Thoughts: The inside story
By Tim Bayne Video: Why it’s hard to control your thoughts (Image: Gabriel Moreno) TRY, if you can, to imagine a life without thought. For a human being it wouldn’t be much of an existence. Thoughts fill our every waking moment, and whether they are insightful, banal, playful or bizarre, there is no denying that thinking comes naturally to us. We might say that thought is to human beings what flight is to eagles and swimming is to dolphins. But it is one thing to think and quite another to understand the nature of thought. Just as eagles fly without any grasp of aerodynamics and dolphins swim without understanding fluid mechanics, so most of us think without having any insight into its nature. Thinking may be commonplace, but it is quite rare to think about thought itself. So what is thought? That is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and other disciplines have approached it from their various perspectives, but thought has not received as much sustained attention as it deserves. Perhaps part of the explanation for this is that thought is an extremely varied and complex phenomenon. We can think about an incredible variety of things: objects, people, places, relationships, abstract concepts, the past, the future, real things and imaginary things. We can think about nothing at all, and even think about thought itself. The exercise of thought is also elusive, although there are some things we can say about it. We use thought to solve problems and invent things – but how much control do we have over it?