Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 3 Thought As The Basis For Understanding The World

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3.0 Reflective Thinking
3.1 Observation Of Thought
3.2 Formation Of Concept
3.3 Contemplation Of Object
3.4 Contemplation Of Thought
3.5 Know Content Of Concept Directly
3.6 Guided By Content Of Thought
3.7 Absolute Certainty
3.8 Remain Within Thought
3.9 Create Before Knowing
3.10 Self-Subsistence
3.11 Last Achievement of World Evolution
3.12 Rightness of Thought In Itself

Summary of Chapter 3, Thought As The Basis For Understanding The World of Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom discussing reflective thinking.

As a spectator, the game takes place in front of me.
I remain independent of the game.
I observe one ball move towards another in a certain direction and with a certain velocity.
I cannot tell in advance what will happen after the impact.
I must wait and only follow it with my eyes.
But as a player the situation is very different.
I reflect on what I observe of the game.
The purpose of my reflection is to form concepts of the event.
This conceptual process is dependent on me for it to take place.
I connect the concept of an elastic ball with other concepts of mechanics, trying to conceptualize the circumstances in this particular case.
In other words, I try to add to the game a second process that takes place in the conceptual sphere.
What do I gain by finding a conceptual counterpart to an event?
After discovering the concepts corresponding to the relationships within the event, I can predict what will happen!
In a merely observed object or event, there is nothing that reveals anything about its connection to other objects and events.
This connection is revealed only when observation is combined with thought.
Observation and thinking are the two starting points for all intellectual striving.
Everything, from ordinary common sense to the most complicated scientific research, rest on these two basic pillars of our mind.
Whatever principle we wish to establish, we must either show that we have observed it somewhere, or we must express it in the form of clear reasoning that can be re-thought by any other thinker.
Our thought about a horse and the object "horse" are two things that
exist separately for us.
As little as we can construct a concept of a horse by merely staring at it,
just as little can we produce a corresponding object with mere thought.
Based only on unbiased self-observation, I would now like to point out the significant difference between thinking and all other human activities.

Whatever we experience we first become aware of through observation.
This even includes thought which we also first become aware of through observation.
Our experience as observers consists of everything that is directly given to us in the widest sense:
our feelings,
acts of will,
dreams and fantasy imaginations,
mental images,
concepts and ideas, and
illusions and hallucinations.
Thought, as an object of observation, differs essentially from all other observed experience.
When I observe a tree thought is kindled, but I do not simultaneously observe my thought about the tree.
I can naturally be aware of having thoughts in the background while I observe the tree, but this is not what is meant by the observation of thought.
There is a difference between having thoughts and observing thoughts.
Our normal everyday life is filled with observing things and events and having thoughts about them,
but the observation of the thought itself is an exceptional state.
If we are to study thought we must apply the same attentive observation to thought, that we use for the study of other objects in the world.

Real thinking must always be willed.
A comparison of thought to feeling will clarify the point.
Feeling differs from thought in that I definitely know that it is I myself who is active when I form a mental concept that relates to the object.
The conceptual process is willed and while being willed is completely my own activity and under my own supervision.
But it is different with feeling.
A feeling of pleasure or displeasure is also kindled by an observed object.
But with feeling we remain passive.
Feeling happens in the same way as a change is caused in an object by a stone falling on it.
As objects of observation, then, thought and feeling are not at the same level.
Feeling must be classified with all other objects that are merely given, while concepts and ideas must be brought forth by me.
Furthermore, I learn nothing about myself by knowing the concepts that correspond to the observed change in a pane of glass caused by a stone thrown against it.
But I definitely learn about my personality when I know the feeling that a particular event arouses in me.

It is part of the unique nature of thinking that it is an activity directed solely on the observed object, and not on the thinking-personality.
The thinker forgets thought when actually thinking.
What occupies the attention is not thought, but rather the object of thinking, that which is being observed.
While I am reflecting on an object, I am absorbed in it; my attention is turned wholly to it.
To become absorbed in the object is to contemplate by thought.

The same applies when I enter the exceptional state and contemplate my own thought.
While I am reflecting on my thought, I am absorbed in it.
But I can never observe the present thought in which I am actually engaged.
The thought then to be observed is past thought.
For this purpose it does not matter whether I observe my own earlier thoughts,
or follow the thought process of another person,
or, as in the example of the movement of billiard balls, set up an imaginary thought process in the conceptual sphere.
It is all past thought.

Because we produce our own thought-process we can know it more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world.
We know the characteristic features of its course and the details of how the process takes place.
What can be discovered only indirectly in all other fields of observation, --the relevant context and the relationships between the individual objects--
is known to us directly in the case of thought.
Without going beyond the phenomena, I cannot know why my observation of thunder follows my observation of lightning.
But I know immediately from the content of the two concepts why my thought connects the concept of thunder with the concept lightning.
The point being made here does not depend on whether I have the correct concepts of lightning and thunder.
The connection between these concepts that I have is clear to me, and is so through the concepts themselves.

