In his books and seminars, David Bohm challenged our thinking about thinking profoundly. He presented 21 features of thinking and thought. His insights help us not only to understand what thinking is, but also to see and experience the world differently than we are used to.
1. Thinking is a material process. We can observe and measure it "happening" in the brain cells as neurophysiological reflexes. Thoughts are hard-wired in our consciousness, so the division between mind and matter is misleading.
2. Thinking is a conditioned reflex. It actively and automatically participates in forming our perceptions, our sense of meaning and our daily actions. It does not neutrally report on what is 'out there' in the objective world. It interprets everything we sense according to images and knowledge in our brain without conscious choice.
3. Thoughts and feelings go together. Both are products of thinking, stored up in our memory. Thoughts often have a positive or negative charge that we only partially aware of.
4. Thinking is a collective phenomenon. It moves between people creating a system in which everything affects everything else. There is nothing or very little original in our thoughts. We adopt some ideas and reject others for irrational reasons. The 'individual self' we experience is a 'private mixture' of collective values, meanings, and intentions.
5. Our world is made of thoughts. We gather information in memory and process, apply and express it all the time. Our consciousness manifests as words, knowledge, symbols, concepts, images, and experiences.
6. Thinking is habitual. We learn skills like speaking, writing, playing or driving a car, but we also learn to "deal with people" and all this forms our ego, the "me". Our responses become habitual and mostly unconscious, so that we don't have to think when we use our skills.
7. Thinking divides and fragments the world. We make divisions and draw lines that may be useful and somewhat real but they may also lead us to problems and unwanted outcomes. We also tend to glorify the divisions that we value and feel passionate about.
8. Thinking abstracts and simplifies reality. We do not always realize the difference between our thought and the real thing. We understand the difference between a map and the territory, but not the difference between reality and images created by our mind.
9. Thinking gives meanings. It evaluates, compares, judges, overestimates and underestimates, "marks" things arbitrarily but has no reason to doubt its evaluations. Thinking is not an accurate mirror reflection of reality but an evaluation based on our conditioning and concepts.
10. Limitation creates conflicts. Conflict is born when we consider our image of the world to be right and real. There is conflict also when we want to get something that we don't have or want to be something else than we are.
11. Thoughts create a feeling of time. But we live in the here and now. Combining memory and imagination we create an idea of time moving, but actually, the whole process is happening inside our head.
12. Thinking creates reality. It not only reflects and interprets, it also it. Many things are artefacts or creations of our thinking: towns, roads, houses, factories, airplanes, computers, musical instruments, and even agriculture, science, corporations, nations, and governments. Thinking invents concepts how the world works and they become the basis of our worldview.
13. Repeating thoughts creates a structure. A fixed structure works and is coherent in certain circumstances but when the world changes, structure has to be changed.
14. Thinking is mechanical and repetitive. It is moving in a groove of its own and imagines to be free. The patterns change but only within its limitations.
15. We can use imagination in good and bad. We also create problems that are real only in the area of our mind. Most of our desires and fears are creations of our thinking and sometimes lead to neurotic actions.
16. Thinking is apt to self-deception. We want to feel safe, avoid unpleasant feelings and are afraid of losing or not getting what we want. Psychological conditioning makes facing the facts of life very difficult for us.
17. Thinking can be irrational and illogical. We can justify dangerous, brutal and immoral behaviour when we feel that our ego is threatened.
18. There is an inertia to thinking. We want the status quo and resist change and it always takes time for thinking to adjust to a new situation.
19. We don't sense thinking. It is very difficult for thinking to see its systemic nature because we lack proprioception of thought. Proprioception of our body tells us our position and movements but we are not in the same way directly aware when we are thinking.
20. We don't recognize the potential of thinking. All the time we consciously or unconsciously limit our creativity by leaving some parts of reality outside our perspective. Every thought is limited and unfortunately, we do not realize that thinking is fundamentally limited.
21. Thoughts can be coherent. The most important feature of thinking is that insight can change the brain cells in a profound way and lead to a direct perception in which thinking is coherent.