The movement of thought

Hello everyone,

In the video by K and Bohm, they both talk about knowledge from minute 16.20 onwards. They say that psychological knowledge is limited. And because psychological knowledge is limited, thinking is also limited. And then they continue their research.

If I now look at the movement of thought, I perceive the following:

  1. thinking gathers psychological knowledge about itself and other people
  2. this knowledge about ourselves and other people is limited
  3. we call this knowledge of ourselves and others as a mental concept ego
  4. this ego as a mental concept is the movement of thought through knowledge
  5. the movement of thought leads to division through its fragmentation
  6. this splitting of thought leads to conflict within ourselves and with other people

How do you perceive the movement of thought?

Michael

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Can thought perceive its own movement? That would take a certain sensitivity wouldn’t it? K. states that the ‘you’ or the ‘me’ doesn’t actually exist, that there is no individual you or me….that it is a “trick” of thought. Can thought become aware of what it has done and simply cease, cease moving as if it were this illusory entity, cease being a ‘center’ dividing itself off from the rest of the world? And if not, why not? It sees the violence and the destruction, the fear and hatred and division but it attributes it to something else other than its own movement?

Hi Michael - is there any particular aspect of what Krishnamurti and Bohm talked about in their discussion that you wanted to follow up and inquire into? - or were you simply interested in an overview of the nature of thought (of the kind you have already provided)?

Hi James,

thank you for your message.

In the first step, I am interested in the following statements about knowledge:

  1. video minute from 16.22:
    Thinking is limited because we can only accumulate a limited amount of experience and knowledge. How is this to be understood? And is he only referring to psychological knowledge or knowledge in general, including technical knowledge?

  2. video minute from 19.31:
    Here they both talk about the fact that there is the unknown which we cannot know. And therefore the unknown is unlimited. What makes both of them make these statements if thinking itself only operates through knowledge in the known?

Perhaps we could start with that?

Michael

K, as I understand it, is saying that thought is limited because thought is based on knowledge, and knowledge is limited.

The evidence for the fact that knowledge is limited is that in the scientific field - where knowledge is essential - it is always being added to. There is no complete knowledge of the laws of nature, of the nature of the physical universe.

Even though in the discussion they agree to limit their inquiry about knowledge to psychological knowledge, my understanding is that this limitation applies to all knowledge, not just psychological knowledge.

Knowledge is limited for Krishnamurti because it is based on experience which is limited. So there is a chain of causation here: thought is limited because it is based on knowledge which is limited, and knowledge is limited because it is based on experience which is limited. What Krishnamurti means by the word experience is a little ambiguous, but I understand him to mean that ordinarily all experience is filtered through our conditioning.

There is, potentially, an unlimited manner or mode of experiencing - which may take place in what Krishnamurti calls true meditation, or when the mind is in a state of total attention. But this is not what Krishnamurti means by experience. He says that in true meditation there is no experience.

So experience - experience of traffic, experience of other people, experience of eating different foods - is registered in the brain by our thinking, and becomes our knowledge. So an experience is a combination of the background of our thinking and conditioning, as well as our sense perceptions of the world. The synthesis of our conditioning with what we sense-perceive becomes our experience. E.g. I ate an apple yesterday and it tasted a little sweet and a little sour at the same time. This experience of eating the apple was registered by the brain, and has become my knowledge. My memory, which is my knowledge, is an abstraction of the experience I had when eating the apple.

So, you see, the limitation of experience is one thing. And the storing up in memory of that experience is a further limitation because I must abstract from that experience to create a memory of it, which is my knowledge. Then thought: all thought, all thinking, is a projection of this background storehouse of my memory, which is my knowledge. And so thought is never new, it is always from the past - and my past knowledge is always limited (because it is itself an abstraction of what I experienced in the past). So thought is always limited.

Do you see the causal chain of it? This is what I understand Krishnamurti to be saying, although they only touch on aspects of this during their discussion.

I’m not sure I completely understand your question here?

They are saying - as far as I understand it - that the world, the universe, as well as the mind, is potentially limitless, and so there will always be some aspect of reality (or the mind) that thought cannot capture because thought is always limited. So thought is the known (it is a projection of our memory and knowledge), and reality in its wholeness is essentially unknown (and unknowable through thought, because thought is always limited).

