“Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now, bump, bump on the back of his
head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of
coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels there really is another way, if he
only could stop and think of it.” A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin
Humans are proud of their ability to think but seldom know what thinking is.
The term “thinking” is used casually both in common speech, and in scientific
discourse, but it remains a fuzzy word that is difficult to explain. Thinking is
rooted in a deep and innate understanding of how the world works, and thought
structures are built from raw materials such as movement and language. Selftalk
is the only conscious mode of thinking and is so implicit in consciousness that
“thinkers” fail to identify selftalk as their primary mode of thinking. Thinking
is therefore story telling, a form of argument. If you want thinking to mean
something else such as processing information, solving problems, making
decisions or creating new ideas, then thinking is not a voluntary process that
occurs in consciousness.
Deep cognitive processes are about recognizing the relationships among
events, making decisions, sequencing in spacetime, and problem solving.
Nonverbal thinking is revealed in tool making, tool use, mimetic behavior,
actions and simulations. Gestures, drawings, models and constructions are all
examples of “thought processes” that are independent of language and proceed
spontaneously in the brain.
The best way to problem solve is to examine the problem closely,
talk about it, read about it, write about it, draw pictures and diagrams, make
models and then wait. Each human has a built in query system and a
problem-solver that operates in its own way, on its own schedule and delivers
solutions to consciousness when it is ready. The solution to a problem or a
creative new idea arises from an unknowable process, as a gift. Sometimes I wait
many hours or even days before I understand new information or solve a problem.
Big problems may take weeks or months to solve. New insights and paradigm shifts
may occur after many years of struggling with wrong notions.
My books consists of a long series of spontaneously arising ideas that I
record soon after they pop up in my conscious mind.. Sometimes, a new idea makes
old ideas obsolete and I have to change an entire text to accommodate the new
understanding. The process of writing requires selftalk rehearsal and constant
revision that is more or less spontaneous and evolutionary. Input from a large
number of other humans is, of course, essential to good understanding of complex
Meaningful conversation is a common method of “thinking”, but repeating
clichés, stories and case-making conversations are not recommended. I heard
Marvin Minsky, the guru of artificial intelligence at MIT, claim at a digital
arts conference many years ago, that he hated to repeat himself. Subsequently, I
heard him repeat this idea at least twice. My guess is that Minsky made this
claim numerous times over several decades.
Life is a repetitive affair and most humans copy and repeat what they and
others say and do with little or no modification over a lifetime. Minsky’s
aversion was to humans who repeat themselves mindlessly and tediously and who
annoy or obstruct smarter, more progressive humans who are interested in
continuous learning and evolving understanding.
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the Human Brain, is a physician-writer who is good at making complex subjects more
understandable. This is a book with important ideas, so be prepared to read
and then keep the book as reference.
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Further reading: Neuroscience Notes, Intelligence and
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