[Middle English, from Old English gethōht, thōht.]
Definition: forming mental objects
Antonyms: vacancy, vacuity
Definition: idea, concept
Antonyms: concrete, thing
Thought may be defined in general as mental activity, conscious or unconscious, based on the various modes of representation, including the most archaic. More narrowly, the meaning of thought may be confined to ideational activity, dependent on the faculty of judgment and on the faculty that brings into conjunction images of things and images of words. The discussion here will be restricted to the narrower conception of thought as ideational activity, but always bear in mind that the narrower meaning is deeply rooted in the more general one.
Freud approached ideational thought from three different angles, which did not necessarily overlap. The first was the "psychological" approach, as outlined in the "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c ) and further developed in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b), and "Negation" (1925h). In this perspective, Freud analyzed the thought process in relation to perception, language, memory traces, and action, for which, in Freud's view, thought was a substitute. The second approach, a "genetic" one, was a response, in essence, to the question of the origins of thought as a search for knowledge. This line of enquiry was concerned primarily with the child's urge to find things out and sought the libidinal origins of this drive and the circumstances that set it in motion. The four main Freudian works pertinent here are Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), "On the Sexual Theories of Children" (1908c), the case history of "little Hans" (1909b), and the analysis of Leonardo da Vinci (1910c), which situate thought activity relative to the instinctual realm and describe the various fates for which thoughts may be destined: inhibition, obsessive intellectualization, or sublimation. Freud's third approach to thought was an original way of looking, not at the actual activity of thought, but at what is expected of it. This was the "anthropological" approach, to be found notably in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a), which developed the concepts of magical thought and animistic thought in relation to thought activity during childhood and in pathology.
In the "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c ), Freud argued that thought processes are provoked by dissonance between a memory imprinted by a wish and a cathexis that seems to belong to the wish. When the two do not coincide, a biological signal triggers thought; when they do, another signal terminates such activity and precipitates a discharge (action). Sixteen years later, in "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b), Freud proposed a similar account of the act of judgment, which "had to decide whether a given idea was true or false—that is, whether it was in agreement with reality or not—the decision being determined by making a comparison with the memory-traces of reality" (p. 221). Already in the "Project for a Scientific Psychology," he had stressed that it was possible for judgment to have no objective beyond itself, such as mnemonic activity, which is self-sufficient, or the examination of new perceptual elements. In Freud's theory, the role of judgment is in fact circumscribed both by recollection and by investigation.
In "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning," Freud defined thought as an activity that enabled the psychic apparatus to postpone discharge (action) when it would be inappropriate, and that brought together the impressions left by objects ("presentations") and their linguistic designators (words). Freud also set off a "species of thought-activity . . . kept free from reality-testing and . . . subordinated to the pleasure principle alone," namely fantasizing, which began with children's play and survived in daydreams (1911b, p. 222). Here Freud was broadening the concept of thought in a way also met with in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), where Freud divided the notion of "dream-thoughts" into "essential dream-thoughts" (the dream itself, uncensored) and "latent dream thoughts." The latter comprise the much broader set of thoughts originating in the multiple channels linking the latent to the manifest and of associations arising from contiguity and resemblance and produced during the work of interpretation. Even though an intellectual activity, such as calculation or deduction, may appear in a dream, "an act of judgment in a dream is only a repetition of some prototype in the dream-thoughts," a repetition that may be "so neatly employed that to begin with it may give the impression of independent intellectual activity in the dream" (1900a, p. 459).
Whereas the psychological approach offered a description of thought activity, the genetic approach raised an entirely different question: What makes us think? The question calls for identifying causes sufficient to account for the large quantities of libidinal energy devoted to thought activity. Freud posited an "instinct for knowledge or research" (1905d, p. 194). This independent and atypical instinct was not bound to any erogenous zone but drew pleasure from other so-called component instincts, namely the instinct to see and the instinct for mastery. Freud needed the difficult concept of sublimation here to explain this diversion of the instinct's aim and the change of its object. As early as the "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c ), Freud had pointed up the importance of the visual function for understanding. He stressed it even more in his essay on Leonardo da Vinci, who famously observed that the eyes are "the window to the soul." Freud's logical progression from the desire to look (Schaulust) to the instinct for knowledge (Wisstrieb) was based primarily on the fact that the wish to see was not satisfied with contemplating or even scrutinizing, but strove to compare. The perception of difference and the comparison of several variants of what is recognized as the same thing are steps toward the abstraction that enables us to think and classify.