This is what I understand them to be saying essentially (though they put it in slightly different words).

The context for this discussion about thought (in the video) is an examination of the nature of the psyche, the ‘me’ (which is the same thing as consciousness, according to K). Because K says that there is no psychological evolution for the ‘me’, for the psyche.

Towards the beginning of the discussion Krishnamurti says that the self, the psyche, the ego, the ‘me’, is not different from one’s consciousness. The self is essentially memory, put together by thought. And thought has put together the contents of one’s consciousness, one’s reactions, one’s memories, one’s whole psychological conditioning.

So K says: “thought is the basis of all this” (i.e. the basis of the psyche, the self, the ego, the ‘me’, consciousness and its contents, one’s reactions, one’s whole psychological conditioning).

This is why they go onto examine the nature of thought, how thought is limited, etc.

Because thought itself is time, psychologically speaking (which they discuss later on and in the 2nd conversation), it cannot transcend itself through time.

Because thought is limited - they say - it creates division. And because thought has created the self, the psyche, the ‘me’ (which is our consciousness, our conditioning), this limited consciousness creates conflict - both within itself and outwardly in society.

In itself - because it has been put together by thought - consciousness is made up of fragments.

And outwardly this fragmented approach of our consciousness is expressed as all the divisions in society: tribalism, nationalism, sectarian strife, etc.

They then go on to say that the consciousness of humanity is actually one, unified consciousness. That the feeling of being a separate individual consciousness separate from the rest of humanity is an illusion. All human beings suffer, have fear, etc. So our consciousness is the consciousness of mankind. And this consciousness is essentially created by thought, which is limited.

So K says that to have a perception or insight into the limitations of thought - i.e. that thought (and therefore the psyche, the ‘me’, the contents of one’s consciousness, one’s conditioning, etc) is always limited - is critically important.

This insight, it seems to me, changes everything because it puts thought in a whole new light, removing it from its authority to its limited utility.

Yes. As you may know, in the 2nd conversation between K and Bohm (on the Future of Mankind) Krishnamurti talks about the difference between the brain and the mind-outside-the-brain.

When the limitations of thought are perceived, and the contents of consciousness are emptied through insight, then - according to K - there is contact between the brain :brain: and the mind-outside-the-brain, and the brain :brain: then becomes an instrument of this universal mind!

So understanding the limits of thought, and how thought has put together our conditioning, our consciousness, is crucial in this regard.

Forgive me if I have communicated too much information in my replies to you. I wanted to get a sense of the whole context of what they were discussing in the video, to help see (for myself) the discussion about the limits of thought in its wider significance. I didn’t mean for your questions to be buried in this process.

If it still interests you, what questions arise out of these conversations for you? What is your feeling about what K and Bohm said. Do you find K’s outline of thought convincing?

I hope you do not feel overwhelmed by my replies. I will attempt to be more concise in future.

Hi,

Thank you for your explanation.

Yes, I find it more precise to say that thinking is only an abstraction and a representation.

Could we then say: because thinking is just an abstraction as well as a representation, it must be implicitly limited in itself? And wouldn’t it then mean that the amount of knowledge gained through experience etc. has no meaning when it comes to the question of whether thinking is limited? Because thinking in itself is and remains limited?

Yes, that’s an interesting point.

Would you say that the source of our inner conflicts is the same as the source of our outer conflicts? Meaning: both conflicts have their source within us.

Firstly, the mind builds up an image of itself. The ego. Then the mind builds an image of another person. Both are only mental images that are built up within ourselves.

This leads to inner fragmentation, division and then conflict. Then we become mentally violent and want to inflict pain on the other image and so on.

In other words, both conflicts have their source in us and are played out within us.
They only become an external conflict through the physical aspect of the action.

How do you look at it?

All is well. I can usually only write in the evenings and not every day. That’s why it sometimes takes me a while to write.

