Thinking Things of Thinking Thoughts

Happy Tuesday! Or whatever day you are reading this.

For the past two weeks I have been racking my brain on how I should write this post. For one, there are so many angles from which to write: the angle of fragmented thinking, education, or a mixture of neuroscience and neurophilosophy. Yet, in the end, I have decided to write this post from a much more basic framework and focus on thinking’s importance.

Thinking. It’s something we all do whether we are aware of it or not. We spend our days thinking about what’s next, what’s the correct answer on the test, or does this person feel the same way I do. Thinking gets at the very core of the human person. Our minds are where our feelings, thoughts, and most transparent ideas are located. But, why do we think so much? Or even at all?

I think the answer has ties in different areas, but they all seem to lead to the same place. We think because we are thinking beings…. Great, but what does that even mean?! In other words, our very ontology (the study of being; ontologia meaning ont “being” and ology “study of,” what it means to be or exist) is that of a thinking thing, or the “rational animal” as Aristotle put it. In Christianity, some believe that the image of God is, at least in part, the ability for rational thought. At the very least, it is something that sets us apart from every other living creature.

So, in other words, we think because that’s just what it means to be human: the mental capacity for rational thought. If this is true, that humans by nature think, then what is its purpose? This is a question I believe we all can answer. The purpose of thinking is to get at truth!

The “bread-and-butter” of thinking is knowledge. In our questions above, these are quests for knowledge. However, there are some thoughts that have already obtained the correct knowledge, such as reflective, analytical, or meditative thoughts. In all circumstances, thinking has to do with knowledge. Knowledge in turn has to do with truth. Thus, the purpose of thinking is to get at truth.

Forgoing the conversation regarding the relationship between knowledge and truth, what I mean is our concern with our thoughts is whether they correspond to reality or not. This ranges from DTR (define the relationship) talks, belief in political narratives, religion, and the greater value of Marvel comics over DC. Our thoughts are a way to deal with reality; what is true, what exists, and what we believe.

Therefore, the importance of thinking is monumental!

Allow me to explain. Thinking has to do with truth. When we think about something we are considering its truth-value. This is one way we develop beliefs. So, if our thinking is good, then we are trying to get at truth in a good way. This either leads to good beliefs or bad beliefs, but either way, you got their in a justified manner. Just because you think in the right way doesn’t always mean you come out with good beliefs! However, if you think poorly, then you are trying to get at truth poorly; which always leads to bad beliefs. Either you have arrived at a false conclusion or you are believing the correct conclusion, but you arrived at that conclusion falsely. An example of this can be found in mathematics. The teacher tells you to show your work because having the right answer isn’t enough. In order to know math you must know the correct answer and the correct method. Beliefs and knowledge are the same. Thus, our thinking shapes our beliefs; and remember, ideas are a most dangerous thing to have. Nations, cultures, and religions are built on ideas.

There are many ways to be a good thinker, but that is a conversation for another day. The take away here is this: everyone is a thinker, but not everyone is a good thinker. The difference that separates the good from the bad is thinking well. But how does one think well? This is next week’s topic! So, until then, have a good week!

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