According to Freud, the instinct for knowledge is awakened when children become interested in birth—a practical interest aimed at coping with the arrival of younger siblings (1908c). This curiosity, not satisfied by the parents' answers, leads the child to engage in intense theorizing and to devise answers, sometimes the classical ones, sometimes not, to unanswered questions. This theorizing is associated with masturbation and, like it, remains unfulfilled. Freud considered this lack of fulfillment as one of the sources of intellectual inhibition.
In his write-up of the case of "little Hans" (1909b), his write-up of the case of the "Wolf Man" (1918b ), and his analysis of Leonardo da Vinci (1910c), Freud explores the fate of this instinct for knowledge, which may either fall prey to inhibition, in tandem with a violent surge of sexual repression, or overcome inhibitory forces and re-emerge from the depths of the unconscious in the form of an obsessive thought. Or again, in the "rarest and most perfect" cases, the instinct may escape both fates: "The libido evades the fate of repression by being sublimated from the very beginning into curiosity and by becoming attached to the powerful instinct for research as a reinforcement" (1910c, p. 80).
Melanie Klein continued this line of investigation by developing the notion of an epistemophilic instinct, a very early curiosity concerning the inside of the mother's body and the babies presumably found there. Beginning with a consideration of the sadistic and destructive dimension of this curiosity, she pointed out that one of the sources of intellectual inhibition was the inability to obtain clarity of thought because of anxiety over what might be found (Klein, 1931).
After its fashion, Freud's third approach to thought, the anthropological approach, also addressed the question of the origin of the human desire to know. Freud felt that primitive thought was characterized by a belief in the "omnipotence of thoughts," a term that he had originally used in connection with an obsessional neurotic, the "Rat Man" (1909d, pp. 233-235), and that denoted an overestimation of the power of thought, resulting in things being erased by their representations. In such cases, intellectual processes are strongly sexualized, and this formed the basis of the belief in the omnipotence of ideas, which led primitive man to attempt to control the world with magic (1912-1913a, p. 89).
But if Freud believed that the question of the origin of life sparked the instinct for knowledge in children, by contrast, "the survivors' position in relation to the dead first caused primitive man to reflect" (1912-1913a, p. 93). He added, however, that this was not a purely intellectual problem, but rather an emotional conflict that had to be resolved. For children, just as for primitive humans, Freud thus rejected the notion of a primary need for causality; practical ends always predominate: "It is not to be supposed that men were inspired to create their first system of the universe by pure speculative curiosity. The practical need for controlling the world around them must have played its part" (1912-1913a, p. 78).
Whether Freud is concerned with the connection between the thought of the obsessive neurotic and that of primitive people, or with how the philosopher resembles the schizophrenic in mistaking words for things, his wide-ranging reflections on thought and its origins raise a multitude of issues, including that of psychoanalytic thought itself. For, as Freud himself wrote, "When we think in abstractions, there is a danger that we may neglect the relations of words to unconscious thing-presentations, and it must be confessed that the expression and content of our philosophizing then begins to acquire an unwelcome resemblance to the mode of operation of schizophrenics" (1915e, p. 204).
Anzieu, Didier. (1994). Le penser: Du moi-peau au moi-pensant. Paris: Dunod.
Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4: 1-338; 5: 339-625.
——. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
——. (1908c). On the sexual theories of children. SE, 9: 205-226.
——. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.
——. (1909d). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. SE, 10: 151-318.
——. (1910c). Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. SE, 11: 57-137.
——. (1911b). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. SE, 12: 213-226.
——. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
——. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.
——. (1918b ). From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.
——. (1925h). Negation. SE, 19: 233-239.
——. (1950c ). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.
Klein, Melanie. (1931). A contribution to the theory of intellectual inhibition. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 12, 206-218.
Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1992). Le plaisir de pensée. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
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Thought generally refers to any mental or intellectual activity involving an individual's subjective consciousness. It can refer either to the act of thinking or the resulting ideas or arrangements of ideas. Similar concepts include cognition, sentience, consciousness, and imagination. Because thought underlies almost all human actions and interactions, understanding its physical and metaphysical origins, processes, and effects has been a longstanding goal of many academic disciplines including, among others, biology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology.
Thinking allows beings to make sense of or model the world in different ways, and to represent or interpret it in ways that are significant to them, or which accord with their needs, attachments, objectives, plans, commitments, ends and desires.
