How to think is not taught in schools. Everyone believes they know how to think already, so few people question their skill level in this respect. In truth, few people know how to think effectively. You can be one of them if you follow the guidance below and in this series. If you wish to remind yourself of why thinking is so important, please follow the link.
Your basic choice
It is your basic choice, to think, or not to think. To switch one’s self on, or to just chill out, and decline to bother. We are all equal in our ability to choose to think or not. But that is where equality stops. Some choose to think, others don’t. The consequences of each choice are inescapable.
The thinking man will be the rational man, will be the successful man. The unthinking man will need to copy others or follow his feelings because he has to have some means of finding out what to do and how to live. But neither of these are a reliable means of determining action.
It doesn’t matter how potentially intelligent you are if you use your consciousness incorrectly or inefficiently you limit yourself and scupper your thinking. Remember, your mind runs your life so to improve your life you MUST improve your thinking.
How to think is your basic survival skill
Thinking is our basic survival skill. It is how the effective human being functions. Thinking is the first cause of knowledge and the prerequisite of effective action. So many problems we face and so much suffering is caused by either a lack of thinking or ineffective thinking.
Just being exposed to ideas does not ensure that you will be able to use them effectively
It’s not just about fixing the brain – that is the hardware. Although there is much we can do to support brain health by focusing on our diet and overall health, and specifically our gut health. The main focus must be on the way you choose to use your consciousness and this means thinking. It requires updating or modifying the software – the way you use your mind. Sometimes it may mean installing appropriate software for the first time if you have never been taught to think.
Because our capacity for happiness is inextricably tied up with our self-esteem and our ability to strive for and achieve our values it is inevitable that depression will result if these are compromised by mind-lock and the ineffective or non use of the rational faculty in thinking.
The first cause is you
It is essential to understand that the Universe will not prompt you to think, there is no force out there in reality to which thinking is a reaction. Thinking is something that you have to bother to self-initiate. You have to do it volitionally.
Start by becoming aware of your own thinking. Notice what you think or say to yourself. Observe what passes through your mind. From there you can follow this guide and begin to recognise inappropriate activities of your mind and develop more beneficial mental habits. This is the way to improve your use of your mind and therefore improve your life!
The rewards of thinking
Furthermore, because thinking is what defines us as human because our rational faculty and our ability to conceptualise is our uniquely human form of consciousness, this means that in order to be fully human we must think. It is the essence of our human consciousness. To evade the effort of thinking is to decline to engage with the essence of being human. Purposelessness, lack of meaning and fulfilment, depression and anxiety are the inevitable result of unthinking.
Thinking, therefore, brings us fulfilment and happiness as well as all the practical benefits of a successful life. The emotional reward for thinking is because when you are thinking you are living right, you are doing what you should be doing to best further your own human interests. You are being fully human when you think!
What is thinking?
It is a function of our human consciousness. In its broadest sense, thinking is any mental activity. But this is unhelpful since there are many forms of mental activity, and they need to be distinguished from each other and distinguished from purposeful mental activity that is goal driven, to which there is a point, an end game, a purpose.
Types of mental activity
There are mental activities that are not strictly thinking: Such as visualising, picturing in mind, remembering, reviewing (a mental silent movie), worrying, anticipating, emoting or feeling, fearing, loving, etc.
There are also many types of mental activity that are part of the process of thinking: Such as examining, identifying, evaluating, abstracting, conceptualising, judging, questioning, deducing, inferring, concluding, deciding, choosing, analysing, defining, synthesising, reasoning, integrating, listening…
The Definition of Thinking
Thinking is purposeful mental activity with the acquisition of knowledge as its goal
Some people make the distinction of critical thinking. I consider the term critical as something of a redundancy since thinking must be critical by definition and must involve thoughtful evaluation and judgment if it is to achieve knowledge of some aspect of reality.
Thinking is a process of asking and answering questions by drawing inferences, making deductions, reaching conclusions, and asking further questions. Thus, gaining knowledge. Remember, knowledge is the correct identification of some aspect of reality.
Reason is the faculty, Logic is the method, thinking is the process.
Thinking versus feeling
In the MATRIX you are encouraged to feel, rather than to think! This is dangerous. Wise action is never taken on the basis of feelings alone! In fact, this almost always ends in tears.
