Obviously with a blog section called “Thought-World” I could not “get away” without having blogged something about thoughts and the thinking process itself, right?
Thought-World: The combination of mental attitudes and concepts about the world characteristic of any particular people, time, place, etc. (lexico.com)
Note: I will not share thoughts about mental impairments (physiological disorders / physical impairment and how they effecting the brain / thought processes). I have no medical background, thus not the required knowledge and insights to contribute.
In this article I will only share some philosophical, semiscientific and contemplative thoughts about thought … and think “out loud” about thinking …
“Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) – 1637 – René Descartes
Antoine Léonard Thomas “responded” in an essay (in 1765) – in honor of Descartes – rephrasing the proverb to “Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.” that translates into “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”.
Man experiences within himself what we may call thought, and in thought he can feel himself directly active, able to exercise his activity. When someone has a thought, then it is he himself who makes the thought. “Everything that is in the thought I have thought into it, and what I have not thought into it cannot be within it.”Rudolf Steiner. “Human and Cosmic Thought” (20 January 1913, Berlin)
What is thought?
Prevalent definition: Thought (“cognition“) is the ability to process information, store and retrieve memories and select appropriate responses and actions. Thought thus influences heavily how we function as beings.
Thinking is a mental process which allows beings to model the world.
Thought (clarificaltion: word-thought) was born in ancient Greece, and that as a human experience it sprang from the old way of perceiving the external world in pictures. Thought (add: word-thought) evolves further in Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; it takes certain “forms“; develops further; and then in the Middle Ages leads to doubting the existence of what are called “universals”, general concepts, and thus to so-called Nominalism, the view that universals can be no more than “names”, nothing but words.Rudolf Steiner. “Human and Cosmic Thought” (20 January 1913, Berlin)
Our 3-dimensional reality – the physical world around us – is very much “form dominated“, with many separate, strictly self-contained forms that “we” have named and with it brought into “word-ly existence”. We thus feel very familiar, comfortable with words. It is not strange that we tend to “take refuge in Nominalism”, right?
An international human right is the “Freedom of Thought” (the precursor and progenitor of the “Freedom of Expression/Speech“). Freedom of thought (also called freedom of conscience or ideas) is the freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others’ viewpoints.
The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis – that states that thought is inherently embedded in language (and thus could be limited through censorship, arrests, book burning, or propaganda) – supports the claim that an effort to limit the use of words – of language – is actually a form of restricting Freedom of Thought.
Later in this article more about the connection between Thought and Words …
SIDE-NOTE: IMAGE THINKING & WRITTEN LANGUAGES
“Image-thinking” (percieving the external world in “pictures”) that preseeded “word-thinking” is also reflected in the development of written languages. Cuneiform (or Logo-syllabic script) was the earliest writing system. Logogram (or logograph) is a written “character” that represents a word or morpheme. The written Sumerian language (image below – left: 3500 BC) is perhaps the most “iconic”. One of the most commonly know examples are Egyptian hieroglyphs (image below – right: Hieroglyphs typical of the Graeco-Roman period).
Even today we still use logograms, called “Emoticons” in our written communication. Also in advertisement “image-thinking” plays an important role (logos, e.a.), often going “hand in hand” with “word-thinking” (slogans, e.a.). And “symbology” continues to be present modern day life as well, from traffic signs to religion, but also at fraternal organisations like Freemasonry.
The Rosetta Stone is probably the most iconic archeological object, representing the “transition” from the logograph (image-thinking) written language to the letter-based alphabets (word-thinking) Ancient Greek period.
Brain Modes & Thinking Skills
Nobel prize-winning Economist Daniel Khahneman explained that our brains have two modes of thinking: the first mode that operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control and a second mode that pays more conscious attention to information presented, especially with more cerebral effort.
There are 4 types of “thinking skills”:
Convergent thinking is the process of coming up with the best answer to a question using our memory, resources around us, or logic. It generally means the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity.
Divergent thinking is the exact opposite of convergent thinking. It involves coming up with solutions, paths forward or new ideas when there is no single correct answer. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, “non-linear” manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion.
Critical thinking involves analyzing something in order to form a judgement about it.
– Deduction involve drawing conclusions based on the facts at hand.
– Induction involve drawing conclusions based on a generalization.
– Abduction involve coming to the most likely or logical conclusion based on the small amount of knowledge that you have.
Creative thinking involves thinking about a topic in unusual, unconventional and alternative ways to generate new ideas about an established topic. A creative thinker will try to address an issue from a perspective that hasn’t been used before.
