Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

We can see our human ability for elaborate abstract thought as an evolutionary experiment.

Thoughts as tools

Thoughts are tools. They help us orient and navigate in the world.

They provide us with mental maps of the world. They give us images of the past, present, and possible futures. They provide us with the opportunity to mentally test out actions before we make them.

All of this makes it possible for us to function in the world.

Thoughts mimic senses & language

Thoughts seem to mimic our physical senses and, in our case, language.

In our case, we have thoughts mimicking sight, sounds, sensations, movement, and words (mental images and sounds).

Other species may have thoughts mimicking their own senses, whatever these are.

A helpful way of using this tool

What’s the optimal way to use this tool of thought?

It seems that the best way to use this particular tool is to recognize thoughts as thoughts. They are questions about the world. They help us orient and navigate. They provide maps about the world. They have a very important practical function. They are provisional. They are not what they appear to refer to. And none of them hold any final or absolute truth.

When we recognize this, we can hold them more lightly. We can find the validity in them, question them, find the validity in their reversals and other views, and use them more consciously as a tool. We recognize their value and their inherent limitations.

Misuse of the tool of thoughts

How can this tool be misused?

The easiest is to hold a thought as true. When we do, we identify with the viewpoint with the thought. We take ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought, make it into an identity for ourselves, create a sense of I and other, and feel a need to prop it up, elaborate on it, and defend it if it’s threatened.

When we hold a thought as true – either consciously or a part of us holds it as true – we perceive and live as if it’s true. We get out of alignment with reality since no thought can hold any final or absolute truth, and a thought and its reversals all hold some validity.

This is how a huge amount of human suffering is created, and it’s also how we create a good deal of problems for ourselves and others.

Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

I assume many types of animals have some form of thought.

Specifically, they may have thoughts mimicking their senses. They may have mental maps of their surroundings. Mental representations of friends and foes. Mental representations of however they communicate. And so on. In most cases, these may not be conscious thoughts.

Human thought has gone a couple of steps further into abstraction. We have developed complex language and mental representations of this language, and that allows us to imagine and explore a wide range of things in our minds. Our minds are immensely creative.

This form of more abstract and elaborate thought is, in a sense, an evolutionary experiment. It’s as if nature said to itself: let’s see what happens with this species if they have this ability. Let’s see how they use it, and whether it aids their survival or becomes their undoing.

We can see how it has indeed aided our survival and made us into a powerful species. And we can also see how it has brought about conflicts, war, and immense suffering, and brought the ecosystems we are dependent on for our own survival to the brink of ecological collapse.

Abstract and complex thought as a new evolutionary experiment

This more elaborate form of abstract thought is a relatively new evolutionary experiment. It may have evolved over just a few hundred thousand years.

In an evolutionary sense, this is a very new tool for us. We are still learning how to use it.

We are systematically misusing it by assuming thoughts can do more for us than they can. They are powerful, and they have helped us create this civilization, technology, culture and so on. At the same time, they have their limits. They can’t hold any final or absolute truth, and we often perceive and live as if they can.

I assume that if we survive long enough, we may also learn to relate to thoughts more consciously. We may learn to recognize what they can and cannot do for us, and their inherent limitations. If this ever happens on a collective scale, it will mean a revolution in human evolution and history.

How we can explore this for ourselves

We can explore many aspects of this for ourselves.

We can explore our sense fields – sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, and mental representations – and see how mental representations combine with the other sense fields to create our experience of the world.

We may recognize how our mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, so the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry, Living Inquiries.)

We can examine any thought we hold as true and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can use basic meditation to notice and allow our experience as it is. This helps us notice and allow thoughts, recognize that they live their own life, and perhaps soften identification with them and hold them a bit more lightly.

In a sense, through examining our thoughts and our relationship with thoughts, and learning to relate to them more consciously, we take the next evolutionary step in our own life. We find a more sane and healthy relationship with thoughts, and that is one of the things that can most help humanity today.

DRAFT

Note: I struggled a bit with writing this, probably because of the brain fog. Here are some of the drafts.

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I find it helpful to think of thoughts as an experiment of evolution.

It’s a new tool from an evolutionary perspective, and we are still getting familiar with it and learning how to use it properly.

What are thoughts?

We can say that thoughts are mental representations of the world.

They are mental maps of the world we use to orient and function, and they can be more or less accurate, and they take many forms.

Thoughts mimicking senses

Thoughts seem to mimic our senses. For us, the main types of thoughts mimic sight (mental images) and speech (words), although we also have thoughts mimicking sensations, sounds in general, taste, smell, and so on.