What concerns me most is the question of whether thought can become aware of its own movement. This leads to the following questions:

  1. why has the body come to a preprioceptive perception, but not thought?
  2. does thought perhaps try to be proprioceptive, but for some reason is unable to do so?
  3. does it help if we perhaps look at the movement of thought at a deeper level by visualising the movement of thought neurologically, biochemically, physiologically as a clear process?
  4. can the movement of thought (3.) then perhaps help us with our sensitive perception to perceive thinking as a movement more directly?

Are the questions important? Is it the directional questions? What about our assumptions? Are they getting in the way?

Thanks for your replies Michael.

I will try to respond to elements of what you write.

Would you say there is a difference between an abstraction and a representation in this context? As I understand it, a representation is already an abstraction - for example, a representation of a tree might be a painting of a tree, or a poem about the tree, or a scientific analysis of the tree, or even a photograph of a tree. All of these representations abstract certain features of the actual object, but these features do not comprise the whole of the object as it is in itself.

In a certain sense, all our perceptions are abstractions of what we see, because we can never perceive the whole of an object, we never perceive the totality of a tree optically - and, in addition to this, the brain creates an optical image of the tree, which is what comprises our percept of the tree.

However, our perceptual contact with the tree is the most holistic, perceptually rich and dynamic representation that the ordinary brain is capable of, and such perceptual representations are not deemed problematic by Krishnamurti.

However, when we make a representation of what we perceive, this is in essence a representation of a (perceptual) representation. So it is a double representation. So a mental image of a tree (as opposed to the optical image of a tree) is actually an abstraction of an abstraction. This means that all thought is at the very least already two steps removed from the actual object - and when we think about the mental images we have, this becomes an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction! A shadow of a shadow.

So thought is always at least one or two steps removed from reality. This is part of its inbuilt limitation.

I don’t quite grasp what you are asking here?

The way K uses the word experience is a little ambiguous, but perhaps it is more simple just to say that ordinarily we experience with thought and memory active in the background, which inevitably colours, shapes, and distorts experience. This colouring/shaping/distorting of experience by thought naturally limits all experience. And when this experience is stored up in the brain as an abstraction, this is a further limitation. So when we think from this background, our thinking is necessarily bound by these various layers of limitation.

Does this address the question you had in mind?

Yes. As I understand it, the basic source of our conflicts is the limited nature of thought, because thought has become dominant in the human brain, and therefore the nature of thought - being limited - must inevitably create these effects, both inwardly as well as outwardly.

I would agree with your description up to a point, but my understanding is that there is no “first” and “second” step in the way thought acts to build up images of self and other. Rather, it is simultaneous. The image of the other person is part of my self image - just as my self image is composed of my images of others. All these psychological images are interconnected and depend on each other.

The way that Krishnamurti talks about the self or ego implies that it is woven from the same cloth as our whole psychological conditioning. So when we speak of ‘I’, ‘me’, we are not merely referring to a simple image separable from the rest of one’s consciousness, but rather we are speaking of the whole network of images that make up consciousness as a whole: my fear, me pleasure, my hurt, my suffering, my reactions in relationship, my memories of pleasure and pain, my cultural beliefs and attitudes, my religious background, my social status, my national and political conditioning, my collective and racial inheritance - all of this is part of what is ‘me’. This divisive, broken up, messy consciousness must create division in the world - which is why Krishnamurti says that we are the world: our consciousness is the consciousness of society as a whole (which is divided, broken up, messy).

This is also why Krishnamurti talks about the importance of seeing consciousness as a whole; asking whether there can be a perception of consciousness as a whole.

This is how I understand it anyway.

I think thought is proprioceptive in a way. That is, when there is sustained incoherence in thought this leads to suffering. Suffering is an opportunity for thought, for consciousness, to perceive where it has gone wrong and find coherence.

Psychological pain is the reflex in the body of a particular way of thinking. So, if we are willing and able to listen to what the body is saying at the level of the mind, then this would constitute a kind of proprioception, wouldn’t you say?

In the video they talk, towards the end, of the importance of meeting one’s suffering, because suffering is “the essence of the me”. Suffering is a reminder to the brain :brain: of an incoherence in thought. But because this incoherence (which has produced suffering) has been created by thought, it cannot be solved through thinking. It can only be solved by awareness, attention, and insight or intelligence (which is not part of thought).

