Part One: What Is Thinking?
So our journey begins here, where we attempt to answer the question: “What the heck is this thinking thing all about anyways?” Is it possible to pinpoint it?
Off In Lala Land
Sometimes while driving I zone out and let my thoughts drift. Every once in a while I will catch myself thinking about the strangest things.
This happens often. You’re sitting in Economics 101 and find yourself thinking about how hot dogs have a particular shape that fits perfectly in those new buns you bought, while having no idea how you ended up at this point.
It’s like some 6-hour Youtube expedition where you find yourself thinking, “I was looking for new music by Katy Perry and ended up spending 5 1/2 hours watching videos of cute dogs?”
This is the base nature of thinking; this jump from one thing to the next.
In daydreaming, it’s when our minds ride whatever wave takes them. Random things in our experience set our thoughts on their own journey, like some sick version of Youtube where the related videos are automatically clicked, and there is no stop button.
A Wandering Mind A Useless Mind?
Our thoughts take to flight more often than we would like and also more often than we think.
In fact, that number could be up to 47% of the time.
I highly doubt you even got to this part of the page without getting lost in your own stories of strange Youtube visits which activated memories of good times with friends, reminding you of your good friend Bob who moved away 2 years ago and you never saw ag……
See? Once you notice your mind-wanderings, you will see how frequent they can be.
Is this bad? Should you be worried?
Well, a good safe answer to this question, like most other questions is a big Sometimes.
This wandering of your mind may be what is necessary to creatively come up with new ideas or solutions to new problems. As you are sitting in class the teacher says something that piques your curiosity and you dwell on it. The teacher has moved on with the course but your mind has set sail on the sea of electric impulse.
You’re brain actually works hard to daydream. It takes energy to come up with those crazy ideas. But while most go nowhere, sometimes there is that one that makes up for it. You think of some new connection that others in the room, even your teacher, may have missed.
That lightbulb switches on. You shout “Eureka!” just like the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes, although maybe you don’t strip naked in the classroom and run through the quad just to, ya know, make the likeness that much more exact.
Your mind wandering allowed you to make a connection that meant something by solving some important problem.
If you only ever paid attention to how you thought things were connected you would never make that leap. That is why it is so useful to converse ideas with a friend; their connections are largely different and might make you realize something your own bias was blocking. However, letting your mind wander instead of calling your friend because you realized that there was no toilet paper after you went to the bathroom seems like a much less embarrassing way of solving the problem.
Letting your mind wander is useful, but you have to know when to let it do so. During a test? Maybe, if it is an essay heavy one in which good ideas can help you along. However, a wandering mind ignores what is going on around it, so take that into consideration my friend.
I Suggest, Therefore I Think
Daydreams out the way, now we take a look at the problem solving function of thinking. The human mind is unarguably the greatest problem solver on this planet. We have created things like automobiles, music, and hit TV shows like Jersey Shore.
These inventions have come about to solve different problems, whether superficial or deeply significant. From transportation to comfort and entertainment. And while they all had differing motivations and passions, the one thing that was behind all of these things was the power of thought.
What was the process involved though?
(1) It starts with some problem, curiosity, or divergence from expectation. It takes a problem to shake us from our daily habit and force us to think. While driving a vehicle, we don’t really pay attention to the engine until something strange happens. The car rattles, the engine makes a clanking noise, or we see smoke. Something unexpected happens which draws our attention.
(2) Our mind, based on the stimulus provided, and in accordance with similar past experiences, offers us an explanation, a suggestion. You may think the transmission is acting up, or your engine is overheating. Based on your background this initial suggestion may be something of value or it may be guesswork. In any case, it is an attempt to solve the problem.
This initial suggestion, to the philosopher John Dewey, is the central factor in all of intellectual thinking:
The function by which one things signifies another, and thereby leads us to consider how far one may be regarded as warrant or belief in the other, is, then, the central factor in all reflective or distinctively intellectual thinking.
A disheveled home signifies theft. Certain gestures from a loved one indicates sadness. A crazy looking guy with a knife points to maybe you should be running.
(3) If your suggestion is right, that may be as far as your thinking goes. You solve the problem and move on to the next. However, sometimes your initial response just ain’t enough. Either you weren’t paying attention to some key point or your past experience was not enough to produce a correct suggestion.
You need to do more, which is to reflect upon the situation. Turn the evidence over and inquire more closely into the situation.
(4) Your beliefs or perspective must be expanded in order to solve the problem. You need to be educated on the matter. Without doing so that particular problem becomes a wall, impassible and un-climbable.
What is thinking? Well, technically, its every damn thing that goes through your head. More specifically, it is that process by which things signify other things in order to either (1)continue some fleeting daydream, or (2) attempt to solve some problem, curiosity, or interest.
Stealing some more lines from Dewey, the second aspect of thinking is “that operation by which present facts suggest other facts (or truths) in such a way as to induce belief in the latter upon the ground or warrant of the former.”
In other words, the evidence you receive leads you to form a belief about what is going on.
While a seemingly easy explanation, there is much more to it. There are many possible pitfalls to fall into, so let’s get into it and explain them.
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