3-0 Reflective Thinking
As a mere spectator, the observed billiard game takes place independently of me.
I observe the first billiard ball move towards the second in a certain direction and with a certain velocity.
I cannot tell in advance what will happen after the impact.
I must wait and then can only follow it with my eyes.
But the situation is different when I, as a player, begin to reflect on my observations of the game.
The purpose of my reflection is to form concepts of the event.
The conceptual process is dependent on me for it to take place.
I connect the concept of an elastic ball with certain other concepts of mechanics, and consider the special circumstances prevailing in this particular case.
In other words, I try to add to the game a second process which takes place in the conceptual sphere.
What do we gain by finding a conceptual counterpart to an event?
After discovering the concepts corresponding to the constellation of relationships within the event, I can predict what will happen.
There is nothing in a merely observed object or event that reveals anything about its connection to other objects and events.
This connection becomes evident only when observation is combined with thought.
Observation and thinking are the two starting points for all intellectual striving of the human being, to the extent we consciously strive intellectually.
What is accomplished by ordinary common sense, as well as the most complicated scientific research, rest on these two basic pillars of our minds.
Whatever principle we wish to establish, we must either prove that we have observed it somewhere, or we must express it in the form of clear reasoning that can be re-thought by any other thinker.
Our thought about a horse and the object "horse" are two things that exist separately for us.
As little as we can construct a concept of a horse by merely staring at it, just as little can we produce a corresponding object with mere thought.
I would now like to point out the significant difference between thinking and all other activities of the human being, as a fact that reveals itself to a truly unbiased observation.
3-1 Observation Of Thought
Whatever we experience we first become aware of through observation.
In sequence of time, observation actually precedes thought.
For even thought we first become aware of through observation.
We become aware of our experience through observation. Our experience consists of
acts of will,
dreams and fantasy imaginations,
concepts and ideas,
illusions and hallucinations,
But thought, as an object of observation, differs essentially from all other observed experience.
Thought is kindled when I observe a tree, but I do not at the same time observe my thought about the tree.
I may be aware of having thoughts in the background while I observe a tree, but this is not what is meant by the observation of thought.
There is a difference between having thoughts and observing thoughts.
Our everyday normal life is filled with observing things and events and having thoughts about them, but the observation of the thought itself is a kind of exceptional state.
If we are to study thought we must apply the same attentive observation to it that we use for the study of other objects in the world.
3-2 Formation Of Concept
How does feeling compare to thought?
A feeling of pleasure is also kindled by an observed object.
But feeling is different than thought in that I definitely know that I am active when I form a concept that relates to the object.
Real thinking must always be willed.
The point is that everything that is willed --while being willed--is completely our own activity and under our own supervision.
With feeling we remain passive.
A feeling of pleasure merely happens to me without any effort on my part.
Feeling occurs in the same way as, for example, a change is caused in an object by a stone that falls on it.
As objects of observation, then, thought and feeling are not on the same level.
I learn nothing about myself by knowing the concepts that correspond to the observed change in a pane of glass caused by a stone thrown against it.
Instead, I learn about my personality when I know the feeling that a particular event arouses in me.
3-3 Contemplation Of Object
It is part of the unique nature of thinking that it is an activity directed solely on the observed
object, and not on the thinker’s personality.
The thinker forgets thought when actually thinking.
What occupies the attention is not thought, but rather the object of thinking, which is being observed.
While I am reflecting on the object, I am absorbed in it; my attention is turned to it.
To become absorbed in the object is to contemplate by thought.
In other words, when I think, my attention is not on the thought that I am producing, but rather on the object I am thinking about.
3-4 Contemplation Of Thought
The same applies when I enter the exceptional state and contemplate my own thought.
I can never observe the present thought in which I am actually engaged.
The thought to be observed is past thought.
For this purpose it does not matter whether I observe my own earlier thoughts,
or follow the thought process of another person,
or, as in the example of the movement of billiard balls, set up an imaginary thought process.
3-5 Know Content Of Concept
We know our thought-process more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world.
Because we produce it ourselves we know the characteristic features of its course and the details of how the process takes place.
What can be discovered only indirectly in all other fields of observation, --the relevant context and the relationships between the individual objects-- is known to us directly in the case of thought.
Without going beyond the phenomena, I cannot know why my observation of thunder follows my observation of lightning,
But I know immediately from the content of the two concepts why my thought connects the concept of thunder with the concept lightning.
