Thinking and thought: a short email conversation with a student

May 1, 2014

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. 