What are you thinking about

I realized as I examined my talking on a daily basis that the goal of my conversations varied. Sometimes I am merely interacting with my own words and not so much with what the person or people in my presence are saying.

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You see someone sitting by the window quiet, still staring into space. This is what you see. You think he is deep in thought. You might look at his posture and face and even think he is worried.  If the situation persists, you think he is sad, maybe he lost someone, maybe he lost love, maybe he has financial problems, maybe…You think this way not because of this person but because of you.

You watch for 10 minutes and ask, “what are you thinking about?” the response, wondering why that bird is hovering around the same place without flying away”. And then asks you “what were you thinking about?” and your answer “ I was wondering what you were thinking about”. And the conversation goes on trying to get specifics of each others thoughts.

How do we find out what is going on inside a persons head? That is the question. I ask myself, how do I know what is going on in my head? I’ll tell you.

First I have these things that you’d probably call thoughts. These are called thoughts because they seem to be in the form of words, almost like I am having a conversation with myself. The problem is when you ask me what was I thinking about, though I can remember yet I can not say. Why?

I have tried very hard to reproduce my thoughts word for word seconds after they go through my mind. The few times I succeeded, it could hardly be called thoughts at all as I was so pre-occupied with being able to reproduce them afterwards it was more like a rehearsal, similar to memorizing a poem for a recital only that the poem was never written or spoken to you rather it was composed by you and remains in your head till you say it. So what then makes it hard for me to be able to articulate my thoughts if they truly exists as words?

I tried to monitor myself thinking. This was a very serious challenge because if you try to monitor yourself thinking, you quickly get into the recital mode and think about nothing at all. If you do not try, you can’t recollect what you were thinking about. After many attempts, I came to this realization

Thinking is like time. You can not analyze now because it ceases to be before you can. In the same way, you can not analyze the time just preceding now because it ceases to be. Depending on what you are trying to understand, one second might be more important than 1 year or vice versa.

You first have to understand what unit of time is suitable for the type of meaning you are trying to study. This is due to the fact that stability is relative. Though everything is in motion and dynamic, the relative motion between things cause some to be appear stable with respect to others. As such, understanding the nature of relative motion or stability between what is being studied and what is doing the study is crucial to being able to decide on the unit of time necessary for the study.

I found out that my thoughts were impossible to articulate because by nature they do not have a beginning and an end but are iteratively, reflexively and recursively linked in an unending mesh. In comparison, conversation or writing appears to have a beginning and an end. However, when one examines them closely, one discovers that conversations are part of the system and we are never actually starting a conversation with someone rather we are interacting with an element in our environment. The way we relate to this element is not determined purely by this element but rather by the cumulative effect of the various systemic components including this new element.

Thus the person or persons you are presumably conversing with are merely a change in the environment requiring you to adjust or adapt to. The “Person” is not that important and thus we never actually started a conversation or end it, we merely continue in the context of this new environmental condition. Different people could present the same conditions and thus elicit similar adaptations.

Now back to the nature of my thoughts. I actually found out that the endlessness was not the only reason it was impossible to articulate my thoughts with ease, it appeared that the words I thought made up my thoughts were actually just a small portion of the experience of thinking. There were times when I am certain I was thinking and I had no thoughts (words) at all. You might be thinking images and sounds, yes but also feelings. By feelings I am referring both to the sensory experiences associated with the other 3 senses (touch, smell and taste) and the emotional experiences at this point, the physiological emotional conditions. Thus the content of my mind at any one time is determined by the dynamic interaction between all the internal and external conditions that represent the unit of time considered to be relevant to what is being studied. Thus the attempt to articulate my thoughts is practically impossible yet speaking and writing is possible. The idea that speaking and writing is possible is based on the assumption that doing is possible but the meaning or interpretation of the action is the real challenge.

To assume that what a person says or writes is an expression (as in a representation) of what they think and feel is to assume too much in my opinion. It is better to assume that what a person says or writes is in the context of what they think and feel and this is often with regard to specific conditions of the person – environment interaction.

