I do not think this question can be answered adequately unless the thinker takes a 'moral realist' (moral reality) position - defined as a reality independent of the Mind.

A Thought is an "immaterial activity" in an immaterial reality.

If so, how does a thought (in an immaterial reality independent of Mind) inform the Brain (a material medium dependent on Mind).

But there is, as you probably have guessed, a deeper problem involved:

The Body-Mind Problem - or, more accurately in my view, The Body-Mind-Soul Problem

So, in addition to taking a moral realist position, the thinker must also take a position regarding either the Dualism of Body and Mind, or the Dualism of Body and Soul.

But whatever position is taken - Body/Mind or Body/Soul - my question remains : How does an immaterial activity (eg thinking a thought) inform a material medium (eg the brain).

Common-sense suggests a thought (eg of lifting the arm) informs the brain (the arm lifts). But how does it do this?

  • 3
    This is a good philosophy question, but not a good stack exchange question, because it has no well-defined, uncontroversial answer. Jan 30, 2015 at 18:53
  • If the answer is well-defined and non-controversial, it is not a philosophical question. Jan 30, 2015 at 19:59
  • 1
    This is not a site for philosophical questions per se it is a site for questions about philosophy. You could ask this same question in relationship to a specific philosophical tradition or standpoint, and it would become answerable here. Jan 30, 2015 at 20:03
  • The materialist philosopher hasn't a clue how an immaterial activity (eg thinking a thought) informs a material medium (eg the brain) in which it is manifested. Is this true? Jan 30, 2015 at 20:51
  • Are you defining a thought to be immaterial? If so, why would you ever expect it to "inform" a material object like the brain? Or are you using the word "thought" in the everyday sense? If so, where did you come up with the assertion that a thought is immaterial?
    – WillO
    Jan 30, 2015 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


The question is based on a flawed premise, namely that thinking is an immaterial activity.

In fact, thinking is a product of electrochemical activity in the brain that requires energy. In fact brain activity consumes 20% of the calories burned by the body. http://www.pnas.org/content/99/16/10237.full

This SciAm article quotes the same figure:

It is well established that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ, accounting for up to 20 percent of the body's total haul.

It is a fact of biology that all brain activity is a physical process taking place in the material universe, requiring energy. Cheeseburger in, philosophy out.

Therefore the premise of the question is simply incorrect as a matter of science.

ps -- I see that you commented above that you call thought "immaterial" because you can't see it. But if you cut a person open you can't see the conversion of glucose into energy or any other biochemical process. Physical entities include processes as well as solid things. You can see a rock but you can't see the strong nuclear force holding it together. That doesn't make physical processes immaterial. Perhaps you are asking how the laws of physics manage to make rocks. That's actually a pretty good question.

  • "all brain activity is a physical process taking place in the material universe". So the 'you' - the Self/the I - who is thinking the thought "how do the laws of physics manage to make rocks?" is the product of a physical, material process? Jan 30, 2015 at 22:46
  • @RichardW.Symonds If not, where else could it live? I agree that this is an age-old philosophical question. But there is no question that I have thoughts in my head because biochemical processes in my body fueled certain electrochemical reactions in my brain. We can't solve the mind-body problem here today, but surely we can acknowledge the fact that thoughts are a product of physical processes in the brain. To say "The 'I' is immaterial" is to state as fact something that there is no evidence for.
    – user4894
    Jan 30, 2015 at 22:50
  • Neuro-scientist John Eccles appears to confront your question "where else could it (the I) live?" by saying it lives in a non-natural order of reality, as well as a natural order of reality (the body/brain) Jan 30, 2015 at 23:00
  • @RichardW.Symonds I found this article, is this what you're referring to? theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/science/prat-bra.htm Quote: Eccles calls the fundamental neural units of the cerebral cortex dendrons, and proposes that each of the 40 million dendrons is linked with a mental unit, or psychon, representing a unitary conscious experience. I'd say that's a stretch, but who's to say. Thanks for the reference.
    – user4894
    Jan 30, 2015 at 23:04
  • Yes that's it. This is part of his last book, and he excitedly put the idea forward as an answer to the age-old Mind-Body Problem. Jan 30, 2015 at 23:26

A lot of evidence points not to conscious thought informing the brain, but the other way around. It is well documented that stimulation/damage of specific areas of the brain has measurable and predictable effects on conscious thought patterns. This indicates to me that what we refer to as conscious thought is a byproducts of bodily functions related to these "material" portions of the brain.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .