Where is your brain? Everywhere!

Alright, the Evolution post was fun. But now back to more serious stuff. This post has to do with neuroscience. Here I’m questioning a pretty mainstream view, and not a weird obscure view (like 0.999…=1 or Imaginary Numbers). I’m questioning the Theory of Pain Projection, which actually has surprisingly decent reasoning behind it. But – that can’t stop the truth from shining through. Enough ado for now, read on!
According to various forms of science, pain and other phantoms are always registered in a place called “the brain.” So, for example, when I stab my hand with a pencil, or stub my toe, the only place that “knows” I’ve been injured (so the story goes) is in my brain. Indeed, it happens in the part of the brain known to professional frauds as the “parietal lobe,” located in the “postcentral gyrus.” If this doesn’t remind you of Descartes’ error, it should. Now let’s imagine for a moment that all this isn’t damnable hogwash of the most devilish sort. It would mean that these parts of our brains are what allow us to register pain and pleasure… in our hands!

Refuting this is quite elementary, and indeed I think you will find it liberating, being suddenly able to abandon the counterintuitive notions with which you have been indoctrinated. Perform the following experiment:

Find a knife. Hold the knife in your left hand. Extend your right hand onto a flat service. Thrust the knife downward into your right hand, but not with enough force to puncture the epidermal tissue.

Where do you feel it? Do you feel it in your brain? Or do you feel it in your hand? My guess is that you feel it in your hand. Now these scientists, known in older and therefore wiser cultures as witches, will tell you that you only think you feel pain in your hand due to “projection.” Talk about colonialist condescension! In other words, the feelings supposedly “project” to an imaginary place called the “reticular formation,” which frankly sounds obscene and unbecoming (perhaps that’s supposed to prevent us from investigating it). And your emotions are caused by the “amygdala,” which because it violates phonetic rules ought not to be considered a real or meaningful word (Wittgenstein proved this). In any case, everyone knows that emotions happen in the heart, because as Wittgenstein explained, words are defined by their usage, not the consensus of the scientific community. And besides, emotions are literally felt in the chest area.

So what about this projection business? Occam’s Razor tells us that rather than suppose the highly complex and superstitious theory that the brain is magically transmitting messages and deceiving us as to the location of our feelings, we should instead suppose the extremely intuitive and ontologically parsimonious explanation, namely, that our brain is in fact located everywhere. Consequently it is actually a bigger organ than the epidermeous, a little known fact. Congratulations, brain. Now you’re the biggest and the heaviest!

To appreciate the significance of my findings, which surely represent the beginning of legitimate Brain Studies, take a glance at what an accurate diagram of the human body might look like (hopefully to be placed in anatomy textbooks someday, perhaps posthumously).

brain

Now before you say it: I know this diagram doesn’t include all the other parts of the body. But I am just making the point that our pain receptors, and tools of consciousness and cognition, are manifestly located wherever we can feel pain and pleasure. This view of the brain corresponds best with the theories of John Leslie in his work, as well as noted cognitive scientist Richard Swinburne’s in his pathbreaking study, The Evolution of the Soul, published by Oxford University Press. I definitely recommend reading that one.

Important note: I am not denying the existence of the physical organ called “the brain.” I am just limiting its traditional functions. There’s a key difference there.

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42 thoughts on “Where is your brain? Everywhere!

  1. Hmmm, I agree partly with this post, but I feel that I have to point out one flaw in your argument.

    Namely, “Phantom Pain”. The fact/theory that people can feel pain in limbs that simply aren’t there suggests that the brain definitely projects the feeling of pain on our bodies.

  2. I like the picture…you have made your point very clear….brain…brain…brain

    I think the signal is produced at the point of “action”. But the signal itself is converted to understandable knowledge in the traditional brain. So in your knife example you feel the pain in the hand after it is transmitted as a signal from your hand to the brain where it gets interpreted and understood.

    I also agree with Aaron that the brain is capable of projecting pain in the form of phantom pain.

    The brain in the head is definitely more brainy than the brain in the arse 🙂

  3. Dear Aaron Vines,

    Thank you for agreeing!

    Many people have suggested to me in the past (before I was blogging) that “phantom pain” could be considered counter evidence to my theory of Brain/Body Omnipresence. First, I have some degree of doubt about any form of science based on testimony, as the theory of phantom pain is. And I doubt even that the pain is analogous – after all, if there’s a real arm there then someone else can hurt the arm; this is not the case with phantom pain. So I would be tempted to conclude, parsimoniously, that real pain is in the arm, and phantom pain is just in the head. After all, it is phantom pain! Scary closet monsters are in the head too, not in the closet. Whereas real monsters are actually in the closet (theoretically). So the same is true with brains and pain.

