QA 39. Feb 2013. I am, therefore I think


“We have a duty to change our mode of thinking,” said David Harvey in a 2010 talk on the crises of capitalism, and I’ve been chanting it ever since. Recently, someone took me to task. “Do you really believe thinking changes anything?” I was astonished. (In my experience, it’s the only thing that has.) “I don’t,” he continued. “People change what they think and carry on just the same.” That set me back on my haunches.

Why do I think that thinking can change the world?

Because it made it in the first place.

Thinking – as I’m thinking of it – defines the world we live in. The world as we know it. This is what is and this is how it is. We are meaning-making creatures. We want to make sense of our experience, to comprehend and express ourselves, our situation and all our relations.

An aptitude for thought (call it “intelligence”) is innate in each person, but thinking is convivial from the first. We are introduced to the world by others. Which means: we are introduced to the others’ world (call it “education”). People speak to us; we catch their meaning and respond. Embedded in our mother tongue is a whole way of life, the way of this world. With luck, there’s enough love, coherence and consistency to grant us a place under the sun and some ground to stand upon and grow from.

From the beginning, one also thinks for oneself. I imagine this starting with discord and the surprise of separateness. There is a gap between my sensibility and yours. You don’t see as I see. I can lie to you, and be lied to. Another gap opens between me and the world when it refutes my view of it. Things are not necessarily the way I think they are. There are multiple perspectives. Mistakes are made. It’s unsettling. I am unsettled.

This sense of individuation may occur as alienation and distress or enjoyment and power. There may be a sense of discovery, of possibility. A personal sense of freedom and responsibility that has something to do with knowing, with integrity and truth. Now I feel a duty to think things through. I set off on my own way (whatever that means).

There is a natural cycle here, like seasons that arise and give way to the next. One mode of thinking nails things down so we can work with stuff and make ourselves at home. Then something happens that shakes us up with its strangeness, an interregnum our beliefs can neither comprehend nor account for. This calls for the other mode of thought, which takes us off into the unknown, opening our selves to new possibilities and other ways of life. Into which, of course, we hope to settle down…

Problems arise as we cling to a mode of thinking that constricts, appropriates and consumes our world. Intelligent as we are, we should move on.

9 thoughts on “QA 39. Feb 2013. I am, therefore I think”

  1. Of course, I acknowledge the power of practical reason. But sometimes thought gets in the way of perceptual recognition, connecting with others and with fathoming situations. That is why Zen practitioners suggest we have to put aside all concepts, all ideas, in order to allow the truth to penetrate. Cf. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Keys, e.g.

  2. “Good” thinking! (“I am, therefore I think”) How do I know this (strategy)? And is it ‘good’ (ethical)? Because I am conscious that I am conscious that I am that that I am what I will be …….. Why? Because you are …….
    (You maybe interested in this seeming goggledygook as a model for ethical change.)
    PS Please could you let me know when the next Philosophy Cafe evening is please. Thank you.

  3. From Leyland…

    Helen: Your friend has is wrong: People don’t change what they think and then go on doing the same things, they just change what they say they think. If they really changed their thinking, it would cause a kind of dissonance, or discomfort, to continue acting in the old way — It isn’t a comfortable thing to act against your own beliefs; it’s hypocritical and we know it, even if we won’t admit it.

    I always enjoy reading your articles,

  4. From Susan

    So…what about the saying that you can’t mend a situation with the same tools that created the problem? And TS Eliot’s: Wait without thought for you are not ready for thought.

    Is there another word for thinking? The term’s too heady for me…

    But nice stuff, thanks Helen.

  5. Through circulation the observer encounters the particular form of her being as an effect of her discourse. We consolidate perspective via the Symbolic. That is the beauty of the cycling of the question of being as a perspective. One sees the quest (desire) as endless and at the same time complete. There is nothing to attain and there is always the more, desire / cause, itself. It is always already met and always insatiable.

  6. From Richard:
    What is the connection between the mode of thought and the content? Is it possible to interrogate the content of one’s thought, and even change that content, and yet still think in the same mode of thinking, i.e. perceive the world in the same way, just have different ideas about it. What is the relationship between the mode of one’s thought and one’s intellect? Can one change one’s mode of thought through non-intellectual means?

  7. A thought: ‘Thinking’ is not one kind of act, but has modes: First example; I think about the way a situation had unfolded to lead to its present moment (this is an ability to retrospectively track causes, reasons, signs and sequences of action, to understand the movements of events and relations); I don’t by this change the way I think, so much as alter my understanding of someone’s behaviour, and my own and their projections around our actions. The vocab I’ve used here links thinking with tracking, understanding, awareness, sign decoding. Second example; I think I will go to town, but decide not to, because the weather has changed; this is perhaps a version of the first mode; thinking involves planning, taking factors into account in relation to actions and consequences. Third example: (a proposition) I think humans are less aware of their motivations and the implications of their actions than they think they are; I base this proposition on all kinds of recognitions, including recognising how often I am wrong where I thought I was right. Here reflective thinking has led (over time and experience) to my not assuming I or anyone else is as attentive to the whole of what their saying and doing involves and implies, and are often wrong where they think they are right. But has my thinking changed, by arriving at this proposition?
    Perhaps this exercise is merely a small entertainment that for a moment reveals how thinking is not what we think it is.
    Lastly: what is your definition of intelligence? Do emotions and conceptual thinking both involve a process of intelligence? Chas.

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