This transparent clarity of the thought process is completely independent of my knowledge of the physiological basis of thought.
I am speaking here of thought as it appears when we observe our own mental activity.
How one physical process in my brain causes or influences another while I am carrying on a thought process is irrelevant for this purpose.
What I observe in studying a thought process is not which process in my brain connects the concept lightning with the concept thunder, but my reason for bringing these two concepts into a specific relationship.
Introspection shows that in linking thought with thought I am guided by the content of my thoughts.
I am not guided by any physical processes in my brain.
In a less materialistic age than ours this remark would of course be entirely superfluous.
However, many people today find it difficult to grasp the concept of pure thinking.
They try to find thought through the study of the brain, but they cannot find it in this way because thought eludes ordinary outer observation.
It is useless to discuss thought with someone unless they are willing to enter the exceptional state of the inner observation of thought.
With good will, every normally constituted person has the ability to observe thought.
Anyone who cannot accept that pure thinking exists should be directed to the science of mathematics.
The inner experience of mathematics is an example of pure thinking.
A mathematical thought-process is guided entirely by universal rules of reason.
Today it has to be said that it is possible to talk about thought without entering the field of neuroscience.

The observation of thought is the most important observation a person can make.
We are not facing something that is initially foreign to us, but we face our own activity.
We know how the thing we are observing comes about.
We clearly see its connections and relationships.
And so we achieve a firm point from where with well founded hope we can seek an explanation of all other world phenomena.
For Descartes the feeling of having found such a firm point caused him to declare that the whole of human knowledge is based 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 there as truth, or illusion, or dream.
There is only one thing I know with absolute certainty, for I myself bring it to its certain existence, and that is my thought.

While we are observing things other than thought it is overlooked that our thoughts intermix with world events.
I weave a web of thought around an object and go beyond my observation.
The question becomes: What right do I have to mix my thoughts in with what I observe in the world?
In what way is it possible for my thought to be related to the object?
All these questions vanish when it is thought itself that we reflect upon.
Nothing unfamiliar is added to thought because we remain within the realm of thought.
What hovers in the background is itself, nothing but thought.

A natural object already exists, so to create it a second time one would have to know at the outset the principles of how it came about.
We would have to know nature before creating.
By first duplicating the conditions of nature’s existence we could create it again.
The only kind of object that one could create without previously knowing it would be something that did not yet exist.
What is impossible with nature ---creating before knowing--- we achieve with thinking intuition.
We first create the thought, then we gain knowledge of it.
If we were to refrain from thinking until we had first gained knowledge of it, we would never think at all.
We must resolutely think straight ahead and only afterward by introspective analysis gain knowledge of what we have done.

It is often said that we never experience the true nature of thought.
The thought that we first unconsciously weave into the objects is different from the thought that our later analysis consciously extracts from the objects.
This is irrelevant to our discussion because the distinction between conscious thinking and unconscious thinking is external to the object itself.
We do not alter an object by contemplating it in thought.
I do not alter, for example, a horse by contemplating it in thought, but my image of the horse will be different from the horse itself because the image depends on the quality of my sense organs and the functioning of my intelligence.
And my thought-image of the horse will be different from the thought-image formed by other people.
But when I observe my own thought it does not at any point become something different just because I observe it, it is instead self-subsisting.
I myself observe what I myself produce.
When Archimedes had discovered the lever he thought he could use it to lift the whole cosmos if only he could find a point that would support his instrument.
He needed a point that was self-supporting, not dependent on anything else.
In thought we have this very principle of self-subsistence.
Starting with thought as our basis we can attempt to understand the world.
Thought can be grasped by thought itself.
The only question is whether we can understand anything else by means of thought.

In the order of creation, consciousness had to precede thought.
There must be consciousness before there is thought.
But in the order of understanding the creation, thinking must come first.
It is with thinking that we understand what is already there.
Thinking is the last thing achieved in world evolution, but it has to be the first thing used to explain all that has come before it.
There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood.

There are people who say we cannot determine with certainty whether our thought is in itself right or wrong.
It would be just as intelligent to raise doubts about whether a tree is in itself right or wrong.
Thought is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the correctness or falsehood of a fact.
At most I can have doubts about whether thought is correctly used, just as I can doubt whether a particular tree supplies suitable wood for a certain tool.
I can understand someone doubting whether we can gain any knowledge of the world by means of thought, but I find it unintelligible that anyone can doubt the rightness of thought in itself.