Thought Process

Thought Process

The driving force of your life. 

By Parag Jasani o
Updated on

The most effortless activity a person can engage in is the activity of thinking.

That may be a good reason for a common man to take it for granted, but does not explain why science does not engage in the effort of understanding how it works.

Based on the dictum coined by French philosopher Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am”, thoughts are the mark of our existence.

They are the fundamental building blocks of our lives.

How can a person lead an effective life without understanding them?

And how can science not consider them?

It’s like studying a house without considering the bricks it is built on.

There is a general belief that billions of neurons and trillions of connections make the brain infinitely complex, which makes it difficult for science to understand how it works.

In reality, the culprit is not the complexity of the brain, but the approach science takes to understand how it works.

The following simple logic explains why:

Anything that has multiple parts which work collectively to reach common goals has to be driven by a system.

Such parts cannot work independently and still reach common goals.

This simple and fundamental fact is not taken into consideration by sciences of mind and brain, which study various aspects of the brain, but do not study it as one system.

That includes neuroscience, which is one of the most advanced fields to study the human brain.

Besides not studying it as one system, it relies on correlations to study the brain and uses a linear approach.

The brain is a system made up of interrelated elements. Most of its components are interdependent and do not work in a linear fashion.

Secondly, correlations are only good to understand how a relatively simple system like, e.g., a car engine works by correlating workings of its parts like piston, valves, spark plugs, etc., not something as complex as the brain.

The functionality of the brain is contributed by interactions of multiple interconnected and interdependent mechanisms working individually and collectively. Such mechanisms have evolved over thousands of generations to optimize their operations.

Collectively, they make a unified whole which has emergent properties. On their own, such mechanisms are very simple, as they are not a product of elaborate pre-planning of an intelligent designer, but have evolved in a bit-by-bit manner for thousands of generations through the process of natural selection. Not considering their interactions makes the complexity of brain appear to be much more than what it actually is.

Without using a holistic approach of a goal driven system to understand how such mechanisms interrelate and interact with each other, it is not possible to understand how the brain works, which can best be done by using what is known as “Systems Thinking” approach. 

For many years, I have studied how the brain works as a system using the systems thinking approach, which has resulted into creation of the only existing fully causal account of the human brain. 

It opens up a new paradigm in mind and brain sciences and explains each and every step of the thought process in a comprehensive manner.

How Does It Affect Human Life?

As our lives are driven by our minds, which are controlled by our thoughts, the void resulting from lack of studying them directly affects the quality of our lives.

Many people believe their thoughts just pop into their heads. Being effortless, they do not know that thinking is a complex process driven by multiple mechanisms. Not considering such mechanisms is one of the reasons why many complain they cannot control their thoughts, which is obvious based on the simple logic that you cannot control something you don’t even know exists.

To control a car, you need to deal with mechanisms like steering wheel, brakes, accelerator, etc. that control it. In the same way, to control your thoughts, you need to deal with mechanisms that control them.

E.g. a mechanism explained in the post Can Your Legs Do the Thinking explains the reason why people engage in fidgeting behaviour like shaking legs, biting nails, pacing around, etc. when engaged in deep thoughts. Instead of treating such behaviour as a sign of weakness, discomfort, nervousness, etc., as the current science believes it to be, it is better to understand how it benefits your thought process.  

As such mechanisms are not explained by science, to optimize and improve quality of their lives, many people are drawn to solutions provided by self-help or spiritual resources.

Self-help resources offer many solutions, but do not explain how the thought process works, as they depend on science, which itself does not explain it. They provide knowledge on different types of thought processes, their properties, tools to manage and utilize them, etc. based on correlations or symptoms, but are not based on the understanding of how the thought process works and how various mechanisms influence it.  

Spiritual resources are based on thousands of years old solutions, a period when there was no concept of information processing on which mechanisms underlying the thought process work.

Typically, they help you by explaining you how little control you have over your mind. They provide solutions that are simple to adapt, as they are about promoting or demoting certain thoughts and behaviour. 

E.g. many people have the habit of getting stuck into their past. They advice such people to let go of their past and live in their present moment.

Living in the present moment is a good solution, but then, going into the past is also necessary, because without it, you cannot use your experience and knowledge to optimize your current and future interactions.

The reason you get stuck into the past is not considering side effect of what I call the “Rescaling Mechanism” explained in the post What is Degree of Attention?, which results into you getting caught up in the endless loop of drifting between different aspects of one or more past experiences.

Instead of avoiding, it is much better to utilize your thoughts for your benefit by being aware of such side-effect, as that will not only prevent you from getting stuck into your past, but also help you optimize your interactions.

They also ask you to stay away from anger and treat it as a negative emotion. In reality, if used in the right place and the right time, anger is the best tool for the circumstances it is designed for by the process of natural selection. To illustrate the same, I will use the following analogy:

Instead of using atomic energy for a positive purpose like generating electricity, if a person uses it to make a bomb, would you call such energy to be negative or the intention of the person?