  4. Dear Indrad Hanus,

    What an interesting point you raise! Certainly, I do think that thoughts are held in the brain! (you can pretty much feel them there by introspecting anyway)

    And it seems that “awareness” of pain is a kind of thoughts. So by the transitive property, maybe awareness of pain takes place in the brain! Your brain knows that your hand is hurting. After all, if your hand were disconnected from your brain, it might still be hurting, but you’d have no way to know it!

  5. @Klaue… yeah, an arm chair scientist.

    Not everything can necessarily be transitive. For example, you use it improperly here, if I understand what you say correctly.

    Let
    p – awareness of pain
    q – thoughts
    r – activities in brain
    p subset of q
    q subset of r
    therefore p subset of r.

    This is a transitive relation (subset), but _saying_ that something is a subset because it is convenient, doesn’t make it true. And this is a case where you like to hear your fingers tap on the keyboard and are not doing any form of critical thinking and questioning yourself, experimenting, or looking for other research (no references).

  6. The answer is IMHO, your brain/mind creates an “representation” which is like the “world” inside a computer running a game, except that it has “real feel” (well, the nutty qualiphobes like Dennett’s cranks might disagree.) Hence what you thought were real things just shown to you (in vision) or pain “in the hand”, and the experienced hand as well, are part of this “matrix” inside your head. Only a dumb philosopher, like in the analytical/Witlesstein movement, is a “naive realist” who is fooled by seemobabble and thinks the world is just shown to us without intermediary sense-data.

  7. Neil B:

    Interesting comments. I also think Dennett and his followers are cranks!

    But this position seems too anti-empirical and idealist to me. I’m no fan of Father Barkley!

    NS

  8. Notedscholar: A representation doesn’t mean there really isn’t a world, but: given the inability to make sense of wave functions collapsing etc. in QM, I think the world is a put-up job, not fundamental, and contrived to get “apparent results.” It has no standing in its own right.

  9. Have you read up on congenital insensitivity to pain? Or those who acquire insensitivity to pain after damage to the brain (note that I am defining “brain” as the lump of grey matter in your skull) or spinal cord? Such cases would seem to shoot a massive hole in your theory.

    To provide a quick summary, those with CIP have nerves that can sense pain, but the connection between these nerves and the part of the brain that processes pain impulses does not function. They retain other sensory perception, such as touch, heat and vibration, that would be lost if the nerves themselves were not functioning.

    Please, crack open a textbook and learn about your subject matter in future, otherwise all we get is dreary philosophy (as above).

  10. “everyone knows that emotions happen in the heart, because as Wittgenstein explained, words are defined by their usage, not the consensus of the scientific community. And besides, emotions are literally felt in the chest area.”

    Now I know this is a spoof.

    Jolly good one too. 🙂

    Cheers,

    Rich.

  11. Noted Scholar,

    You might try an actual experiment to confirm or refute your hypothesis. If you are correct, that the brain is everywhere throughout the body and experiences the pain at the location of the injury, then there should be no delay between the infliction of the injury and its perception. However, if the information about the injury needs to be transmitted to the brain for processing and interpretation as pain, projected to the appropriate area of the body so as to act as an effective stimulus for taking some action (such as to mitigate the extent or continuation of the injury), then there would be a delay between the infliction of the injury and its perception as pain.

    Try having someone else stab your hand with the knife while you are blinfolded, and say “ouch” when you experience the pain. Then ask the person if there was a perceptible delay or not. The timing may be a little tight, but I’m sure you get my drift, and could refine the technique as needed. For example, you could have him stab you in the neck and then in the toe, so that any delay in vocalization would be consistent while the distance the signal needs to traverse would vary.

    If you took such efforts before posting such ideas, and included your evidence as support of them, I might take your ideas more seriously. As it is, I can only conclude this must be some sort of silly joke, or that you’re not really as noted a scholar as you would like me to believe.

  12. Dear Angel Plume,

    Interesting thoughts. However there may be a confounding explanation of the (hypothetical) delay that still fits with my theory. Notice that nowhere in my simplified theory of brain mechanics is it stated that the brain recognizes immediately that pain (or any other sensation) has been inflicted. Even if physical contact is immediate, that doesn’t necessarily mean that, for example, the hand will just as immediately know it has been stabbed.

    NS

  13. You’re confusing nociception (the detection of harmful stimulus, which occurs at (or near to) the site of injury) and pain (the subjective appreciation of nociception, which occurs in the central nervous system).

    Think of the epidural. The site of action of the drug is on the central nervous system, not the site of what’s causing the pain, yet it works.

