After reading this article you will learn about Thinking:- 1. Nature of Thinking 2. Tools of Thinking 3. Processes.
Nature of Thinking:
(i) Thinking is a Series of Symbolic Process:
C. T. Morgan regards thinking as “a sequence of symbolic processes”. It makes use of symbols, percept, images, and concepts. Images are either sensory or verbal. The symbols represent or stand for objects or events in the environment. Therefore, thinking involves representative processes.
Munn also regards thinking as “a sequential arousal of symbols.” We think of one thing; that makes us think of another; that of still another, and so on. In this way we manipulate the world internally with the help of symbolic processes. Woodworth regards thinking as mental exploration of the data to deal with the environment effectively.
It is ideational activity deliberately controlled by a purpose. It is different from daydreaming or undirected thinking. Purposive thinking in mental exploration and finding a new truth.
Thinking is manipulating the world internally with the aid of symbolic processes. It makes use of memory, imagination, and reasoning of problem-solving. Thinking is ideational activity which is deliberately controlled by a purpose. It is mental exploration of data in order to deal with the environment effectively.
(ii) Steps in Thinking:
Woodworth mentions the following steps in thinking:
(a) Orientation towards a goal;
(b) Seeking this way and that for realizing the goal;
(c) Recall of previously observed facts;
(d) Grouping these recalled facts into new patterns;
(e) Inner speech movements and gestures.
All these activities may not be present in every act of thinking. In idle thinking there may not be any particular goal. But in purposive thinking there is always a goal. Sometimes thinking may be carried on without inner speech.
But generally when we think in order to solve a theoretical or practical problem, the first four elements are present in thinking. The solution of a problem is the goal of thinking. Thinking is generally oriented towards a goal. We think of this means or that means to solve the problem. We recall facts of past experience bearing on the problem.
We group them together into new patterns to solve the particular problem. We may give partial expression to our thinking by inaudible speech movements; or we may assume a particular gesture to facilitate thinking. At last, we may succeed in reaching the solution of the problem. Memory and imagination are involved in thinking.
(iii) Purpose of Thinking: Discovery or Invention:
Thinking has two main goals, discovery of a new truth and invention of a new device. Purposive thinking is oriented towards a goal. It seeks to solve a theoretical or practical problem. It seeks to find out a new truth. It tries to discover a new relationship among the data observed or recalled by grouping them together into new patterns.
It recalls relevant facts observed at different times and places, groups them into new patterns, and discovers something new truth in them. Thus thinking involves memory and imagination. It involves analysis and synthesis. It involves analysis of facts observed or recalled into their component elements. It involves synthesis of the elements selected into a new pattern to suit the occasion.
(iv) Hindsight and Foresight in Thinking:
Thinking involves hindsight and foresight in the language of Woodworth. It looks back to the past and recalls the relevant data of past experience. This is hindsight. Thinking involves foresight also. It sees the implications of the combination of the data and draws a new conclusion.
In reasoning, the relevant data observed or recalled are combined and examined to see what new conclusion can be drawn from the combined date. Thus thinking involves hindsight and foresight. Sometimes thinking involves transfer. A principle, rule or maxim, acquired from past experience, or learned from wiser people, is applied to a new problem. This is called transfer.
(v) Thinking Involves Abstraction:
It proceeds from the concrete to the abstract. It leaves out the concrete details of sense-perception and fixes on the general features of objects. Thus it rises from the particular facts perceived to imageless concepts. Thinking is at first tied to sense-perception.
Then it rises to the level of imaginative thinking which is carried on through the medium of concrete or verbal images. At last, it rises to the level of imageless thinking. Thinking may be carried on without sensory images. Imageless thinking pervades our rational life.
Sensory images, verbal images, or abstract or schematic images generally accompany the process thinking. But it is wrong to hold that it must always be accompanied by sensory or at least verbal images. Sensory imagination is not indispensable for thinking. It is not even useful for higher abstract thinking.
Tools of Thinking:
Thinking makes use of percept, images, and concepts. You perceive a mass of black clouds while going out for a walk. The percept of it sets you thinking of an imminent shower of rain which may drench you, and your arm yourself with an umbrella.
Here a percept is a tool of your thinking. A sensory image, visual or auditory, is often a tool of thinking. Very often a verbal image is a tool of thinking. A memory image also is a tool of thinking.
