What does the statement, "Thought happens." really mean? And, what idea is it really meant to convey? Well, I'd say that the statement means that there is a process, or function, or activity, which is called 'thought' and that this process or activity occurs. That is, the process actually takes place in reality. And what is this process? Well, that question could be interpreted a couple of ways: first we might be asking for an identification of the process. That is, among all the processes there are, which of them is called 'thought'. Secondly, we might be asking about the process. That is, we might be asking for a description of or an explanation for the process of thought. Or, we might even be asking for a mechanism which constitutes and/or produces the thought.
I think the second of these interpretations is beyond the scope of our enquiry at this early stage. Understanding thought in this sense is one of the long-range objectives of our entire effort.
But, the first interpretation, that is simply identifying the process so that you and I are talking about the same thing, is all we need at this stage. And, to make the identification, let's agree that by 'thought' we will mean the process, or activity, or function, that I am aware is occurring as I type this sentence and that you are aware is occurring as you read this sentence. I, the writer, am assuming that you, the reader, are experiencing the discovery of meaning in the sentence you are reading and that your experience is of the same type as my experience of awareness as I write. We both know what the particular choices and arrangement of the words in these sentences mean. Or, at least, the meanings that we each infer are pretty close to one another.
Now this definition of the term 'thought', even though it is simply an identification and not a description or explanation, is complicated by the fact that two different "thinkers" are involved. I mentioned both you and me. I have a direct awareness of, and can thus identify, the experience of thought involved in writing, and I presume that you have a direct awareness of, and can thus identify, the experience of thought involved in reading.
I also know that those two experiences are separated both in time and in space. But it's the thought that counts, not the fact that you and I are thinking of different thoughts when we think about my recipe for identifying thoughts.
In almost the same way, my own thoughts are separated both in time and space. So in addition to the complication introduced by separate thinkers, we have the complication of separate thoughts.
At this point, let's try to make a model of what we have so far. We have two or more thinkers each of whom experience thoughts that are separated in time and space. The separation in time seems to be along a sequential continuum. That is, thoughts seem to occur as a stream of consciousness with thoughts coming and going in sequence. It isn't clear, however, that the stream is really continuous. It seems, at least, that the stream is interrupted while we sleep, and it also seems as if there are lapses in consciousness even when we are awake.
In terms of space, the thoughts seem to follow my body and brain around. Even though my thoughts may be concentrated on, say, the moon, it still seems as if the thought is occurring in my head and not on the moon itself.
So to model what we have, we can use Einstein's concept of "World Lines". World lines are one-dimensional paths through space-time such that the time component always increases. That is, even though we have complete freedom of movement in the three spatial dimensions, we cannot move backward in time, nor can we even stand still with respect to time.
The experience of thought fits this model exactly as long as we agree that the thought occurs or takes place or is at least associated with individual brains. The bodies carrying the brains move around in space and time precisely along Einsteinian world lines.
In the world of physics, this model is used to describe the behavior of each and every individual particle and aggregate of matter. It is even used to describe the behavior of the particular aspects of wave action. So the physical world is a dense jumble of world lines as all the many particles move through their paths in the space-time continuum.
By contrast, there are many times fewer world lines of thought. There are only as many world lines of thought as there are thinkers, and these are only the alive, awake, and thinking humans, as well as any other animals or plants that think. In any case, it is far fewer than the number of electrons, for example.
By this measure, it would seem that if science can come to an understanding of the behavior of electrons, we should, in principle, be able to come to a similar understanding of the behavior of thought. That is what I am aiming at.
Now, since I am musing, and since my mind has a tendency to wander, let me go off on a tangent here and give you a sketch of how I imagine this model of world lines of thought plays, or will play, in the clearing we are heading for at the end of the woods. I don't think that thought, or consciousness, occurs in the brain at all, any more than the thought and consciousness involved in the experiences of a Mars rover occurs in the rover vehicle.
Instead, like the Mars rover, the conscious experiencer is literally in another world. In the case of the rover, the conscious experiencer is a scientist in JPL on planet earth. In the case of conscious thought, the experiencer is in some higher dimensional space that is inaccessible to scientific observation using their chosen instruments. I think thought happens by virtue of a "stylus" or "read/write head" that traverses along a particular thought world line. Just as in the case of playing a DVD movie, the information for the movie is stored in the track on the disk (world line), but the experience of the movie, with its sounds and colors is up there with the viewer watching the screen.
I know, I know. This introduces immense complexity and it might be enough to cause some readers to abandon me right here. But, please, take this as a digression only, and as a preview of where we are taking this. I don't expect that you will agree with it, or even understand it at this point. It's just that I know generally where I am heading with this effort, and since it flooded my mind at this point, I just wanted to let you in on it in case you were interested.
Now, since my train of thought has been interrupted, and I am tired and hungry, I'll stop my musing here and get back to my track on the ground through the trees next time.
[Before I stop, Ill jot down some ideas to consider later just so they don't get lost.
Euclid's "error": 5th postulate:: Modern "error": Axiom of choice
Kronecker was close to being right; God didn't provide an infinite set of integers.
Commonality of mystical experience
Candidates for axioms:
The universe has more than four space-time dimensions
Nothing real is infinite
The Axiom of Choice makes mathematics inconsistent and unsuitable to describe reality
The capability for conscious experience is ontologically fundamental
There is only one real thing that exists, and that is a consciousness with its thoughts.
All religions represent truth at a naive allegorical level
Nothing real is perfect, complete, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, or infinite.
All hypotheses for the ontological essence reduce to concepts of one sort or another
In order for concepts to exist, something like a mind must first exist
The phenomenon of sleep is a strong counter-example for evolution
Sleep should be considered the most baffling mystery of life
Conscious experience should be considered the most baffling mystery of the universe
Penrose's Treblism is undeniable]
©2015 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.