How often do you think you think?
Don’t worry, the whole article is not gonna be some stupid tongue twister, my aim is, as a matter of fact, that the article won’t be stupid at all, but all the opposite.
So it’s a serious question, I’d like to invite you to stop for a moment and let it sink in, try to come up with an answer.
Now, perhaps this is not you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of people presented with this question wouldn’t hesitate much in saying: “well, every day, I think every day at every hour, it’s just something I have to do”, and I believe 90% of the people would be wrong.
Yes, it is true, that human beings are conscious and self-aware; moreover, we’re capable of abstraction and pondering ideas and concepts that don’t necessarily have an immediate material manifestation. By exercising these capabilities daily, we’re able to work, obtain what we need, and make decisions; but this is not the kind of “thinking” I’m asking about.
Since I wouldn’t like to start a language controversy over the semantics of the word “thought”, I will define what it is for me, and let’s just use it as a convention throughout the articles in this new section so that we avoid getting into the weeds with petty discussions. To think is to intentionally engage in the construction of an idea or concept, through the resolution of one or several problems or inquiries.
Now the word “construction” is key here because thinking is not the same as learning and not the same as deciding or acting. Thinking is creative, it deals with asking questions and seeking to resolve the problems posed by those questions, thus creating something new; that something new could range from something like forming a personal opinion about a subject, or resolving a lack of understanding you had concerning a specific topic by arriving at your own conclusions (not merely adopting those of others as communicated through books or media), up to actually creating a more complex project, idea or invention as the result of the consecutive resolution of problems or inquiries.
Why is this important?
I hope you’re asking yourself this question, it means you’re thinking. So to avoid taking that privilege away from you, I will not answer this question for you, rather, I will tell you some of my own thoughts about the subject:
- Kids are more likely to think frequently than adults: There’s a quality in kids which naturally makes them think frequently, a rather incomplete picture of life and the world. We’ve all been kids and we’ve all been exposed to the fact others are making decisions for us, telling us what’s right and wrong; when we’re little kids that typically leads to that annoying “why” stage where we need an explanation for everything, and once given, the new statement just leads to more questions and the cycle repeats. When we’re growing up and are pre-teens or teens that leads to what adults typically call “rebellion”; so it’s a deeper questioning of our surroundings, of our parents who become the cause of much distress and disagreement, yet remain to be the people providing stability and opportunity (terrible exceptions exist, I’m talking about how things should be); teens feel frustrated and sometimes deceived, the world is not as they parents told them and their body chemistry push them to discover it by themselves. Both kids and teens have in common that they’re aware they don’t have the full picture, they haven’t experienced living by their own means and fully being responsible for their needs and actions and they have the figure of adults who somehow seem to shelter them and provide them the knowledge they need (kids) or hide things from them and limit their wild exploration (teens), I believe teens from healthy families can actually experience a blend of the two since I’m not implying a teen would always hate their parents, they’re just naturally inclined to defy and question what’s established.
- Why are adults gradually losing their habit of thinking?: I’m formulating this as a question on purpose, I don’t claim to have the full answer, but I do believe this to be true, and increasingly in this day and age. It’s difficult not to incur in “common places” while analyzing this, and summon concepts such as “the system” but take it with a grain of salt if you must; I do believe much of the industrial and technological age mankind is living in detachment from the natural challenges of our species. We’re educated to be a part of an order that’s externally imposed, somehow already figured out by our ancestors and illuminated bringers of civilization, people who evolved from tribal and barbaric times of unheard cruelty, health issues, lack of opportunity, and hardships unthinkable to the typical smartphone-bearer of our time, to bring forth a brave new world of cities, electricity, medicine, transportation, human rights and a life which, while not without its own challenges, can be demonstrated to be more comfortable and welcoming to the human race than in previous centuries. If you think this is sarcasm, you’re wrong, it’s not (ok some parts are just mocking the idealistic depiction presented in the mainstream, but for the most part there’s data that demonstrates the average human is doing a lot better!). That’s the interesting part, if I take a look at the historical account of what previous centuries looked like for humans, I’m grateful to be born in 1986 from a working-class family, in most past ages that condition would have doomed me to early death or having to take a way more violent path to achieve something in my life.