The memory image of your dilapidated house sets you thinking of its repairs in the rainy season. We carry on thinking with the aid of language. Are camels herbivorous animals? This question sets you thinking of “All cloven-footed animals are herbivorous; all camels are cloven-footed; therefore, all camels are herbivorous.” You have three concepts of camels, cloven-footed animals, herbivorous.
You connect the first concept with the third through the medium of the second, which serves as the-middle term. Here concepts arc the tools of your thinking.
Mathematical reasoning is carried on with the aid of symbols and signs what stand for abstract concepts. There are signs of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. Thus reasoning passes from the concrete to the abstract.
(i) Creative Thinking:
In man’s creative thinking also there is a process of trial and error. It is gradual. There are various attempts to produce a different thing. There is rejection of some means as well as selection of other means. And yet creative thinking involves insight which enlightens the trial-error process.
Creative thinking involves the following stages:
(a) Preparation for achieving the task in the first step in creative thinking. A background of general education and special education for solving specific problems are the prerequisites of creative thinking. A medical investigator must have general knowledge of the basic sciences and special knowledge of the medical science in order to discover a new truth or a new cure.
The acquisition of thorough knowledge of relevant facts about the object of creative thinking is the required preparation for it. Preparation includes the process of relating facts in various ways. It involves a trial-and-error process.
(b) Incubation is the second step in creative thinking. The creative thinker does not think about the problem, but turns his attention elsewhere, or thinks of something else. While his attention is turned to something else, the problem is being solved by the unconscious mind. In this state associative activities continue to some degree. This is the stage of incubation.
(c) Inspiration or illumination is the third step in creative thinking. Many creative thinkers claim that their creative ideas come to them suddenly after the period of incubation. Inspiration is akin to insight in the process of learning.
Trial-and-error activity is a part of preparation, rather than of incubation. Inspiration comes suddenly after incubation probably from the depths of the unconscious mind. It is not a plodding process of intellection or discursive thinking.
(d) Verification is sometimes necessary to test the creative idea that comes to the creative thinker suddenly. Its validity may be tested by casting it in the form of a syllogism. It may have to be revised in the light of fresh controlled observation of facts. Thus inspiration is verified, revised, or modified by further experience. Sometimes inspiration is the last step in creative thinking.
(ii) Thought and Language:
(a) Generally, thinking is expressed in language. When we think over a difficult problem, very often we talk to ourselves internally. If we are alone, we may talk aloud with gestures. Man is a thinking animal. He is also a talking animal.
Thinking and talking are products of social intercourse. They develop together. Language is the expression of thought. And thought is aided by language. But thought is not identical with language. Thinking may be carried on without language.
(b) We can record out thoughts in language and communicate them to others through it. When our thoughts are recorded in language, they may be used by ourselves in future and add to the knowledge of others. Our knowledge is developed by social intercourse which is carried on through language.
(c) Discussion and argument stimulate thought. The more we give expression to our ideas, the more our ideas become clear. A teacher who has to explain his ideas to students, has clear ideas of the topics he explains. When we speak to children, their thought is stimulated. We generally think in a social situation. Even when we think alone, we carry on thinking in a social situation mentally.
(d) Ideas are vague but names are definite. So facts and principles, which are expressed in language, are more readily recalled. We can easily retain and recall those facts and principles to which we have assigned definite names, and which have, therefore, been deeply impressed on the mind.
(e) Ideas are vague. Names are symbols: they are definite and precise. Symbols can more easily be manipulated than mere ideas. Language is a system of symbols which stand for facts. They can be manipulated more easily than the facts. Progress of mathematical thinking has been rendered possible by the use of symbols.
(f) Development of thought is greatly aided by development language. And development of language is greatly aided by development of thought. Clear ideas lead to clear expression. Definite and precise thoughts lead to definite and precise expression. Precise expression makes for greater precision of thought.
Concepts are tools of thinking. Reasoning consists in inferring a judgement from other given premises or judgements. A judgement is a synthesis of ideas or concepts. Ideas are either particular or general. Ideas of particular things are particular.
Ideas of classes are general. General ideas are called concepts. Concepts represent the common qualities of many different things perceived and recalled. They are due to generalisation. They are abbreviations of past experience. How are concepts formed?