The point being made here does not depend on whether I have the correct concepts of lightning and thunder.
The connection between those concepts that I do have is clear to me, and is so through the concepts themselves.
3-6 Guided By Content Of Thought
This transparent clarity of the thought process is completely independent of our knowledge of the physiological basis of thought.
I am speaking here of thought as it appears when we observe our own mental activity.
How one physical process in my brain causes or influences another while I am carrying on a process of thought is irrelevant for this purpose.
What I observe in studying a thought process is not which process in my brain connects the concept lightning with the concept thunder, but my reason for bringing these two concepts into a specific relationship.
Introspection shows that in linking thought with thought I am guided by the content of my thoughts.
I am not guided by any physical processes in my brain.
In a less materialistic age than ours this remark would of course be entirely superfluous.
However, many people today find it difficult to grasp the concept of pure thinking.
This is because they try to find thought with only the ordinary observation process through the study of the brain rather than entering the exceptional state to observe their own thinking.
Today it has to be said that it is possible to talk about thought without entering the field of neuroscience.
Anyone who cannot accept that pure thinking exists has never really studied mathematics.
Pure thinking is a fact demonstrated in the inner experience of mathematics.
A mathematical thought-process is guided entirely by universal rules of reason.
3-7 Absolute Certainty
Every normally constituted person has the ability to observe thought.
The observation of thought is the most important observation that can be made.
We know how the thing we are observing comes about.
We clearly see its connections and relationships.
A firm point has been reached where with well founded hope we can seek an explanation of all other world phenomena.
The feeling of having found such a firm point caused Descartes to base the whole of human knowledge on the principle: “I think, therefore I am.”
All other things, all other events, are there independent of me.
I do not know whether they are there as truth, or illusion, or dream.
There is only one thing I know with absolute certainty, for I myself bring it to its certain existence: my thought.
3-8 Remain Within Thought
While we are observing other things it is overlooked that our thoughts intermix with world events.
I weave a web of thought around an object and go beyond my observation, and the question becomes: What right do I have to mix my thoughts in with what I observe in the world?
I have added my thought to something unfamiliar.
In what way is it possible for my thought to be related to the object?
All these questions vanish when we reflect upon thought itself.
Nothing unfamiliar is added to our thought because we remain within the realm of thought.
What hovers in the background is itself, nothing but thought.
3-9 Creating Before Knowing
Nature already exists, so to create it a second time one would have to know the principles according to which it has originated.
We have to know nature first before we can create it a second time.
By duplicating the conditions of nature’s existence we can create it again.
The only kind of Nature that one could create without previously knowing it would be a Nature that did not exist yet.
What is impossible with Nature ---creating before knowing--- we achieve with thinking.
We first create the thought.
The existence of all other objects is provided without our participation.
If we refrain from thinking until we have first gained knowledge of it, then we would never think at all.
We must resolutely think straight ahead and only afterward by introspective analysis gain knowledge of what we have done.
The thought that we first unconsciously add to the objects is different from the thought that our later analysis consciously extracts from the objects.
I do not in any way alter a horse by contemplating it in thought, but my image of the horse will be different because it depends on the quality of my sense organs and the functioning of my intelligence.
Because we are different from each other, we will all have different mental images of the same horse.
There is something that does not change when I observe it; my own thought.
I myself observe what I myself produce.
When Archimedes had discovered the lever he thought he could use it to lift the whole cosmos from its hinges, if only he could find a point that would support his instrument.
He needed a point that was self-supporting, not dependent on anything else.
In thought we have the principle of self-subsistence.
Thought can be grasped by thought itself.
The only question is whether we can understand anything else by means of thought.
3-11 Impartial Consideration Of Thought
How far it is possible to gain an explanation of things by means of thinking contemplation?
To answer this question we must first consider thought in an impartial way, without reference to either a thinking subject or conceived object.
For in subject and object we already have concepts that are formed by thought.
There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thought must be understood.
3-12 Thought Is A Fact
There are people who say we cannot determine with certainty whether our thought is right or wrong.
It would be just as intelligent to raise doubts about whether a tree is in itself right or wrong. Thought is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the correctness or falsehood of a fact.
At most I can have doubts about whether thought is correctly used, just as I can doubt whether a certain tree supplies wood suitable for the making of this or that useful object.
Our further discussion will examine to what extent the application of thought to the world is right or wrong.