You must understand the correct relationship between thoughts and feelings, or cognition and evaluation. One is causal the other is an effect. One is a primary, the other is not. One is a means of gaining knowledge, the other is not. Properly understanding your emotions is essential for a successful life as a human being. It will be covered later in this series.
Why is it so important?
It is your basic means of survival.
There are facts of reality as well as facts about our nature as human beings that dictate that we must think. It is what enables our particular mode of existence. By thinking we can identify principles with which to solve problems and therefore determine how best to live.
For a more detailed exploration of why thinking is so important see my previous article “Why is thinking so important?”
Your life depends on your ability to think.
It is his faculty of reason using concepts that enables man to adjust his background, his environment to suit himself. He is the only living organism that we know of on earth that can do this. This is why we are at the top of the food chain.
Learn more on Why thinking is so important here.
How to think is not self-evident
It is this faculty of reason we must use to gain knowledge of reality but knowing what it is and how to use it is not self-evident. It is the use of concepts, of abstraction, or mental organisation or filing. Careful definitions are required and integrating into a sensibly filed mental office.
But knowing how to use this conceptual faculty is not automatic or self-evident. It has to be figured out or learned. Thinking is a volitional process. We begin with no innate knowledge and then many errors are possible in the chain of reasoning.
We have to continually integrate new information and see how each piece of information relates to others and to the whole. We have to organise our conceptual knowledge, see what concepts depend on which previous concepts, and how they all inter-relate – this is not self-evident.
We must know how the concepts we use relate to reality, we have to know when we have proven something and when it is merely a hypothesis, or when there is evidence against it. This is not self-evident.
There is plenty of scope for error and if we make mistakes our understanding of reality is compromised, and we suffer the consequences. This is why we need to study thinking.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how we acquire it. It establishes the criteria of knowledge – ie what is knowledge and what is not by establishing the criteria for evidence and proof. It is concerned with the relationship of ideas to reality.
Psychology is the study of mental processes.
Psycho-epistemology is a branch of psychology. It studies your mental operating system. That means the ways that men use their consciousness. It studies the mental operations that are possible to and that characterise men’s cognitive behaviour, such as perception, learning, concept formation, memory, creativity, and also the various malfunctions of men’s cognitive behaviour.
Psycho-epistemology also studies the effects of conscious mental processes on the subconscious and automatic processes. It looks at how man chooses to use his consciousness. Whether his thinking is muddled and random or whether he thinks conceptually with good mental organisation. If he is concrete bound and fails to think in principles man will keep seeing similar situations like a newborn baby sees things for the first time. PE helps you turn your consciousness into an effective instrument.
Ayn Rand coined the term Psycho-epistemology
“Psycho-epistemology is the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.”
“Psycho-epistemology,” a term coined by Ayn Rand, pertains not to the content of a man’s ideas, but to his method of awareness, i.e., the method by which his mind habitually deals with its content.
The essential framework that supports effective thinking
1. Reality is an objective absolute.
Without consciously and explicitly acknowledging this basic truth the need and motivation for thinking are both undermined. The very purpose of thought is to acquire knowledge of reality. if reality is not an objective absolute, if it is fluid and chaotic, thinking would be pointless and knowledge impossible.
2. Reason is your only guide to knowledge.
It is by using your faculty of reason with the method of logic that you engage in the process of thinking. It is not a viable alternative to use feelings or mysticism as a perceived means to gain knowledge. Faith is believing in things in the absence of reasons, without any empirical evidence or proof. Feeling are not primaries and depend on values that must be arrived at by thought,
3. You have free will – you have to switch yourself on
It’s up to you to think. Nothing will compel you to. You are a volitional being. Without this conviction, you will not think.
4. Reality is knowable and so is your subconscious mind.
It is essential to understand that reality is entirely knowable. Existence exists and you can know it. Your consciousness is your means of perceiving reality. If you do not hold this conviction again there is no need to think, no motivation to think. If reality were unknowable thinking would not be your main means of survival.
Reason is the essential faculty that distinguishes humans from all other living organisms. Its use is at the foundation of all human success. Logic is the method, and thinking is the process.