This question is different from How to live the present instead of just surviving?. It's about an apparent contradiction in general whereas that one is specifically asking how to live in the present which is a different question, but I see how it resembles this one. I am not religious. I got my abstract thinking all on my own totally independently of religion and I guess it's related to the tag philosophy-of-religion. That tag got recommended to me then I saw for myself a possible reason and also trust that it would recommend me a suitable tag. I guess religion got people doing abstract thinking as well.

I know there technically is no contradiction in that fact. It just seems so wierd and I feel like it's hard to make sense of it. I'm not even entirely sure what my question even is. It's almost like I'm chasing after an answer that is out of reach from which I will see the problem from another perspective and then feel like it makes sense. There was a YouTube video of the ice man Wim Hof who said his brain was chasing after answers and just wouldn't stop and then I think when he went into cold water, he said it silenced him. I guess it got his mind onto something else and then he felt like he was conceiving of other concepts. Then that was his true state of mind so it made sense to him. Maybe an answer that will get me thinking of it another way and feeling like it makes sense will do. And please don't mention death itself in the answer. There is no use or need. I prefer to do my own thinking myself and not be fed ideas I might sometimes not like seeing when I read the answer and I don't need you others catching my attention in ways I don't want.

  • Sounds more like comparing a specific Turing Machine (an algorithm, say of division) and a Universal Turing Machine (a machine which can interpret any topic i.e. algorithm and run it). The assumption we are making here is that of mechanist thesis -that mind fundamentally is "mechanical" in nature.
    – Ajax
    Nov 30, 2020 at 20:25
  • How is it that the process of cooking and food are not the same?
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 2, 2020 at 17:49

2 Answers 2


It's really hard to make sense of it. If you watch your own brain in a scanner, you might have multiples topics you're focusing on. One might be something like abstract math. Another might be seeing your brain's process of doing it as an image. You really see them as two separate things. There are 2 ways to sense the state of your brain. One is by seeing what comes to you and reporting what truly comes to you because it came to you. The other is by looking at the image. It's so wierd that they are not one in the same.

Basically, the brain can have different states of mind which may be wierd abstract thinking. Then you actually feel like you're conceiving of a nonsense strange and wierd theory like I feel like I have sometimes done. However, I believe the brain actions themselves are just copying a formal system that just asserts that strange and wierd objects exist which probably don't. That is not a contradiction because it's just lying that something satisfying certain properties exists and is not referring to one specifically.

I'm also considering another very wierd theory. I don't know how to explain it. When you claim to conceive of a strange and wierd concept, the concept is a real existing strange and wierd entity and is the Godel number for the apparent brain actions for it or something like that. Maybe when you talk about the natural number 3, you're really seeing the natural number 8 and calling it 3 and the actual natural number 3 is the very strange and wierd entity that you can access only by conceiving of a specific strange and wierd concept which is the natural number. Maybe when you look at a brain in a scanner, you really are seeing only the brain's footprint and not the real brain which is the concepts that brain is conceiving of. Maybe the natural numbers are the conscious experiences and physical reality and consciousness are one in the same. According to one theory, the sun is conscious. Maybe that is why.

I also saw the question Is it possible that things that are not alive possess conciousness? in the review of this question and according to its currently first and checkmarked answer, the theory that everything is conscious is called Panpsychism.


Though it may not seem like it, thinking — in the sense of having a thought — is an act, a thing we do. It is no different in principle that other more physical acts we might do, like (say) lifting a coffee cup. With physical acts we make clear distinctions:

  • Pre-consciously doing the act: absently lifting the coffee cup without any conscious thought
  • Consciously doing the act: lifting the coffee cup with conscious attention to the act
  • Introspectively doing the act: lifting the coffee cup while reflecting on the specific movements (perhaps as babies do when learning how to use cups; certainly as athletes do when training, if you'll pardon the shift in analogies)

These same distinctions apply to mental acts. Most of the time we have a rough hum of things going on inside our heads: moods, reactions, emotions, fleeting thoughts we can't remember a moment later, sudden ideas that seem to come out of nowhere... This is all preconscious thinking, the kind of thing that allows us to (say) drive straight home while we are engrossed in a conversation, so that we suddenly find ourselves pulling into the driveway without any real memory of how we got there. And we can obviously think consciously, applying our minds to a particular task — be it a puzzle, a problem, a conversation, etc — and focusing on that to the exclusion of other things. And yes, we can think introspectively, though that's a skill that most people don't much develop: looking in and watching our thoughts as we think, seeing them come and go within our mental space.

And then, of course, we get to that deeply Buddhist question: who is it that's watching those thoughts?

Most people identify themselves with their thoughts, and have a hard time seeing their thoughts as something separate from their selves. But with a bit of introspection you start to realize that thoughts are epiphenomenal; not the source of the self, but merely one product of a more general kind of consciousness.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .