This article throws light upon the four main forms of thinking. The forms are: 1. Fantasy 2. Daydreams 3. Dreams 4. Pathological Thinking.
Form # 1. Fantasy:
All of us indulge in fantasy or cognitive activity which involves the manipulation of images, symbols, and concepts and the weaving of them into organised forms of thought, though not based on reality. The proverbial story of the milkmaid’s daughter is an example of fantasy.
Similarly, a young child who hears about the Asian Games may imagine a whole lot of things about the Asian Games and form his own ideas. In a way, fantasy may be defined as organised imagination around a certain theme or’ event or problem. The only difference between fantasy and thinking is that the latter is based on objective reality and the former on subjective, or imaginary reality and often based on hopes, fears, or worries.
Although fantasy has formed a part of human cognitive processes since time immemorial, it was only with the advent of Sigmund Freud that it received the attention of scientific psychology. It was Freud who pointed out the importance, perhaps even the indispensability of fantasy in the normal process of psychological development.
According to him fantasy is the basic and primary form of thought and perhaps the only form of thought found in children. The child, in its earliest years, is not capable of distinguishing between himself and the surroundings on the one hand and between the real and the unreal on the other. Since, structured and organised thought processes develop a little later, fantasy is the main mode of cognitive activity. Fantasy, at this stage, is very much influenced by the instinctual wishes and strivings.
In fact, fantasy provides an outlet for such wishes and strivings. At a later stage as structured thinking and a sense of reality develop, fantasy gradually loses its primacy and becomes a medium of expression for wishes and strivings which cannot be fulfilled in reality. If an individual makes excessive use of fantasy he may be considered to be maladjusted.
It can be seen that adults who develop psychological or emotional disorders display a lot of evidence of fantasy, thus, substantiating Freud’s claim that such individuals have regressed to an earlier style and mode of adjustment.
Form # 2. Daydreams:
A form of fantasy in which all of us indulge at some time or other, is daydreaming. The difference between daydreams and fantasy is that the former are much more organised and relate to the conscious mental activity of the individual. Further, in a daydream the individual is the central character and all other events and experiences centre around the individual.
One daydreams of all types of enjoyment, all kinds of success, or even all kinds of misfortune and failure. The example of the milkmaid’s daughter given earlier, actually fits in better here. Another example would be that of a young man who has appeared for the interview for the job of an engineer, who sits at his desk and imagines how he is going to accomplish difficult engineering feats or tasks and become famous when he does not even know whether he would be selected for the job or not.
To make the distinction clear between fantasy and daydreams the following example is given. If I sit down and start visualizing about heaven, the pleasures therein, etc. it would be fantasy. On the other hand, if I start visualizing that I am in heaven and start experiencing all the pleasures therein it would be daydreaming.
Thus, it may be seen that the capacity for daydreaming depends on the development of the concept of ego or “I”, whereas fantasy does not depend on this. Naturally, very young children cannot experience daydreams though they are fantasy-prone.
Daydreams are, to a large extent, influenced by the individual’s wishes, strivings, fears and worries of a conscious type. These elements find expression when the individual is psychologically free from the constraining and directing elements of reality. In fact, daydreams are temporary ego centered holidays from reality.
Daydreams are not always useless. In fact they are useful in more than one way. In the first instance, they provide a refreshing and reassuring escape from reality. They can instill hope and courage in a person otherwise oppressed by reality, provided of course that they do not replace reality. Secondly, daydreams often provide a means of setting goals, targets and levels of aspiration, which the individual may subsequently translate into reality.
One such example is of Dick Whittington, a poor boy, who became the mayor of London three times, or Demosthenes who imagined that he would be the greatest orator of the world (even though he was a stutterer) and ultimately became so. Another feature of daydreams is that the thought process here is very similar to that in normal thinking and has an internal logic.
However, it is hoped that the above remarks will not drive the reader into endless spells of daydreaming. While daydreams may stimulate constructive efforts and activity towards achieving success, daydreaming alone will not result in success. On the contrary it may lead the individual to a psychological imbalance.
Form # 3. Dreams:
Dreams are very common experiences. There is scarcely anybody who has not had dreams. Dreams are a certain type of psychological activity or experience which occur during sleep. Dreams have two basic characteristics.
When we are dreaming, we are happily unaware of other things around us. Secondly, when the dream is over, we usually remember very little of our dreams. This is where dreams differ from daydreams. Daydreaming is a conscious activity occurring when our senses are fully alert though diverted from reality.
Dreams, on the other hand, are not conscious activities and in fact occur when we are least conscious of ourselves or our surroundings. Daydreams very often reflect a person’s conscious desires and designs to reach certain goals. Dreams, on the other hand, are of a different category. They do not often stem directly from conscious efforts or desires.
Philosophers and psychologists were, for a long time, interested in understanding the process of dreaming, as it represents a very puzzling though very common experience. We do not dream when we are conscious of ourselves and our surroundings, but while dreaming we seem to be conscious of everything which seems to be a part of our dreams.
This paradoxical condition led early philosophers and psychologists to believe that the dream experience represents a special form of consciousness and probably thought. Traditional Indian thought recognised dream as a separate form of thought and consciousness (Swapna), along with sleep (Shushupti), Prajna or awareness and Jagrat or alertness. In subsequent years, a number of attempts have been made to explain the phenomenon of dreaming.
Neurologists have attempted to explain dreaming on the basis of the internal Stimulation of brain activity by chance. But, such attempts have, by and large, not been successful. At best, they may show that brain activity is a part of dreaming, but they have not proved that brain activity is the cause of dreaming. It is quite possible that once the dream originates it sets the brain activity in motion.
