oa Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology - On the phenomenon of inserted thoughts : a critique of Shaun Gallagher's neurophenomenological account of thought insertion

Volume 6, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1445-7377



This paper explores the phenomenon of thought insertion, an experience reported by some schizophrenics where it is believed that other persons or forces are inserting thoughts into their minds. This relatively circumscribed symptom of schizophrenia raises difficult questions concerning our sense of agency for our thoughts. How is it possible that persons can think that their thoughts are not their own? Gallagher, drawing on Husserl's early work on time-consciousness, provides a subtle and sophisticated answer to this problem, suggesting that protention may underlie our sense of agency for thinking and that the experience of inserted thoughts may occur in the event of an intermittent failure in this protentional function. More recent Husserl scholarship suggests, however, that this account may face problems on phenomenological grounds. It is argued here that our sense of agency for thinking requires more than protention, and, consequently, that the absence of protention cannot fully explain the loss of agency for thinking characterizing the experience of thought insertion. In order to contextualize this discussion of the phenomenon theoretically and, in the process, to provide an introduction to the difficulties in explaining it, this paper proceeds with a consideration of Frith's early cognitive account of thought insertion and the contribution of Stephens and Graham in this regard. In conclusion, it is argued that, despite the merits of all three accounts presented, they remain unable to account for the phenomenon of inserted thoughts, and that we might more fruitfully understand this experience as being a type of uncontrollable passive or autochthonous thinking.

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