Philosophical Studies

, Volume 166, Supplement 1, pp 131–151 | Cite as

What do our experiences of heat and cold represent?

  • Richard Gray


Our experiences of heat and cold are usually thought to represent states of things: their hotness and coldness. I propose a novel account according to which their contents are not states of things but processes, more specifically, the opposite processes of thermal energy being transmitted to and from the body, respectively. I call this account the Heat Exchange Model of heat perception. Having set out the evidence in support of the proposal, I conclude by showing how it provides a new perspective on some old problems.


Heat perception Representational content of experience Phenomenal character Touch 



Versions of this paper were presented to audiences in Heraklion, Trnava, Cardiff and Bristol; my thanks to them for their comments. I am grateful to Nicholas Shackel and Matthew Ratcliffe for providing written comments on earlier drafts. Finally, my thanks go to Brian Keeley, with whom I discussed many of the ideas of the paper at an early stage, and to an anonymous referee for a series of very helpful comments at a later stage.


  1. Akins, K. (1996). Of sensory systems and the “aboutness” of mental states. Journal of Philosophy, 93(7), 337–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, D. M. (1962). Bodily sensations. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  3. Armstrong, D. M. (1963). Vesey on sensations of heat. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 41(3), 359–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. De Anima, A. (1931). In W. D. Ross (Ed.), The Works of Aristotle, Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Ho, H., & Jones, L. A. (2006). Contribution of thermal cues to material discrimination and localization. Perception & Psychophysics, 68, 118–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Johnson, K. O., Darian-Smith, I., & LaMotte, C. (1973). Peripheral determinants of temperature discrimination in man: a correlative study of cooling skin. Journal of Neurophysiology, 36, 347–370.Google Scholar
  7. Kenshalo, D. R., Decker, D., & Hamilton, A. (1967). Spatial summation on the forehead, forearm and back produced by radiant and conducted heat. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 63, 510–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kenshalo, D. R., Holmes, C. E., & Wood, P. B. (1968). Warm and cool thresholds as a function of rate of stimulus change. Perception and Psychophysics, 3, 81–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Locke, J. (1975). In: P. Nidditch (Ed.), An essay concerning human understanding. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  10. Macpherson, F. (2011). Cross-modal experiences. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 111, 429–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ratcliffe, M. (2012). What is touch? Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 90(3), 413–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Richardson, L. (2011). Bodily sensation and tactile perception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. doi:  10.1111/j.1933-1592.2011.00504.x
  13. Schepers, R. J., & Ringkamp, M. (2009). Thermoreceptors and thermosensitive afferents. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Review, 33(3), 205–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Smith, A. D. (2002). The problem of perception. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Stevens, J. C. (1991). Thermal sensitivity. In M. A. Heller & W. Schiff (Eds.), The physiology of touch. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  16. Strang, C. (1961). The sensation of heat. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 61, 239–252.Google Scholar
  17. Vesey, G. N. A. (1960). Berkeley and sensations of heat. Philosophical Review, 69(2), 201–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Vesey, G. N. A. (1963). Armstrong on sensations of heat. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 41(2), 250–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK

Personalised recommendations