It is important to keep in mind that the brain modes and thinking skills listed above are only processes. Much like what a CPU (first mode) and GPU (second mode) of a computer does. In fact, the computer is modeled much more as how we function as being then we sometimes realize.
FYI: A CPU performs basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output (I/O) operations specified by the instructions in the program*. This contrasts with external components such as main memory** and I/O circuitry, and specialized processors such as graphics processing units (GPUs). GPUs are processors specifically designed to render 3D graphics and shapes. This requires complex mathematical calculations that need to be done in parallel.
One could say that CPU = word-thinking (fast processing), and GPU = wordless (picture) thinking (slow processing).
* instructions in the program: You could compare instructions by programs with the education (schooling, parenting, et cetera) – “the programming” – you received in life.
** memory: There are 2 types of memory: primary (ROM and RAM) and secondary: information storage (Hard Drive / Fixed Disk). You could compare ROM with “instinctual / subconscious thought” and RAM with “conscious thought“. The secondary memory you could see as the storage of information, knowledge, believes, et cetera.
Classifications like “knowledge”, “wisdom”, “beliefs” and “opinions” are not synonymous to “thinking“. These are “labels” that belong to the result, the outcome of any of the thought processes.
Knowledge is information “stored”, memorized. Knowledge can always be “backed” by proof, evidence, reason. Fact (real fact, not “alternative fact” = believes/opinions) is “materialized” knowledge.
Wisdom is the in-depth understanding of knowledge.
Example: someone who studied at a medical university might have theorized and memorized everything there is to know about a medical procedure. But knowledge becomes wisdom if that same person also understands how to implement that memorized knowledge in practice (that requires “perspective”, “insights”, the ability to make sound judgments, et cetera).
Once you have “converted” knowledge into wisdom – there is one more “level”, the full “intergration” of that wisdom into your “being”. Once the wisdom is integrated – you have “become wise” – knowledge (memory) is no longer of use. You could call this level of wisdom “Cosmic Consciousness” or “Cosmoconsciousness“.
Believing on the other hand is the ILLUSION of knowing and understanding, the opposite of wisdom. One does not need to know or understand anything and could still believe. “Belief Systems” are – often self inflicted – methods to “suppress” the vexatious feeling of “not knowing” and to “pacify” that subconscious impulse to gain knowledge and learn to understand, that what makes us as beings different then most other life forms on earth.
Dogmas were/are created to control and manipulate those who do not posses wisdom – or often not even enough knowledge – and to “pacify” that human subconscious impulse/urge to gain knowledge, become wise.
Opinions are non-dogmatic forms of belief, I like to call them “brain farts“. Like belief they have not been proven factual, evidence is not required, nor is logic or reason.
Thinking about different “esoteric” words and descriptions to group these thinking skills, one could also say that “Critical Thinking” (analytical) and “Convergent Thinking” (logical) is more “headspace” based and “Creative Thinking” and “Divergent Thinking” (intuitive, unconventional, where alternative new ideas come to existence) is more “heartspace” based. You might have noticed that this way of grouping places one fast (first mode) and one slow (second mode) “thinking skill” together in each of these two groups.
In can imagine some of the visitors of Roel’s World are frowning right now and wonder:
“But wait … isn’t thinking “headspace”, not “heartspace?“
Well … yes … and no.
⚇ With “headspace” people generally mean processes related to mental, cerebral processes, “thought” (reason, logic, analysis, et cetera) with the brain as physical center (energy core).
♡ With “heartspace” people generally mean processes related to feeling (intuition, emotion, “healing power of love”, sensory experiences, et cetera) with the heart as physical center (energy / magnetic core).
The “dualistic simplification” (division) of these “spaces” ignores the “overlap” and intended interaction/synchronization between both “spaces” though.
In some “New Age” communities some people think (or wish to believe) one should “vacate” the headspace and reside in one’s heartspace only. I personally do not share such thoughts or feelings. The Dualism in Cosmology, in existence itself, sets the “nodes” for “in between motion“. Like the nodal points of a propagating wave, where in between the nodes the peaks and troughs come to expansion. And just like the poles of a magnet – or earth for that matter – both exist simultaneously (one does not exist without the other) through equilibrium. Unity in Dualism. That is how (in my “reality”) I see “heartspace” and “headspace” as wel, nodal points – with expanding fields – where in between our consciousness can “intumesce” and be “in motion”.
