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DEUTSCH 

AN EXPERIMENT IN THINKING ABOUT THINKING

THINKING ABOUT THINKING

Thinking is inherent in human life - knowing that we are living implies thinking.

Research on thinking and related topics is carried out in a large number of scientific disciplines. Thinking about thinking goes on - explicitly or implicitly - in all cultures of the world. Important insights have been gained in all these efforts. Books and articles abound.

When one juxtaposes these writings one is baffled that the interpretations of what thinking is and of what goes on when human beings think are widely divergent.

We want to understand

  • how we think and
  • how the ways we think influence our lives.

Thus, we have decided to start this experiment and to invite you to take part in our effort.

Notions about thinking

Different cultures and the various disciplines have developed different ways and patterns of thinking about thinking and are using words to talk about it. Complex notions are linked to these words.

Most of these notions "contain an important part of truth" (Werner Heisenberg's formulation). But they do not fit together. And together they do not present us with a coherent picture of how thinking works.

We feel that the notions used to think about thinking in different cultures and disciplines need to be put to the test - as seriously and systematically as science questions our everyday notions in every field.

Fields in focus

In the Preface to his Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein says: »[...] the very nature of the investigation [...] compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction.«

In our case, this wide field includes

  • how inputs received by human beings from their surroundings are transformed and processed so that they contribute to the manyfold processes which we group under the label >thinking<
  • how human beings deal mentally with the world and with themselves
  • how human beings learn, form opinions and develop values/valuations
  • how human beings can communicate with each other

HOW we think WHAT we think

How human beings conceive of the world and of themselves influences everything they do. It also influences what they think. In other words: HOW we think influences WHAT we think.

A large part of that HOW seems to result from drawing upon familiar thinking patterns when human beings try to understand what they are confronted with.

It seems to us that some of the fallacies in thinking about thinking, passed on over the centuries, may be found among such thinking patterns we are all too well accustomed to. Some of these thinking patterns which have become part and parcel of thinking about thinking and often dominate it will have to be considered in detail.

Wherever it can be established that they are misleading we shall try - in the course of this experiment - to developed alternatives .

 

PROVISIONAL OVERALL APPROACH OF THE EXPERIMENT

In what follows we pinpoint some such alternative thinking patterns which we have - provisionally - adopted as overall approach for the sake of this experiment.

Thinking is Processes

  • Life - human beings - thinking - are all processes.
  • Each and every process is unique.
  • Thinking processes change the structures involved.
  • There are no >objects of thought< - only processes of thinking.

Thinking - in the widest sense of the word

For purposes of the present experiment the word "thinking" is used in a very wide sense including, inter alia,

  • anything we become aware of - whether through the senses or in the course of imagining or reflection
  • conscious and non-conscious processes
  • incidental and intentional processes
  • verbal und non-verbal thinking
  • experiencing - learning - knowing

We have adopted this usage, inter alia, for the following reasons:

  • In everyday language the word "thinking" already covers a much wider spectrum of phenomena than in its accepted use in science or philosophy.
  • Thinking processes are extremely complex. They involve numerous interactions both at any one moment (in parallel) and over the lenght of the relevant sequences. If cut into pieces it is no longer the same process.
  • Using the word "thinking" in a narrower sense would exclude many of the processes (or large portions thereof), the results of which we are trying to understand.
  • Using separate words would suggest that we are talking of separate and unconnected processes or even of >objects< - the uses of the words "experience" and "knowledge" are a case in point.

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