I’m behind my eyes

Where does your mind feel like it is?

Ken Aizawa asks why we intuitively feel like our minds are in our heads, and answers by saying it’s because humans discovered early on that damaging the head disables the mind, and have passed the knowledge of their equivalence on since. This seems unlikely to me, since damaging other parts of the body well enough also disables the mind and damaging the head also disables other bodily functions. Plus it seems a much stronger intuition to me than ‘my feet are made of atoms’ for instance, a belief about the composition of my body that culture gave me early on. I also doubt the ‘I am in my head’ intuition is a direct evolutionary result, since it doesn’t seem useful. I suspect instead that I feel like ‘I’ am located in my head since my eyes are there, and they give me most of the information about my location. I can look down and see my feet a long way away, and it would be complicated to think I was over there. Next I might think I was a person on the other side of the room. I am simply at the center of my perspective of the world.

A way to test this is to ask blind people, though they may get the same effect with their ears. Better would be to ask people who are blind and deaf. I know few of the former and none of the latter – can any of my readers enlighten me?

Also, I’m not sure that the assumption in the original question is right, since at least once I have heard someone imply they feel like they are located elsewhere. Do most people actually feel like their minds are in their heads?

12 responses to “I’m behind my eyes

  1. Aristotle, as well as the Greek Stoics, believed that the mind and reason resided in the heart [0]. This would seem to support the idea of empirical test results being passed down through the generations, since people stop thinking when the heart is plucked out or pierced.

    I suspect that similar reasons could be given for the belief that “man was formed from dust”. Dawkins essentially proved that man was formed from dust, but did it in the most complicated way. The easy way to do it is to stick a body in a box and then come back after 100 years. The body has crumbled to dust.

    It would be fascinating to see what conclusions people come to completely on their own, via intuition. For example, is the ancient Greek interpretation of the heart the *intuitive* result? Or were the Greeks overriding their intuitions based on what they felt to be empirical evidence?

    [0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_(symbol)

  2. If we take him literally, the Zen master Takuan Soho thought that his mind was mobile, and could move about his body. He also criticized martial artists who keep their mind in a fixed position at their center of mass.

    • Regarding the Zen notion, that may just be talking about what area one is concentrating on. For example, one can concentrate on the sensation in one’s fingertips or the bottom of the foot, or the like. There may be translational issues here.

  3. The vantage point of your mind’s eye is culturally determined. IIRC, Asians are more likely to believe that the soul is seated in the chest/stomach area.

    Researchers have been able to manipulate this perception to the point of inducing out-of-body experiences.

    I may be misremembering the details, but this article should help you kick off a productive googling session:


  4. Brandon Reinhart

    When I scratch my chin, it feels “under me.” When I scratch my head, it feels “above me.” I find it hard to make myself feel otherwise.

    My senses enable me to position things relative to some point. It could be that this point is evolved, because a better ability to spatialize threats could be an advantage.

    If I feel an ache in my foot, I feel that ache relative to some point. It could be that relationship provides some better ability to prioritize wounds which might be an advantage.

    If consciousness has something to do with what it feels like to be an elaborate signal processing system then it could be that we feel our minds in our heads because that is where the bulk of the processing takes place.

  5. @Brandon – I think you got it. It’s sensitivity levels. Interestingly, when I train in judo / grappling I often close my eyes and feel like my consciousness is in my hands, which are most active and sensitive at that point.

  6. level with my eyes; behind my nose; but forward of my earlobes.
    Just to the left of centre.

    Surely everyone feels like that?

  7. takes very little meditation to come to see that the head is in me .. i am larger/more than my body

  8. and little meditation to know that i am not my mind .. “i” is the knower of the mind ..

    so ..

  9. I’ve always felt right behind my nose. This is why I have trouble understanding the Japanese hara thing, or the Egyptian fixation on the heart as the seat of the soul/mind, or the Greek (Aristotle’s?) suggestion that the brain exists to cool the blood. I wonder how much of this is purely cultural…

  10. The “Altered States” chapter of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” may be of interest:

    “I tried and after a while I got my ego to go down through my neck into the middle of my chest. When a drop of water came down and hit me on the shoulder, I felt it ‘up there,’ above where ‘I’ was. Every time a drop came I was startled a little bit, and my ego would jump back up through the neck to the usual place. Then I would have to work my way down again. At first it took a lot of work to go down each time, but gradually it got easier. I was able to get myself all the way down to the loins, to one side, but that was about as far as I could go for quite a while.
    It was another time I was in the tank when I decided that if I could move myself to my loins, I should he able to get completely outside of my
    body. So I was able to ‘sit to one side.’ It’s hard to explain–I’d move my hands and shake the water, and although I couldn’t see them, I knew where they were. But unlike in real life, where the hands are to each side, part way down, they were both to one side! The feeling in my fingers and everything else was exactly the same as normal, only my ego was sitting outside, ‘observing’ all this.
    From then on I had hallucinations almost every time, and was able to move further and further outside of my body. It developed that when I
    would move my hands I would see them as sort of mechanical things that were going up and down–they weren’t flesh; they were mechanical. But I was still able to feel everything. The feelings would be exactly consistent with the motion, but I also had this feeling of ‘he is that.’ ‘I’ even got out of the room, ultimately, and wandered about, going some distance to locations where things happened that I had seen earlier another day.”

    My perception is that there is a mental subsystem that handles your sense of location, by default it puts “you” behind your eyes because they provide the most sensory input, but there are ways to manipulate it so you feel like you’re centered elsewhere.

  11. Couldn’t the positional system of our inner ears have something to do with this? If I rotate or flex any part of my body, I sense that it moves – but I don’t feel like *I* have moved if I keep my head totally static in the meanwhile. Moving/shaking/rotating my head, on the other hand, definitely feels like I’m moving my center of consciousness. This seems even more powerful with my eyes closed – maybe ears are a stronger influence on this feeling than eyes?

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