I was thinking about thinking the other day. The thoughts arose from the “monkey mind” during informal meditation after being distracted by a barking neighborhood dog. My thoughts meandered into the concept of self.
There seems to be an experiencing self who lives in the moment–one who directs our actions as they are needed. That self is the part of our mind who drives a car, or eats lunch. It experiences pleasure, pain, and conversations. Then there seems to be part of the mind that remembers events of the past, keeps us awake when we’re trying to sleep, and imagines what the future may hold for us.
All of these functions take place in the mysterious state of mind we call consciousness. We would not be who we are and experience life without being able to think at a certain level.
This is probably true for all complex life forms. The neighborhood dog is probably barking out of frustration because she wants to chase a squirrel or she might be missing her human owner. More than likely, the dog is conscious of her own existance.
A couple of days ago, during a warm break in the weather, I slowly walked around my property and the vacant patch of land next door. I heard the cawing of a pair of crows. Although I’m not an ornithologist, I identified that pair of birds as regular visitors to the grove of trees that border my yard.
I’ve read several articles and watched a few videos about crows. The experts explained that crows are highly intelligent animals who have sharp memories. They are able to identify friendly and hostile humans. It is hypothesized that they remember faces. This knowledge is somehow communicated to other crows who have not encountered the friendly or hostile humans. Apparently, this knowledge is passed along to their offspring, too.
Did you notice that I used the pronoun “who” in conjunction with crows? I did so because oftentimes, crow behavior seems to be on par with that of human beings. I wonder what type of self-concept each crow feels about itself. Because crow intelligence has been compared to that of a young human child, it seems fair to use “who” instead of “that” for the sake of discussion.
It would be interesting to comprehend what a crow understands; how he recalls memories; and how he can formulate concepts of the future. These are essential elements that enable crows to outwit researchers who study the birds.
Meantime, I believe it’s a good practice to think about our personal thoughts, what we believe, our experiences, our skills, and so on. How do we solve problems? What is our level of critical thinking? How do we interpret our observations? Do we go along with group-thought because the default is easier; or can we break away from the orthodox and envision new things?
Sometimes, but not always, thinking is a creative process that involves problem-solving in real time. This “thinking on your feet”, can bring out our best results. Some of humankind’s best breakthroughs came about through this type of thinking. It is not formalized thinking about thinking, per se. Is thinking on your feet “pure” thinking? Is there such a thing? Perhaps I’m overthinking this topic.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes German-American classical political philosopher, Leo Strauss. “All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable, which makes you see something you weren’t noticing, which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.”