It is partially due to our “rigid” way of thinking (in words, definitions, theories – unambiguously defined) that we “park” our thought process in our “headspace“. Our “thinking processes” have changed over time (as Steiner shared with us). Yes, nowadays most of our thinking is highly theoretical (thought “put into words”), cerebral, but when you “go back in time“- when mankind was still more connected with nature (and the Cosmos) – thought was more “image” then “word”. Thought was a much more intuitive (“heartspace“) experience, more “free-flowing“. More about that later in this article …
I really enjoy thinking … “digging into things”, researching, analyzing … the exitement of “receiving” new insights and ideas … while simultaneously trying to create “order” within the “chaos” of my always expanding “inner world”. Developing a method to order and archive my thoughts was actually the main reason why I started blogging at Roel’s World … besides creating and (re)shaping to my own “world view”. I presume I enjoy thinking the same way as some people enjoy solving Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles. Even though “creative thinking” is something I like doing most, I try to implement all 4 “thinking skills” when I blog. In that sense I might appear a typical “headspace” person.
The only “risk” of enjoying thinking a little “too much”, is that one might end up ruminating, when “overthinking” things (“sometimes” – *grin*). One has to be “mindful” about this, ending up in a “thought loop” interrupts the “fluidity of thought”.
Not everyone enjoys thinking though … something I had not thought about before reading work by Steiner and Kahneman, thinking just seems so natural to me.
The reality is that many processes in daily life are routine-like responses. Our brains recognize certain patterns based on memories gained through experience, then subconsciously triggers a response, without “us” actively and consciously even thinking about it. The brain does so for good reason though: to reduce it’s “work load” through this method of “automation“.
If we would re-evaluate every single thing we do every time, we would not have enough time and energy to learn anything new. Thus, “automation” is an important information processing task by our brain. “Convergent thinking” is used for this “automation” process, implementing the fastest most effortless “thinking skill” one has: using memory (either conscious, subconscious or as “dual-process”). The spontaneous, free-flowing, “non-linear” manner of thinking of “Divergent thinking” could also assist in the “automation” process.
For everything we need/wish to learn and/or memorize properly, conscious thought is necessary and that requires energy, time and effort, in particular when applying “Critical and Creative thinking”. The impression I got from observations is that a lot of people don’t even come as far as using “Critical and Creative thinking” in everyday life, but simply fall back on using “Convergent thinking” (memory) and perhaps “Divergent thinking” .
Steiner shared some interesting thoughts related to people’s tendency to avoid (onerous) thinking processes:
What hinders people in the widest circles from having thoughts is that for the ordinary requirements of life they have no need to go as far as thinking; they can get along quite well with words. Most of what we call “thinking” in ordinary life is merely a flow of words: people think in words, and much more often than is generally supposed. Many people, when they ask for an explanation of something, are satisfied if the reply includes some word with a familiar ring, reminding them of this or that. They take the feeling of familiarity for an explanation and then fancy they have grasped the thought.Rudolf Steiner. “Human and Cosmic Thought” (20 January 1913, Berlin)
With being “satisfied by a reply because of it’s familiar ring“, as well as with the “automation” function, there is the risk that “Cognitive Ease” influences how “positively” (or “negatively”) we feel about something … and that in turn could have an impact on our perception of “truth” and “reality”.
According to Daniel Khahneman the Cognitive Ease principle (or “processing fluency“: the ease with which information is processed) reveals that when people have to switch between modes of thinking – causing Cognitive Strain – they tend to become more vigilant and suspicious.
That results in a decrease of confidence, trust and pleasure involved in completing the mental action.
In other words, people are happier and more receptive towards familiar and easily understandable situations in which they feel safer, more confident and at ease.
A secondary – far less “troublesome” – risk with “thinking in words” is language itself. Over time the meaning or interpretation of words could change. The following “confusion of tongues” might complicate “clear thinking” (unclouded, free from confusion or presumption).
Side-note: I think that the social polarization / segregation among all mankind is (“Ego” besides, at least partially) the result of that same “word-thinking”.
Instead of seeing each other as unique beings, “unfinished works of art” – thus undefinable still – we tend to look at each other’s (imperfect) “form” and – in our desire to “name” everything – “we” classify and/or “label” (race, nationality, culture, religion, political view, et cetera) – even judge – each other based on that “fixed” (still unvarnished) form.
