Saturday, November 05, 2005

What is Thinking?

Before bed tonight, my four year-old daughter asked, "What does one do when one thinks?"*

I gave it my best shot. Thinking, I said, is a bit like imagining. We imagined the playground at her daycare and the two of us on the swings. Then I told her to imagine an elephant under the swings while we were swinging back and forth, and she of course just obliged. "Thinking," I said, "is not being able to imagine that elephant."**

Thinking is the experience of possibility. But this does not distinguish it from feeling. Thinking is experiencing a possible perception (when faced immediately with a perception, we can think it only by experiencing the possibility of some other perception). Feeling, by contrast, is the experienced possibility of action.

Pretty standard stuff.

*She doesn't talk like that, of course. In Danish there is a "man", just like the German "man", which is the source of Heidegger's famous analysis of "the they", i.e., "das Man" (H. 113ff.). What she said would best be translated, "What do you do when you think?" as long as we are clear that she was not asking about my mental procedures in particular.

**We had a bit of fun with this notion of course. Thinking would be the act of imagining it to be very small or ethereal. That is, thinking would force us to imagine something not wholly like an elephant.

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