Thought, Ideas--Where do they come from?

I notice with real careful observation that we are merly observers of our thoughts. We observe these streams of thoughts choose between them but arn’t actualy thought. We arn’t really a thinking being but an observer of thoughts. Is there an infinite inteligence of some kind where our thoughts come from?

Any arguments to back up your ideas? Or are we just supposed to take your word for it.


It’s been a few years since I’ve done any work in epistemology or concept formation. Nonetheless I guess I’ll try to piece together a view.

I think that our senses are very important in concept formation. Consider an individual with no senses who is completely isolated. Would this individual have any ideas? Could it have a concept of self? It took Hellen Keller many years to form concepts. Before this she was almost animal-like in behavior.

We take the information given to us by our sense perception and through reflection form ideas. I think it is our ability to reflect that allows us to assert that we are thinking things. For instnance, I can do much more than observe. I can postulate, hypothesize, predict, etc. Thus it seems that our thoughts and concept of self may have originated from our senses that are intimately tied with our intellect and ability to reflect. From these primitive thoughts we can build complexes and form further concepts and reflect upon them in turn.

I don’t really see the need to postulate an infinite being here, at least not for the origins of thought. Perhaps you may wish to question what happens to the objects of perception when we no longer percieve them, etc.?

TheUndergroundMan noted:

We are both the thinker and the thought.

and both the dreamer and the dream.

so dream well…


But no thats just it we are not the thought and not the dream. We merly observe. Here lets follow me on this for a min. Are you to tell me I am one with the tree and chair? Yes on the subatomic level we surly can be one but I am no more the chair, tree as I am my body. Do you understand? Perhaps my body and chair are one but that surly is not me. Neither is thought or dream. The closest I come to what am I is a mere observer with the ablity to choose between thought. Where the thought actualy comes from I doubt I know. I can say as much about thought as I can say where any and all matter comes from. I know of matter through sensual preception and interpetation and the difference between thought and matter is that thought I observe, how i know not, while matter I can sense. Yet I am no more the thought as I am my body, chair or tree.

That’s a very interesting question, Kizzo. I’ll have to think about that one …

Interestingly enough, through a form of meditation, consciously cutting off all forms of sensory perception from the brain, and also ignoring all memory … at the peak of such experiments isn’t something achieved called “Nirvana?” Perhaps ignorance truly is bliss … :sunglasses:

He would be alone - very alone - alone with himself and alone within himself. Alone with his thoughts and alone IN his thoughts. For him there would be no external, only internal. He would exist inside himself, the thinker and the thoughts. He would live within his own dreams, and these dreams would be nothing more than reflections of himself.
Would he have any ideas? He may well dream that he does…


I think no, this individual would not have any ideas.

ya, I would like to hear that. but don’t scare me to death as I am a sensitive person :unamused:
I no longer perceive someone that was really close to me recently. what happened to him? is only my memory the reason I think about him?

Kizzo, there is a thing called a sensory deprevation tank, where all your senses are taken away (you float in a tank where there’s no stimuli for your senses). Apparantly your imagination goes insane and you see things that definately do not exist, most people can’t take it over a small period of time. There’s even a 70’s movie with John Hurt that deals with this (he experiments with drugs and puts himself in the SDT to find truth).

Plato argued that there’s an independent world where all thought and ideas exist. The counter-part of this is that our ideas and thoughts come from viewing the external world. Both of these seem to give little freedom for thought.

What we’re discussing here is where do thoughts ORIGINATE from, the first cause. This is quite a tough question, since it’s quite the same as asking what was the first cause of everything (don’t even ask for my take on this :slight_smile:).

But here’s my theory for where do thoughts originate from: First of all, assume that we have the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious. Now I argue that everything we experience first comes into our unconcious (the unconscious being the raw level where there’s no discrimination against stimuli that we recieve, all memories that we don’t remember, etc. exist in). This then (the unconscious) discriminates and selects what is then passed onto the subconscious. Here even more filtering occurs, and finally it passes into your conscious where we proclaim that we have a thought.

Now how does the unconscious discriminate? To who we are, our limitations and strengths (e.g. a highly-motivated and aware person will see someone drowning so the unconscious transfers the message of ‘GO RESCUE HIM!’).

Now of course I have no SCIENTIFIC proof for this, but with this theory it’s explainable a) where thought comes from and b) why can’t we pin-point the origin for our thoughts.


where is the sensory deprivation tank used? is it a therapeutic tool in the psychiatric treatment? never heard of that. what are the results?

