Does the Brain Think?

The question is put in many equivalent ways: is thought an effect of the brain? is the brain responsible for thought? are all mental states brain states?

The question doesn’t strike me as much different than asking “is the hand the organ of grasping?” or “is the leg responsible for kicking?” or “are all digestive states stomach states?” The answer is certainly yes, and to resist entirely the force of the answer seems largely to argue for the sake of argument. It is equally evident that all of these actions and states are said in the mode of an instrument.  The hand certainly grasps, and the leg certainly kicks, but not in such a way as we conclude that the human being does not grasp or kick anything.  In fact, it is precisely because a human being kicks something or digests something that a leg or a stomach does something. The actions of the part are caused ultimately by a principle agent, even though they might be proximately caused by another part, like a hand is moved ultimately by a human being, even if it is proximately moved by the tendons, and remotely by the brain.

Many of the discussions about the brain’s causality of thought seem to involve the idea that if one makes the brain responsible for thought, that somehow it becomes the principle agent of thought. This is as silly as thinking that if one makes the hand responsible for grasping, that somehow it is the principle agent of grasping, as opposed to an instrument used by a human being. I call this conception silly because it is sees the brain in exactly the same way as the arm is portrayed in Dr. Strangelove.    

A separate difficulty involved here is the many meanings of the word “thought”. The word can apply to the activity of the interior senses as well as to intellect. If the question of “does the brain think” is phrased in such a way as to reduce all thought to sensation, that is another question.


  1. Tadeusz said,

    September 3, 2008 at 1:59 am

    Does the human brain think? – Is very fundamental question. I think, actually that our brain does not think. It is rather kind of antenna, which connects the soul with reality. Otherwise our souls, if we have any, are mortal.
    Additionally, according to my knowledge, there is not identified any region in our brain, which is let say, overriding in relation to any other. Region that “says” to the area responsible for moving hand: “move your hand up”. The firing of the neurons occurs first in the motor cortex, responsible for hand.

  2. a thomist said,

    September 3, 2008 at 4:26 am

    Thought has a lot of meanings. One of them is simply “imagination”. There is no reason to choose whether thought is physical or not, but only to parse out the clearly physical meanings from those which, I would argue, are not and cannot be the activity of a physical organ.

  3. jay said,

    May 4, 2010 at 10:47 am

    does the brain think….NO! and that’s just obvious to any person who can think out there… i realize that people would love to think that the brain is responsible for thinking, just so they can explain away any idea of a non-physical entity that could NOT have evolved! Now to the man that isn’t a fool, the brain does NOT think, but is merely a translator between the spirit of man and the body holding the spirit! which further lends that, if man has a spirit, then there just may be a God, wouldn’t it? Now we’re getting to the true reason behind it all, ain’ it? The writer of this entry has really lost his reasoning to the whiles of ‘PHILOSOPHY’ [the love of ‘mans’ wisdom]. And here is my reason for saying that; tell me sir, does a dead brain think? NO it doesn’t! Then, what made it live?! Tell me please…..I know, it IS THE SPIRIT OF MAN thas what! Think of a plane…does the plane fly? NO, i submit! without a pilot it stays grounded, even though it has its wings, engines, wheels, etc, all perfectly working…so how MUCH MORE ILLOGICAL would it be to ”believe” that the body of man [including the brain] is self sufficient?

  4. VARNAA said,

    February 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    the question “how does a brain think?” itself is phrased incorrectly. the brain helps us to think. it is one of the major funtions of the brain.

  5. Vinayak.S.Rajendran said,

    March 20, 2011 at 1:19 am

    When will the brain take rest if it is working all the time including when we are sleeping?

  6. ray said,

    November 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Does ones brain think? How foolish a question…The brain is not capable of that at all, try to explain the human conscience for example, explain the idea of right or wrong, or better yet where did that idea come from? We are souls with a body, not bodys with souls….Only God and His Word can give you the answers…Explain the mathmatics of DNA…one cannot…we only contrive ideas of what it all means…friends only the God of Abraham Issac and Jacob can answer those wonderful questions.

  7. Gordon said,

    December 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12, we have three parts: body, soul, and spirit. A person’s spirit is his personality that does all his thinking and emotions. A person’s spirit is ethereal as information, because it is holographic-like software that temporarily resides in the brain hardware. According to the Bible, the soul and brain have much in common:
    1. Both the soul and the brain connect between the body and the spirit.
    2. Mammal animals have both a soul and a brain, but not a spirit.
    3. Both the soul and the brain cannot lose their physical nature.
    4. Both the soul and the brain can die, but not the spirit.
    Comparing these Bible concepts with modern science, we would have to conclude that the soul is the brain, and the spirit is one’s personality temporarily residing in his brain. Upon death, one’s spirit is transferred to either New Jerusalem or the Place of Torment.

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