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Title: Thought  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Perception, David McNeill, Reason, Thinking, Memory
Collection: Concepts in Metaphysics, Mental Processes, Neuropsychological Assessment, Thought, Units of Information (Cognitive Processes)
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Girl with a Book by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior

Thought can refer to the ideas or arrangements of ideas that result from thinking, the act of producing thoughts, or the process of producing thoughts. Although thought is a fundamental human activity familiar to everyone, there is no generally accepted agreement as to what thought is or how it is created. Thoughts are the result or product of either spontaneous or willed acts of thinking.

Because thought underlies many human actions and interactions, understanding its physical and metaphysical origins, processes, and effects has been a longstanding goal of many academic disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, artificial intelligence, biology, sociology and cognitive science.

Thinking allows humans to make sense of, interpret, represent or plans or otherwise attempts to accomplish those goals.


  • Etymology and usage 1
  • Theories 2
  • Philosophy 3
    • The mind-body problem 3.1
    • Functionalism vs. embodiment 3.2
  • Biology 4
  • Psychology 5
  • Psychoanalysis 6
  • Sociology 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Etymology and usage

The word thought comes from Old English þoht, or geþoht, from stem of þencan "to conceive of in the mind, consider".[1]

The word “thought” may mean[2],:[3]

  • a single product of thinking or a single idea (“My first thought was ‘no.’”)
  • the product of mental activity (“Mathematics is a large body of thought.”)
  • the act or process of thinking (“I was frazzled from too much thought.”)
  • the capacity to think, reason, imagine, etcetera (“All her thought was applied to her work.”)
  • the consideration of or reflection on an idea (“The thought of death terrifies me.”)
  • recollection or contemplation (“I thought about my childhood.”)
  • half-formed or imperfect intention (“I had some thought of going.”)
  • anticipation or expectation (“She had no thought of seeing him again.”)
  • consideration, attention, care, or regard (“He took no thought of his appearance” and "I did it without thinking.")
  • judgment, opinion, or belief (“According to his thought, honesty is the best policy.”)
  • the ideas characteristic of a particular place, class, or time (“Greek thought”)
  • the state of being conscious of something ("It made me think of my grandmother.")
  • tending to believe in something, especially with less than full confidence ("I think that it will rain, but I am not sure.")
Huike Thinking, a portrait of the Chán patriarch Dazu Huike attributed to the 10th-century painter Shi Ke

Definitions may or may not require that thought

Definitions of thought may also be derived directly or indirectly from theories of thought.


  • “Outline of a theory of thought-processes and thinking machines” (Caianiello)[4] – thought processes and mental phenomena modeled by sets of mathematical equations
  • Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking (Hofstadter and Sander)[5] – a theory built on analogies
  • The Neural Theory of Language and Thought (Feldman and Lakoff)[6] – neural modeling of language and spatial relations
  • ThoughtForms—The Structure, Power, and Limitations of Thought (Baum)[7] – a theory built on mental models
  • Unconscious Thought Theory[8],[9] – thought that is not conscious
  • Linguistics theories - The Stuff of Thought (Steven Pinker, Noam Chomsky)[10] – A linguistic and cognitive theory that thought is based on syntactic and linguistic recursion processes


The Thinker by Rodin (1840–1917), in the garden of the Musée Rodin

The phenomenology movement in philosophy saw a radical change in the way in which we understand thought. Martin Heidegger's phenomenological analyses of the existential structure of man in Being and Time cast new light on the issue of thinking, unsettling traditional cognitive or rational interpretations of man which affect the way we understand thought. The notion of the fundamental role of non-cognitive understanding in rendering possible thematic consciousness informed the discussion surrounding Artificial Intelligence during the 1970s and 1980s.[12]

Phenomenology, however, is not the only approach to thinking in modern Western philosophy. Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e. the relationship of the mind to the body, is commonly seen as the central issue in philosophy of mind, although there are other issues concerning the nature of the mind that do not involve its relation to the physical body.[13]

The mind-body problem

The mind-body problem concerns the explanation of the relationship that exists between minds, or mental processes, and bodily states or processes.[13] The main aim of philosophers working in this area is to determine the nature of the mind and mental states/processes, and how—or even if—minds are affected by and can affect the body.