I don’t know much myself, for I only know general knowledge. For what they’re used for, I have no idea. Here’s some websites I found on the subject matter after a quick Google search: ← Ketamine + SDT

No. That is not by definition Nirvana. Nirvana is the elimination of atman (the false notion of self) and the realization of Truth (truth with a capital “T”). What you’re refering to is merely meditation. Although some might say that this is a state akin to Nirvana, Nirvana is a state of being (if that language can be used here) and not simply an experience. It’s the candle being snuffed out, not the snuffing out of the candle.

Did that make sense?

Prove it.

What is the thinker? Who is the thinker? Find this person and describe it to me. Because, when I try to arrive at some notion of self, identity, or some notion of this thinker, I come up with nothing save things which are constantly changing, malleable, and give nothing like the common understanding we usually have of self. Where does the thinker come from? When there is no thought, does it leave? Does it cease to be?

To pull a quote, “There is thought but no thinker can be found.” I believe that’s from Suzuki, though he may have in fact been quoting someone else.

For joke purposes:

"Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear. " nods head “Ahuh.”

That’s from “Empire Records.”

Thanks for clearing that up, Shybard. I was actually just joking, and in a mean-spirited way, you know, in regards to those folk born without any senses, but thanks. :wink:

On the subject of thoughts, and how they’re affected by senses: First I came to believe that a child born without any senses would still have thoughts, but more in the form of emotions, or feelings. Distinctions cannot be made without sensory perception, or knowledge in the memory of these distinctions. A world of everlasting emptyness, from beginning to end, one without consciousness to the immanent world, which, ultimately, would be what this is, would have no thoughts, but only a stream of emotions inside something of a void.

However, then I came to think of each sense. A person can be born blind, mute, deaf, and dumb, and a person can be born with no nerve endings (such as some former pro-boxers), but can a person be born without the ability to “feel?” This fifth sense is the most important, for without it, even if there were nothing wrong with our eyes, we couldn’t see, nothing wrong within our nostrils, we couldn’t smell, nothing wrong with our ear-drums but we can’t hear. Because even though chemical and electric neurons are being sent to the brain to indicate to our consciousness such worldly evidence, the brain cannot feel any of these, doesn’t recognize them, know of their existence … it doesn’t know of it’s own existence. The brain becomes a mass of un-knowledge, no matter how many neurons are being fired; the human becomes a star-fish, or perhaps a tree. Without the ability to feel, there is no consciousness, and without consciousness, there are no thoughts.

Not a problem. I realized it was intended as humor (or so I assumed) but I just wanted to clear up the distinction. Meditation is a tool that helps to get us there, but Nirvana is the end of the journey.

Interesting. What would these thoughts be about though? What emotions? I have fear, because something frightens me. I have love, because I have experienced another person, whom I love, and or who loves me. I know cold, because I am cold. I know comforted, because I am comforted.

What emotions are these? Loneliness? If I’ve never known company, can I really experience loneliness? Does it have any meaning for me? This is interesting, because it seems we are by nature social creatures. If we weren’t, we would have never made it out of the wields of Africa. What was that movie, “Nell?” The one about the girl raised in the wield. Initially, it was almost impossible to communicate with her. And after a time, it was far easier (though she would never become “like us”). And that’s intriguing. We seem to assume that we have similar experiences, perceptions of the world, etc., even if only in a most basic form. Even Chimps share our facial expressions, and have social dynamics we understand. We can understand their feelings.

But note, we have the same types of senses, and combined with our “nature” it seems we process them in very similar ways. What if we cut off those senses? What if we lack the capacity for the same experiences? Then what? What is a void? What is the experience of living in a void? Would the mind develop the same way? What does it process? How would it process? If sensory deprivation does make us crazy is it becase A) We have been deprived of the reality we have become assustomed to B) We are unable to process (effectively) “nothing” C) By our nature, we require certain kinds of input in order to function, and lacking such, cannot function?

There may be more possibilities. These are merely the three I most readily thought of.

I think I need to know more about what you mean by “feel” in order to respond properly to this.

Shybard writes:

I may yet despair from opening this can of worms…

You write to me in a language of ‘common understanding’ from a fixed point in space and time, lamenting the fact that thoughts are random and no thinker exists. Where then, did this language come from? Don’t get me wrong, to an extent, i agree with you. If you wish to consider consciousness soley by itself, i agree. But where the will/ego enters, there also enters the thinker.

