Some thoughts on thought follow. The way of viewing thoughts here is not identical with discussing the different functions of parts of the intellectual center, nor is it identical with the idea of true vs. false personality. I'll try to be more clear as we go on, but if in the following you read something that seems to contradict the basic "Psychology", pursue it a little further—different maps show different things.
We think in one of three possible modes: "pathological", "logical", or "psychological".
Pathological thought does not see itself, cannot see itself, and cannot see other types of thought.
The term "pathological" is used to designate thinking that is imbalanced by emotion. The emotion in pathological thinking is not necessarily "negative", although, say, anger or jealously are probably the most obvious examples of emotions that disturb thought. More apparently positive emotions such as "hope" can also influence thought and direct it to such an extent that they subvert the progression of a thought and lead to desired rather than reasonable conclusions. Pathological thought is well illustrated by a recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study in which members of two different political parties were presented with the same ideological message and yet reached opposite conclusions. The MRI results indicated parts of the brain corresponding to emotion were activated instead of reasoning parts of the brain. But I should hope we can see this without the need of an MRI.
But certainly, pathological thinking is most obvious when it is mixed with a negative emotion, say anger, and is expressed vehemently, rapidly, and with, perhaps, intent to injure. If one listens patiently to a pathological tirade and does not respond in kind, it often forces a self-awareness which may derail the momentum of the speaker, leading to a more reasoned discussion. (A perceived smug silence, however, may enrage it further.) A thoughtful unemotional response may prove far more effective in bringing the discussion into the light of reason and thereby transform pathological thought, which can only exist in the darkness of no self-awareness.
It should be recognized that the words spoken by pathological thinking do not mean what they say, that is, the words do not stand for their ordinary and simple meaning but rather serve an underlying emotion which may even be exactly the opposite of what is said. This can lead to endless confusion unless the difference between intent and verbiage is recognized. (This confusion is not necessarily only in discussion, but can also occur within us, when we are thinking about some situation. It is just more easily seen in another person, hence in conversation). If we listen to our own inflections when speaking, and the inflections of others, we may begin to recognize certain tones, also a certain speed and other characteristics that accompany the expression of pathological thought.
We are all subject to all three types of thought. We think we are not subject to, or only rarely subject to, pathological thought, but that is only because by its nature it is not observed. Pathological thought does not see itself. But why is it not seen when someone points it out to us? Maybe because often that person has ulterior motives in pointing it out, for example they are mad at us, and what we see instead of our pathological thought is their pathological thought and we wonder that they cannot see it.
It is possible, if working with a group of people who know about pathological thought, to be shown moments when we are in it. And to show them when they are in it. This requires a certain finesse by the person showing us, requires a common group aim that overrides personal discomfort, and may be aided by choosing a term with a less disturbing connotation than "pathological". (I use it here to make clear the relationship with the two other types of thought to be discussed.)
The emotions mixed in pathological thought are the goal of that thought. The purpose of pathological thought is to justify and express those emotions. The purpose is not to think, but to use thought as a tool for ends that it is not designed for. Thought, used by the emotions.
At its worst, pathological thinking steals energy from the sex center and leads to a variety of personal and social difficulties. We would do well to be wary of it.
Logical thinking is not as common as it might seem at first glance. In general, we think logically only when we are presented with some new difficulty. For example, if we were to answer the question 'What is two plus two?' with 'four', quite probably we did not think logically, we did not think at all—we simply retrieved a pre-established response when we were asked. We may at one time have had to work that out with logic—find an example of two things and added two more things to them and see that we consistently arrived at four, or we may simply have memorized some addition table like a parrot at school; at any rate, the answer is now automatic and logical thinking is not required to supply it. There is nothing wrong with this—we surely don't want to have to work out two plus two every time it comes up, as the answer doesn't change, only we should not confuse automatic retrieval of stored information with logical thinking.
Logical thinking is a process that requires some attention to be directed to each step of the process. When a step is skipped, it has been filled by some assumption, desire, fantasy; but each step in which logic is applied requires an effort of attention.
Logic is like finding one's way through a maze, a maze whose end is the same regardless of the hopes and fears of the person negotiating it. A particular turn is objectively right or wrong, that is, it leads more quickly to progress toward the end or it doesn't. And the end is pre-determined, fixed, and immutable. The end is also unknown, or there would be no point in pursuing the thought to find it, unless one were interested in the steps, say, to design a computer program. What logical thought cannot do is pursue an initial intent other than the intention to follow its course to wherever it leads.
Computers follow logical thought, and may be capable of piecing together pieces of logical thought to create new pathways, but that is as close as they can come to thought, having no attention. They are incapable of intending it, just as they are incapable of pathological or psychological thought.
Logical thought lacks scale, lacks hierarchical ordering by quality. It can only compare like things quantitatively and then apply pre-established rules to produce a result or decision. It is a powerful tool in its sphere, but its sphere is limited and completely uncreative.
Psychological thought must see itself, and can also see logical and pathological thought.
Psychological thinking is self-evaluating—it progresses by reflection. It has as a goal understanding, and evaluates each step in light of that goal.
A sort of quintessential goal of psychological thought might be the understanding of psychological thought. A more commonplace goal might be understanding a personal relationship. Let us take the latter as an example of how to think psychologically:
I wish to understand why I am upset by R.
Why do I wish to understand this?
Because I am having difficulty in my relationship with R.
I wish to understand the causes of my difficulty with R.
I want to work productively with R, and this difficulty is inhibiting my work.
Why, what exactly inhibits my work?
R has information I need to draw on and yet I so dislike our interaction that I do not draw on this information as often as I need to.
And so on. So already there is progress in psychological thinking. By reflecting on each statement, asking 'why?' at each step, I arrive at a more succinct understanding of the nature of the difficulty.
The example sounds not unlike the typical description of the therapist responding to someone on the couch. In one sense, it is not unlike that, this is after all psychology. But in many ways it is very different. First of all, the questioner has access to the subject's very thought and feelings directly. That is, I watch myself formulate my wish, I watch myself pursue it. And I tailor the questions by keeping in mind—really in feeling—what it is I wish to accomplish or discover. This requires active reasoning and divided attention. We have to watch our feelings as much as our thoughts, watch them interact and influence each other. Keep to the aim and yet learn from the deviations, and we often learn the problem was not exactly as expressed but coming from somewhere else.
Of course, psychological thought goes well beyond the possibilities of this poor essay. Thought, conscious of itself, becomes emotional, applies logic objectively, and so on. But we need to harness a finer energy to proceed.
All pages © Copyright John Raithel