What is thinking? There are complexities but in the simplest way:
- Thinking is made up of (bits of) all the conversations we have learned with which we respond to and engage with people for resources in our life
- Thinking differs from conversation in that (1) it is not said, and (2) because of this, it does not get shaped by other people when it occurs
- Why it does not get said out loud is also part of the analysis of thinking, since our contexts determine why some conversational bits are said out loud and not other bits (see below)
- Thinking does not arise from any inner ‘self’ but from the external contexts in which we are embedded in our live
Why is language use different from all the other responses we learn in life?
The main things that make thinking different arise because we over-learn and over-use language as a way of doing things in this world (language does things to people so that they do something rather than us). We spend 15-20 years of intensive language learning and then use it almost 24/7 for the rest of our life (much, much more time than playing football, for example). Also, because of the nature of language, we can talk about anything, anytime, and anywhere. So, if we are ever stuck for a response, we can always talk. You should be able to notice this around you …
How and why is thinking different in form to conversation and other discourses?
- Thinking appears different partly because those bits of conversation making up thinking are real but are not said out loud
- More importantly, because these conversations are not said out loud they are not shaped by other people, initially at least (we might say them later and get consequences)
- Because no people are shaping these conversations, they will be shortened, appearing as fragments or snippets rather than whole sentences (like a child’s ‘telegraphic speech’)
- Grammar is completely shaped by people for ease of hearing and fast responding, so thinking is not shaped into regular or patterned forms of grammar necessarily. So, thinking appears different in this way; fragments and not in patterns or well-formulated sentences and paragraphs
- Because no people are shaping these conversations, the discursive forms of logic, progression, structure and ‘making sense’ are also not shaped and so thinking can become ‘disordered’ and irregular compared to speaking conversations to a real person
- Many of the phrases and parts of sentences during real conversations which are normally about regulating the social relationships, such as hedging to mitigate bad reactions from your listener, become left out in thinking because they are no longer shaped. This means that thinking can appear as bland or boring segments or phrases, but can also go to extreme versions without the hedging which would be used normally with a real face-to-face person
- The other ‘social relationship’ parts of conversation, such as politeness and other strategies, are also not maintained so they potentially disappear and your thinking is not as ‘polite’ as your normal conversation
Why do the ‘thinking conversational bits’ not get said out loud?
- We only have one mouth so even if there are five things we might say (responding with language is over-learned remember), we can only say one at a time. If we had three mouths each we could produce three of these language responses at once rather than one (scary thought in itself)
- In real conversation there is not time to say more than one thing even if we had three mouths
- It makes boring conversation if you try to fit in too much so your listener does not get a chance to respond as well. Despite this, some people literally interrupt themselves saying one conversational bit in order to say other bits they have over-learned
- As part of hedging or maintaining the relationship during normal conversation, some conversational parts have been punished in the past so we are less likely to say them out loud. But the responding is still there in context. Freud gives examples of this and calls some of these “repression”. We do not ‘decide’ to keep them secret, they have been punished in our past contexts so they no longer get said
- Finally, some people do in fact keep up a constant blather of talking regardless of what the audience might be doing (prolix; sort of like ‘stream of consciousness’ in literature and William James)
What do we think about and what are the conversational equivalents?
- Taking it this way, what we think about is the same as what we talk about, except for the differences noted above
- There is thinking similar to “topical talk” which comments on things in your immediate surroundings, but as said above, the ones mainly directly at politeness and social relationship maintenance (such as talking about the weather), probably disappear mostly in thinking. But things and events in the immediate context get ‘thought’ (that is, we respond with language but not out loud)
- The main contextual features of your life which make up your normal conversations are also key parts of thinking: resources needed, social relationships and regulating these, economics, cultural patterns not shared with others, historical events, and opportunities
- The above is especially so for bad events and situations, and social conflicts over resourcing and relationships are prevalent and repetitive (forming anxiety in the extreme, rumination)
- Conversational snippets and topics which are normally punished will probably form a sizable portion of thinking conversational snippets. This fits with ideas that we think about sex a lot but do not talk about it so much (this pattern though is buried in our language and past contexts, not buried in our hormones)