Monday, February 7, 2011

Thinking And Non Thinking

Whoever he may be, and wherever he may be placed, the man who thinks becomes a light and a power.

Henry George
Do we really think? Or do we just think we're thinking. Do we think that what we think we're thinking is really thinking? Try saying that three times fast.

Physicists tell us that the mere act of observing a phenomenon will cause it to alter its behavior. Is it also true about our thinking? A good actor will be thinking his character's thoughts while at the same time thinking his own. It's a tricky juggling act particularly if observing his thoughts will change them, which they often do.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote a book, which was a series of lectures entitled "What Is Called Thinking?" In it he writes "What is most thought provoking, is this - that we are still not thinking."

That brings up the previous question. Do we think we are thinking when in fact we are not? And why not? Is it due solely to our ignorance of what thinking is, or is there something about thinking itself that prevents itself? As absurd as it may seem, is it possible that the act of thinking about thinking will prevent us from thinking? That is one of the Rubik's cubes of existentialism. What does a bubble look like from the inside?

Some clever artists have designed pieces that present the same paradox. i remember one that was set up at the front of a building in New York. It was a tunnel which a spectator could walk through. From the outside it had unmistakable transparent plastic walls which ran from top to bottom as a normal wall, But when people were in the tunnel they were clearly putting their hands through the wall. I entered and found that the walls were in fact curved out so that they were impossible to touch. It was an illusion but it told a story about how we look at things and hence how we think about them. One wanted to enter the tunnel and touch the wall, but the wall prevented being touched.

Heidegger also wrote "What must be thought about, turns away from man. It withdraws from him. But how can we have the least knowledge of something that withdraws from the beginning, how can we even give it a name?"

What an illusive thing is thinking? There are many different was to think, or to think we are thinking. There is letting the mind wander, which is not really thinking. I have a quote somewhere that says the reason why people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory. There is rampant imagination, which is close to letting the mind wander, but which sometimes leads into dark and gnarly trails in the jungle. There is structured imagination such as an artist or designer will use. But the end of that is not thinking, but some sort of product. There is the thinking that is the pondering over someone else's thoughts, such as I am doing right now. Reason is a good use of one's mind but is it genuine thinking? Lastly, and most rare, is original, inspired thinking. That is thinking that has no rules and whose results are the most illusive of all. But if the more we think the more thinking withdraws from us how will we ever know not only how to think but what thinking itself really is.

The possible answer Heidegger provides is to see the withdrawing of thinking from the thinking man as also a "drawing with" or a pointing towards. We pursue real thinking and its meaning in our lives because we need to. The physicist may never catch up with the object's changes as he observes it. But will we ever catch up to true immutable thinking? I don't know. But I'm thinking about it.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

(This is not a contest)

What was the most significant event that happened in 2010?

Only 6 responses so far

I await your answer.


pacifica62 said...

That tunnel sounds fascinating. I would like to see something like that. I do not know what kind of thinking I do, nor do I know if I ever do any original thinking. From what you have written, I would say that I "think" that I am thinking. I know I let my mind wander here and there and all around and sometimes I even get lost in thought. Thinking sounds like hard work.

Rose said...


I have to admit, my mind wanders often...........I also let too many things rent space in my my mind is very busy at times! LOL

I try hard to keep my mind focused on the current instead of the past or future!

pacifica62 said...

Rose, I love this --"I also let too many things rent space in my head". Priceless.

Rose said...


I guess we all do that and I know that is what causes my insomnia!

pacifica62 said...

Sadly, mine too at times. I will look at it differently now knowing that I am renting space. I will be a little more careful in choosing the tenants. Thanks, Rose.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Is this entry thought provoking or not? I find that shower time and drive time are when I do my free form thinking and/or contemplating.