Chapter 3 - Comparative Study Guide

Last revised 1/18/2017

The Philosophy Of Freedom

Chapter 3
Thinking As A Means Of Forming A View Of The World

Compare the Experience of Outer Truth with that of Inner Truth


Observed state of things
(compare difference)

Link to
Chapter Three

Case 1

Case 2

3.0 Reflective Thinking

Compare (1) being a mere observer that can follow the parts of an event as they occur, with (2) being a thinker who has discovered the corresponding concepts and can predict what will happen next.

Observed Event
When I observe how a billiard ball, when struck, transfers its motion to another ball, I remain completely without influence over the course of this observed event. As long as I remain a mere spectator, I can say nothing about the motion of the second ball until after it has happened.

Reflective Thinking
The situation is different when I begin to reflect on the content of my observation. The purpose of my reflection is to establish the concepts of the event.

Predict What Will Happen
The question is: "What do we gain by finding a conceptual counterpart to an event?"

As a mere spectator, I will know nothing of what happens next. The situation is very different if, before my view is obstructed, I have already discovered the concepts corresponding to the details of the event. In that case I can predict what will happen, even when I am no longer able to observe it. There is nothing in a merely observed object or event that reveals anything about its connection to other objects and events. This connection only becomes evident when observation is combined with thought.

3.1 Observation Of Thought

Compare (1) the everyday state of observing and having thoughts about things of the world, with (2) the exceptional state of being able to observe and study your inner thought-processes. 

The Everyday State
The observation of a table or a tree occurs as soon as these objects enter the horizon of my experience. Yet I do not, at the same time, observe my thought about these things. I observe the table, and I carry on a process of thought about the table, but I do not at the same moment observe this thought-process. If I want to observe the table while at the same time observe my thoughts about it, I have to remain in a place outside any activity of my own.


The Exceptional State
While the observation of things and events, and thinking about them, is the everyday state that occupies my normal life, the observation of the thoughts themselves require entering an exceptional state.

It is important to understand the exceptional state, because we are going to compare thought, as an object of observation, to all other observed things.

When observing our thought-process, we must be sure to apply the same method we use to study any other object in the world. But in the normal course of our study of other things, we do not usually reflect upon our thought-processes as well.

3.2 Concept Formed Through My Activity

Compare how we are (1) passive when a feeling of pleasure is kindled by an object, with how we are (2) active in forming concepts when thinking is kindled by an object. 

Feeling Is Given To Me Like Any Other Observed Object
Pleasure just happens to me. Pleasure is aroused by an object in the same way as a change is caused in an object by a stone falling on it. To observation, a pleasure is given, in exactly the same way as the event that causes it.

I learn a great deal about my personality when I know the feeling that an event arouses in me.

Forming Concept Requires My Attentive Activity
A concept formed by thinking is related to what is observed in a completely different way than a pleasure is. I am definitely aware that a concept of a thing is built up by my own activity.

When I am reflecting about an event, I am not concerned with how it affects me. I learn nothing at all about myself by knowing the concepts corresponding to the observed change in a pane of glass caused by a stone thrown against it.

3.3 Thinking Contemplation Of Object

Exercise A: Compare (1) confronting (noticing) an object placed before you prior to contemplation, with (2) placing your full attention on the object in thinking contemplation and becoming absorbed in it.
Exercise B: Compare these two expressions of our personality; feeling and in an act of will (1) “I am pleased with the table” and (2) “I am thinking of a table”, with the expression of thinking (3) “This is a table”, which recognizes the object as a table without expressing any relationship with it.

Thought Is Not In Same Category As Other Observed Objects
There can be no question, then, that thought and feeling are not on the same level when compared as objects of observation. The same could easily be shown for all other activities of the human mind. Unlike thought, they belong in the same category as other observed objects and events.

Feeling And Our Acts Of Will Express Personality, Not Thinking
It is part of the unique nature of thinking that it is an activity directed solely on the observed object, and not on the personality who is engaged in the thinking. This is evident even in the way we express our thoughts about an object, in contrast to the way we express our feelings or acts of will. If I see an object and recognize it as a table, I do not normally say, “I am thinking of a table”, but rather, “This is a table.” Yet I could certainly say “I am pleased with the table.” In the first case I am not interested in expressing my relationship with the table, but in the second case it is just this relationship that I am drawing attention to.

Personality Expresses An Act Of Will When It Enters The Exceptional State
If I say, “I am thinking of a table,” I have already entered into the exceptional state described above. From this position something always present in our mental activity is observed, although normally it is not noticed.

Full Attention On Object, Not Thought
The unique nature of thought is that the thinker forgets thinking when actually doing it. What occupies his attention is not thought, but rather the object he is observing while he is thinking. The first thing we notice about thought is that it is the unobserved element in our normal mental life.

