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“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 issues.
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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