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How does thinking work ?

  1. Jun 8, 2007 #1
    One interesting question, I believe to understand how questions can be asked and how they can be answered is "How does thinking work ?"

    Lets say I wanted to write a some some kind of computer program. For me that would normally be some program written under Linux. Lets say I log on to the the system, starts up the program and enter the question: "Hvat is the meaning of life ?", and then push "Enter".

    How should then this computer program work to give a reasonable answer to this question ? Should it be a program that will contain some kind of set of logical rules, or what should it be ?

    If I (you) think, or ask the same question, how would then my (your) process for finding an answer to this question work ?

    Would I (you) then be applying logical rules, or or how would you then proceed to find some logical or applicabe answer to the question ?

    If the thinking is based of some logical process, how can this be described ? If the thinking eventually should not be based on some logical process, what should it then be based on ?

    If thinking should not be based on some logical process, how can then this "thaught process" be described ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2007 #2
    For me, thinking is actually an extention of our ability to emote, to have feelings. Animals with a modest amount of reasoning display the ability to think. As an example I always think of the famous signing gorrilla Coco, who made up her own cuss word "toilet face."

    For any organism, whether thinking or not, the most vital question is, "Is this gonna be good for me or bad?" Before we can organize such feelings into more complex thoughts, as Coco did, we need a symbolic language, a more abstract way of viewing the world and organizing our feelings about the world.

    There actually was a man who lost all ability to emote through a head injury. Like a computer he could use his memories to guide himself, but any novel situation would leave him appoplectic, incapable of making a decision. He simply had no personal context in which to live his life.

    The more complex the thoughts of an animal, the more complex its emotional life. Elephants will walk around their dead crying and morning for days. A study done using an MRI showed that, in general, the more intelligent the person the less their brains work to solve problems. This implies that there is a trade-off between too much emoting and clear thought.
  4. Jun 14, 2007 #3
    math is a very compressed form of symbolic language, often abstracted away from the experiences underlying it. speaking is a less symbolic and less abstracted but still removed from the direct experiences underlying. Experiences are multi-dimensional, containing data for space, time, sound, color, shape, size, taste, smell, etc... the brain manipulates these multi-dimensional data sets with amazing ease compared to computers of today. but comparing and constrasting is what seems to be going on and the emotional content seems to be an evaluation system to define which symbols to pay attention to and which to ignore.
  5. Jun 14, 2007 #4


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    This is a great description of experience and stimulus as well as how they are sometimes reduced to the symbolic language of math. One point you make about the emotional content of these experiences seems off to me however and I would simply say that "emotional content" is interpreted (edit) by the interaction of an endocrine system with occurances rather than found in them. You may be right to say that emotion determines what data gets noticed and which does not. But, I'd say its more of a logical or pragmatic decision (conscious or unconscious decision). The decision is made in terms of "does this serve the survival of my idea or ideals or of my personal well being or not". This decision doesn't have to be an emotionally motivated one but, as has been the case in many instances, it seems to have become a matter of emotional response for most of humankind.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2007
  6. Jun 15, 2007 #5
    there was an article in sciencedaily a while back called, No Mr Spock, you are wrong. it was about how emotions are required to make any decisions and act upon them. It seems that the latin origin of emotion meaning WHAT MOVES YOU is very accurate.... so my statement means that each experience we have is assigned, by some sub system, an emotional value, and we pay attention to the strongest emotion of the moment.
  7. Jun 16, 2007 #6


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    I may be wrong but wouldn't this suggest that logic is controlled by emotion? Eg: It is logical that a person would seek a drink of water when they're thirsty. A lack of hydration in the body stimulates a few million neurons that generate the intent and the action to find water.

    My contention is that this stimulus could generate any number of emotions due to past conditioning and the present stimulus..... but, I doubt that emotion is the initial generator of the intention to find water.
  8. Jun 20, 2007 #7
    Sorry, but many stimuluses activate the reptilian brain, the limbic system, hypothalmus, etc. The seat of emotions, memories, and our sympathedic nervious system. The smell of food makes our mouths water whether or not we are really consciously aware of the smell. The sight of a healthy member of the opposite sex triggers hormones, etc. These are not so much learned responses as innate responses. I hit your elbow with a rubber hammer and your arm jurks as a reflex. I sneak up behind you and yell BOO! and you will jump.

    Our fight or flight response is precisely one of these reflexes. I once saw a great PET scan of someone getting royally pissed off. A fountain of chemicals errupted from their limbic system so hard it literally bounced off the top of their skull and then saturated their entire brain with a second or so as it dripped down. No doubt their neocortex could regulate their response to these stimuli, these emotions, but that occured after the fact.