Conception is the process of forming concepts. It consists of the following steps:
(a) Observation of several individuals;
(b) Analysis or resolution of each of them into its component qualities;
(c) Comparison of them with one another in order to find out their similarities and differences,
(d) Mental unification of the common attributes into a concept;
(e) Assignment of a name to the concept. In order to form the concept of ‘man’ we should first observe several men and analyse them into their qualities. Then we should compare them with one another and find out their similarities and differences.
Then we should eliminate their differences and fix our attention on their similarities (e.g., animality and rationality) and group their ideas into a concept of man. Then we attach the name ‘man’ to the concept.
A concept is vague and abstract, and so cannot be retained and recalled easily. But a name is definite and concrete, and so can be retained and recalled easily. A concept can be easily manipulated with the aid of a name, and communicated to another person.
It is made manageable by means of a name. We form concepts of things, qualities, relations, actions, and the like. Concepts are formed by observation, abstraction and generalisation. Finding out the common characteristics of particular things is called generalization. Concepts are the tools of reasoning.
I. Perception and Conception:
Conception consists in observing some element common to particular facts and situations. It is based on perception. A child perceives a red house, a red coat, a red rose, or a red flag. He thinks of the quality common to all, and calls it redness.
Redness is a common quality separated in thought from the red objects. It does not exist apart from them. But it is separated in thought from the objects. This mental process is called abstraction.
The concept of redness is a mental creation. It is the result of abstraction. More complex concepts are formed by the mind through the similar process of abstraction. Concepts of ‘man’, ‘table’, ‘tree’, etc., cannot be formed without perceiving particular men, tables, and trees, respectively, analysing them into their component qualities, and finding out those which are common to them.
Thus perception of particular objects and concrete situations is the basis of conception.
II. Imageless Thinking Image and Concept:
A concept is different from an image. An image is particular and concrete, while a concept is general and abstract. We have an image of a particular man, or an animal. But we have a concept of ‘man’, or ‘animal’. A concept is a mental creation; it is the product of an act of thought which grasps the common elements among many particular objects perceived. A concept is not representable; it cannot be imagined.
We can think of the class ‘man’, but we cannot have an image of it. Conception is a higher mental process than imagination. A concept is not a composite photograph. If we take photographs of ten men on the same plate so that they are superimposed on one another, we have a composite photograph. It is a blurred image of man representing only the common features of the different man.
The peculiarities of the different men cancel one another. Likewise a generic image is a blurred image resulting from the superposition of many images. It is an image which represents the common features of many individuals. It lies midway between a concept and an image. A concept is not representable while a generic image can be represented.
A concept is the thought of the common elements of many individuals. A generic image represents the common element of many individuals. This is the point of similarity between them. A generic image is the intermediate step between an image and a concept.
There is image-less thinking which does not take the help of images. The psychologists of the Wurzburg school confirmed the reality of “imageless thought” by experiments.
III. Concepts and Laws and Principles:
Thinking or reasoning not only makes use of single concepts but also of laws and principles which are made by combining two or more concepts with one another. “The three angles of a triangle together are equal to two right angles.”
This geometrical law is a synthesis of the concepts of ‘angle’, ‘triangle’ and ‘right angle’. We can solve many geometrical problems with the help of this law. “A large material body attracts smaller bodies.” This law is a combination of the concepts ‘large material body’, ‘small material body’ and ‘attraction’.
With the aid of this law we can explain the fall of bodies to the earth and the revolution of the planets round the sun. Thus the laws of natural, social, and mental sciences the rules of a game, etc. are the combinations of concepts.
The principles are the higher laws which explain the lower laws. They also are the combinations of concepts. The laws, rules, and principles are the tools of reasoning by which we can effectively deal with the environment.
In a particular department of phenomena the concepts must be interrelated to one another and form a conceptual system, with which we can satisfactorily explain all the phenomena in it’. In physics, chemistry, geology, botany, zoology, physiology, psychology, sociology, etc., the different conceptual systems integrate and explain all the phenomena in the different departments.
Again, these conceptual systems in the different departments are integrated into a unified system. This unity of knowledge is the goal of scientific investigation.
IV. Function of Concepts:
Concepts play an important part in thinking. They are essential tools in thinking. First, they help us to organize and unify our ideas of things by classifying them. A concept brings together in thought all the individuals under a class.
Lower concepts are brought under higher concepts, and these again under still higher concepts. Conception is the basis of classification. It systematizes our knowledge. Secondly, concepts economize thought.
