Cybernetics & Robotics MSc Student. Weekly newsletter: erlenddahlen.substack.com
The answers to this question can be divided into two categories.
The first one regards the present. Not the broad definition of the present, but its narrowest sense. The exact now. And in this context, the question can be formulated more specifically as
“what thought is currently on your mind?”
This question is straightforward. What is not straightforward, however, is to answer in more general terms.
To better understand this step in difficulty, we need to examine the distinction between thinking and thoughts. Thinking is a continuous process, while thoughts are products. Just like a black box, the mind is constantly producing thoughts we can experience. But instead of focusing on the experience, the current thought, the answer now has to reference previous thoughts as well. How to do this, is the step in difficulty.
What happens when we move from one thought to the next one? Does the previous one vanish? Is it stored somehow?
The inspiration for these questions arose when I looked through my calendar some days ago. I stumbled upon week 39. This was the week before Recess, which meant I was going to travel the next week, but, as most students know, that also meant a lot of school. If someone had asked me what was on my mind that week, my immediate response would have been “school”.
Fortunately, the calendar was not the only tab I had open in my browser at that time. Next to it was Substack, the site where I publish this newsletter. Curious, I opened the site to find what I wrote that same week; “Bullish take on Internships”. And in an instant, I remembered how much time I had spent thinking, back and forth, from various perspectives in an effort to make up my mind on Internships.
The experience illustrates the difference between looking at our experiences first and inferring what our thoughts were, as opposed to actually experiencing the thoughts.
As a thought-experiment, without referring to external accounts of our thoughts, we can think back in time and evaluate if we are able to accurately remember our thoughts or if we have to dominantly rely on inferring them.
This should provide some intuition to the questions stated earlier: What happens when we move from one thought to the next one? Does the previous one vanish? Is it stored somehow?
When we answer the question from the second category, we choose a much more difficult path. While the answer encompasses more of our thoughts, we also bear the risk of answering what we have done in the past as a proxy for our thoughts.