Week 1: Characteristics of Thinking
Humanities 100 Online

"When you wish upon a star,
makes no difference who you are."

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Assumptions of Thought
     Wishing of course is the first characteristic of thinking.  At some level, at least beyond the random movements of elementary particles, the seed explodes, the bud bursts, the nerve cell fires.  This simply occurs because of a difference in potential, like water down a mountain, moving from higher energy to lower energy states. 

     Wishing may be pre-programmed, like an instinct or habit, or it may be consciously practiced. This class addresses wishing as practice, that is, something that we can apply to daily life and get better at.   Imagination, which we use to give form and substance to our wishes, is the basis of any practice.  If we can't  imagine the desired condition we wish to achieve, we have no direction or target at which to aim our thoughts.  The thinking is aimless.   Even day dreaming (or night dreaming), a relaxed, near unconscious form of imagination,  produces useful visions.  These visions can become the targets of thought.

     I would say then that thought needs a target or object, whether myth or reality.   One part of the meaning of the word thought derives from the verb "to thank."   When we are thankful or thoughtful,  we are probably accessing from memory our most significant objects of thought.   The actions of praise, prayer, ceremony, and song often contain these most powerful objects. We invoke them to break away from the habitual, somewhat thoughtless actions of daily getting and spending. And we invoke them to open us up to imagination that we might seek the beautiful and the true (or just a little relief from the ugly and profane).

     Before I lay out some of the characteristics of thinking that follow from wishing and imagination, I would like to give a warning about the cost of inferiority and fear in the arena of thought.  We all know that some people are more talented than others. But we also know that initiative makes up for most of the differences. And if you find yourself with little talent and less initiative, as I have many times, be thankful that you can choose to do something about it.  Imagine a most beautiful creature, loving, full of hope, trusting, spread out on the rack of chance, and now extinct.  How many thousands of earth's life forms have perished for lack of choice.  Each of us has a birthright. Its center is the will to choose.  It is I am and will be.  The cost of inferiority and fear is the loss of choice--it is the loss of thought and a slight increase in the likeliness that you, your friends, and all others will perish on the rack of chance.

The Basic Assumptions of Thought

     In the above paragraphs, I assumed that wishing and imagination form the front end of thought.  Next, I want to make another assumption.  It is simple--there are such things as facts, that is, there is a material reality "outside" of my perception or thinking of it (ex. Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"). I assume that there is real stuff to think about.   I need to make this assumption since  to practice creative and critical thinking,  I will need information (the stuff, the facts). I have to process something.  As a creative processor, I will be making associations which have not been made before and are not suggested by the situation or context.  As a critical processor, I will be making assessments which calculate the degree to which the facts support my associations (opinions).

     Finally, I see I have made a third assumption implicit in the above paragraph.  It also is simple--thought takes place in a context (within a space and time). To think, it is necessary to not only have a wish, and a fact, but also a processor--a context. This context can be as simple as an on/off switch or as complex as a human brain.

     The basics of thought then require three necessary conditions:  a wish (imagination), a fact (information), and a context (processor).  Given these conditions, I would conclude that plants and animals think in that they have wishes (phototropism, instincts), facts (nutrients), and context (organism, brains).

Two Additional Assumptions of  Human Thought

     We will need two more assumptions in order to characterize human thought.  The first is choice and the second is standards. Choice implies the ability to think more than just one way, to have more than one way of doing things, to be aware of the difference between things as they are and things as they might be. Choice requires not only a processor but a processor's map (symbols, icons, markers, guesses, theories).  Let me explain.  As you drive down the road and you hear that an avalanche has closed the road ahead, you immediately bring to memory  a map of "what's up ahead" to see if you have a choice of an alternative route.  If you do not have a map, your thinking is stuck (facts without a theory are blind).  Students often get stuck on developing research topics and solving math problems because they don't have a map (example) that indicates alternatives or they have not learned the symbols for solving the problems.  Without an alternative, "we have no choice" but to go on as planned toward our goal. And we will be stopped at the avalanche site.

