Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by davidelkins, May 8, 2016.
Conundrum: Is it possible to thinking about something other than thinking?
Author: David Elkins
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Obviously. I can think about a cat, for example.
All I can think about is a white rhinoceros. Damn.
I think so.
Is it possible to think you're thinking when really you're not?
Nobody think of an elephant.
Uh uh! What did I tell you?
Curiously, I decided several decades ago to acquire the ability to consciously not think of an elephant. If it were possible.
The technique I settled on was to think instead of a telephone box, the classic red British ones. My rationale was that thinking of the telephone box was a proxy for thinking of the elephant, but while thought remained on the telephone box the elephant was excluded. If you accept that argument (and I can understand why you might not) then I was able to consciously not think of an elephant for up to two seconds.
Unable to extend the duration beyond two seconds I retired the project ten or twelve years ago. Yesterday, while reading this thread, the image of a telephone box popped into my mind and I knew that meant I was consciously not thinking of something, but it took at least eight seconds to realise it was an elephant.
I claim this as a world record!
And to those who are thinking, "I didn't realise he was crazy", you just haven't been paying close attention.
I am not thinkng about a cat, a white rhinoceros or an elephant.
At least I won't be.
In a minute.
Wait for it...
Well, I should think David Elkins (Author) should get enough material for his next (first?) book from all this.
AGH! Now I'm thinking about them again!
I think the telephone has been disconnected and so (for all the old timers in the UK) the elephant will be unable to make a trunk call.
I'm thinking about opening another beer.
No wait, that's a reflex action.
You've merely substituted labels and then forgotten the label you swapped it with.
I say that rather you were consciously thinking it but just couldn't remember what it was you were thinking, and your subconscious chucked in the thing you swapped labels with.
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You'll then realise that 8 seconds is but a blip in the ability to consciously not think of anything you were thinking of when you really just want to think about that thing you're intending to think about, and do so without thinking you're thinking of it until you realise you haven't thought about the thing you want to think about but were instead thinking about the thing you were thinking about.
At which point you remember what it was and you have to go back up the stairs and get it.
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Do you think so?
Though, as Bob Newhart in the role of Professor Proton said to Sheldon "I have to get up in two hours, urinate, then wander round the house".
I'd say 'yes'. I'm very much a philosophical realist.
But it isn't a foolish question. When we think about something, what is the object of that thought? What is its content? What does the thought refer to?
Some people might argue that when I think about an elephant, the object of my thinking isn't an elephant as a 'thing in itself', but rather my idea of an elephant, my internal representation of an elephant, what I believe an elephant to be. (Various 'social constructionist' epistemologies take off from there.)
That idea is analogous to the very common representative theories of perception. When I see a green tree, what do I see? The representationalists would argue that what I'm seeing, the content of my experience, is a mental representation. One of the arguments for that is the idea that the color green supposedly doesn't exist in physical reality, where electromagnetic waves of different frequencies reflect from molecular surfaces. The greenness of a particular range of frequencies is supposedly something that the mind adds to its internal representation, a so-called quale.
Immanuel Kant went a lot farther than that and argued that space, time, geometry, number, causation and pretty much all aspects of what we think we perceive are mental additions, the forms of all possible perception and cognition. So... when we think that we see an elephant, we really have no idea what the 'noumenon' was that caused the perception, no way of characterizing what is is like 'in itself' apart from being seen, but only know how our mind responds to it.
That kind of analysis doesn't stop with how perceptions are presented in experience, it also extends to concepts as well, to our ability to form ideas about experience.
As for me, I'm most emphatically not a Kantian.
There you go! You just had to turn a thread filled with trite remarks and gratuitous ridicule into a serious discussion. Surely that is a report-able offense.
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I think not.
I think, therefore I'm.
I'm SO I'm.
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