In common language, the word to think covers numerous and diverse psychological activities. It often refers merely to the act of being conscious of something, especially if that thing is outside the immediate environment ("It made me think of my grandmother"). It is sometimes a synonym for "tending to believe," especially with less than full confidence ("I think that it will rain, but I am not sure"). At other times it denotes the degree of attentiveness ("I did it without thinking"). Many other mental activities—many of which may shade into each other—can be covered by the word, such as interpreting, evaluating, imagining, planning, and remembering.
In common usage, "thought" is often attributed to animals, machines, other non-human objects, and phenomena. The exact meaning of such usage varies as well. The attribution of thought or thought processes to non-human objects and phenomena (especially computers) could be considered anthropomorphism, though such categorizations have been contested by such computer scientists as Alan Turing (see Computing Machinery and Intelligence). As regards animals, to what extent different animals think depends on the exact definition of the word that is given, so it may be taken literally or regarded as anthropomorphic.
Little is written about the actual content of thoughts. It would seem we do not think in complete sentences. We think fragments, ideas embodied in words. We don't think "I mailed the package to my sister this morning", we think "mailed package sister morning". If we're reading a book, our thoughts include the story line and our reflections on the story line. But our thoughts can contain only one idea at a time, so if the plot is "hero runs after murderer" and our reflection is "he was foolish to trust the villain", our thought is something like "hero foolish trust run after murderer villain".
Our thoughts may include images.
|“||What is most thought-provoking in these thought-provoking times, is that we are still not thinking. – Martin Heidegger||”|
The phenomenology movement in philosophy saw a radical change in the way in which we understand thought. Martin Heidegger's phenomenological analyses of the existential structure of man in Being and Time cast new light on the issue of thinking, unsettling traditional cognitive or rational interpretations of man which affect the way we understand thought. The notion of the fundamental role of non-cognitive understanding in rendering possible thematic consciousness informed the discussion surrounding Artificial Intelligence during the 1970s and 1980s.
Phenomenology, however, is not the only approach to thinking in modern Western philosophy. Philosophy of mind is a branch of modern analytic philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e. the relationship of the mind to the body, is commonly seen as the central issue in philosophy of mind, although there are other issues concerning the nature of the mind that do not involve its relation to the physical body.
The mind-body problem concerns the explanation of the relationship that exists between minds, or mental processes, and bodily states or processes. The main aim of philosophers working in this area is to determine the nature of the mind and mental states/processes, and how—or even if—minds are affected by and can affect the body.
Human perceptual experiences depend on stimuli which arrive at one's various sensory organs from the external world and these stimuli cause changes in one's mental state, ultimately causing one to feel a sensation, which may be pleasant or unpleasant. Someone's desire for a slice of pizza, for example, will tend to cause that person to move his or her body in a specific manner and in a specific direction to obtain what he or she wants. The question, then, is how it can be possible for conscious experiences to arise out of a lump of gray matter endowed with nothing but electrochemical properties. A related problem is to explain how someone's propositional attitudes (e.g. beliefs and desires) can cause that individual's neurons to fire and his muscles to contract in exactly the correct manner. These comprise some of the puzzles that have confronted epistemologists and philosophers of mind from at least the time of René Descartes.
The above reflects a classical, functional description of how we work as cognitive, thinking systems. However the apparently irresolvable mind-body problem is said to be overcome, and bypassed, by the Embodied cognition approach, with its roots in the work of Heidegger, Piaget, Vygotsky, Merleau-Ponty and the pragmatist John Dewey.
This approach states that the classical approach of separating the mind and analysing its processes is misguided: instead, we should see that the mind, actions of an embodied agent, and the environment it perceives and envisions, are all parts of a whole which determine each other. Therefore functional analysis of the mind alone will always leave us with the mind-body problem which cannot be solved.
A neuron (also known as a neurone or nerve cell) is an excitable cell in the nervous system that processes and transmits information by electrochemical signaling. Neurons are the core components of the brain, the vertebrate spinal cord, the invertebrate ventral nerve cord, and the peripheral nerves. A number of specialized types of neurons exist: sensory neurons respond to touch, sound, light and numerous other stimuli affecting cells of the sensory organs that then send signals to the spinal cord and brain. Motor neurons receive signals from the brain and spinal cord and cause muscle contractions and affect glands. Interneurons connect neurons to other neurons within the brain and spinal cord. Neurons respond to stimuli, and communicate the presence of stimuli to the central nervous system, which processes that information and sends responses to other parts of the body for action. Neurons do not go through mitosis, and usually cannot be replaced after being destroyed,[dubious ] although astrocytes have been observed to turn into neurons as they are sometimes pluripotent.