Human perceptual experiences depend on propositional attitudes (e.g. beliefs and desires) can cause that individual's neurons to fire and his muscles to contract in exactly the correct manner. These comprise some of the puzzles that have confronted epistemologists and philosophers of mind from at least the time of René Descartes.[14]

Functionalism vs. embodiment

The above reflects a classical, functional description of how we work as cognitive, thinking systems. However the apparently irresolvable mind-body problem is said to be overcome, and bypassed, by the embodied cognition approach, with its roots in the work of Heidegger, Piaget, Vygotsky, Merleau-Ponty and the pragmatist John Dewey.[15][16]

This approach states that the classical approach of separating the mind and analysing its processes is misguided: instead, we should see that the mind, actions of an embodied agent, and the environment it perceives and envisions, are all parts of a whole which determine each other. Therefore functional analysis of the mind alone will always leave us with the mind-body problem which cannot be solved.[17]


A neuron (also known as a neurone or nerve cell) is an excitable muscle contractions and affect glands. Interneurons connect neurons to other neurons within the brain and spinal cord. Neurons respond to stimuli, and communicate the presence of stimuli to the central nervous system, which processes that information and sends responses to other parts of the body for action. Neurons do not go through mitosis, and usually cannot be replaced after being destroyed, although astrocytes have been observed to turn into neurons as they are sometimes pluripotent.


Man thinking on a train journey.
Graffiti on the wall: "'to think for myself' became less favorable".

Psychologists have concentrated on thinking as an intellectual exertion aimed at finding an answer to a question or the solution of a practical problem. Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that investigates internal mental processes such as problem solving, memory, and language. The school of thought arising from this approach is known as cognitivism which is interested in how people mentally represent information processing. It had its foundations in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka,[18] and in the work of Jean Piaget, who provided a theory of stages/phases that describe children's cognitive development.

Cognitive psychologists use psychophysical and experimental approaches to understand, diagnose, and solve problems, concerning themselves with the mental processes which mediate between stimulus and response. They study various aspects of thinking, including the psychology of reasoning, and how people make decisions and choices, solve problems, as well as engage in creative discovery and imaginative thought. Cognitive theory contends that solutions to problems take the form of algorithms—rules that are not necessarily understood but promise a solution, or heuristics—rules that are understood but that do not always guarantee solutions. Cognitive science differs from cognitive psychology in that algorithms that are intended to simulate human behavior are implemented or implementable on a computer. In other instances, solutions may be found through insight, a sudden awareness of relationships.


  • The dictionary definition of think at Wiktionary
  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

External links

  • Bayne, Tim - Thought, New Scientist, 21 September 2013 - 7-page feature article on the topic
  • Anil K. Rajvanshi - "Nature of Human Thought", Google Books [1], 2010. ISBN; 978-81-905781-2-7

Further reading

  1. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Etymology of Thought". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  2. ^ Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 2001, Published by Random House, Inc., ISBN 978-0375425998, ISBN 978-0375426056, ISBN 978-0375426094, page 1975
  3. ^ Webster's II New College Dictionary, Webster Staff, Webster, Houghton Mifflin Company, Edition: 2, illustrated, revised Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999, ISBN 0-395-96214-5, ISBN 978-0-395-96214-5, page 1147
  4. ^ Caianiello, E. R (1961). "Outline of a theory of thought-processes and thinking machines". Journal of Theoretical Biology. 1, Issue: 2. pp. 204–235. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  5. ^ “Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking” by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, April 23, 2013, published by Basic Books, ISBN 978-0465018475
  6. ^
  7. ^ “ThoughtForms - The Structure, Power, and Limitations of Thought: Volume 1 - Introduction to the Theory” by Peter Baum, E-book published April 16, 2012 by BookBaby, ISBN 9781620958049, paperback published April 17, 2013 by Aesir Publishing, ISBN 9780988489301
  8. ^
  9. ^ Ap Dijksterhuis, Ap and Nordgren, Loran F. (2006). Perspectives On Psychological Science (PDF). 1 - Number 2. pp. 95–109. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  10. ^ “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature” by Steven Pinker, August 26, 2008, published by Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0143114246
  11. ^ Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?
  12. ^ Dreyfus, Hubert. Dreyfus, Stuart. Mind Over Machine. Macmillan, 1987
  13. ^ a b Kim, J. (1995). Honderich, Ted, ed. Problems in the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  14. ^ Companion to Metaphysics, By Jaegwon Kim, Gary S. Rosenkrantz, Ernest Sosa, Contributor Jaegwon Kim, Edition: 2, Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, ISBN 1-4051-5298-2, ISBN 978-1-4051-5298-3
  15. ^ Varela, Francisco J., Thompson, Evan T., and Rosch, Eleanor. (1992). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-72021-3
  16. ^ Cowart, Monica (2004). Embodied Cognition. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  
  17. ^ "Di Paolo, Ezequiel Shallow and Deep Embodiment - University of Sussex, 29.10.2009 12:43 Duration: 1:11:38" (Video). Retrieved 27 February 2012. 
  18. ^ Gestalt Theory, By Max Wertheimer, Published by Hayes Barton Press, 1944, ISBN 1-59377-695-0, ISBN 978-1-59377-695-4
  19. ^ Piaget, J. (1951). Psychology of Intelligence. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul
  20. ^ Demetriou, A. (1998). Cognitive development. In A. Demetriou, W. Doise, K. F. M. van Lieshout (Eds.), Life-span developmental psychology (pp. 179-269). London: Wiley. 
  21. ^ Schacter, Daniel L. (2011). Psychology Second Edition, "Positive Psychology" (pp. 584). New York: New York. 
  22. ^ Snowden, Ruth (2006). Teach Yourself Freud (illustrated ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 107.  
  23. ^ Geraskov, Emil Asenov (November 1, 1994). "The internal contradiction and the unconscious sources of activity". The Journal of Psychology. Retrieved April 17, 2007. 
  24. ^ The Cambridge companion to Freud, By Jerome Neu, Published by Cambridge University Press, 1991, pg, 29, ISBN 0-521-37779-X, 9780521377799
  25. ^ Social Psychology, David G. Myers, McGraw Hill, 1993. ISBN 0-07-044292-4.
  26. ^ Sewell, W.H. (1989). Some reflections on the golden age of interdisciplinary social psychology. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 15.
  27. ^ The Psychology of the Social, Uwe Flick, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-58851-0.
  28. ^ Jensen, Peter S., Mrazek, David, Knapp, Penelope K., Steinberg, Laurence, Pfeffer, Cynthia, Schowalter, John, & Shapiro, Theodore. (Dec 1997) Evolution and revolution in child psychiatry: ADHD as a disorder of adaptation. (attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 36. p. 1672. (10). July 14, 2007.