It is easier to blame anger, because blaming you requires the explanation of how the thought process works. That may be the reason why they treat anger as a negative emotion.

Many such resources also blame you for being a slave to technology based on the increased usage of mobile phones, computers, internet, etc. How is it possible for you to become a slave of something that does not have the power of volition, that is, the power of making decisions?

As a matter of fact, it is your own thought process that makes the decision to engage in such activity. Instead of avoiding such behaviour, it is much better to understand mechanisms underlying such thought processes and why they influence you to engage in such behaviour.

In a nutshell, thinking is an elaborate process. Instead of following solutions that make you avoid such feelings and behaviour, it is much better to make the extra effort of understanding how mechanisms behind thought processes work without disturbing their original purpose. It gives a whole new meaning to the word introspection.

To understand it better, you can take the first step by understanding the step-by-step summary of a typical thought process I have explained in the following topic. Once you start, you will soon realize that it is not about something new; it is about what you have been doing all your life. 

Even If you don’t understand it in detail, being aware about it can also make a difference, as demonstrated by the following example:

To optimize daily interactions, the brain has evolved with a mechanism I call “superiority harmonizing mechanism”, which is hard-wired at the root of thought processes of all human beings. It makes us feel superior to others and overestimate our qualities and capabilities in relation to same qualities and capabilities of others.

Most self-help and spiritual resources ask you to stay away from such feeling of superiority by giving the reason that it inflates your ego, which is the source of your suffering and the reason you get upset, angry, arrogant, etc.  

Instead of blocking such feeling, just paying attention to understand its simple logic explained in the post I Am Better Than You can help you optimize your life.

Step-by-step Summary of the Thought Process

Following is the step-by-step summary of a typical thought process. Its purpose is not to give a detailed explanation, but to give you an idea of the amount of processing that can happen in your brain when you make a decision, something you have being taking for granted all your life.

It will be beneficial to keep the flowchart in front of you, as the step numbers mentioned in the summary correspond to step numbers mentioned in it.

  • The first step, Step 1 of the detailed explanation, explains how information from your ongoing interactions are segregated and processed in two different ways.  
  • The next step, Step 2a1, explains how parts of your interactions are pre-evaluated for their associated emotion factors, confidence levels, probability values, etc. before they enter consciousness.
  • The next step, Step 2a2, explains why some of your interactions, based on interaction processing in the previous step, are executed automatically, i.e., without you consciously executing them. It also explains the degree of control you have over conscious and non-conscious interactions by explaining their underlying mechanisms, which are the basis of your initial reflexes, habitual behaviours, intuitions, phobias, etc.
  • The next step, Step 2b1, explains when you become conscious of the experience you are having.
  • The next 3 steps, Steps 2b2, 2b3 and 2b4, explain how you, based on contextual awareness, become aware of various aspects of the experience you are having, which is made possible by linking them to the awareness buffer. Such linking makes it easy for you to ponder over them.
  • The next step, Step 2b5, explains how you evaluate various aspects of the experience you have pondered upon in the previous step. Such processing also enriches your perception.
  • The next step, Step 3, explains how all information about the ongoing interaction is connected to the awareness buffer, which allows quick and easy access of all conscious and non-conscious information related to it by navigating through links in the buffer, which help in making optimized decisions.
  • The next 5 steps, Steps 4a1, 4a2, 4b1, 4b2 and 5, explain how you gain sufficient information to make decisions based on your knowledge, skills, personality, habits, genetic predispositions, etc.
  • The next step, Step 6a, explains how you make one or more decisions on how to handle the ongoing interaction based on information gained in the previous step, the result of which is linked to the awareness buffer. If required, it is also processed by step 6b and step 8.
  • The next step, Step 6b, explains how and why your thoughts are converted into language, which is also the basis of the inner voice you hear while thinking.
  • The next step, Step 6c, explains how you consider other people if they are either involved or are likely to get involved in the interaction to make your decisions more effective.
  • The next step, Step 6d, explains the basis of intuition, gut feelings, eureka moments, etc. that occur during the thought process.
  • The next step, Step 7, explains how you, based on your knowledge, skills, personality, habits, genetic predispositions, etc., judge and finalize which of the decisions you had come up in Step 6a to handle your ongoing interaction is the best for execution, which then becomes your goal.
  • The next step, Step 8, explains how you select thoughts, views, opinions, etc. to be communicated to others in verbal or written form and what you do to make them effective. It also explains the basis of non-verbal communication like gestures, facial expressions, etc.
  • The last step, Step 9, explains how and when the finalized decision is executed.

The detailed version additionally explains the origin of the thought process, how it works in different modes, how non-conscious thoughts work, why are thoughts converted to language, how they help in making decisions, how are intentions formed, etc.

To summarize, thought process is at the very root of our lives. Other than natural causes, everything that has ever happened or is happening to anybody or anything can be attributed to the thought process. Using a holistic approach to understand how it works and how mechanisms influence it can not only bring major changes to your life, but human life as a whole.

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