Saturday, August 8, 2009

thinking of thinking

philosophy of freedom, chapter three

Before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood. (Steiner, Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 3)

You can really hurt your brain thinking about thinking! It is not an activity we often engage in in our daily rhythms. It is the unobserved element in our ordinanry mental and spiritual life. (Steiner) But if you stop and think about it for a moment - actually, Steiner encourages one to set aside some time each day to do just that - the act of thinking is quite amazing, a unique human power.

We interact with the world through our senses, perceptions, observations. If we regard observation as a singular event, a passive act that is given to us by the object of that observation, we really can know no more about that object other than the percept of that object. The apple on the table is just an apple on the table.

adds another dimension to the observation of the apple on the table: concept. Forming a concept of that event is an active human-willed process. That delicious looking apple was picked from a tree and I wonder if it is ripe enough to eat...

It is an empowering thought that thinking occurs out of your own active device. No other human can take ownership of your thinking, no other human can take away this eternal freedom.

What if you make thinking the object of observation? Thinking of thinking. Steiner states that one can never observe present thinking. I can only subsequently take my experiences of my thinking process as the object of fresh thinking. (Steiner)

This makes sense, as thinking is, I believe, a mechanism. The process of forming a concept of the observed event occurs by way of the thinking mechanism. Similarly, the act of throwing a ball is like the act of thinking. In the split instant when the ball leaves your hand, the mechanism of the electrical impulses traveling through your nervous system, the actin and myosin filaments racheting to contract your muscles, and sodium-potassium pumps transporting ions between cells, the hand-eye coordination, the vestibulocochlear signals to keep you oriented, your circulatory system dilating the capillaries in your active muscles, the parasympathetic nerves telling your digestive system that it is not the priority, all is happening in some physiological, magical way so the ball reaches your target at just the right speed and trajectory. You are not thinking of the physics or physiology involved at the time it is occuring. Just like thinking. The end game is the concepts your brain is forming, not the thinking process itself.

Steiner states that there are two things which are incompatible with one another: productive activity and the contemplation of it.

If you took the time to contemplate the physiology of throwing that ball, you'd be tackled with lost yardage! Thinking is a productive activity, engaged in the service of knowledge.

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