They relieve the mind from the burden of remembering the bewildering variety of objects of experience by substituting a moderate and manageable number of concepts for them. Thirdly, concepts extend thought over the past, distant and future.
They are the thoughts of the common elements of all the individuals belonging to different classes in all times and places. Lastly, concepts are indispensable for reasoning. Reasoning consists in passing from given judgements to a new judgement implied in them. And judgements consist of concepts and ideas. Moreover, no reasoning is possible without a concept which serves as the middle term.
Processes of Thinking:
Judgement is the mental process by which the mind compares two or more ideas or concepts with one another. It is the apprehension of the relation between two things or qualities, or between a thing and a quality.
Judgement is the process of consciously combining-two or more distinct notions, percept, ideas or concepts into a more complex idea. ‘The sky is blue’. This is judgement. Here the mind consciously puts together the percept of the sky with the percept of the blue, and combines them into the complex idea of the blue sky and believes in its reality.
‘Man is mortal’. In this judgement the mind combines the concepts of ‘man’ and ‘mortality’ into the complex idea of ‘mortal man’ and believes in its reality.
Rationalization is a process of thinking which provides acceptable reasons for a wrong action done by a person while concealing the secret motive in order to escape from self-reproach and reproach of others.
Sometimes we reason in order to justify a wrong action which has already been done, which conflicts with the standard generally accepted by the society, and which meets with criticism from ourselves and other people. So we reason to find out a reasonable motive of our action.
We try to find out some acceptable general principle which will explain our action. This kind of reasoning is called rationalization. A Prime Minister appoints his ill-qualified son a minister of state under him, and justifies his action by stating that he wants a reliable person to work under him, and that reliability is a better qualification than academic distinction. Thus he rationalizes his action.
We resort to rationalization in order to justify our wrong beliefs also. The conservative Hindus offered plausible or specious reason for their fond beliefs in child marriage, the burning of widows on their dead husband’s funeral pyres, untouchability, etc. They rationalized their wrong beliefs.
Rationalization is common to children and adults. The children who go to school late tell the teachers that they were detained by their parents for some urgent domestic work. They conceal their aversion to for school or greater interest in play or gossip.
They rationalize their wrong actions. The adults decline invitation to an intellectual discussion because of lack of time when their real motive is aversion to it. Sometimes persons are not clearly conscious of their real motives, though they are known to others.
A delusion or a persistent false belief is entertained by a patient with some intellectual ability by rationalization. He supports his false belief by specious reasons. Delusions of his normal or abnormal persons are always rationalized.
(iii) Is Thinking Identical with Inner-Speech?
According to Watson and other Behaviourists, thinking is not a mental process; but it is identical with explicit or implicit speech movements. Thinking consists in vocal or sub-vocal talking. Thinking is ‘restrained speaking’, ‘sub-vocal talking, or ‘implicit speech movement’.
This hypothesis appears to be plausible, because we talk to ourselves more or less, while thinking. We are often aware of our inner-speech in the course of our thinking. We often mutter words and make inaudible speech movements, while we carry on thinking. But these facts prove that thinking and inner speech very often go together. They can by no means prove that thinking is identical with inner speech.
Sometimes thinking is carried on without language. When thought is very active, speech is apt to become fragmentary. Some thought is non-linguistic. Sometimes we think of an object, but we do not recall its name. Sometimes we deliver a set speech without the corresponding thinking.
Even when we deliver a speech extempore, our thinking runs ahead of the speech. Thinking goes ahead and speech follows it .Sometime we read pages without understanding a single syllable. Here our thinking and reading do not agree with each other.
We recite a familiar passage with no sense of its meaning, and while thinking something entirely different. We can inwardly repeat a familiar verse, while rapidly counting aloud. Here thinking is different from speech which accompanies it.
We can imagine a succession of scenes without producing the sensory and motor experiences involved in the original perceptions. Sometimes we find a difficulty in finding out the word required to express a meaning which we certainly have in the mind.
We often get stuck for even a familiar word. All these facts clearly indicate that thinking precedes speech and is not identical with it. So it is absurd to hold that thinking is identical with speech. Language is a system of verbal signs, and thought deals with the meanings of the signs.
Experiments fail to show implicit muscular movements of the vocal organs during the thinking process on some occasions. These conclusively prove that thinking is not identical with implicit speech movements.