To think is to proceed on a subjective journey, to go to a new place. Thinking is an act of re-orientation, a leap into novelty of mental focus and direction, self-directed re-orientation in aid of growth, increase, or going farther in questioning. Getting further along can be building a personal mark on the environment from subjective impulses, or evaluating the findings from digging into history and current events. Both involve an individual’s creativity, and both involve accumulating orientation by reference to inertial non-intelligent nature as well as collective culture. Thinking is the creative gusher of impulses and orientations building a global mental synthesis by positing probable relationships among variously discovered features of the world. Thinking is progressive re-orientation by questioning, mentally opening experiences through various principles of relevance, discovering the consequences of different assumptions and possibilities.

Thinking is different from meditation in which the intent is not to get further along but rather to abide with or be with immediate experience. Thinking is more like doubting than like knowing. Thinking is not the same as talking silently to yourself, although sometimes it may take that form.

To think is to engage in some part of a cluster of subjective activities related to questioning, to notice your questioning and develop it, to be a source of questions. Thinking is a searching, holding to a principle or tree of relevance. To think is to wonder or question and sometimes to be borne by questioning to an evaluation of nature, sometimes measurements of nature, and to question differently by including findings in subsequent questioning. Questioning opens features of the world and so connects the reaching intelligence with inertial non-intelligence. Ideas are questions which create openings of the world and become vigils, and as such are ‘through the looking-glass’. An idea is a vigil, a vector of ‘listening’ sensitivity.

Thinking could include any part of an individual’s complicated subjectivity, typically “listening” for pattern building, tentative orientations, or placements from a semi-conscious dream-like process. By far the greater part of thinking is unconscious and pre-linguistic. The mechanics or habits of the process make up the visible tip of the iceberg. You “load” information, theories, and principles, the insights and observations of others, by reading and listening to people, getting things in separate bits without being judgmental too quickly. You let it work in the semi-conscious dream-engine and ‘listen’ for patterns, follow-up questions, and conclusions shot into consciousness. The “visible tip” is often a process of writing by which ideas can be developed through stating a tentative claim, collecting elaborations as well as alternative claims and contrary evidence in the most charitable interpretations, re-reading and correcting, accumulating and organizing by relevance.

Thinking can be more than problem solving. Problem identification is part of survival and creature comfort. There are irritations and hazards to survival and security too urgent for much deliberation. Subjectivity is often dominated by a sense of predicament and vigilance to overcome it. Curiosity and impulses to make a distinctive mark are often interrupted by that. Thinking is personal curiosity, appetite, and ambition evaluating, tasting, and re-making surroundings. Thinking quests after orientation-truth, science; grace (appetite gratification); self-declaration (intelligence creates voices, personae), and self-possession; all without dependence on an existing social order, although much concerned with mutual attachment. Thinking about the social and cultural context of an individual life will always involve questioning history and the legitimacy of authority and the value of the talk going around. Collective memories are often misinformed. There is a kind of mental soaring involved in getting beyond the influence of conventional or current cultural assumptions and projects.

The push of subjectivity should be upgraded as a marker of orientation. Since the perceiver projects so much selectivity and contextual placement onto sense-intuitions, the deliberate re-orientation that is called thinking has a claim to transcendence as a source of experience. Self-possession is awareness of the subjective gusher, awareness that deliberative intelligence shakes loose from the objective world by exercising freedom. (In Kant, freedom is transcendence.) Freedom does not have to be a godlike unlimited power. There can be real freedom within limits.

Copyright © 2011 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.