- But you’re not answering the previous bullet point!: I told you I don’t claim to have the full answer, but here’s an attempt: if we enter adulthood with a relatively decent job, or career and are able to make a relatively decent standard of living by ourselves it’s indeed possible that a false realization of “completeness” or at least being close to getting the “full picture” of things will come rather early to us. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about a “Maslow pyramid” having its foundations prebuilt for a lot of people, and by no means am I saying this will be enough, as a matter of fact, the price to pay for this is an unnatural void and anxiety that begins to cause social phenomena unseen before the advent of this more comfortable age of mankind. The fact that there are places in the world in which people still gather and hunt their food, don’t have access to what we consider “basic utilities” and that the degree of “civilization” we’re talking about here is not entirely universal yet, allows for contrasting and deriving certain concepts; like that of a system. We tend to judge such populations and villages and societies as primitive, disorganized, and backward, and if we look at it through the lens of what our education programs teach us, they are. But each of these individuals in a village is key to the survival of the group and they know themselves to be; failure to spot a predator, to remove poisonous elements from the food or crops will do huge damage to the whole group. The same cannot be said in the huge city, where adding or removing an individual seems of no consequence, pointless.
- You’re still not answering and now started talking about civilization: I’m sorry, bear with me and it will come together. Back to losing the habit of thinking and its relationship to adulthood: once you feel you got the basics right, you’re able to provide for yourself and maybe even a family, you’re safe in your job, have a place to rest and no immediate threats to your life (that you’re aware of), it’s easy to let your guard down; it seems that somehow this is life and it’s kind of OK no need to further complicate things. And by the way, I think this can happen in our industrial/technological society as much as in the primitive one, let’s not idealize either!
Whereas we may have a false feeling of:
“I figured it out: study, get a job, advance in the job to get more shiny things, shiny things get me perks others don’t have “hurray me!”, maybe built a family (dogs possibly nowadays), maybe build a business (entrepreneurial types), maybe grow old and retire in comfort, maybe I don’t even think that much in any of this shit and just follow the script…”
Maybe in the village, they have something like:
“It is the way the elders taught us: nature will provide the hints and opportunities, we need to seize them. We need to read the rain, the sky, and the forest and we will be prepared, we need to respect the forces of nature, the prey and predator equally and be like the tree that takes from the earth what it needs and provides fruit and shelter to the other beings in exchange. This is what I need to teach my children, we need to breed children who understand these things, and the people will continue to inhabit this land that should be our blanket when we join our ancestors”.
But the truth is, neither the city person nor the village person is entirely right; there are more things, and when you prioritize your anxiety for understanding and completing the picture, over that inner feeling screaming at you that there are missing parts of the puzzle, that’s where you begin to think less and less frequently.
An artificial conclusion
I must, at this stage finish this post, simply because I’m tired and need to refresh before continuing with this topic. So this is an artificial conclusion for the time being, but I want to leave you with an idea: “the more is resolved on our behalf, the less we’re challenged with immediate, tangible problems, and the more our problems and concerns become of a cultural nature (borrowing from Maslow, at the top of the pyramid are aesthetic needs, self-image needs, transcendence needs and those needs that are more concerned with meaning other than with survival, security or quality of life), the less we individually develop our own ideas”.
Now, as I said before, I think this age of advancement and wider access to basic services and solving basic needs is a great place to be, but I don’t see that most humans who are in this position are living up to the possibilities that such a privilege should provide. Why is this? Why is it that instead of becoming more advanced thinkers, we’re neglecting thought and replacing it with something else?
I’ll leave this for you to think about, if you do, I would have accomplished a lot today and I will be very comfortable in my current pyramid position.