The most significant and important attempts at developing a comprehensive and psychological explanation of dreams again emanated from Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who, in the course of his researches in the field of psychoneurosis, developed the most comprehensive and systematic theory of dreams.
In fact, to a large extent, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, of the unconscious and of abnormal behaviour are based on his theory of dreams. Freud and his followers employed dream interpretation ‘as the royal road to the unconscious’.
Since Freud formulated his theory of dreams, a number of scientists devoted their attention and efforts to the study and understanding of dreams. More recently, rigorous experimentation has emerged as a method of studying dreams.
It is to the credit of Freud that he stimulated and inspired such concentrated research in this area. Many scientists have, naturally, differed from Freud though many others like Calvin Hall have spent their life translating Freudian concepts into experimental findings. The readers would be interested to know that there are exclusive laboratories devoted to dream research and one of them is in India, at the department of psychology, Andhra University in Visakhapatnam.
Form # 4. Pathological Thinking:
To a certain extent dreaming, daydreaming and fantasy represent slight deviations from normal thinking processes. This does not imply that they are pathological or abnormal.
They are slightly different from the normal thinking processes in the following respects.
First, they do not constitute the regular components of the wakeful life thinking process.
Secondly, they involve the use of images of a sensory type as different from the words, verbal symbols and concepts, used in the normal adult thinking processes.
Thirdly, daydreams, dreams and fantasy, if they become extensive, can interfere with the normal adjustment of the individual.
Fourthly, they are influenced considerably by non-cognitive processes like wishes, motives, desires, etc. unlike normal thinking activity. But, within normal limits all these form part of the normal thinking activity of the individual.
There are, however, certain other forms of thinking which represent wide deviations from the normal thinking process. Such forms of thinking are indicative of psychological disturbances or improper development of the individual. We may briefly examine some of these. Excerpt from a letter written by Mr. R to his Counselor. He was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He is a 35-year old school teacher.
This represents one of the earliest forms of thinking in the developmental sequence. Very young children demonstrate this as a normal phenomenon but soon outgrow this stage. But some of them fail to outgrow this and remain fixed and arrested at this stage of psychological development. This type of condition is indicative of pathological disturbances.
Typically, autistic children are characterised by a total lack of contact with reality. Such individuals are completely engulfed in fantasy and their concept formation does not proceed further. It has been found that such individuals are not able to communicate with others. They are isolated in their own world.
It has been shown that autistic thinking is brought about by a series of unfortunate experiences and interactions which make the child withdraw into himself and erect strong impregnable defensive barriers against reality. Adult psychotics, particularly with schizophrenia, have been found to exhibit this type of thinking.
Yet another form of pathological thinking is known as over-inclusive thinking. It is commonly found among psychotics, particularly schizophrenia. In fact, over-inclusive thinking has been mentioned as the basic pathology with schizophrenia by psychologists like Cameron.
Over-inclusive thinking reflects a breakdown of the established principles of association and logic. The consequence is that any stimulus or symbol produces a riot of association not directed by the normal laws of association and relationships.
For example, in a normal individual the word milk may stimulate ideas of white, cow, child, food and perhaps even ice cream. But in an individual with over-inclusive thinking things do not stop here. Very strange associations are given like black, death, etc. Over-inclusive thinking, therefore, represents a chaos in the thought process.
It is precisely because of this that the speech of psychotics appears bizarre and strange. Persons suffering from schizophrenia coin several new words (neologisms) because they can combine many ideas which are otherwise not capable of being combined. For example, he may use the word ‘mow’ by combining milk and cow.
Another major form of thought pathology is delusion which is again found commonly in psychotic patients of the paranoid and depressed type. Here, there is no defect with the basic structure of the thought. Logical processes are totally disconnected with reality. They do not respond to objective reality but are entirely, controlled by internal and subjective reality like anxiety, fears, repressed wishes, etc.
A maniac living under a delusion may seriously believe that he is emperor Ashoka and start acting accordingly. His entire thought, life and even behaviour come to be governed by his delusive beliefs and any amount of logical argument fails to convince him. Delusions range widely in their pervasiveness.
Some delusions are brief or fleeting and are called transient delusions. On the other hand, some delusions can be very elaborate and may completely engulf the individual. These are called chronic or systematic delusions.
Delusions can be classified into two types, those of grandeur and those of persecution. Delusions of grandeur are characterised by a belief in one’s greatness, one’s omnipotence of being a chosen individual or messiah, etc. Delusions of persecution show the opposite picture.
Here the person feels that he is being harassed, persecuted and plotted against by everyone. He is obsessed with the idea that everybody around is out to get him, harm him, kill him and he is a victim of domestic, national and international conspiracies.
The reader may see that even delusions of persecution provide the individual with a feeling of greatness and importance. They give him a feeling of martyrdom. They arise due to a number of factors including childhood experiences, frustrations, a faulty way of life, etc.
Thinking, like learning and perception, represents a form of adaptive behaviour. It functions in close relationship with perception, learning, remembering and motivation. In fact, the process of thinking emerges out of a complex interaction among these.
Thought activity grows out of adaptive behaviour and in turn, contributes to adaptive behaviour. Since it arises out of adaptive interaction and contributes to effective adaptation, it may be assumed to be normal. But it also develops out of non-adaptive interaction and contributes to non-adaptive behaviour; therefore, it may be regarded as pathological. It is, perhaps, not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between normal and pathological thinking. In pathological thinking, like delusions, the structure of the thought process is essentially normal.
On the other hand, many normal people occasionally experience very momentary delusional ideas which may be classified merely as perfectly normal ambition or a high level of aspiration. Ultimately, normalcy or pathology of thinking depends on the degree to which the thought processes impede or facilitate effective adjustment and the normal growth of the individual.