Psychologists have concentrated on thinking as an intellectual exertion aimed at finding an answer to a question or the solution of a practical problem. Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that investigates internal mental processes such as problem solving, memory, and language. The school of thought arising from this approach is known as cognitivism which is interested in how people mentally represent information processing. It had its foundations in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and in the work of Jean Piaget, who provided a theory of stages/phases that describe children's cognitive development.
Cognitive psychologists use psychophysical and experimental approaches to understand, diagnose, and solve problems, concerning themselves with the mental processes which mediate between stimulus and response. They study various aspects of thinking, including the psychology of reasoning, and how people make decisions and choices, solve problems, as well as engage in creative discovery and imaginative thought. Cognitive theory contends that solutions to problems take the form of algorithms—rules that are not necessarily understood but promise a solution, or heuristics—rules that are understood but that do not always guarantee solutions. Cognitive science differs from cognitive psychology in that algorithms that are intended to simulate human behavior are implemented or implementable on a computer. In other instances, solutions may be found through insight, a sudden awareness of relationships.
In developmental psychology, Jean Piaget was a pioneer in the study of the development of thought from birth to maturity. In his theory of cognitive development, thought is based on actions on the environment. That is, Piaget suggests that the environment is understood through assimilations of objects in the available schemes of action and these accommodate to the objects to the extent that the available schemes fall short of the demands. As a result of this interplay between assimilation and accommodation, thought develops through a sequence of stages that differ qualititatively from each other in mode of representation and complexity of inference and understanding. That is, thought evolves from being based on perceptions and actions at the sensorimotor stage in the first two years of life to internal representations in early childhood. Subsequently, representations are gradually organized into logical structures which first operate on the concrete properties of the reality, in the stage of concrete operations, and then operate on abstract principles that organize concrete properties, in the stage of formal operations. In recent years, the Piagetian conception of thought was integrated with information processing conceptions. Thus, thought is considered as the result of mechanisms that are responsible for the representation and processing of information. In this conception, speed of processing, cognitive control, and working memory are the main functions underlying thought. In the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development, the development of thought is considered to come from increasing speed of processing, enhanced cognitive control, and increasing working memory.
"Id", "ego", and "super-ego" are the three parts of the "psychic apparatus" defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model, the uncoordinated instinctual trends are the "id"; the organized realistic part of the psyche is the "ego," and the critical and moralizing function the "super-ego."
The unconscious was considered by Freud throughout the evolution of his psychoanalytic theory a sentient force of will influenced by human desire and yet operating well below the perceptual conscious mind. For Freud, the unconscious is the storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, and psychic drives. While past thoughts and reminiscences may be concealed from immediate consciousness, they direct the thoughts and feelings of the individual from the realm of the unconscious.
For psychoanalysis, the unconscious does not include all that is not conscious, rather only what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what the person is averse to knowing consciously. In a sense this view places the self in relationship to their unconscious as an adversary, warring with itself to keep what is unconscious hidden. If a person feels pain, all he can think of is alleviating the pain. Any of his desires, to get rid of pain or enjoy something, command the mind what to do. For Freud, the unconscious was a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression. However, the contents did not necessarily have to be solely negative. In the psychoanalytic view, the unconscious is a force that can only be recognized by its effects—it expresses itself in the symptom.
Social psychology is the study of how people and groups interact. Scholars in this interdisciplinary area are typically either psychologists or sociologists, though all social psychologists employ both the individual and the group as their units of analysis.
Despite their similarity, psychological and sociological researchers tend to differ in their goals, approaches, methods, and terminology. They also favor separate academic journals and professional societies. The greatest period of collaboration between sociologists and psychologists was during the years immediately following World War II. Although there has been increasing isolation and specialization in recent years, some degree of overlap and influence remains between the two disciplines.
The collective unconscious, sometimes known as collective subconscious, is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is a part of the unconscious mind, shared by a society, a people, or all humanity, in an interconnected system that is the product of all common experiences and contains such concepts as science, religion, and morality. While Freud did not distinguish between an "individual psychology" and a "collective psychology," Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal subconscious particular to each human being. The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species."
In the "Definitions" chapter of Jung's seminal work Psychological Types, under the definition of "collective" Jung references representations collectives, a term coined by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl in his 1910 book How Natives Think. Jung says this is what he describes as the collective unconscious. Freud, on the other hand, did not accept the idea of a collective unconscious
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