Thinking and thought: a short email conversation with a student


Rohit Dhankar

Question (Harshita Das): “Is it the thought or thinking that ceases?” or “Which one is more fluid?”

Answer (Rohit): A quick half-thought response  below.

Thinking is a process or activity (mental of course). Without going into deep analysis I immediately see at the least two things that characterize this activity:
It sometimes involves creation/shaping of an idea, concept, through delineating segment(s) of experience(s) to be seen as ‘one unit’ and associating it with a linguistic entity, thereby creating words to indicate the concept in question. Ex. forming the ideas of education, student, politician, elephant and so on.

More often it involves working out/critiquing and clearly stating a relationship between two or more concepts. Ex. Elephants have long memories. Pay attention to relationships between “elephants”, “memory”, “long”, “have” (possess).

Thinking might cease in the sense that a person may stop working out new relationships, examining the accepted relationships, or concepts. A person may become a total conformist to results of his/her own ‘past’ thinking or of others’ thinking. We say his/her thinking has stopped. That means the activity of working our new mental entities either in terms of ideas or in terms of relationships is stopped. Ex. Once you accept of a dogma further thinking on that issue “ceases”. Look for actual examples among politicians and religious leaders.

Thinking, defined in this manner, never stops in ‘absolute sense’ unless one becomes vegetable or dies.

Thought is a result of activity of thinking, the mental entity produced as its result, be that through conscious thinking or automated habit of mind which may go on without conscious efforts or even awareness. The idea of ‘education’ you have firmed up in your mind may be called a thought. Similarly, the idea that “education kills creativity” may be called a thought.

Defined in this sense, I would not know what could it mean for a thought to ‘cease’? The only possibility I see is ‘forgetting’, ceasing to be used in further deliberations, or, again, becoming a vegetable or dying. In all these cases the idea of ‘thought ceased’ in general sounds a bit misplaced use, unless ‘thought’ is interpreted as ‘thinking’. However, in particular cases like “that thought ceased bothering me any longer” it seems to be perfectly acceptable.

So, it seems to me it is thinking that ceases; in any case “cessation of thinking” sounds more ominous to me than “cessation of through” whatever the later might mean.

Thinking by nature is fluid, though it may become routine and bound by set patterns. Thought by nature is more settled, though an active thinking process may keep it fluid. But if this fluidness increases to the level where it becomes mercurial thought becomes useless.

Not sure it is of any help to you or not. If it creates more confusion and generates more furious ‘thinking’ in your mind it should be good enough. 

5 Responses to Thinking and thought: a short email conversation with a student

  1. dksrenu says:

    Fantastic explanation which defines and clarifies a lot of things about thinking and thought. Just to ask another question, which may sound irrelevant here, but taking the liberty. Would it be safe to say that thought is the final product of our thinking process? If this is the case, can we make that mental product (thought) a reality? As we convert ideas into ‘things’? Not sure if we can prove this statement ‘education kills productivity’ in the shape of a product or process chart?

    Last but not the least, when we say “thought process”, do we simply mean ‘thinking process’? as thought is not a process!

    Looking forward to have more insights from your end Rohit Ji.

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    • rdhankar says:

      Q: Would it be safe to say that thought is the final product of our thinking process? A: I would stop at saying “thought is a product of thinking”. Final indicates ‘unchanging’ to me, that implies ‘cessation’ of thinking on the relevant matter, not a good thing. So would say “thought” is “provisionally final” to be used in further thinking and action; till it is modified. And the possibility of modification always remains, for thinking people, at the least. 🙂 Q: If this is the case, can we make that mental product (thought) a reality? As we convert ideas into ‘things’? A: sometime we can, some other times cannot. The thought that “I should light a cigarette just now” I can immediately make a reality. The thought that “all Indian children should get equally good education” I cannot, but can strive for. Some ideas are ‘converted’ into ‘things’; ex. Making a paper plane out of a sheet of paper. Some are converted into action; ex. Running away from an attacking bull. Often we fail in converting them either into things or into action. Q: Not sure if we can prove this statement ‘education kills productivity’ in the shape of a product or process chart? A: even if we cannot it still remains a thought, may be unacceptable to those who find it lacking in proof or justification. Q: When we say “thought process”, do we simply mean ‘thinking process’? as thought is not a process! A: I think so.

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      • dksrenu says:

        Thank you so much Rohit Ji. It clarifies a lot of things now. However, can basic instincts like protection from fear (Running away from an attacking bull) be considered thoughts also or are these automatic reactions triggered by the brain?

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      • rdhankar says:

        Both possibilities of ‘instinctive response’ and ‘thought through action’ are possible. When clarifying such things the discussion is not on what produces such response/action but on providing an example, therefore, one takes the relevant possibility.

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  2. Aruna says:

    One can see the difference semiotically– “thinking” the inflection ‘ing’ is generally used for a verb- action process. “Thought” is a noun form- hence some kind of a product. In hindi I think it should be “Sochna” and “soch”. So far its simple. But I am stuck when I seek answer to the question that – how exactly do human beings think? Is it some biological – neurochemical process? Is the outcome of language use say some kind of inner speech ? If it is agreed that human beings always think, is it similar to saying that they always respire?
    Or may be we need not think 😉 about these questions, these are not seriously necessary questions 😀

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