'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The 'Smoking Brain'

The following is a quote from the Wikipedia article on 'History of the Brain':

"...the Ancient Greeks developed differing views on the function of the brain. It is said that it was the pythagorean Alcmaeon of Croton (VI and V centuries BC) who first considered the brain to be the place where the mind was located. In the 4th BC Hippocrates, believed the brain to be the seat of intelligence (based, among others before him, on Alcmeon's work). During the 4th century BC Aristotle though 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..."

Even the ancient Egyptians had thought the brain to be mere 'stuffing' and used to throw it away during mummification.

The body language of a person in deep thought indicates plenty of activity within the cranium - the screwed up/staring eyes, the taps/scratches on the head, the creased forehead, the head couched in the palms or supported by a clenched fist,... Wonder how anybody could have even thought of thinking happening somewhere else!

But then, all these expressions of thought could be very 'modern' - springing from modern education and conditioning, which teach us from childhood about the brain being the seat of reason. And, perhaps, in ancient times, folks who grew up 'learning' that the heart does the thinking, had a different body language - a classical Greek statue of the 'Thinker', if it were ever made, might have shown him rubbing or tapping his chest! And even if the thinking ancients went thru all or most of the motions of the moderns (in other words, if the body language of thinking is something very basic and universal and unconditioned by education), it might have been then attributed to the brain working overtime to cool the blood!

Anyways, it still is remarkably intriguing that something which we now take for granted was not at all obvious even to the best minds of antiquity.

Wikipedia says phrases such as 'learning by heart' hark back to the olden days when people used to credit heart with intelligence. Back home in Kerala, people say "his/her head is SMOKING!" when someone is in intense thought. Does this phrase reflect an understanding that the grey cells are firing furiously or spring from the (Aristotelian) concept of brain as a 'radiator', emitting vapors/smoke when overloaded?


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