When we remember a sound, we get a sound-thought. When we remember the sensation in our stomach from falling on a roller-coaster, it’s a sensation-thought. We can also remember a taste or smell, which is a taste/smell type thought.

Although we don’t know for certain, it may be that species with different senses have types of thoughts mimicking these senses. Perhaps dolphins have a type of thought mimicking sonar information, migrating animals a type of thought mimicking magnetic sensing, and birds a type of thought mimicking calls and songs.

I also imagine that most beings have a mental representation of space, and we can call this mental images, whether the being has physical eyes and eyesight or not.

And if other species are like us, these thoughts are often not conscious even if we operate from them.

Thoughts in the form of words

We humans have speech and a form of thought mimicking speech. These thoughts mimic the sounds of words and sometimes even the images of the letters.

In a sense, this is a new evolutionary experiment. It allows for more complex abstractions and analysis and is what has made language, agriculture, civilization, and everything that goes with it possible.

Thoughts as a tool

Thoughts are a tool that help us function and orient in the world. That’s their function. They provide us with mental maps of the world that we can use to orient and navigate.

And since it’s a relatively new tool from an evolutionary perspective, we are still getting familiar with it and are learning about its upsides, limitations, and how to use it properly.

The limits of thoughts

As any tool, thoughts have their uses and limits and ways they can be misused.

If we look more closely, we see that they are questions about the world. They are maps and not the terrain. (Unless the terrain is thoughts!) They are not what they apparently represent. They cannot give us any final or absolute answers about anything. That’s not their function. It’s not their job. It’s their nature to guide without giving any final answers.

Misusing and overapplying the tool of thoughts

At individual and collective levels, we sometimes misuse thoughts. They are powerful tools, we don’t quite recognize their limitations, and we use them for things they inherently are unable to do.

For instance, we sometimes assume – and live and perceive – as if thoughts can give us final or absolute answers. This is how much of our personal and collective suffering is created.

What’s next? Will we learn?

What’s the next phase of this evolutionary experiment?

Will we eventually see what’s happening? Will we learn to use thoughts more intentionally?

Will we, at a collective level, learn to recognize them as a practical tool only with limits?

Exploring thoughts for ourselves

We can explore our own relationship with thoughts, for instance through noticing what’s happening in the different sense fields. We can notice how our mental representations function as an overlay on these sense fields and put labels, interpret, and create stories about the world. They also function as a kind of virtual reality which more or less corresponds with consensus reality.

To start exploring this, it’s helpful to use structured inquiry and have the assistance of someone who is familiar with the terrain and these pointers.

DRAFT

Many or most beings likely have some level of thought, in the form of mental images they use or orient and navigate life.

Humans also have words. In a sense, this is a new evolutionary experiment. It’s one step further into abstraction and analysis and is what has made language, agriculture, civilization, and everything that goes with it possible.

Thought – whether as mental images or words – is a tool.

And perhaps since it’s a relatively new tool, from an evolutionary perspective, we haven’t yet learned how to use it properly.

The function of thoughts is to help us navigate and orient in the world, and in that sense, they are immensely useful. And as with any tool, they have their limits. If we look more closely, we see that they are questions about the world. They cannot give us any final or absolute answers about anything. That’s not their function.

And yet, we often live and perceive as if they do give us final and absolute answers, and this is how much of our personal and collective suffering is created. We create suffering for ourselves by taking painful thoughts as true. And we create suffering for ourselves and others, by holding certain thoughts as true.

Will we eventually see what’s happening? Will we learn to use thoughts more intentionally? Will we recognize them as a practical tool only? Some do already, but will we get this at a more collective level?

What’s the next phase of this evolutionary experiment? Continued massive destruction of the living systems we are an intrinsic part of? Continued social structures where many live in poverty? Or will we eventually wake up to thoughts as what they are – as a practical tool with limited value?

……

DRAFT TWO

I find it helpful to think of thoughts as an experiment of evolution.

Thoughts in the form of mental images

Many or most beings likely have some level of thought. For instance, in the form of mental images we use to orient and navigate life.

Thoughts mimicking senses

Thoughts seem to mimic our senses. For us, the main types of thoughts mimic sight (mental images) and speech (words), although we also have thoughts mimicking sensations, sounds in general, taste, smell, and so on.

When we remember a sound, we get a sound-thought. When we remember the sensation in our stomach from falling on a roller-coaster, it’s a sensation-thought. We can also remember a taste or smell, which is a taste/smell type thought.

Although we don’t know for certain, it may be that species with different senses have types of thoughts mimicking these senses. Perhaps dolphins have a type of thought mimicking sonar information, migrating animals a type of thought mimicking magnetic sensing, and birds a type of thought mimicking calls and songs.

