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What Is Thought?

As you’re sitting there thinking – do you even know what’s taking place?

Probably you don’t. Me neither. There are so few people that have really looked at thought and tried to learn about it. Yet, our thoughts are flying around in our mind 16 hours everyday in a waking state, and another 8 hours in a sleeping state every single day.

What is thought? I’m going to do my best to analyze my thoughts here and write down what they are. I’m like you, I’ve never really analyzed them in-depth. I’ve meditated before – by focusing on the breath – Vipassana style- and watched thoughts arise… link to other thoughts – and seemingly disappear.

But, I’ve not really looked AT thoughts. I’ve not tried to describe them in words verbally or online. So, let’s see what happens.

Initially my idea is that thoughts are me being creative, expressing my intelligence by linking things together to form solutions. I’m proactively directing my thoughts to different questions, areas, and trying to find answers. Isn’t that what thought is? I think so. I think thought is posing questions to myself and then my mind flies through possibilities like a computer on “search”.

As an answer becomes available I can list it alongside other possibilities or I can edit it, change it to make it a better answer to the question. Or, I can make a decision – no – it doesn’t fit at all and it goes away as a possibility.

So, that’s my initial idea of what thought is. This kind of thought occurs when I’m actively searching for an answer to some issue, some problem, some question.

Wait a second. I guess this would be just one kind of thought. Are there many?

What other types of thought are there? I guess there are a few kinds. I think dreams involve thought. My lucid dreams definitely involve thought as I’m making decisions what I want to do in the dream. I think I have thought where I can hear my voice in my head. I think I can hear other people’s voices in my head as I remember something they’ve said. I think I have visual thoughts too. Do I?

As I’m investigating this – already I realize – there are many different things going on in my mind. We have a habit of calling it all – thought. But, all thought is not the same apparently. We lump everything into the word, “thought”. It’s obvious to me already that the many things we call thought can’t all be thrown into the same word. There are many types of thought.

As I get started I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll do some observation periods followed by some writing about what I experienced. I’ll look at my thoughts and see if I can come up with something to describe them in a way that you might be able to identify with if you did the same exercise.

Are my thoughts unique? Yes, probably – but, the process – the thinking processes that go on are most likely shared by everyone – yes? Or, maybe not. Not at all sure at this point.

Did Einstein have a different way of thinking? Qualitatively, was it vastly different than our own thoughts – and, if everyone could think in the same way as he did – could we also approach his brilliance? If Einstein’s way of thinking was responsible for his great contributions to the world – is there any way we could copy them if we knew what they were?

What about Steven Hawking? Could he describe to us the way he thinks in a way that we could begin to duplicate it? Could we all become 180 IQ Wile. E. Coyote, supergeniuses? Quite possibly I think. But, lets start with this simple observation first

1st Observation. What do I see, hear, feel when I close my eyes and look at thought? (10 seconds)

OK, within 2 seconds I learned something fascinating. I heard the hammer of a guy working on some houses that are being built on the side of our villa. As the noise of the hammer striking something registered in my mind I saw a mind picture of concentric circles around the spot in my field of vision that closed in on where the noise was coming from.

A big circle filled my field of view then was replaced by a smaller one, and a smaller and successively smaller one until it focused in on the area of my field of vision the sound originated from (in this case – right in front of me since I’m facing the side wall – and where the hammer was hit about 40 meters beyond the wall). The other spots on the field of vision image above will be explained shortly.

I can tell already this is going to be an EPIC post of thousands of words. Since I could already talk volumes about what I learned in just a 10 second observation.

What is a mind picture? I don’t know myself as I haven’t studied them before today. I’ve seen them – but never tried to describe them. They aren’t really visual pictures. In this instance my eyes were closed – but, my eyeballs were facing forward. If I opened my eyelids – my eyes would be open. My eyes had not rolled back into my head as they do when I’m really relaxing or sleeping.

When I say I “saw” concentric circles in the form of a mind picture – I didn’t really see anything with my eyes. The feeling was that there were concentric circles forming – and getting smaller and smaller around the source of the hammer’s noise, but – visually – I don’t think there was anything to “see”. My mind created the circles – as a mind picture.

Or, I was experiencing the movement of the mind perhaps. Yes, that could be it – I experienced the mind moving. When the mind moves it is focusing it’s attention on something. As it does this it doesn’t correspond to any of the 5 senses that enable us to perceive it – so, a picture was created (felt) and that’s how I experienced what the mind did.

Not sure, but that makes some sense to me. I could talk for another 30 minutes, but I’m anxious to see what else I can learn about thought.

2nd Observation, 10 seconds

I saw that when the eyes are closed the mind is still aware of a visual field of view. It’s a greyish – reddish field of view. Like a half circle, flat at the bottom. When sounds are heard – whatever they are – they register on a location in that field of view.

