Carelessness and Inattention

Mind-Wandering and the Physiology of Fantasy from Locke to Hume

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contribution


Associated ideas, complained Locke, follow one another "without any care or attention." In a brilliant inversion of Locke's nervous worries about the perils of misassociation, Hume resolved the sceptical despair brought on by philosophical reasoning only by returning to mindlessness: "carelessness and in-attention alone can afford us any remedy. For this reason I rely entirely on them" (Treatise, 1.4.2). How did British natural and moral philosophers in the early eighteenth century think about what happens when the mind is elsewhere? How did they theorize the processes by which thoughts, fancies, memories, daydreams, and feelings come to mind without prompting either by reason or reality, by the will or by the world? Examining works by Mead, Harris, Gibbs, and Branch, 1 detail the role of bodily fluids and nervous spirits in "conveying the mischief" by which imagination tends to ruffle our calm. Minds are often surprised by their own habits, and various forms of regimen were recommended in these works of medical psychology and moral physiology to 'pinion' the imagination and still the roving thoughts. anchor these local discussions within a broader enquiry into mind-wandering and 'stimulus-independent thought', and sketch a rich neurophilosophical background to Hume's views on the bodily bases of custom and habit.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Body As Object and Instrument of Knowledge
Subtitle of host publicationEmbodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science
EditorsCharles T. Wolfe, Ofer Gal
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9789048136858
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventEmbodied Empiricism Workshop - Sydney, Australia
Duration: 22 Feb 200924 Feb 2009

Publication series

NameStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Series
ISSN (Print)0929-6425


ConferenceEmbodied Empiricism Workshop


  • BODY
  • AGE

Cite this

Sutton, J. (2010). Carelessness and Inattention: Mind-Wandering and the Physiology of Fantasy from Locke to Hume. In C. T. Wolfe, & O. Gal (Eds.), The Body As Object and Instrument of Knowledge: Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science (pp. 243-263). (Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Series; Vol. 25). Berlin: Springer, Springer Nature.