I recently had a great conversation with a new friend that took me down some old familiar “rabbit holes”
What is thinking? What thinks?
Charles Fernyhough wrote an article in Psychology Today, Aug. 2010
“Thinking is an active process intimately connected with language.”
“It seems to me that there are two common usages of the term. One holds that thinking is everything that the conscious mind does. That would include perception, mental arithmetic, remembering a phone number, or conjuring up an image of a pink unicorn. On this definition, thinking simply equates to conscious cognitive processes. I think this definition is too broad, and we make more scientific and philosophical progress if we tighten it up a bit. ”
“So my narrower definition of ‘thinking’ goes like this. Thinking is conscious and it is active. It is the kind of cognitive process that can make new connections and create meaning. It is dialogic: it has the quality of an internal conversation between different perspectives, although the ‘give-and-take’ quality of external dialogues may not always be immediately obvious. And it is linguistic: verbal for those of us who use spoken language, visual for those of us who use sign language to communicate with others and with ourselves. ”
Wow, that is a lot to process. I like the idea that makes a direct connection to language, but only if broaden “language” to “thought pictures”.
In a previous blogpost titled “Pictures Worth Words”, I scratched the surface of thinking without words. It most certainly can be done but it takes supreme effort to be good at it. My example of heading to the refrigerator to look for food is a good example of the failure of this type of thinking.
So I am still searching for the best definition, the one general definition that covers all bases.
ictnz.com is a website that has collected a number of definitions.
“I believe that thinking is, at its most simplistic, where an individual, in reaction to a range of stimuli, starts a process that modifies or strengthens their world view, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and behaviours.”
Umm, okay, good start! Still too general.
Some other definitions are:
* The process of using your mind to consider something carefully; “thinking always made him frown”; “she paused for thought” (wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn) Nope!
* Thought or thinking is a mental process which allows beings to model the world, and so to deal with it effectively according to their goals, plans, ends and desires. Concepts akin to thought are sentience, consciousness, idea, and imagination. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking) Nope!
* Thinking is an internal mental process that uses information as input, integrates that information into previous learned material and the result may be knowledge or may be nothing. Problem solving, planning, information integration, and analysis are four kinds of thinking. (home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/defin1.htm) Possible! Missing the motivation that keeps it going.
* Cognition, mental action or activity, mental viewing; see “Recognition.” (miriams-well.org/Glossary/) Nope!
* As used here, thinking refers to low-amplitude verbal operant action, generally subvocal speaking; an “inner” response or chain of responses. (members.aol.com/JohnEshleman/glossary.html)
Classic Western Philosophy
Cogito ergo sum[a] is a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am”. The phrase originally appeared in French as je pense, donc je suis in his Discourse on the Method, so as to reach a wider audience than Latin would have allowed. It appeared in Latin in his later Principles of Philosophy
Haha! Sure, throw in an ouroboros arguement for clarity. There is an even more obvious flaw. Stating that because you think, therefore you exist may be foundational, but it implies that your existence is dependent on your thinking.
The flaw is that billions of objects exist without thinking. In the great division between existence and non-existence, thinking isn’t the determinate factor. Yet, it does seem to apply to humans. We think, therefore we survive and get to say “I am”.
So how about this, “Thinking is the activity that staves off death!”. That certainly works for humans and their thought processes. It tends to work for everything that is alive. I would venture to say that no created life has a built in code to terminate their life immediately. It would be safe to say that all life uses sensors to find food, simultaneously using sensors to avoid being food. In both cases there are decisions that must be made. Decisions that are made badly are joking called, the Darwin Award. A failure to use thought that immediately causes termination of life.
There are some that would say this is low level thinking. I think this is exactly the opposite. The highest level of thinking preserves existence. Whatever it takes, in order to be able to say, “I am” .
Do all animals thinks? Do all plants think? What about fungi and viruses? Gosh, I’m of the opinion that the thoughts look different, but I do believe that there is thinking going on.
So the simplest answer to the first two questions, “What is thinking?” is “Thinking is life.” And the second question, “What thinks?” Is “Life thinks!”