The bird chirping on my right side at a 45 degree angle to straight in front of me registered about 45 degrees in my field of view. The mind just sort of noted that that’s where the sound was coming from. When I heard another bird, chirping more quietly the mind moved to a place just left of the first bird. So the 2nd bird chirp was coming from about 40 degrees to straight ahead.

Was that correct? Was the 2nd bird to the left of the 1st bird? Not sure, so I’ll check.

Looking out my front door where they’re both still chirping – yes it was true. The mind knew the sound of the 2nd bird was to the left of the first one. Hmm, interesting. Logically I can’t figure it out just sitting here with my eyes open, but with them closed, the mind knew.

I’ll try to do more about that later. How accurate is the mind in placing sounds with their origin?

So, I saw that the mind marks each sound in a place in the visual field of view as it occurs.

Interestingly the mind doesn’t make a picture of the bird and put it in the place of where the sound is coming from. Nor when a car goes by the main road behind me does the mind show a picture of a car.

3rd Observation, 30 seconds

I closed my eyes and there started this power saw in the construction area. It is a loud sound – cutting up wood with it’s circular blade. In my mind it’s a vibrating picture… the sound is very pulsy – on-off-on-off – very fast – and the mind marks it with an area of shaking movement in the left side field of vision. It is so loud that the mind focuses on it pretty exclusively – almost ignoring birds, cars, and hammering all going on at the same time.

At first the mind is very attentive to hear every variation in the sound of the saw. From the starting of the cut to the ending… and then, it seems the mind gets accustomed to it and wanders just a bit.

It wandered to memory. There it found a mind image of my father cutting wood with a circular saw as he was renovating some area of a house. When I was younger and my father was around, I remember helping him as he renovated whole rooms and built a game room area in our basement.

The sound of that saw reminded me of that. The mind brought it out for me to look at. For what reason? Is that the natural function of the mind, to spit back memories?

The way the mind worked when bringing up this memory was interesting… As I was listening to the sound a mental picture (real picture from memory, like a still clip from a video) formed then animated… of a circular saw cutting wood. Then more details were filled in. My dad was holding that saw. Then I saw his cigarette. Then I saw the room we were in. It’s like one memory linked to the other memories in turn…

That distinctive noise meant circular wood saw.
Circular wood saw meant dad.
Dad meant smoking.
Dad and wood saw and smoking meant a certain room that we were in when that memory was formed.

As the room came into view in my mind I opened my eyes to record what happened, not wanting to forget any detail.

So far, very interesting stuff!

4th Observation, about a minute.

A loud motorbike pulled around the road to my right. As it got louder gradually – and then VERY loud I watched as the mind became a bit disturbed. It was as if anger was going to build if it got louder than it was. Then, after the motorbike passed the saw on the left got very loud – the loudest I’ve heard it. The mind was anxious… tight. When the sound died down the tenseness went away.

Apparently there is some threshold within our minds – our ego – that, when surpassed, leads to a tenseness in the mind… the body. This tenseness then leads to anger. I felt in my chest and arms a certain tightness. Or, at least a greater awareness that chest and arms were ‘there’. It felt as a tenseness, though my muscles didn’t tighten up physically that I could feel.

I was going to make this a very long post – but, no point. I’ve learned a LOT already. Too much to really go over in depth.

I learned that when the eyes are closed and thought is observed:

1. The mind moves toward sensations of sound. Sometimes forming mind pictures or mind images that aren’t really images at all – but a movement of the mind represented by the mind as an image or series of images. Concentric circles gradually focusing down on the hammer noise was one example.
2. The mind assigns each sound a place in my field of vision – even when my eyes are closed. It knows rather precisely where to place the sounds in relation to each other.
3. A loud, vibrating, harsh, pulsy sound is seen as a shaking – a movement of the mind that keeps it moving in the area of field of vision corresponding to where it’s coming from in the environment.
4. A sound, once focused on for a time may lead the mind to search memory and find instances of that sound – or similar sound (my dad using the circular saw when i was a small boy). This may lead to other thoughts as each new memory triggers more memories either about that scene or other, related scenes.
5. Loud sounds start to affect the mind as if there is a threshold for acceptable or tolerable sound. Once that limit is approached a tenseness builds in the mind, chest and arms become more tangible – or tense, but it’s more like the mind is associating it’s own tenseness with a place in the body to feel to make it more tangible. Once it starts to be felt in the body – anger starts to arise at the loud noise. It’s too loud to be comfortable. It’s aggravating. It’s not being socially kind or fair because it’s bothering me. I can’t think how I want to, the nose is overpowering my mind’s ability to ignore it.

Pretty interesting. This will need to be a series, I couldn’t possibly sit here for the time that’s necessary and bang this whole book chapter post out. So far we’ve briefly looked at the mind with the eyes closed and auditory stimuli. There were other sensory stimuli taking place at the same time – but I didn’t write about them. Touch, taste, sound, smell… so much to investigate about how the mind works when it “thinks“.



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