What is the most fundamental form of thought? In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the concept of the Three Vajras, or The Three Doors, which are body, speech, and mind. The human mind can be said to think in the sensory world (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell), to think in recollections of memories from the past (which is still a sensory experience), and to think in the conjured content of the imagination untouched by memory. These emanations express themselves through the verbal language of speech (which is still a sensory experience of sound; vocal intonations, pitch, rhythm, etc…), and through the non-verbal language of the body (which is still a sensory experience of sight; posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, etc…)

Is thought fundamentally empirical, linguistic, emotional, rational, instinctive, or something else entirely?

For example: When people think in images, are they really rooted in words; or when people speak in words, they are rooted in images.

  • Are you asking which of them is "fundamental" in Tibetan Buddhism? There are schools of thought that would name any of the above as the "most fundamental", and those that would say that thought is not "fundamentally" anything, just an illusion, māyā, and that the soul itself is a necklace without a thread. Guess what Buddhists think:"Understanding that what we experience is less substantial than... the attainment of enlightenment as a Buddha completely dedicated to the welfare of all beings."
    – Conifold
    Jan 29, 2018 at 5:41
  • The Buddhist reference was just an example to stimulate thought. My question in bold stands independent of the previous paragraph.
    – Tony
    Jan 29, 2018 at 22:08
  • 3
    Your question in bold without qualifications is both too broad for SE and invites primarily opinion based answers, both are grounds for closing it. Please specify, for example, whose position on the "fundamental nature of thought" you want to hear and/or outline what kind of answer you are most interested in hearing details of.
    – Conifold
    Jan 29, 2018 at 23:47
  • On the last sentence see SEP's Mental Imagery and The Language of Thought Hypothesis.
    – Conifold
    Jan 30, 2018 at 1:36
  • In Buddhist pramanavada sources or right knowledge is perception and inference.
    – catpnosis
    Jan 30, 2018 at 7:22

4 Answers 4


Thoughts come from nowhere and from everywhere! Both - both contain an element of truth.

Subjectively, our thoughts come from nowhere: they just pop into our heads or emerge in the form of words leaving our mouths.

Objectively, we can say that thoughts emerge from neural processes and that neural processes come from everywhere.

What one means by this is that the forms and dynamics of thought are influenced by everything that has a causal connection with you, your society, and your species.

There is plenty of indirect evidence to support the general claim that the brain is where thoughts emerge. The neuronal patterns that mediate and enable thought and behavior have proximal and distal causes.

The proximal causes are the stimuli and circumstances we experience. These experiences have causal impacts on our bodies and are also partly caused by our bodies.

The forces inside and outside the body become manifest in the brain as "clouds" of information. In the right circumstances, these nebulous patterns can condense into streams of thought.

We can add to these identifiable causes the mysterious element of randomness: that seemingly ever-present "ghost in the machine" that makes complex processes such as life fundamentally unpredictable. Perhaps randomness is what provides the "seeds" around which the condensation of thoughts can occur.

The distal causes are our experiential history and our evolutionary pre-history.

Our experiential history consists of the things we've learned, consciously and unconsciously, and the various events that have shaped our bodies and our neural connections in large and small ways.

Our evolutionary pre-history is essentially the experiential history of our species, and more generally of life itself, going back all the way to the first single-celled organism. The traits of a species are a sort of historical record of successes and failures. And going even further, life ultimately takes its particular forms because of the possibilities inherent in matter, and this takes us all the way to the formation of stars and planets.

As it’s a large area- let us see the main points

Thought (or thinking) can be described as all of the following: • An activity taking place in a brain and mind – abstract entity with the cognitive faculties of consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory. ; computer.

• An activity of intelligence – intelligence is the intellectual prowess of which is marked by cognition, motivation, and self-awareness.[3]

• A type of mental process – something that individuals can do with their minds.

• Thought as a biological adaptation mechanism[4]

• "Outline of a theory of thought-processes and thinking machines" (Caianiello)[5] – thought processes and mental phenomena modeled by sets of mathematical equations

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking (Hofstadter and Sander)[6] – a theory built on analogies

• The Neural Theory of Language and Thought (Feldman and Lakoff)[7] – neural modeling of language and spatial relations

Thought Forms – The Structure, Power, and Limitations of Thought (Baum)[8] – a theory built on mental models

Unconscious Thought Theory[9][10] – thought that is not conscious

Linguistics theories – The Stuff of Thought (Steven Pinker, Noam Chomsky)[11] – The linguistic and cognitive theory that thought is based on syntactic and linguistic recursion processes

Language of thought hypothesis (Jerry Fodor)[12] - A syntactic composition of representations of mental states - Literally, the 'Language of Thought'.

What is most thought-provoking in these thought-provoking times, is that we are still not thinking. — Martin Heidegger[13]

Martin Heidegger's phenomenological analyses of the existential structure of man in Being and Time cast new light on the issue of thinking, unsettling traditional cognitive or rational interpretations of man which affect the way we understand thought. Phenomenology,

however, is not the only approach to thinking in modern Western philosophy.