  14. Superb job. I salute you, good sir, especially on logically refuting the clowns who left comments here. Rationality debunks these ‘scientific’ kooks… again.

  15. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re not right. You aren’t even wrong…

    There are these things in our bodies called ‘nerves’ which register such things as change in temperature, pressure on the skin, etc. including pain. These ‘nerves’ send electrical impulses to the brain, which decodes their meaning, much like a computer decodes the input from a mouse or keyboard. After this ‘decoding’, your brain causes you to ‘feel’ the pain, etc. in the corresponding area of your body.

  16. Les Monde,

    I would never deny that introspection happens (or, to be more accurate, begins) in the brain. But other cognitive functions are perfectly happy beginning elsewhere, such as a perforated hand, or a bruised ear.

    NS

  17. Karen C,

    So many problems with your comment; where to begin? First, if your brain is responsible for knowing all the stuff you attribute, how can you trust it in the first place? Second, like Les Mondes above, you arbitrarily label certain cognitive functions as non-cognitive. And you call yourself a neuroscientist? For shame. Of course I agree that there are nerves in the body. One some prominent viewpoints, the brain itself is a nerve. But this goes nowhere in showing that the traditionalist position is correct.

    NS

  18. Interesting thoughts. However there may be a confounding explanation of the (hypothetical) delay that still fits with my theory. Notice that nowhere in my simplified theory of brain mechanics is it stated that the brain recognizes immediately that pain (or any other sensation) has been inflicted. Even if physical contact is immediate, that doesn’t necessarily mean that, for example, the hand will just as immediately know it has been stabbed.

    You just said; “I don’t think your experiment entirely disproves my theory because there could be a magical explanation which I won’t provide which makes the findings from your proposed experiment irrelevant.”

    Here you are, talking about everyone and their logical fallacies, and yet your’re attempting to discredit the hard work of a thousand neuroscientists by putting forward a theory which you refuse to support and claim is true only on the basis that anything which implies otherwise does not fully reduce the possibility of a magical explanation, such as a unicorn.

    You, sir, are a pseudo-intellectual. Having an excellent knowledge of when to point out what logical fallacy someone is appealing to does nothing to qualify your quack conclusions.

    If nothing else, please openly admit that each of your ideas are philosophical, and admit the subjectivity that a quick analysis proves.

  19. I think you forgot to include your sources. Somewhere between your conclusions and the comments is a place where noted scholars usually like to place links to their research.

    Also, can you show me the maths behind your picture displaying e /= mc^2 ?

    Obviously, these are retorical questions, but their point should be clear: The only people you could possibly be fooling into thinking you are either notable or a scholar, are people who are even worse at using their brain than you are.

  20. Dc,

    As Tertullian once said (in Latin), “Absurdity is the path to truth.” Of course I don’t think my ideas are actually absurd… but they may seem so to those educated in the main system.

    Cheers,
    NS

  21. Dear Andrew Harris,

    What evidence do you have that there are a thousand neuroscientists?

    Please don’t ad hominem me with “pseudo-intellectual.” In a sense I am what you say because I am outside the primary stream… but I take it you are more pejorative than that.

    I don’t know what you mean by “philosophical.” The topic is a scientific theory – but science began in philosophy, so maybe your insult is really a compliment!

    Here,
    NS

  22. Dear Tama,

    I link to things constantly. Also, if you click on the tag ‘brain studies’ you will see my many follow-ups, full of sources and citations. Thanks for the concern though!

    Please do not change the subject to my avatar? I have a post on relativity, if you like.

    How do you know how I use my brain?

    Confused,
    NS

  23. There were no fallacies in Sharpies post. Your response is the equivalent of…hey…look over there…zooooom (runs away). You didn’t respond to anything she said in her post, all of which is not just empirically based research (which you don’t seem to favour) but also very logical (which you insinuate that you excel at). So tell us…what about CIP? Tell us how your theory would explain it without the theatrics or distractions. I think all readers would be far more interested in your blogs if you could answer such difficult and challenging questions without the side shuffles. I am genuinely curious how your theory explains CIP.

  24. If you believe this hypothesis holds for all mammals, there is a simple way to test it. One of the major functions of the brain is to control movement, so if you remove the “classical brain”, the creature should still be able to move.

  25. I think that my test would be more conclusive. Also, any good scientific idea should be testable multiple ways.

  26. The CIP suffer tested the theory, didn’t feel any pain but there is nothing wrong with the hand structurally, bar the scratch from the knife. How does your theory explain that? Also you use that test to refuted the idea that pain is registered in our brains, but then go on to state that we feel pain because our brains are everywhere. Which is it? Pain is registered in our brains because it’s everywhere, or it doesn’t register in our brains?

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