Thinking Is My Own Activity
The reason why we do not notice the thinking that goes on in our everyday mental life is none other than this: thinking is our own activity.

Thinking Contemplation
What I do not originate appears as something ‘objectively there’ in my field of observation. I see myself before something that is not of my doing. It confronts me. I must accept it before I begin my thinking-process. While I am reflecting on the object, I am absorbed in it, my attention is focused on it. To focus the attention on the object is, in fact, to contemplate it by thought. This is thinking contemplation. My attention is not directed toward my activity, but rather toward the object of this activity. In other words, when I think, I do not see the thinking I am producing. I only see the object I am thinking about, which I did not produce.

3.4 Thinking Contemplation Of Thought

Compare (1) directing your thinking contemplation to an object in the world, with (2) directing your thinking contemplation to a thought in your mind.

Cannot Contemplate (put full attention on) Present Thinking While It Is Happening
I am in exactly the same position when I enter the exceptional state and reflect on my own thinking. I can never observe my present thought. Only afterward can the past experience of my thought-process be made into the object of fresh thoughts.

If I want to observe my present thought-process, I would have to split myself into two persons: one to think, and the other to observe this thinking. This I cannot do. I can only accomplish it in two separate acts. The thought to be observed is never the current one actively being produced, but another one.

Contemplation Of Thought
For this purpose, it makes no difference whether I observe my own earlier thoughts, or follow the thought-process of another person or, as in the above example of the motion of billiard balls, set up an imaginary thought-process.

Create Thought, Then Contemplate Thought
There are two things that do not go together: productive activity and confronting this activity in contemplation. It is not possible to create and contemplate at the same time.

In the first six days God is represented as creating the world, and only after the world is there is it possible to contemplation it: "And God saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good." The same applies to our thinking. It must first be there before we can observe it.

3.5 Know Thought Directly And Intimately

Compare (1) observing the phenomena of thunder and lightning (pictures or video) in order to explain why thunder follows lightning, with (2) observing the concepts of thunder and lightning in your mind order to explain why thunder follows lightning.

Cannot Observe Thought When We Are Creating Thought
There is a reason why it is impossible to observe the thought-process while it is presently taking place. It is the same reason that makes it possible for us to know it more directly, and more intimately than any other process in the world. It is just because we produce the thought-process through our own creative activity.

Observation Of Thunder And Lightning
Without going beyond the observed phenomena, I cannot know why thunder follows lightning.


Creating A Thought-Process
It is just because we produce the thought-process through our own creative activity, that we know the characteristic features of its course, and the details of how the process has taken place. What can be discovered only indirectly in all other fields of observation,— the factually corresponding context and the connection between the single objects—in the case of thought is known to us in an absolutely direct way.

Reason For Connecting Concepts Found In Concepts
Without going beyond the observed phenomena, I cannot know why thunder follows lightning. But I know immediately, from the content of the two concepts, why my thought connects the concept of thunder with the concept of lightning.

Working With Correct Concepts?
The point being made here does not depend on whether I have the correct concepts of lightning and thunder. The connection between those concepts that I do have is clear to me, and is so through the concepts themselves.

3.6 Thinking Guided By Content Of Thought

Compare (1) the observation of physical-processes in the brain to explain why you linked one thought with another, with (2) the introspective observation of the thought-process to explain why you linked one thought with another.

Finding Thought In The Brain
This transparent clarity of the thought-process is completely independent of our knowledge of the physiological basis of thought. I am speaking here of thought when we make our own mental activity the object of observation. For this purpose I am not concerned with how one physical process in my brain causes or influences another while I carry on a line of thought.

Difficult To Grasp Pure Thinking
In a less materialistic age this remark would of course be entirely unnecessary. But today—when there are people who believe that once we know what matter is, we will know how matter thinks—it is necessary to point out that we can discuss thought without entering the field of brain physiology. Most people find it difficult to grasp the concept of pure thinking. Anyone who counters the idea of thinking I have developed here with the assertion of Cabanis' that "the brain secretes thoughts as the liver does gall or the salivary ducts saliva . . .", simply does not know what I am talking about. Such a person is trying to find thought in the brain by the normal method of observation, in the same way we approach other objects in the world. But, as I have shown, thought cannot be found in this way because it eludes normal observation.

I Have A Reason For Connecting Thoughts
What I observe in studying a thought-process is not what process in my brain connects the concept lightning with the concept thunder. I observe my reason for bringing these two concepts into a certain relationship. Introspection shows that in linking thought with thought I am guided by the content of my thoughts. I am not guided by physical processes in the brain.

Willingness To Enter The Exceptional State
Whoever is unable to enter the exceptional state I have described cannot transcend Materialism and become conscious of what in all other mental activity remains unconscious. If someone lacks the willingness to look at thought from this position, then one can no more discuss thought with him than one can discuss color with someone born blind. But he should certainly not imagine that we consider physiological processes to be thinking. He fails to explain thought because he simply does not see it.