In a sense one might say that psychological suffering, if it is approached correctly, forces the mind to find a different solution from the solutions thought is able to provide.

I think this question of meeting psychological suffering addresses these two questions, because in the case of suffering it becomes clear that thought is a neurological, biochemical, and physiological process, and requires a sensitive perception of the brain to be perceived adequately and correctly.

As K explains it, this adequate and correct perception of suffering takes place when the observer is the observed: that is, when there is no action upon suffering to affect or change it, no attempt by ‘me’, the observer, to suppress, deny, or escape from the fact of suffering. Then there is - according to K - an opportunity for a holistic perception of intelligence to act upon suffering, which ends the suffering (and so wipes out the sustained incoherence of thought at its root, which is the ending of the ‘me’).

I haven’t myself done this. But intellectually, this is my understanding of what Krishnamurti is pointing towards, and I find it logical and reasonable.

What do you feel?

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Thinking is an abstraction and with the help of thinking as an abstraction we can then create representations of objects that we perceive. Is that how I would describe it and did I understand you?

So does that mean that because our senses cannot take in all the information about a tree, for example, we need our thinking? We then use our thinking to collect information about the tree and store it in the form of knowledge as a memory? Can we say that? And since we need this form of thinking in practical/technical terms, it’s not a problem for us either, it’s useful. However, this characteristic of thinking has also been transferred to us humans and leads to division and conflict.

And is thinking actually already active if we have no knowledge about an object? I think so. Because otherwise only our perception would be active and we would not be able to accumulate and store knowledge about an object?

Is thinking limited because we can only have limited knowledge about the tree, for example, or other objects?
Or is thinking inherently limited because it is not capable of fully grasping and reproducing something, even if all knowledge were available?

That’s a good point. By first and second I am referring to the movement of thought, thus also the psychological time to create an image (content) of ourselves and other people.

I agree about the content of consciousness. All of this is part of our consciousness and thinking assigns it to our ego. If I look at it, then all the content you mentioned can be seen as the movement of thought. And behind this movement is the striving for security and continuity.

However, you could now ask whether the entire content springs from a single core. All of our mental content then arises from this core, which we then make tangible for ourselves with words and at the same time split up. Does this mean that the splitting of content by thinking itself is an illusion?

This is particularly evident when thinking triggers emotional states in us. On one side of the coin we then perceive emotions such as sadness, frustration, anger, hate, etc. and on the other side of the coin we perceive emotions such as fun, pleasure, happiness, fulfilment, satisfaction, etc. The content of these words is thus the movement of the coin. The content of these words is thus the movement of thought with the ego at the centre out of uncertainty/fear towards security and continuity. The core (content) itself is of course not conceptual, but due to the nature of thinking these are then split into 1. conceptual and 2. content.

Yes, that’s how I see and understand the point. It’s about thinking becoming aware of its own movement and content as a whole.

Yes. Also, when you say “all knowledge”, this is also always limited. There is no such thing as complete knowledge.

The word “science” means, etymologically, “knowledge”. So we can see that in science they are always adding or taking away, modifying, what is accepted as factual knowledge. And knowledge itself is simply the accumulation of a person’s thoughts on a particular matter. The knowledge stored on wikipedia is ultimately just a line of 0s and 1s (‘bits’). And actual reality is not composed of our thoughts, or of endless lines of code (despite what the Matrix movie says!).

I think the core is thought, isn’t it? The contents of consciousness - if one goes by what K has said - are created by our thinking, over time. Of course, it is not thought alone which creates the content, because it is the way that our thoughts interact with the chemistry of the body which makes these contents so visceral and hard to deal with. But the core principle in psychological fear is the thoughts we have about the past and future security/insecurity. It is this which causes (psychological) fear.

If tomorrow one had no psychological thoughts at all, no psychological memories, one could not feel hurt, self-pity, arrogance, envy, hatred, etc. So the core of the content is our thinking, which is thought, as I understand it.

Wouldn’t you agree?

I agree. What else could psychological thought be based on but the conclusions drawn from one’s experience that form the foundation of one’s personal identity?