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain.

The mind-body problem, i.e. the relationship of the mind to the body, is commonly seen as the central issue in philosophy of mind, although there are other issues concerning the nature of the mind that do not involve its relation to the physical body.[15] Human perceptual experiences depend on stimuli which arrive at one's various sensory organs from the external world and these stimuli cause changes in one's mental state, ultimately causing one to feel a sensation, which may be pleasant or unpleasant.

Someone's desire for a slice of pizza, for example, will tend to cause that person to move his or her body in a specific manner and in a specific direction to obtain what he or she wants.

The question, then, is how it can be possible for conscious experiences to arise out of a lump of gray matter endowed with nothing but electrochemical properties.

A related problem is to explain how someone's propositional attitudes (e.g. beliefs and desires) can cause that individual's neurons to fire and his muscles to contract in exactly the correct manner.

Functionalism vs. embodiment- This approach states that the classical approach of separating the mind and analysing its processes is misguided: instead, we should see that the mind, actions of an embodied agent, and the environment it perceives and envisions, are all parts of a whole which determine each other. Therefore, functional analysis of the mind alone will always leave us with a mind-body problem which cannot be solved.[19] Biology- Neurons are the core components of the brain, the vertebrate spinal cord, the invertebrate ventral nerve cord, and the peripheral nerves.

A number of specialized types of neurons exist: sensory neurons respond to touch, sound, light and numerous other stimuli affecting cells of the sensory organs that then send signals to the spinal cord and brain. Motor neurons receive signals from the brain and spinal cord that cause muscle contractions and affect glands.

Interneurons connect neurons to other neurons within the brain and spinal cord. Neurons respond to stimuli and communicate the presence of stimuli to the central nervous system, which processes that information and sends responses to other parts of the body for action.


In recent years, the Piagetian conception of thought was integrated with information processing conceptions.

Thus, a thought is considered as the result of mechanisms that are responsible for the representation and processing of information.

In this conception, the speed of processing, cognitive control, and working memory are the main functions underlying thought.

In the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development, the development of thought is considered to come from increasing speed of processing, enhanced cognitive control, and increasing working memory For psychoanalysis, the unconscious does not include all that is not conscious, rather only what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what the person is averse to knowing consciously.

In a sense this view places the self in relationship to their unconscious as an adversary, warring with itself to keep what is unconscious hidden. If a person feels pain, all he can think of is alleviating the pain. Any of his desires, to get rid of pain or enjoy something, command the mind what to do. For Freud, the unconscious was a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression.

The collective unconscious, sometimes known as collective subconscious, is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is a part of the unconscious mind, shared by a society, a people, or all humanity, in an interconnected system that is the product of all common experiences and contains such concepts as science, religion, and morality.

While Freud did not distinguish between an "individual psychology" and a "collective psychology", Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal subconscious particular to each human being. The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species".[30]

I think with a brief on the origin of thought, its nature and holistic connected regions-the origin may be visualized.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/10/21/where-do-our-thoughts-come-from/#61cd0d3d2ee2


"memories from the past (which is still a sensory experience)" "the conjured content of the imagination untouched by memory"

You say these like they are uncontentious. Sensory experience doesn't happen to a body separate from a mind. Consider, your field of view is augmented by many mental processes, identifying edges, estimation of speeds, search for things like faces, attention grabbed by the whites of eyes, and a Lot more. Perception is a mental, not just a physical process.

The idea any memory can be stored 'objectively' has been pretty much completely undermined, if not dismissed entirely. Look at the literature.

We know non-linguistic animals can think, so lets dismiss the words as fundamental idea.

In fact, why not deal with the idea of 'fundamental'. The implication you make is that status would give thoughts purely of whatever type, precedence over others, or greater explanatory power, or somehow greater depth or meaning. But that doesn't work. That isn't how minds work. We bring our whole being, all our experiences, to each thought. That is irreducible.

If the question is, where does thought begin? You essentially have the hard problem of consciousness. I would look for that, and in this specific formulation, to evolutionary history. Foetal gestation goes through many of the stages of our evolution, from the stages of cellular differentiation to a stage with proto gills to quickening. I would suggest the conserved parts of this process are neccessary for the formation of a functional thinker, and that thought types and capacities go through parallel developmental processes to the physical ones.

EDITED TO ADD: Buddhist thought on this is quite sophisticated especially in yogacara thought which includes nearly all of Tibetan Buddhism.

All of Buddhist thought has the idea of ayatanas, usually translated as sense-gates, and their attendant domains or realms.

"No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness." - The Heart Sutra

My understanding is Buddhist thought does something quite subversive here, locating consciousness, reality, neither in external realms, nor in internal experiences, but as arising at the gates, the junctions between these. In sensations, the 'origins of suffering', where they meet. Although these are only one of the aggregates, skhandas, or heaps, this is where suffering, mental activity begins.