     Another assumption of human thought is that it involves standards or, in keeping with the above example, signposts.  Standards are symbolic markers that we use to regulate our progress and estimate the success of our choices. A sharp curve on an unmarked road is particularly dangerous just as is an unmarked map.  Experience is the teacher here.  And through life your thinking sharpens as you learn to mark mistakes and errors and establish standards.

The Five Assumptions of Thinking

     We have five assumptions then.  Below is a list of language maps we might associate with each assumption:
          1.  Wish, want, desire, need, purpose, goal, objective (imagination).
          2.  Data, facts, information, existing conditions, events (reality).
          3.  Processor, brain, director, controller, master, self, society (thinker).
          4.  Choices, alternatives, procedures, processes, paradigms, models, examples, plans (maps), theories.
          5.  Evaluations, values, rules, rates (standards).

     So that you might remember these assumptions, form the word trims (like trimming a tree or pruning a bush) with the first letter of each of the assumptions--thinker, reality, imagination, maps, and standards--trims.  You have been thinking for many years now, and you believe many things that are not true, have endured many unnecessary pains, and have many memories.  Trim is what you need to do. Practicing your thinking will require you to shape your thoughts, to identify  and cut out needless growth, and to set out your nutrition requirements for a good life.

     Let me sum up by saying that to practice thinking then requires that you first lay out the assumptions of thought. For us, creative and critical thinking will require a thinker, reality, imagination,  maps, and standards (trims).  Assumptions are so much a part of the given that we seldom question them, yet they set the boundaries within which we think and the limits of our understanding.

Return to the Course Guide and complete the reading assignment, the writing task, and select a quote from resources relevant to the week's topic.

Some Advice and Reminders

In the "Allegory of the Cave" (your reading assignment for Week 1) Plato sets up the metaphor of moving from the illusions of the cave (what might be our immediate or unenlightened frames of thought) to the light (which might be our desire for a good life which includes self respect, compassion, and selfless service). So, when you respond, reflect on the relevance of the "Allegory" to you given your own existing and desired conditions.

When you do your homework, imagine that your audience wants to know your thoughts about how you think on what you read and act, not what and how you think others think and should act. It may be best for some of you to avoid the second person point of view (you), or at least reserve it for instruction and standard procedures.

Lay out your work. Schedule time each week for reading and writing.  Have fun, but keep yourself on schedule. If you devote ten hours a week to computer reading and writing at the web site, the only hitch might be that you may want to spend more time on some parts.  Don't let writing style throw you off.  Scan. Keep a vocabulary list.

Spend 10 or so hours (break into smaller units) on the computer at the web site to get started. You must be able to get the assignments from the web site. Avoid using old copy of the website.

Divide your weekly work into sections:  reading response, writing/task response, and quote response.  Remember to put your work into a document file, e.g.,
Student's Last Name1-3. Be sure to quote the main thesis/idea in the reading assignments to get maximum points.  Also, when you are explaining the relevance of your quote from resources, make sure it is not a platitude or overgeneralization by explaining the conditions under which it is not true. Find a quote from any one of the folders that is relevant to the week's topic and which you fancy.  So if the topic is "learning to think,"  find a quote that relates to thinking (has the word think in it?). Then make sense of the quote.  Is it more true than not?  Under what conditions is it not true?  Is it a witticism that is meant to be funny? Do your best.

Do not forget to send a standard email when you attach your file (salutation, message, close).

By now you  have read examples at this site.  In some cases the examples are only partial answers or hints.  They do not spare you from doing your own reflecting and extended reading.  Please follow a consistent format each week.  For clarity, you could use the headings-- Reading Assignment, Writing assignment, Quote from Resources.  Do not forget to chose a relevant quote, explain why it is relevant (if not obvious), and explain the circumstances wherein the quote may not be true (so that you develop the habit of questioning truisms and over generalizations).  Remember to spell check, grammar check, edit, and proofread your writing (and this includes the salutation, short message, and close in the email).

Now, on to the Week 1 reading assignment: Course Guide