Thinking About Thinking: Start Thinking About What You’re Thinking!

I would suggest a new concept today. Well, kind of. Kind of an addition to an old idea, too.

Imagine what happens when you say something to someone else. If they’re paying attention, they remember what you said, and those words and ideas are, in a sense, absorbed into them. After that, all their actions after that, everything they do and say, is influenced, to some degree (however potentially incredibly small) by what they heard. And everything they say to other people becomes part of them, not only propagating their own ideas, but the influence your ideas had upon their ideas.

Thusly, everything you do and say can potentially, over time, influence any and every other person in the human species, to some degree. Ideas don’t just get propagated consciously, but eventually become subliminated to some degree in the behavior of many more individuals, perhaps to emerge without prompting, or even without the understanding of the person taking the action.

This produces a massively intricate system of human thoughts and behaviors, kind of like a cognitive ecosystem. Unlike most ecosystems, however, this one is entirely artificial, created by people, for people. Yet, in many ways, it behaves similarly.

A natural ecosystem is a robust thing, able to absorb and adapt to radical changes, though individual parts of the ecosystem may disintegrate. The components of ecosystems, however, grow more delicate the more complex your ecosystem gets. And ecosystems tend to be changed slowly, but respond to sufficient change quickly – changes will build up towards a critical mass which will start a chain reaction that, when the criteria are met, will flash through the ecosystem.

Our mental ecosystem behaves similarly in all these ways, right down to the fascinating similarities involving punctuated equilibrium phenomena. And this is an important part, as it implies that for something really big to happen in our society, it has to sufficiently suffuse itself among us, a process that basically requires us to talk with each other about it a lot, until eventually, one day, when we try to talk about it, we find that we all already agree with each other – and from there, we do something about it, all at once.

So, what does all this mean, you ask. It means that, if our minds, our culture, is like an ecosystem, then we desperately need some way to control pollution. And that control has to come from us as individuals.

It means that you should think about every word you say.

And to do that, it means you need to understand every word you say. If you’re about to say something, you need to ask yourself, “Do I know this is true, or is it just something I heard but never thought about? How do I know it’s true? What does it mean if it’s true?”

If you don’t know something is true, then don’t say it – or at least, make clear that you don’t know if it’s true. Always be able to answer the question, “But how do you know that?”, and always be willing to ask it to others.

The same applies to everything you do, too. “What’s the reason I do this? Do I know it’s a good reason? How do I know it’s a good reason?”

If you don’t have a good reason to do something, then don’t do it – or at least, do it with the understanding that you might not be doing the right thing. Always be able to answer the question, “Why do you act like that?” and always be willing to ask it to others.

It also means that we might not see the impact of what we’re doing – at least, not immediately. But thoughts and actions build up inertia, until eventually they burst, all of a sudden, into very real and very visible effects.

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2 Responses to “Thinking About Thinking: Start Thinking About What You’re Thinking!”

  1. harriedmystic Says:

    Your notion of an ecology of thoughts and words is a powerful one. There are so many things being said each day. We are bombarded with continuous messages, many of them vituperous, harsh, judgmental, critical, and half-thought-through.

    A little more thought before speaking and more attention to the ecology of the words we exchange would go along way toward curbing that part of global warming that is no doubt the result of too much verbal “hot air” tossed out without the kind of reflection about which you are arguing. Thank you.

  2. Naurgul Says:

    I agree with the notion of thinking of thoughts as an ecosystem and being responsible with what we say and do so that we get a higher signal-to-noise ratio. With that said, there’s a hidden danger in adopting this “self-debugging” behaviour: Being very conscious of one’s thoughts and actions can cause a sort-of dissociating effect. You end up separating your self from your thoughts and actions and this can be paralysing if not done with care.

    So, yes, people need to be a little conscious of their behaviour so that the thoughts ecosystem gets cleaner and clearer but at the same time it is not entirely healthy to dwell on it obsessively, since the point of thinking is having actual ideas, not just regulating their form. After a point, it becomes like looking at a written word too much: you can see only letters but no meaning.

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