I do wonder what the process of thinking (as distinct from the mysterious thing called consciousness) actually is. The following are not conclusions but questions as to whether others have the same sort of doubt.

Genuine thinkers such as Aquinas or Descartes or Kant or Russell, so I’ve always understood, take a problem to pieces, identify its essence and then, armed with logic, put together a structure which, like a good building, stands firmly upright. The crucial aspect of this is that the thinker, seeing that there is a problem, works at it there and then with his mind until he reaches a solution that satisfies him. By an effort of concentrated intelligence he thinks out things that he has not thought out before. He works, as if on a crossword puzzle which did not require effort before he picked it up. For present purposes it doesn’t matter if he makes the wrong assumptions or gets his logic wrong and is thereafter rightly attacked by the next thinker. What matters is the thought-process itself.

This process has always evaded me. Whenever I’ve tried to think through a problem (especially a problem de nouveau that does not involve attacking a previous thinker) at one stage or another either I see that there is no answer or that there are so many conflicting answers that they get nowhere.

Instead – although I’m not sure that I understand this – what happens is that I discover what I have already thought. The task is simply to remember fully what my mind has already done for me.

This could mean that I am Superbrain, working so amazingly quickly that the solution seems to have arrived ahead of the problem. But long, hard experience tells me that I am not Superbrain. If anything – ask my friends or my wife – I am Slowbrain, with a mind that often ticks too slow.

So how on earth can I ‘discover’ that an answer to an (apparently) newly-posed question is already there? And, more often than not, a better answer than anything I could arrive at by ‘thinking’ as defined above? Sometimes I’m even capable of insights that, proceeding like Kant, would be completely beyond me. 

I can only suppose, short of confessing to schizophrenia, that bits and pieces of various problems are being worked on by my mind without my volition or permission. (I thought that sort of thing was the province of dreams.)

I’m tempted to put an ad in the local paper explaining all this and asking whether others have the same problem.    

Categorized as Memos