Unfinished artwork (right) by Susan M. Owen
FYI: In his lecture (“Human and Cosmic Thought“) Steiner refers to “thinking in words” as “Human Thought”. Thus, “thought without words” (implicit thought, or “image-thought”) would then be “Cosmic Thought”.
In his lecture Steiner also shared some thoughts – if I understood him well – on how “thinking in words” could hinder our thought process overall as well. He explains it through an example with a triangle:
If you would be asked to draw a triangle, you probably needs to ask your questioner: “what kind of triangle?”. That is, if you wish to accurately “recreate” what the questioner has in mind/thought. After all, there are all kind of triangles, for example an acute-angled triangle, obtuse-angled triangle and a right-angled triangle. Unless you can “read” the questioner’s mind – you would simply not know if you both were thinking about the same kind of triangle. Word, name and form are in that sense equally “static” and limited.
Note: This article though is in no way! intended to proclaim using words and word-thinking is “bad” per say. Through words (and numbers, math) our existence, the world around us and the universe (in all it’s complexity) can be explained in a “universal” way.
In fact, without words I would not have written this article and you would not be reading it right now.
Using words can also be a “continuation of creation”, like in poetry, music, story telling, et cetera. Words could even appear meaning or expressing something different then they “to the letter” should. In that sense using a language creatively could give the otherwise “rigid” word-thinking a certain “flexibility” or “fluidity”.
Now, just Imagine looking at a swimming pool with at it’s bottom a triangle (any triangle, take your pick) made of light. Then, picture the water of the pool in motion. The result: the shape of the triangle appears in constant motion, constant change … still a triangle at all time, but never exactly looking the same. In “word-based” (fixed) form though an “all-encompassing” morphable / mutable triangle simply does not exists.
Everything changes if we exchange the rigid (“word-based”) thinking with more “fluid” (“implicit”) thoughts.
This is just what the philosophers have never done; they have not set their thoughts into movement. Hence they are brought to a halt at a boundary-line, and they take refuge in Nominalism.
If we are to rise from the specific thought to the general thought, we have to bring the specific thought into motion; thus thought in movement becomes the “general thought” by passing constantly from one form into another. “Form”, I say; rightly understood, this means that the whole is in movement, and each entity brought forth by the movement is a self-contained form.Rudolf Steiner. “Human and Cosmic Thought” (20 January 1913, Berlin)
Another way to visualize the difference between “word-based” (fixed) and “image-based” (fluid) thought would be dimensions. You could say that “word-based” (“Human”) thought is 3-dimensional and “image-based” (“Cosmic”) thought is 4-dimensional.
When I mention “mindful” some people might think I am talking about (in its roots) Buddhist meditation. Yes, with Mindfulness many people mean meditation, but I am writing about a “state of mind” in this case. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts (besides feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment).
Mindfulness should also necessitate acceptance. That means in essence that we pay attention to our thoughts without judging them, without believing that there’s a “right way” or “wrong way” (dualistic division) of thinking on any given moment. The thought that thoughts could be “wrong” might stagnate the free flow of the thoughts. It is perfectly fine to allow thoughts to “evolve”, even if thoughts seem odd, perhaps even unpleasant, as long as one keeps in mind that not every thought has to be given “form”. If you deny thoughts from “evolving” due to self created predetermined “boundaries”, then you “rob” yourself of valuable opportunities to grow and develop as being through “free-thinking”.
And just as important, when we practice mindfulness, our thoughts should tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment, rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future (you might like to read the “Evolution of Time” article on Roel’s World).
I think mindful “Cosmic” (implicit, fluid, 4-dimensional) thought is the “key” to rise above the “Human” (word-based, fixed, 3-dimensional) way of thinking. It might also be the “key” to a more objective understanding of reality and thus for mankind to overcome many of it’s problems.
To end my “line of thoughts” for this article with, I would like to suggest the following:
Imagine a thought to be like an unborn child, or even better, barely a fetus yet, it has only just been “sparked to life“, it has no definitive form yet.
Picture that beautiful, sparkly, “radiating” thought … free-floating within the fluidity of the womb, nourished and protected by the energy from your heartspace.
Now, just observe it – implicitly – changing form, growing, developing. No, don’t name it! … at least not until it’s “birth” … if ever.
Just let your thought “BE“.
- Human and Cosmic Thought by Rudolf Steiner (20 January 1913, Berlin)
- The 4 Types Of Critical Thinking Skills – Explained! by Chris Drew (PhD)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
- Various Wikipedia articles (linked to in this article).