The broad contextual view is that we learn to act with respect to what objects and events afford us—what we can do with them that leads to outcomes that further change our contexts. [Now bear with me on an exploration of a new idea…]
But for humans we most especially learn to talk with respect to objects and events, although this talking is only for what people afford us when we say those things, not for the objects and events themselves since they do nothing when we speak—there are no consequences from them.
We must remember that this is one of the most common things we do in life; we see or experience something and begin talking whether or not people are present, whether out loud or not out loud; even contradictory things since we have many different and contradictory audiences. And usually we are chattering out loud (or not out loud) long before we begin to do anything with our arms or legs. And don’t get me started about the Internet!
So we have a lot of concurrent talking going on as things happen around us because we have many audiences who are important (and all our most important consequences come through people), but most of this does not get said out loud.
The many unsaid conversational snippets (both listening and saying) I call ‘thinklings’, and the usual term for this is thinking.
New idea: Most of the time when we are talking to people in front of us (or on a phone), our talking is shaped by what is strategically going on and what they are saying. I am now trying out a new idea that the events we call ‘thinking’ or ‘ruminating’ are those conversational bits and pieces but for people who are not there.
This is not meant in a spooky way, like hearing their disembodied voices when they are not there, but in the same way that we can do air guitar without an actual guitar in our hands, hit with a tennis racket when there is no ball, or a good mime. No more than that. But doing this is very useful to ‘edit’ new talk before it is said out loud, to ruminate over conversations left undone or which were conflictual, or get ideas in a situation from what someone might say if they were actually there.
So our analyses of thinking must focus on the audiences not present and their strategic roles in our lives, outcomes and consequences.
Sometimes we also think about a person with whom we are also currently in a real conversation, as that conversation is happening, but what this means is that we are having those thoughts as a conversation about this person in front of us as if to someone else.
If we are fully engaged in a conversation (or any activity) we do not ‘think’ about it at all; if we do ‘step back’ as it were during a conversation and have thoughts about the conversation or the person then this is with respect to an audience not present, not that person.
So if someone is talking bits to themselves (thinking) during a conversation about the person they are talking to or about the conversation itself, then our analysis should focus on the new, absent audiences for these thoughts, and analyzing the role of those absent persons in our social strategies and past outcomes. While a direct contextual relationship between those absent persons and the current conversation will be one possibility, there are others…
…the thinking during a conversation might also not be related to the on-going conversation or the person but this will be because that thinking (conversation with someone not there) is more important (of greater consequence) than the conversation you are having.
In a similar way, when I am giving a lecture that I know really well and can do easily, I sometimes find afterwards that I have been having conversational snippets the whole time (unconscious thoughts, thinklings) with other audiences, not necessarily about the lecture topics even… (“I was thinking about other things”)
Weird stuff, eh??
My main point is to try and develop new ways we can actually talk about ‘thinking as external to us and not internal’, in the same way we can analyse hitting a tennis ball as external contingencies. When we think, the stuff inside our skin is certainly doing things but no more or less than when we hit a tennis ball. There are no extra ‘private events’ when we think as compared to hitting a tennis ball. But we have very few ways in our everyday language (thanks to Descartes and others! 😦 ) of talking about this .