Monday, April 02, 2012

multi-threaded nature of thought

My reading, reflecting my interests, spans a wide range of topics. However, the subject of thought – what it is and how we experience it - is almost entirely unexplored (with the exception of some lame and poorly written philosophical treatises on "mind"). It appears that, in large measure, most people think of "a thought" as a distinct, precise, and unalloyed unit, not unlike the idea of the "atom" as imagined in the late 19th century.

That late 19th century "atom", it turned out, is not the ultimate building block of matter, and indeed will probably end up being seen as a fictional unit altogether, discarded from scientific discourse. So too, it is becoming clear that our thoughts are not singular, fundamental units of consciousness, but are complex fabrics woven of many strands and fragments. Or to use another analogy, our thoughts are like symphonic compositions, with multiple instruments playing independent but related, or semi-related consonant and dissonant melodies, tones, and percussive beats.

This understanding of thought is derived from my direct experience, and emerges from the comprehensively documented observations of the highly superimposed nature of consciousness. To use a computing metaphor, human consciousness is a multi-tasking system, and each task is multi-threaded. At any given moment, consciousness is composed of multiple sensations, emotions, thoughts, and higher-order impressions and operations (these latter being beyond the threshold of common awareness), and each sensation, emotion, and thought is multi-threaded.

Most of the time most people are entirely unaware of this symphony of processing going on within them, that comprises human mentation. Indeed, we are wont to reduce this welter of processes to single thoughts, or single emotions, or single sensations, or at most, single (mostly) linear narratives. The arts, of course, challenge this kind of simplification. As noted, the symphony with its multiple instruments playing multiple melodies, phrases, and sounds replicates the multi-threaded nature of human consciousness. The novel, with its complex interacting characters and interwoven story lines replicates both the multi-tasking and multi-threading of consciousness. Yet, nowhere in literature, at least to my knowledge, has this exploration of complexity focused down into the multi-threaded functioning of consciousness itself. At most, we have stream-of-consciousness techniques exploring the uppermost level of awareness and its often non-linear narrative trajectory. 

Having introspectively explored my thinking processes for over 40 years, it seems appropriate (perhaps long overdue) that I now take my perspective down into the multiple threads of thought to try to unpack them. Perhaps the subject may seem more appropriate for a psychological essay or a phenomenological tract. But those forms lack both aesthetic richness and narrative ordering principles, and aesthetics and narrative are core components of consciousness. Therefore I am exploring these horizons of consciousness through a poetic lens, hoping, through a sort of stop-frame process, to expose a more accurate and nuanced representation of human mentation.

In my next post will you will be able to read (and critique) a first draft of just such an exploration.