My mechanical thinking machine

When I’m paying attention these days, I can sometimes see the causal chain of my thoughts.

I’ll think or say something, and in real time can trace back to the specific experience, conversation, book or whatever was the original source of that thought, as well as watch the various other ideas and worldviews that influenced that thought on its way to finally occurring in my head.

It’s most apparent in conversation. For example, I’ll be talking with a friend or colleague about a business idea and I’ll find myself paraphrasing a passage from a book I read on a similar topic, only it’ll be slightly tweaked and I can see how my bias toward assertiveness or my desire to produce an outcome in the conversation has modified the original statement. The statement looks like the result of that passage having passed through a big algorithm of conditional statements.

It’s a mechanical process that works like this.

  1. Inputs come in to my mind. These are experiences; conversations, books, movies, everything external.
  2. Those inputs are processed through a series of ingrained biases, beliefs, traditions and opinions, whether learned or innate. The noteworthy part here is that all this processing is, for the most part, focused on the input’s relevance to me. Apparently I can be a bit self absorbed.
  3. The input multiplied by the biases results in an output; either a thought pops in my head, or I say or do something.

I used to think I was in control over all this, my thoughts, my actions. But when put under a microscope, turns out, nope.

Most of us haven’t looked at this process, and so are easily “lost in thought”, which I would suggest is an intentional phrasing. Having spent most of my life there, as well as much of the present, I empathize. Thoughts are chaotic and usually not pleasant.

But I’ve found it’s possible to see this process for what it is, if you look closely, and thereby demystify your thoughts and short circuit their ability to control you.

It’s possible to gain a freedom from their relentless pull, neuter your inner-critic, and maybe become a bit less self-centered in the process.

If this all sounds a bit far fetched, and it still seems like you have control over everything, I invite you to ask yourself: did you decide to think of that pink elephant?