  • Outline of thought - topic tree that identifies many types of thoughts, types of thinking, aspects of thought, related fields, and more.
  • Outline of human intelligence - topic tree presenting the traits, capacities, models, and research fields of human intelligence, and more.

See also

In the "Definitions" chapter of Jung's seminal work Psychological Types, under the definition of "collective" Jung references representations collectives, a term coined by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl in his 1910 book How Natives Think. Jung says this is what he describes as the collective unconscious. Freud, on the other hand, did not accept the idea of a collective unconscious.

The collective unconscious, sometimes known as collective subconscious, is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is a part of the unconscious mind, shared by a society, a people, or all humanity, in an interconnected system that is the product of all common experiences and contains such concepts as science, religion, and morality. While Freud did not distinguish between an "individual psychology" and a "collective psychology," Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal subconscious particular to each human being. The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species."[28]

Despite their similarity, psychological and sociological researchers tend to differ in their goals, approaches, methods, and terminology. They also favor separate academic journals and professional societies. The greatest period of collaboration between sociologists and psychologists was during the years immediately following World War II.[26] Although there has been increasing isolation and specialization in recent years, some degree of overlap and influence remains between the two disciplines.[27]

Social psychology is the study of how people and groups interact. Scholars in this interdisciplinary area are typically either psychologists or sociologists, though all social psychologists employ both the individual and the group as their units of analysis.[25]

A "thought bubble" is an illustration depicting thought.


For psychoanalysis, the unconscious does not include all that is not conscious, rather only what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what the person is averse to knowing consciously. In a sense this view places the self in relationship to their unconscious as an adversary, warring with itself to keep what is unconscious hidden. If a person feels pain, all he can think of is alleviating the pain. Any of his desires, to get rid of pain or enjoy something, command the mind what to do. For Freud, the unconscious was a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression. However, the contents did not necessarily have to be solely negative. In the psychoanalytic view, the unconscious is a force that can only be recognized by its effects—it expresses itself in the symptom.[24]

The unconscious was considered by Freud throughout the evolution of his psychoanalytic theory a sentient force of will influenced by human desire and yet operating well below the perceptual conscious mind. For Freud, the unconscious is the storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, and psychic drives. While past thoughts and reminiscences may be concealed from immediate consciousness, they direct the thoughts and feelings of the individual from the realm of the unconscious.[23]

"Id", "ego", and "super-ego" are the three parts of the "[22]


Positive psychology emphasizes the positive aspects of human psychology as equally important as the focus on mood disorders and other negative symptoms. In Character Strengths and Virtues, Peterson and Seligman list a series of positive characteristics. One person is not expected to have every strength, nor are they meant to fully capsulate that characteristic entirely. The list encourages positive thought that builds on a person's strengths, rather than how to "fix" their "symptoms".[21]

[20].working memory, and increasing cognitive control, the development of thought is considered to come from increasing speed of processing, enhanced neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development are the main functions underlying thought. In the working memory, and cognitive control, speed of processing In recent years, the Piagetian conception of thought was integrated with information processing conceptions. Thus, thought is considered as the result of mechanisms that are responsible for the representation and processing of information. In this conception, [19]

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