3.7 Know Thought With Absolute Certainty

Exercise A: Compare (1) your level of certainty in knowing something given to you from the outside, with (2) your level of certainty in knowing a thought you produced in your mind.
Exercise B: Place an object before you. Compare three things: (1) Recognize that it exists. (2) Compare its existence to the way other things exist. (3) Compare its existence to your existence.

We Know Our Thought, Other Things Are Unfamiliar
For everyone who has the ability to observe thought—and with the willingness, every normal person has this ability—this observation is the most important that can be made. What he observes is his own creation. He is not facing something that is, at first, unfamiliar to him. He faces his own activity. He knows how it comes about. He clearly sees into its conditions and relationships. He gains a secure point of reference from which he can seek, with a reasonable hope of success, the explanation for all other world phenomena.

Truth, Illusion, Or Dream?
The feeling of having found such a firm foundation caused the founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, to base the whole of human knowledge on the principle, "I think, therefore I am." All other things, all other events, are there independent of me. I do not know whether they are truth, or illusion, or dream.

Know My Thought With Absolute Certainty, Because I Produce It
There is only one thing I know with absolute certainty, for I myself bring it to its sure and undisputed existence: my thought. Perhaps it has another ultimate source. Perhaps it comes from God or from somewhere else, I cannot be sure. I am sure of one thing, it exists because I produced it myself. Descartes had no justification for giving his principle any other meaning than this. All he had a right to assert was that it is only in thinking that I grasp myself, standing within the world-whole, in the activity that is the most my own.

It Exists
What the added words "therefore I am" is intended to mean has often been debated. It only makes sense on one condition. The simplest statement I can make about a thing is that it is, that it exists. What kind of existence it has cannot be more closely defined at first sight, in the first moment it appears within the range of my experience.

Its Relationship To Other Things
Each object must first be studied in its relationship to other things, before we can determine the way it exists. An experienced event may be a series of perceptions, but it could also be a dream, a hallucination, and so on. Within only a brief moment, I am unable to say in what way it exists. I cannot read the kind of existence from the event itself, but I can learn this when I consider the event in relation to other things. But even then, I learn nothing more than how it relates to these other things.

Its Relationship To My Existence
My search reaches firm ground only when I find an object, from which I can derive the reason of its existence from the object itself. This I am, as a thinker; for I give to my existence the defining, self-supporting content of my thought activity. From here I can go on to ask: "Do other things exist in the same, or in some other way?"

3.8 Remaining Within Realm Of Thought

Compare your right to (1) weave a web of thoughts around an object in the world that goes beyond your observation, with your right to (2) weave a web of thoughts around a thought in your mind that goes beyond the observed thought.

The Same Method To Observe Other Things Is Used To Observe Thought
When we make thought an object of observation, we add something to the rest of the world's observed content that normally escapes our notice. But we do not change the method of observation, which is the same as we use for other things. We increase the number of observed objects, but not the number of methods.

When Thinking About An Object Two Processes Intermix: Observation And Thought
A process is overlooked when we observe other things. This process mingles with world-events and intermixes with the observation process itself. Something is present that is different from every other kind of process, and is not taken into account.

When Thinking About Thinking We Remain Within The Realm Of Thought
But when I observe my thinking, there ceases to be an unnoticed element present. For what hovers in the background is, again, nothing but thought. The observed object is qualitatively the same as the activity directed upon it. This is another special characteristic of thought. When we observe thought, we are not compelled to do so with the help of something qualitatively different. We can remain within the same element; the realm of thought.

Do I have A Right To Have Thoughts That Go Beyond The Object?
When I weave a web of thoughts around an object given independently of me, I go beyond my observation. Then the question becomes: What right do I have to do this? Why don’t I just passively let the object make its impression on me? How is it possible for my thought to be related to the object? These are questions everyone who reflects on his own thought-processes must ask.

All these questions vanish when we think about thinking itself. We then add nothing unfamiliar to our thought, and so there is no need to justify such an addition.

3.9 Create Thought Before Knowing It

Compare the sequence of knowing and creating in Part 1, with the opposite sequence of creating and knowing in Part 2.
Part 1: Know Nature, Then Create Nature
Recall a time you grew a plant by applying your knowledge of the principles of gardening such as water, soil, and sunlight.
Part 2: Create Thought, Then Know Thought
Answer this yes or no question: Would you like to take a walk in the woods?
In making a choice you have created a thought-process. Recall this thought-process and contemplate it to gain knowledge of your reason for choosing yes or no.

