THINKING ABOUT THINKING
Thinking is inherent in human life - knowing that we are living
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
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
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
- 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.