Thoughts in the form of words

We humans have speech, and a form of thought mimicking speech (words). In a sense, this is a new evolutionary experiment. It’s one step further into abstraction and analysis and is what has made language, agriculture, civilization, and everything that goes with it possible.

Thoughts as tools

Thought is a tool to help us orient and navigate in the world, and it’s immensely useful.

And perhaps since it’s a relatively new tool, from an evolutionary perspective, we haven’t yet learned how to use it properly.

The limits of thoughts

The function of thoughts is to help us navigate and orient in the world, and in that sense, they are immensely useful. And as with any tool, they have their limits. If we look more closely, we see that they are questions about the world. They cannot give us any final or absolute answers about anything. That’s not their function.

Misapplying the tool of thoughts

And yet, we often live and perceive as if they do give us final and absolute answers, and this is how much of our personal and collective suffering is created. We create suffering for ourselves by taking painful thoughts as true. And we create suffering for ourselves and others, by holding certain thoughts as true.

Will we eventually see what’s happening? Will we learn to use thoughts more intentionally? Will we recognize them as a practical tool only? Some do already, but will we get this at a more collective level?

What’s next? Will we learn?

What’s the next phase of this evolutionary experiment? Continued massive destruction of the living systems we are an intrinsic part of? Continued social structures where many live in poverty? Or will we eventually wake up to thoughts as what they are – as a practical tool with limited value?

…..

The essence

Thoughts are tools that helps us function in the world. They

And with a few more details….

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DRAFT THREE

I find it helpful to think of thoughts as an experiment of evolution.

It’s a new tool from an evolutionary perspective, and we are still getting familiar with it and learning how to use it properly.

What are thoughts?

We can say that thoughts are mental representations of the world.

They are mental maps of the world we use to orient and function, and they can be more or less accurate, and they take many forms.

Thoughts mimicking senses

Thoughts seem to mimic our senses. For us, the main types of thoughts mimic sight (mental images) and speech (words), although we also have thoughts mimicking sensations, sounds in general, taste, smell, and so on.

When we remember a sound, we get a sound-thought. When we remember the sensation in our stomach from falling on a roller-coaster, it’s a sensation-thought. We can also remember a taste or smell, which is a taste/smell type thought.

Although we don’t know for certain, it may be that species with different senses have types of thoughts mimicking these senses. Perhaps dolphins have a type of thought mimicking sonar information, migrating animals a type of thought mimicking magnetic sensing, and birds a type of thought mimicking calls and songs.

I also imagine that most beings have a mental representation of space, and we can call this mental images, whether the being has physical eyes and eyesight or not.

And if other species are like us, these thoughts are often not conscious even if we operate from them.

Thoughts in the form of words

We humans have speech and a form of thought mimicking speech. These thoughts mimic the sounds of words and sometimes even the images of the letters.

In a sense, this is a new evolutionary experiment. It allows for more complex abstractions and analysis and is what has made language, agriculture, civilization, and everything that goes with it possible.

Thoughts as a tool

Thoughts are a tool that help us function and orient in the world. That’s their function. They provide us with mental maps of the world that we can use to orient and navigate.

And since it’s a relatively new tool from an evolutionary perspective, we are still getting familiar with it and are learning about its upsides, limitations, and how to use it properly.

The limits of thoughts

As any tool, thoughts have their uses and limits and ways they can be misused.

If we look more closely, we see that they are questions about the world. They are maps and not the terrain. (Unless the terrain is thoughts!) They are not what they apparently represent. They cannot give us any final or absolute answers about anything. That’s not their function. It’s not their job. It’s their nature to guide without giving any final answers.

Misusing and overapplying the tool of thoughts

At individual and collective levels, we sometimes misuse thoughts. They are powerful tools, we don’t quite recognize their limitations, and we use them for things they inherently are unable to do.

For instance, we sometimes assume – and live and perceive – as if thoughts can give us final or absolute answers. This is how much of our personal and collective suffering is created.

What’s next? Will we learn?

What’s the next phase of this evolutionary experiment?

Will we eventually see what’s happening? Will we learn to use thoughts more intentionally?

Will we, at a collective level, learn to recognize them as a practical tool only with limits?

Exploring thoughts for ourselves

We can explore our own relationship with thoughts, for instance through noticing what’s happening in the different sense fields. We can notice how our mental representations function as an overlay on these sense fields and put labels, interpret, and create stories about the world. They also function as a kind of virtual reality which more or less corresponds with consensus reality.

To start exploring this, it’s helpful to use structured inquiry and have the assistance of someone who is familiar with the terrain and these pointers.

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….

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