The actual relationship between what a person says or writes and what they think and feel is determined by the concept of stability. In what is described as conversation (one person ‘talks’ to another person), it important to understand that this requires the use of language (learned symbols whose meanings are socially determined). The use of symbols in communication is a separate activity from communication itself.

Communication is an interaction between components of a system. The use of symbols in social communication (communication being mediated or unmediated) is a subcomponent of the systemic interaction. This means when I talk to someone, I am trying to use symbols to “represent” my thoughts and feelings in the hope that either the other person will “think and feel” the same thing or that I will achieve the results I desire from the interaction.

I realized as I examined my talking on a daily basis that the goal of my conversations varied. Sometimes I am merely interacting with my own words and not so much with what the person or people in my presence are saying. In some other situations, I seem to be trying to get a particular response or reaction from the person or people, when you get that response or reaction, you assume the person ‘understands’ what you were saying which means – thinks and feels what you thought and felt. The third type of situation is somewhat related to the second one but in a subcomponent kind of way. It relates to situations when the nature of the response I want is to indicate a change in value or emotional orientation towards something… often I keep asking “do you understand?” and by this I mean do you value it as much as I do? Do you feel the same way as I do? Does it mean the same to you?

The three situations above appear to shift the focus from me to the other person as you go from 1 to 2 to 3. However this is only on the surface, I realized that at the systemic interaction level, the focus is actually still me. Even when I am trying to get the person to share my state I am merely trying to adjust the system for stability as it works for me. The other person is also trying to do the same thing and that is the issue.

Symbol based communication requires translation, much like when you think in one language and talk in another. However, in the selection and delivery of the symbols, one often fails to realize that this only represents a new component in an already existing system of interactions. The effect of this new component can be compared to introducing a new sound to an existing piece of music. This new sound will require the listener who is also the performer to adapt to it by re-organizing the existing sounds in order to again establish ‘stability’ as the listener sees it. The new sound on its own has no impact.

Before I talk about the implications of all this, I’d like to explore the issue of learning in the context of systemic interactions. Learning discussions are always focused on symbolic communication. However learning is not so much about symbolic communication as it is about mental operations. How a system adapts to the environment is determined by what the system considers as stability or acceptable conditions.

For example, I do not like closure, I like things to remain open ended. And so, whenever the system seems to be closed, I find ways to open it sometimes doing things outside the norm just so the system remain open. This is not something I think about then do, but rather something I do then realize. In other words, it seems to be a conditioned response. In order to stop this from happening I have to exercise control over the process but this is only possible if there is a component in the system that makes this possible. A lot of people assume this component is thoughts (thinking in words) but I believe it is mental operations conditioned by environmental contexts. The stable or acceptable conditions of the system can not be altered by symbolic communication, at least not directly. However it is altered naturally by environment conditions of which symbolic communication is a part.

In this context, what is school? School is an environment designed to provide an opportunity for a formal indoctrination of members of a society into the ways of that society. Those who successfully indoctrinate are accepted and respected, those who do not are frowned upon and sent for ‘fixing’. In this model, the idea of an ‘observer’ suddenly emerges. Previously the systemic interaction had no observer for each person was a subsystem within an interacting larger system. However, now social conditions introduce the role of an observer who could control the environmental conditions each subsystem navigates.

The observer often does not respect the system and assumes the individual (a set of components of the system) is all that matters. The observer also assumes he can assess this individual for various levels of alignment with social norms. This focus on the ‘other person’ and disregard of the systemic interactions is driven by value based social interactions. The meaning of language is socially determined and membership of a society is at the primary level determined by ability to speak the language. Thus, the first level of control and therefore the first level of indoctrination is language acquisition. Then it extends to knowing what others know about the society.

Knowing has two levels, remember and valuing. Valuing can also be to understand. To know is to be able to recall, but also to value. However, value evades symbolic communication as it is a systemic interaction principle related to stability or accepted conditions, thus the focus on remembering in the indoctrination process.

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