Yogacara thought specifically, develops these 'core' six ayatanas into Eight Consciousnesses. Seventh is conceptualising or 'self' grasping consciousness, which seems like abstracting consciousness. Eighth is alayavijnana, store-house or causal consciousness, the realm of karmic seeds. I feel a parallel has to be drawn to how a 'toolkit' of transpersonal cultural concepts exists. I don't have access to original source material or really good commentary so I should end there. I feel this model of thought and minds is far more powerful than the implicit Cartesian disembodied thinker of most Western thought though.

Perhaps the most truly 'fundamental' thought in Buddhism, is the dharmakaya, the possibility of liberation, which is posited as the deepest substrate.

  • Mental and physical processes are interdependent on each other. Nobody can seem to agree on which mind-body paradigm is true, so I treat them as one composite whole. We call things physical because we can observe, measure, or detect them with organs of perception or scientific instruments. I would argue that mental process, or the intellect, cannot function or operate without data from the sensory world.
    – Tony
    Jan 30, 2018 at 18:01
  • It would be like trying to use Google without Google having an archive available to search. The programming language they use, the digital infrastructure of their website, even the source of power that runs their data centers, would all be meaningless if their spiders weren't crawling the internet.
    – Tony
    Jan 30, 2018 at 18:01
  • By the way, I am familiar with the fact that there are dozens of other auxiliary senses, but I only mention the main five out of convenience. My question is whether or not there is a prime condition of thought, like how numbers can be reduced to their prime factors. The real question is this, can thought arise outside of, and independent of, all the senses? What would be the origin or substance of that thought? As opposed to seeing a sunset having its origins in sight, and substance in light and color.
    – Tony
    Jan 30, 2018 at 18:01
  • So, I guess you missed it, but my answer is no. Senses are needed, but also a complex feedback for world-building and generating a sense of self, imho.
    – CriglCragl
    Jan 30, 2018 at 19:26

Thought is a gift given by god to human as a power for thinking and the ability to see the environment. The thought is also a spiritual tool that has the function of remembering, summarizing, rate, and analyzing whether human actions are right or wrong.

This one gift is only given to human beings so that by using it, people have knowledge. Human becomes superior to other creatures.

Conversely, by abusing his intellect or not using his mind on the right path, he becomes the most abject creature. Almost all suffering comes from the mind. The mind can be fickle, nor is it always true because the mind is the response of reality. According to Anthony Robbins, To communicate effectively, we must realize that we are all different in the way of understanding the world and using this sense as a guide to communicate with others.

[ 95:4 ] We have certainly created man in the best of stature.

[ 2:164 ] Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason.

[ 30:24 ] And of His signs is [that] He shows you the lightening [causing] fear and aspiration, and He sends down rain from the sky by which He brings to life the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed in that are signs for a people who use reason.

  • 1
    Is there a source for the quotes? It is the Quran or something else? Is there a book by Anthony Robbins you can reference? Mar 31, 2018 at 13:37
  • 1
    Yes, it is. The source of the Quran is [ 95:4 ], [ 2:164 ], [ 30:24 ]. And also a quote about communication from Anthony Robbins that relates to the content. pinterest.com/pin/96053404523736902
    – Aiʀ
    Mar 31, 2018 at 17:08

I often ponder these things: stay up late in the evening to question, seek, and search my mind, for logical reasons to answer the 'why'. My current concepts and on the matter of "the thought", are quite simple. Everthing is a derivative of something, making nothing truly original. This logic is applied to my reasoning of "the thought", in effort to aid in the understanding of the limitations (frustrations) of our human reasoning capability.

What we are capable of experiencing with our limited (yes limited) sensors providing input/output, runs through our body in electric pulses, which is then interpreted by our brain. Don't judge too harshly on what I'm about to say. I'll admit, I'm no philosophy guru by any means, but I do appreciate corrective, and helpful criticism. However; these are some distinctions I've made.

  1. The Physical Mind. I think of this as our our hypervisor, physical machine, and base. It's pretty common knowledge that our mind has built-in mechanisms, for self-preservation, sensor reaction, and many other things at a root level.
  2. The Temporary Mind. This, I picture more of as an operating system, on a physical device. Our thoughts being stored in short-term and long-term memory banks, just like on a computer (RAM & NVRAM). The Temporary Mind and Physical mind, both encompass the most complex, only theorized, concepts of humanity, and what makes us different.

Ideas like "experiences", are only strings of thoughts tied to human emotions/feelings, to be complied into something even bigger. Which in addition, leads to the storage of those specific inputs/outputs, whether extremely detailed or not.

Feelings themselves utilize bi-directional links between your sensors and our temporary or physical mind. For example, you listen to a song, you feel an emotion, let's say sad. You more than likely feel sad because the song played has minor chords, in chord progression, most all sad songs do. A minor chord itself, is one note off from a full-note. Making the frequency of noise put off incomplete sounding. So when your body interprets the sound, it directly effects your mood, without you having the ability to stop it. Cool right?

My question going forward with this logic, is created because I'm using this method to understand how my mind processes things. Given the example above, our minds are complex, and we still know little of how they work, my question is what else hasn't been unlocked? What else is our "Temporary Mind" capable of processing or understanding, which we simply can't use because we don't have the input/output sensors require?

R/S, David

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