    Under extreme conditions the opposite occurs, when we do not have time to waste on being overtly emotional, such as a life or death car crash, our brains suppress all extraneous thought and emotion, devoting itself fully to surviving in the moment. However, even then it does so because our emotions tell us that survival is important.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2007
  9. Jun 20, 2007 #8
    Emotion is a perception like all perceptions, symbolizing something going on. Basically emotions are like warning lights on cars, they signal us, very strongly at times, that something is out of wack and needs to be wacked, or that something that was out of wack has been wacked. The underlying mechanisms involved can be very complicated. What we seem to get consciously is a briefing for our historical archiving so we can keep a memory of the event for future reference... the strongest memories seem to be painful ones and extremely pleasant ones, but most non-emotional events are barely stored as there is likely no value for them in our current circumstance.
  10. Jun 20, 2007 #9


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    Is there a reliable source for your assumption? The survival instinct is inherent in microbes that have no endocrine system to speak of.
  11. Jun 20, 2007 #10
    lemme think first!!
  12. Jun 21, 2007 #11
    Bacteria do not have a survival instinct, they do not even possess a nervious system, they merely act and react to stimulation according to their genetic programming. The lights aren't even on and nobody's home.

    Not only do people respond to stimuli, but they are capable of responding in novel ways. I recommend the work of Antonio Damasio for further insight into how this is possible.
  13. Jun 21, 2007 #12


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    Antonio looks like an interesting read. I think you might agree that what is demonstrated in the symbiotic relationships between algae, bacteria, lichen and other one cell and multi-celled organisms there is a predisposition toward survival that resembles an "instinct". What has been naturally selected as a feature in certain bacterium or single celled organisms is almost always a feature that lends itself to the survival of the species. Perhaps this tendancy is a precursor to instinct and or perhaps it is an actual instinct. I'll work more, later, to try to support and clarify.

    The question is: what came first, the genetic predetermination, the neurotransmitter or the endocrinal bath that caused the reflex, the emotion or the thought after (or even before) the introduction of stimulus?

    I'll continue to try to find references to answer my questions.
  14. Jun 23, 2007 #13
    That is a bit like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. Theoretically, some bird other than a chicken laid the first egg that became a chicken. In the case of people, it is now widely accepted in the scientific community that animals do have feelings. Hence, I assume that the proto-humans who gave rise to humanity had feelings.
  15. Jun 25, 2007 #14
    i have seen many animals mourn the death of an offspring, sibling, companion, ect. or exhibit erratic behavior due to a disease or as previously stated
  16. Jun 26, 2007 #15


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    Right now in the Altruism thread I'm finding out that "feelings" are instincts in that some are shown to hold survival value and were incorporated into life's genetic make up through natural selection. This could include traits like empathy and compassion.
  17. Jun 26, 2007 #16
    Isn't thinking a lot like quantum theory? Thinking is a process of combining knowledge with imagination while quantum theory has its set energy levels and uncertainty.

    A related question would be how does learning work?
  18. Jun 29, 2007 #17


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    Chicken or the egg. Actually chickens have been shown to stem from the mighty Tyrannosaurusrex, which also laid eggs.

    You have to admit that the hormones that initiate feelings are a response to stimulus. They are a stimulus themselves but are, in turn, set off by stimuli in the environment. The environment of the mammalian body is a complex network of organs. One such organ being the nervous system. The nervous system is the main source of stimulation in the more evolved body. When the nervous system comes up with a concept (thought) that sets off an emotion, that is an internal stimiulus setting off an hormonal reaction.

    Does it work the other way around? Does a hormonal wash take place without the stimulus of the nervous system? For instance can it be initiated by an external stimulus like a loud noise or whatever? Or does the external stimulus set off a neuronal response that immediately asks for a hormonal release?
  19. Jul 2, 2007 #18
    plants react to many external stimuli without the use of a nervous system
  20. Aug 27, 2007 #19
    One thing that's often overlooked by AI designers is that thinking is habitual meaning ever time we do something a certain way those neurons involved with the process gain a little use and liveliness and grow a "need" to be used again. For example if you like philosophy and ask a lot of questions, you'll find yourself doing it later on without thinking about it in everyday life...those neurons have fired up without conscious effort of their own will due to habitualization.
  21. Aug 27, 2007 #20
    Anyone who has gone through puberty knows the answer to this question!

    Whether we are stimulated by external cues or not, our hormones change as we age. Puberty is inevitable even if we are raised in a closet. From the moment of birth we root for our mother's breast where we find comforting hormones. If we do not receive such attention we fail to thrive and either die or our odds of reproducing decrease markedly. Conscious "thought" has nothing to do with the act.
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