Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trying To Not Think This Way: On Thought And Belief

A lot of my work, my reading and writing, is about escaping certain ways of thinking. I don't want to keep thinking in the same ways. I want to think different ways, new ways. I want to refine my thinking and make sure that it is moving and working in the best possible ways.

But it is so hard to not think in this particular way that I happen to be thinking. Thought is an activity. So when I am in the process of doing it, thinking, it is hard to do anything except thinking in those ways that I happen to be thinking in.

The issue of belief also comes to mind. What is the difference between thinking something and believing something? To me the difference seems to lie with the issue of spontaneity of thought, or the activity of thought. A thought seems to be something that happens, that one has. A belief, however, is a thought that has been reflected on and evaluated. A belief is perhaps a thought that has survived an evaluation of sorts.

I once wanted to write about this issue. Back in 8/16/10 I created a draft of a post called "Thought and Belief: Being Able to Think Things and Believing Things". In the post I wrote "What do I believe? Is everything just what I am capable of believing? This is very Foucauldian. I don't 'think' these things, but rather think that someone may think these things." I remember I was provoked to write about it because of something Foucault said at the end of an essay. At the end of "Powers and Strategies" in Power/Knowledge Foucault writes: "What I have said here is not 'what I think', but often rather what I wonder whether one couldn't think" (145).

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Stop giving me this crap, bro.

But it still provokes interesting questions about the relationship between thought and belief.

Let me restate my tentative definitions of these things. Thought is an activity, it is something that is done, something that is often spontaneous, but also something that can be recreated or replicated on command. Belief, on the other hand, does not seem to be spontaneous, but is rather about accepting a certain thought or idea as true. It is a conviction that comes after the spontaneity of the original thought. So of course thought and belief are related, but they are different in that one is a (potentially spontaneous) activity, while the other is an act of thought that is accompanied by a conviction as to the correctness of the thought.

To return to my original point about trying to escape certain types of thinking: I guess what I'm really after is the suspension of belief. I don't really know what I believe about many things. What I'm after is rather the exploration of thought. I want to discover what types of things I am capable of thinking. My thoughts change so rapidly, I have so many new or different ones on a regular basis that it seems silly to have any super strong convictions right now.

But the truth is also that I have certain beliefs. That is perhaps the real problem: the things I think are constantly threatening to become to things that I believe. Thoughts comes to me so naturally, it is so spontaneous, that it is hard to not be swayed by them.

Then I suppose I have identified the real issue: I am trying to find a way to prevent my thoughts from becoming my beliefs. And the solution to that seems to be a self-critical stance in which I regard my thoughts as an ongoing project.

To explore thoughts while preventing them from becoming beliefs.

It is true, though, that my thoughts can so easily become a belief.

I have to struggle against my own thoughts, push them, challenge them. I have to keep transforming my thoughts so that I can continue to think at all. If I didn't continue to think new things I would just begin to believe things.

I don't want to believe things.

Some examples of this. A while ago I was really into Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination. I had to find new ways of thinking about the same problem. Chris Frith's work in Making Up The Mind provided me with a way out of Collingwood's terminology.

Right now I am currently trying to escape Foucault's notion of intellectual insurrection and his use of the idea of symbolic violence. I am also trying to escape or deal with Zizek's definition of violence. They are compelling ways of thinking. I understand them. Their logic is clear to me. But they don't sit right with me on some level. So the task for me is to understand them and to escape them. To come up with new ways of thinking.

To defer belief in the hope of finding new ways of thinking.

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