Know The Principles Of Nature, Then Create Nature Again
Schelling says: "To know Nature is to create Nature." Anyone who takes these words of the daring Nature philosopher literally, must renounce forever all hope of gaining knowledge of Nature because, after all, Nature already exists. To re-create it over again, one must know the principles according to how it originated. From the Nature that already exists, one would have to copy the conditions of existence, and apply them to the Nature one wished to re-create. But this copying, which has to precede the re-creating, is to already have a knowledge of Nature, and remains this even if no re-creation follows. To create a Nature different from what already exists, one would have to create it without applying prior knowledge of existing Nature.

Create A Thought, Then Gain Knowledge Of It
What is impossible with Nature—creation prior to knowledge—we achieve in the act of thought. If we wait to think until we already know it, we would never think at all. We must resolutely dive straight into thinking and only afterward, by introspective analysis, gain knowledge of what we have done. We ourselves first create the thought-process, which we then make the object of observation. All other objects are there without any activity on our part.

3.10 Thought Is Self-Supporting And Self-Subsisting

(1) Observe a concept of an object and write down the thoughts that are within that concept of knowledge. (2) Observe the same concept a second time and see if any of the previous thoughts have been altered by the observation process.

The Unconscious Thought-Process
Here I will mention a widespread error concerning thought. It is often said that, "We never experience thought as it truly is, in its real nature. Thought-processes connect our observations with one another, and weave them together with a network of concepts." But they say, "These thoughts are not at all the same as what our analysis later extracts from the objects we observe, and make into the object of study. What we first unconsciously weave into things", so we are told, "is something entirely different from what we then consciously draw back out."

Recalling A Thought-Process Does Not Alter It
Those who hold this view do not realize it is impossible to escape from thought. I cannot get outside thought when I want to contemplate it. If one makes a distinction between thought before and after becoming conscious of it, one should not forget this distinction is purely external and irrelevant to our discussion. I do not in any way alter a thing by thinking about it. I can imagine that a being with different sense organs and a differently functioning intelligence would have a very different idea of a horse than mine. But I cannot imagine that my own thought becomes something else because I observe it. I myself observe what I myself produce.

Thought Principle Of Self-Subsistence
With this, I think I have sufficiently justified making thought the starting-point in my approach to understanding the world. When Archimedes invented the lever, he thought he could use it to lift the whole cosmos out of its hinges, if he could only find a secure point of support to set his instrument. He needed something that was self-supporting, not dependent on anything else. In thought we have a principle of self-subsistence, it is composed by means of itself. From this principle let us attempt to understand the world. Thought can be grasped by thought. The only question is whether we can grasp anything else by means of thought.

3.11 Impartial Consideration Of Thinking

Compare the knowledge gained by (1) observing an object you wish to understand, with the knowledge gained by (2) thinking about your thoughts of the object.

Start With Conscious Object And Think About It
I find it odd that a philosopher is criticized for being concerned first and foremost with the correctness of his principles. They expect him to turn immediately to the objects he wishes to understand. The world-creator, before everything else, had to know how to find a vehicle for thought. But the philosopher has to find a secure foundation for understanding what already exists. What good does it do to start with consciousness and subject it to our thinking, without first knowing whether thoughtful contemplation can offer insight into things?

Start With Examination Of Thinking
We must first examine thinking in a completely impartial way, without reference to a thinking subject or a thought object. For in subject and object we already have concepts formed by thinking. There is no denying that thinking must be understood before anything else can be understood. Anyone who denies this overlooks the fact that he, as a human being, does not belong to the beginning of creation, but to its end.

Reason Backward
To explain the world by means of concepts, we cannot start from the earliest elements of existence. We must begin with the nearest element given to us, what is most intimately ours. We cannot, with a leap, take ourselves back to the beginning of the world, and begin our analysis there. Instead, we must start from the present moment and see whether we can advance from the later to the earlier.

3.12 Rightness Of Thought

Exercise A: Compare whether (1) a tree in itself is right or wrong, with whether (2) a thought is right or wrong (when it is considered by itself).
Exercise B: Compare whether (1) a thought is right or wrong (when it is considered by itself), with whether (2) a thought is right or wrong after it has been applied to the world.

Is Our Thought Right Or Wrong?
There are people who say we cannot know for certain whether our thought is right or wrong. So our starting-point remains a doubtful one. This is as sensible as saying it is doubtful whether a tree in itself is right or wrong. Thought is a fact and it is meaningless to speak of a fact as being right or wrong.

Rightness Of Thought
I can understand someone doubting whether we can know the world by means of thought. But I find it incomprehensible how anyone can doubt the rightness of thought, when it is considered by itself.

Application Of Thought
At most I can have doubts about whether thought is rightly applied. In the same way I can have doubts whether a certain tree will provide the right wood suitable for the intended purpose of a tool being made. It is the task of this book to show how far the application of thought to the world is a right application or a wrong one.

Transition To Next Chapter

 In Chapter 3 we compare thought, as an object of observation, to all other observed things.

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