Neuroscientists Want to Take Your Temperature


October 28, 2015 by Dr. Geyser

Why do we put thermometers into the mouth/rectum? What does this say about the physical variable we are measuring (it is gross)? Find out in this edition of O Body, where art Thou?, here on Dr. Geyser’s Health and Wellness Blog.

The skin is sensitive to differences in temperature, rather than temperature in itself. This is easily demonstrated by turning on a small space heater in a large room, and then comparing its effect on a thermometer versus the change in temperature sensed by the skin. Though I feel the warmth of the space heater forming temperature gradients in the room, the thermometer is unresponsive.

Now someone adopting a medical or scientific perspective is likely to state that the perception of warmth in the absence of an actual change in temperature is a consequence of the placebo effect. These sorts of people (and I am not exactly thinking of scientists and doctors here) may turn out to be right later down the road, but for now let us content ourselves with the knowledge that they are probably just bad at maintaining the flow of conversation. It is just as stupid to rely upon the placebo effect to explain the world as it is to go around saying that reality is just something that happens in your head. It is not that I doubt that the placebo effect exists, or that I am using neurons in my head to state my position vis-a-vis our shared state of optical reality. I am merely put off by people who attempt to interrupt a good conversation, irrespective of whether their methods involve supernatural teleologies or biomolecular determinisms.

Anyway. The space heater is turned on, and it is creating small temperature gradients at various points in the room. Imagine the upward swirl of cigar smoke, or the visible fog of your rancid morning breath on a cold winter morning in Minnesota. Or maybe you are just grabbing a few ventricular cores you acquired from LVAD patients which you obviously stored in a tank of liquid nitrogen because that is the cool thing to do.

Although the temperature of the room remains the same, on the whole, I feel quite a bit warmer now that the heater is on. This is because I am able to feel the temperature at many points across the entire surface of my skin, and thus, on average, I really do feel warmer than I did before. And because I have actually thought about the consequences of having all those temperature sensors beneath my skin, I see no reason to believe that my brain is ‘lying’ about the feeling of warmth which I am now experiencing.

For if I am not willing to attribute original sin to my body (indeed, I am not), I see no reason to attribute original error to my mind. For me, there is only one type of error: a failure to think, to look, to ask after the origins of my thoughts. The only error I can actually take responsibility for is precisely this worthless tendency to blame some part of my body for doing me wrong.

I am my body. We are in floating in the same boat. There is a differentiation of labor. I speak and I write by issuing commands from my frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes. I filter. I edit. I criticize my thoughts to embolden my readers – to speak well, but also to think well.

Where was the error that caused me to feel warmer than I did before? Was there an error?

First, I will point out that I am not a thermometer, nor are the receptors in my skin designed to sense the ‘objective’ temperature in the room itself. As far as anyone else is concerned, the neurons beneath my skin were not designed for any singular purpose or function existing outside of the body itself. When did scientists become the voice of God? But let me explain.

Because my body is lazy and full of sin, it likes to conserve heat rather than giving it off willy-nilly into the environment. As a result, I am overweight. Clearly my body’s fault, end of subject. But this also means that my skin is actually colder than the underlying organs, muscles and bones which it functionally serves to protect and conceal. The consequence of this observation is that the temperature receptors in my skin are not actually concerned with the temperature of the room itself, but rather with the temperature difference between my internal organs and the tissue just beneath the skin itself.

I mean, duh. Come on guys. This is, like, evolution 101 or something.

Second, I am not the idiot who decided that the feeling of warmth should be interpreted ‘objectively,’ i.e. relative to thermostats located ‘in the environment.’ The feeling of warmth need not be objectified as a ‘real’ temperature change for me to understand it. It is not my feelings that are in error, but rather the neuroscientists, head doctors and science writers who believe that the reality they are describing is somewhere in the environment. The irreducible objectivity of their words is, in fact, the source of their error, and the real origin of their knowledge of their belief system.

I, for one, feel my words as I speak them. And it is this feeling alone that makes the process of writing them down so worthwhile. Knowledge is still speech, and so it is safe to say that I am bound to my feelings there, too.

What? Did you think science was all about you? Let us at least be honest with each other. Is it so bad if I — if we — feel it, too?


2 thoughts on “Neuroscientists Want to Take Your Temperature

  1. Yadeï says:

    Lol I truly enjoyed reading this! I love the way you transcribe your thoughts…very sophisticated! We are on the chapter of heat transfer in my Bioenergetics class & I am loving it. Certainly effective article & amusing! 🙂


    • Dr. Geyser says:

      That’s wonderful. Thank you for your comment! In medical school, everyone just kind of took it for granted that the perception of temperature was the same as temperature itself. And so prior to this post, I had never really thought about it very much. But then I turned on my space heater, started writing down my observations, and so on. Writing it was quite a lot of fun, and I am glad that carried through in the text!

      Liked by 1 person

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