Hello, how are you ? I hope you are fine!
Can you tell me:
*How does thought work?
*Is there any truth to sayings "thought creates reality" and "we are what we think"?
*Why are different people conscious of different things? how does consciousness work?
Hope you are fine! And I hope the following is the sort of thing you want to know.
It is generally held that the relation between thoughts is a function of the conceptual content. For
example, if I think it will rain this afternoon it will be because I know the skies are clouded and I
believe these are rain clouds. These thoughts, which are immaterial, will have an effect on my
behaviour, such as picking up an umbrella. So a problem of how thought works, is how the immaterial
acts upon the physical. We can try to give up the notion of cause, which is physical, or we can
subscribe to a theory such as Donald Davidson's which identifies mental events with physical events
so that for any thought there is a neural event in the brain, but this seems not to give enough force to
the mental as it appears to us. We think it is our decision, not a neural event, which makes us pick up
Another problem is that, from our point of view, we don't seem to go through a process such as
judging the nature of the clouds and consciously forming a belief these are rain clouds. We just have
a quick look. But if it is simply the concluding thought that is causally efficient, the reasoning would
have no causal effect, but my belief about rain clouds must have some bearing. The problem arises
because we take relations between thoughts as based on clear cut conceptual relations and we think
thought is linguistic. This has led artificial intelligence researchers to the quasi-scientific view that
intelligence is unambiguously coded and that if a physical thing can manipulate codes, it can think.
Since we believe thinking involves consciousness, this is highly counter-intuitive, because we also
strongly believe that only biological organisms with brains are conscious. Furthermore, neuroscience
has it that the language areas of the brain are not responsible for thinking so it is wrong to take
thinking as a syntactic computational operation, as language itself is. Thought is prior to language,
and although we have come to think linguistically it doesn't mean that being able to manipulate codes
is sufficient for thought.
The example of the short train of thought above actually makes thinking look partially unconscious:
We are only really conscious of our "having a look" and then picking up the umbrella. According to the
neuroscientist Edelman in his recent book Consciousness: How matter becomes imagination, the
stronger our knowledge becomes, the more it becomes unconscious, so eventually we don't have to
wonder about the nature of the clouds. This is clear in the case of typing, for instance. As we learn,
we are conscious of our fingers on the keyboards, but when we are proficient we are aware of what
we write on the screen. The unconscious, then, has the function of providing us with an ability for
intelligent development: We don't have to consciously think about everything and there is an
enormous amount of activity going on in the brain at all times. My brain is guiding my fingers and
thinking of what I am writing and I am perceptually conscious of what is around me.
It is difficult to say how consciousness works. The artificial intelligence view supposes that information
is coded and can be programmed which assumes that as we perceive and learn language the brain
learns new codes and signals and there be will be a determinate physical state for any particular
thought or sensation. Edelman, on the other hand, says that the brain is active. Instead of being
computational, the brain is creative, dynamic, associative and constantly changing. Essentially, a
neural process is highly informational. A conscious neural process is associative and selectional, so
that a thought is not isolated, and it can move in many directions. There is a "functional cluster" of
relevant connections within the brain which changes all the time. It is difficult to summarise Edelman's
theory, but the basic idea of a dynamic cluster reflects what thought and perception is like for us. We
are never in a simple conscious state, such as "experiencing red". Rather, the mind is active and we
perceive an enormous amount of visual information at any one time as well as experiencing bodily
feelings and thoughts. Consciousness works because of our brain activities, though why and how our
brain activities have the effect of subjective experience, we cannot really say.
It has long been held that "thought creates reality". Kant, for instance, argued that the way in which
we perceive and understand what is given to us in experience moulds what we take reality to be.
Actually, for Kant, "reality" itself is a concept introduced by our way of understanding, as is cause and
effect. Concepts of the understanding, such as reality and causation, are needed for us to make
sense of our experience. Our idea of the world as spatial and temporal, on the other hand, is held by
Kant not to be imposed by our understanding, but is introduced by the very nature of experience. Our
perceptual equipment must determine how reality appears to us. Because of our shared equipment,
there are limits to the different sorts of things we can be conscious of. However, you cannot be
conscious of things you don't know about. For instance, our grasp of concepts, such as clouds, say
differs. You won't be conscious of rain clouds unless you know about rain clouds. Interestingly — for
me anyway! — Edelman's claim is that no two informational states at the brain level can be the same.
All your experiences of clouds have been different from mine so that when you think of clouds your
informational neural process will be different. If you perceive differently, or more than another person,
such as in listening to music, you are bringing knowledge and experience to bear.
I hope this is what you want. To find out more about the philosophical problems of thought and
consciousness, there are accessible writers such as Colin McGinn (The Subjective View), Daniel
Dennett (The Intentional Stance) and John Searle (Intentionality). The mind is generally described as
intentional or relational between a subject and content which you might want to find out more about.
You could, of course, send a new question, differently phrased!