For a lot of feelings it looks clear to me that a thought preceded it. Like when I think of the possibility of war I get afraid. But imagine the case when it is very cold, is the feeling of having cold preceded by the thought that it is cold or could you feel cold without thinking about it?

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    While riding my bike I ran into a bee and she stung me. My first sensation was of the sting, not any conscious consideration of the bee; in this case the sensation, indeed even the reaction to swat it away, preceded the thought.
    – Dave
    Jul 26, 2016 at 21:19
  • It seems like you have answered your own question, perhaps there is more you want to ask? If so edit what you have to expand on your question.
    – hellyale
    Jul 27, 2016 at 14:26
  • @Dave You probably ride your bike without thinking too, but do not run into trees, hence "feel" the world around you and :) Another example would be listening to music, good or bad.
    – Conifold
    Jul 27, 2016 at 21:20
  • I think a distinction could be made between emotion and sensation
    – dgo
    Aug 4, 2016 at 20:35

3 Answers 3


The "quick" answer is no. However, because you used the word "every feeling", it will take only one feeling without thought, to negate the premise.
Typically, thinking is a capability associated with "higher intelligence" forms. However, "lower intelligence" forms do have feelings, even though they are incapable of thinking, therefore, there is "feeling without thinking."


I'm going to say that this depends on what definition of "thought" you want to adhere to. Conscious thought or unconscious thought? Certainly every feeling or action taken by a human is preceded by some function of the brain (and/or reflex mechanisms, muscle memory, etc).

Is every feeling preceded by a conscious thought? No. Is there an unconscious function happening between a stimulus and a resultant feeling? Yes, and this is also sometimes followed by a conscious thought which can also precede the feeling but may happen after the feeling has been triggered.

To use your example of feeling afraid:

If a bear jumps out in your path and growls at you, you will very likely feel afraid faster than you can consciously think about your situation. However, as soon as you are able to gather yourself (assuming you do) you may also begin to have conscious thoughts about this event which lead to feelings.

Another example:

Some feelings and reactions, either through repetition or other means, can become learned and automatic. Like a child learning to walk they will think about every step until eventually they can walk without consciously processing their every move. If you are able to have a single feeling as automatically as you can walk, then your answer is no, every feeling is not required to be preceded by a conscious thought.

  • Can you give an example of an unconscious thought? What is it?
    – Marijn
    Aug 2, 2016 at 18:24
  • This is the brain function, reflex, etc that I noted. Your brain is processing a function that you are not aware of consciously.
    – KnightHawk
    Aug 2, 2016 at 18:26
  • but could that, a brain function/reflex. be called a thought?
    – Marijn
    Aug 2, 2016 at 18:36
  • In the example of learning to walk, each step is initially an conscious thought and gradually becomes automatic. The brain is still processing the steps, although likely at a different level of accuracy. I didn't invent the term unconscious thought. If your brain is processing things that you are not conscious of, then you can call it something else if you like. The word means little to me, but the action of our brains functioning at times (as a thought process) without our conscious involvement is what I am referring to.
    – KnightHawk
    Aug 2, 2016 at 18:46

From a point of view like that of theories of emotion like those of James and Lange, especially as elaborated in Antonio Damasio's somatic marker theory, it is more likely that a thought is sandwiched between the two halves of every emotion.

In those theories, emotions arise physiologically before the thoughts associated with them, but they are then evaluated in terms of experience before becoming actual feelings. That evaluation is a thought, one way or the other, even if it is often fleeting or unconscious.

The same physiological reaction might become fear, exhilaration, anger or passion, depending on the thought that shapes it. But the thought would not occur unless some emotion were already in the process of arising.

Damasio's evidence for this is that he observes those deprived of emotional reactions by brain damage often lose the ability to apply logic to everyday situations, even if their actual logic is unimpaired. His theory is that without the incipient emotion, logic often does not kick in and do its job of helping us make decisions.

For your example of cold, your body might actually start preparing to shiver, or raise gooseflesh to conserve body heat. Then your mind might have to decide whether it is cold, scared, or filled with anticipation before you actually feel cold. If you decide you are not actually cold, that incipient shiver might be transformed into something quite different, like a lurch out of the way, or a laugh.

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