-2019, 04:26 PM
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The point I guess is that between sight and sound, the "me" that most people experience is located in their head. Add to that taste, and it implies most of life experience is in the head; knowing that losing the head causes death probably just reinforces that. Plus head damage that does not kill can cause a person to become a simpleton or catatonic; not hard to infer that's the seat of consciousness. There is of course the other observation that emotions seemed to be seated in the heart, since it would pound at strong emotions- fear, excitement, etc.
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Old 10-09-2019, 08:26 AM
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Whatever thoughts happen in my head are not perceived by me as words, I don't "hear" myself think. Brains are weird.
Both weird and highly variable.

I've had a running verbal commentary going in my head since I was very small. (When it first started, I was able to turn it off at will; I know this because I remember, very distinctly, the night when I was first not able to. It freaked me out.) It seems to me that all my conscious thought is in the form of words; though I don't "hear" them in the sense of their seeming to make a sound -- I don't "see" them either, I just think them.

But it also doesn't seem to me that this is the only form of thought going on within me, or the only form that's part of my sense of self. There's also what I think of as "the back of the head", which is also thinking, but not in words; though often what it's thinking will eventually work its way through to "the front of the head" which will put it into the form of words so that the conscious part of the mind gets access to it. The back of the head certainly influences what the front is thinking.

And emotions don't feel to me like they're located particularly in my head at all -- or anywhere else specific; they feel, hard to explain, more like they're through the whole body? or at least through the head and the torso both.

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The point I guess is that between sight and sound, the "me" that most people experience is located in their head. Add to that taste, and it implies most of life experience is in the head; knowing that losing the head causes death probably just reinforces that. Plus head damage that does not kill can cause a person to become a simpleton or catatonic; not hard to infer that's the seat of consciousness. There is of course the other observation that emotions seemed to be seated in the heart, since it would pound at strong emotions- fear, excitement, etc.
It reads to me as if you're assuming that "the "me" that most people experience" excludes the emotional parts of self; and also excludes the senses of touch and proprioception, which while we now know are interpreted in the brain are felt all over the body. I think that a lot of that sense that one's self is only the rational part (which I tend to think of as "the front of the head") is actually cultural; and that for many people, at least if it weren't for the cultural influence and sometimes despite it, the self is a lot larger and less limited than that.
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Old 10-09-2019, 12:34 PM
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The point I guess is that between sight and sound, the "me" that most people experience is located in their head. Add to that taste, and it implies most of life experience is in the head; knowing that losing the head causes death probably just reinforces that. Plus head damage that does not kill can cause a person to become a simpleton or catatonic; not hard to infer that's the seat of consciousness. There is of course the other observation that emotions seemed to be seated in the heart, since it would pound at strong emotions- fear, excitement, etc.
Again this is generally obtained through culture. A whack to a lot of places, e.g., the heart, can cause death or other serious long term problems including mental ones.

You just have to accept that there is absolutely nothing special about picturing that you are internally seeing and hearing stuff within your brain. You are taught that.

Keep in mind that people were astonishingly unconcerned about physical evidence for a long time. That vision was the result of something being emitted from the eyes was believed by many for millennia despite trivial tests to disprove this. Shoot, we still have a ton of people who think the Earth is flat since they sense no motion, can't understand how people in Australia don't fall off a globe, etc.
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Old 10-10-2019, 01:53 AM
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You just have to accept that there is absolutely nothing special about picturing that you are internally seeing and hearing stuff within your brain.
It is special in that all the other options are wrong.
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