Are we just simple machines? Is everything we do and feel determined by our genetics, biochemistry and past experiences. Many would have us believe so. To some the promise of the neurosciences, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, etc is sweeping us towards the possibility of becoming super humans who live forever in a state of permanent chemically-induced happiness untroubled by worries and distress.
It is true that technology is developing at an unprecedented pace and it is far from certain what limits there are to progress. However, we should remember that there is a long history of such advances being over-hyped. Things often turn out to be more complicated. Perhaps, the hype is blinding us to the fact that we are not simple machines but thinkers and thinking is far more complex than it, at first, appears.
Until technology proves we are just machines, on this site we will argue for seeing thinking not as a simple mechanical process that can be captured by algorithms however clever. Instead we will put the case for seeing thinking as something we are actively doing and which makes a difference; that thinking is at the heart of human experience. When we think we are doing many different things. We are not only making sense of the World as it is, we are also wanting, hoping and making things important. When we think we are remembering and predicting; we are setting ourselves standards and comparing ourselves to them.
“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” Auguste Rodin
All of this is the fascinating and detailed stuff that active minds are constantly engaged in. By doing these things we breathe life into our experience and animate ourselves. We colour our world. We might not notice how we do this but we have very few thoughts that don’t contain the “pigments” for our experiences. The views we take and the descriptions and narratives we use contain many detailed and subtle choices, values and judgements.
The starting point of any thinking is a choice of what to focus on. Occasionally the situation we are in grabs our attention (eg a loud noise) but most of the time our choice about what to focus on is driven by the meaning we give things; what we find interesting or important. These are personal choices that are not determined simply by the way the World is.
If we ignore this rich complexity of thinking we stand little chance of understanding ourselves or each other.
”Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius
”Fears trace a map of a society’s values; we need fear to know who we are and what we do not want to be.” Marina Warner
”Other sculptors, other statues from the same stone! Other minds, other worlds from the same monotonous and inexpressive chaos.” William James
NOTE; On this site the term ‘thinking’ will cover all the data processing we are capable of. Much of this ‘thinking’ can seem automatic. It can feel as though our experiences are simply and directly caused by the world around us; it is easy to assume we are not doing anything. However, it is helpful to see that ‘automatic’ skills like reading involve massive and complex data processing that we are doing each time we read. They seem so easy because we have practiced them so much. Once we have learned to recognise letters and words reading becomes automatic; but we only need to try reading a foreign script to get an idea of how much thinking we are doing.
Much of our thinking can seem automatic until we stop and think about it. This site will offer ideas about how thinking works to help those interested unpack their automatic thinking. It concentrates most on those areas of thinking we have more access to. These are the ones we can most easily change and which can make a difference to how we live.
The ideas on this site are not mainstream. They are within the broad area of cognitive psychology but even within that they differ in that they focus on what we can know from common experience rather than presenting the ideas as more formal ‘treatment’ techniques. Here the focus is on what we can do for ourselves; it encourages self-awareness and self-reliance.
Mainstream approaches are medical in style. They encourage us to think of ourselves as having problems and needing treatment. This is how we all tend to think until we stop to ask questions about its limitations. As a result the ideas on this site may seem difficult at first. Over many years it has become clear that some people do not like the ideas and some argue vehemently against them. On the other hand, it is just as clear that many readers find them liberating and useful. At the end of the day how useful a reader finds them comes down to them. This site can take no responsibility beyond trying to present the ideas as clearly as possible.