You’re making an assumption that the ego/will necessitates a “thinker.” It’s not implausible that the will/ego requires some person or entity to posses the will/ego. That is the will of X or the ego of Y person. However, again, we have the same problem here. That is, when I try to discern what the Will “is”: what do I come up with? I experience the will that I call my own, but is it any more “real” than the cold of the room around me? Does the room “have” the temperature? Or is the temperature a thing which is “associated” with the room, but not possessed “by it.”

Does that make sense?

That is, we can see the “self” (mind, body, ego, will, etc.) as an object, or entity, which has particular qualities about it. We can say we have a building, which has walls, doors, an elevator, a thermostat, carpet, etc. And then we say, “This is Building X.” But then I take out the carpet. Is it still Building X? And you reply, “Yes, of course. The carpet is just the carpet. It’s still the same building.” But then I remove the elevator, thermostat, doors, and then walls. Now, at what point do you say, “This is no longer Building X.”

This is the dilemma we come up with. We have an “idea” of what Building X is, and with this idea we associate the characteristics of the building. We identify it by these characteristics, and they (so it seems) make up at least much of what we consider “to be” Building X.

We do the same thing with ourselves. I have arms, legs, emotions, thoughts, dreams, fears, etc. Pull some away. Take my legs, emotions, dreams, fears, etc. At which point am I no longer myself? What is myself? What is it really? Is it just the experience of being an individual entity? If that’s true, this isn’t nearly the “self” we normally assume ourselves to be.

And as such, if we can find no “being” (in whatever sense we mean that) who actually holds such things, don’t we simply have to accept this reality? What is is, after all, and if I can find no “I” separate from experiences, emotions, a body, thoughts, etc., then how can I say that, “Indeed, one (a being, a self) must have thoughts, emotions, etc., they must be had by one (a being, a self) otherwise they could not be.”

The question then is this: are we merely justifying our assumptions? Or do our observations, our inquiries, actually support this? Mine don’t seem to.

This is something I’ve thought about a lot, and even though I desperately would like to say “I am me. I am here. I experience; I reason; I feel; I love; I hate; I am wounded, etc.” I (lacking any other way to make this sentence make sense in our language) can find no “I” that is not dependent upon these things, which are (seemingly) merely “characteristics” of I, but not “I.” And so, I do not find “I” though I still experience the division of self from other.

I hope all of that made sense. I understand what you’re saying Marshall. But, via investigation, I do not find any support for your statement. Unless we make the assumption that thinker must have thought, and thus thought must have thinker (that the two are necessarily linked, and one cannot be had without the other) we are left (I’m afraid) with nothing. And I’m not sure we can make that assumption.

Thus, I find it difficult (though a part of me desperately wants to) to say, “One must will, otherwise there is no Will.” I can’t find this one, this person, this identity, or “self.” And though the experience of willing is there, unless I indicate that all of these characteristics make “me” I can make no sense of that statement. And yet, my leg is not me, my thoughts are not me, my emotions are not me, and my desires are not me.

So, exasperated, I scream, “Then what the hell am I?!?” And find nothing to cling to, no self that makes any sense at all in regards to what I assume, and or want “self” to be.

OK, now I’m talking in circles. I hope you get the idea.

I must admit, my subtle friend, I know not where i stand on this shaky ground. I think you will admit, however, that without a thinker there can be no thought, however one defines ‘thinker’. Thoughts are indeed random to a great degree, but not entirely, as notions like ‘intentionality’ seem to indicate. That is that thought must be ‘thought about something’, not just about itself. People in sensory deprivation tanks eventually cease to think thus sensory deprivation tanks aren’t really a think tank :unamused: . Thus, even thought seems to project itself outwards which seems to indicate a source, ergo the thinker. Like i say, i’m not sure, i’m just exploring some notions here, perhaps you are right.

I like your argument. The will/ego comes from within but finds it’s effects in the World around us. I know that i am willing because i am attempting to respond well to your arguments. The will may be a simplistic notion for a much more complex congeries, perhaps even a gestalt. Not having read Schopenhauer, i am unable to answer your question better. But i would say that the will is the ability to choose between courses of action. Thus one must at least be aware of the different courses of action and thus conscious. Will also implies freedom to act. I look forward to your reply.