General Question

ninjacolin's avatar

What's the difference between thinking and observing? Is there at difference?

Asked by ninjacolin (14238points) June 30th, 2011
19 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

Is there really a difference?
If so what?

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Composing members: 0


gondwanalon's avatar

When you are observing, your eyes are collecting information. Then your brain can think about that harvested information.

woodcutter's avatar

When you are thinking it can be done with eyes shut observing nothing.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Observation does not require language. It only requires sensory input equipment.

Thinking requires language. The thought is formed as a silent sentence of the mind. That’s hot, red, round, tomato, juicy… The more language applied to an observation = more thinking about that observation.

@gondwanalon Information cannot be transmitted unless the observable phenomenon has a code to transmit the information upon. We don’t receive information from observable phenomenon like clouds or tree rings. We author information about those phenomenon by crafting thoughtful sentences to describe them, or how we feel about them.

Mariah's avatar

One big difference is that you can think about things that are complete fabrications of your brain, while observations only apply to things around you that you can see, hear, feel etc.

marinelife's avatar

Thinking is the analysis that you go through after observing things.

Observing does not require you to be thinking.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Thinking is actively participating in the processing of ideas and mental imaging.

Observing is allowing thought to do as it will, without active participation; detached awareness.

The process of simply observing acknowledges that that which you perceive as “you” and that which you perceive as “thought” (your thought) are not the same.

Blueroses's avatar

I think. I think. I overthink.

Thinking is attached. Observing is detached.

GordianKnot's avatar

Thinking is the action of using one’s mind to produce thoughts.

Observing is to conform or practice one’s action to comply with X.

ETpro's avatar

Based on what I have been able to observe, I think there is a difference. But I have observed people maintaining that it is impossible to prove whether you are observing or just thinking that you are observing. And I think they are right, based on what I think I have observed, at least.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@ETpro Oh there’s a definite difference in the two processes. It’s readily discernible to anyone who’s practiced meditation.

Simply put, if you become aware that you’re thinking, you’re not observing.

The tricky part is, it’s easy to literally become lost in thought because we’ve practiced thinking most of our lives. We’re drawn toward thought activity. Simply observing thought (refraining from the practice of actually participating with it; conceptualizing, analyzing, etc.) has the effect of allowing thought energy to dissipate and eventually stop.

The stillness you experience is proof that you’re not thinking. You’re simply aware.

That is, until you slip up and attach yourself to the thought, “Hey, I’m not thinking”

…in which, of course, you’re back to thinking again.

We conceptualize so habitually, in fact, that it’s difficult to stop. We’re so addicted to thinking that we’ve come to believe that “I” and “my thoughts” are the same thing.

Simply observing proves that’s not true.

A good book on the subject of simply observing is Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson

Photosopher's avatar

I think I’ll fuggetaboudit.

ETpro's avatar

@SABOTEUR Sorry, but that assumes that the Universe around you is real, and not a projection of your own thought, as solipsism posits. While I don’t let solipsism rule my decision making, I recognize that I cannot disprove it..

SABOTEUR's avatar

@ETpro Not sure how to respond to that. My interest in the subject had nothing to do with philosophizing. My only interest throughout the years…for practical purposes…has been learning how to meditate.

One of the answers I received was observe thought.

Through practicing thought observation, I’ve learned that “I” and “thought” are two different things.

That’s my experience.

Your experience seems to be something different.

Whatever works.

flutherother's avatar

Observing is a very complex process and though we are mostly unaware of what is going on it involves a lot more processing power than does rational thought. It is through observation that we make sense of the world around us as much as through thought.

Thinking and seeing are not entirely separate. Abstract thought uses visual processing power to enable us to imagine what we cannot see and so we say ‘I see what you mean’ when we understand something.

When our ancestors were hunting deer they had to use their intelligence to plan the operation. Planning involved imagining the deer in their location, picturing where the hunters would be and how the deer would react and figuring out the best way to ensure a kill. There was a lot of thought involved and that thinking was largely visual imaginative thinking.

When we think about the Universe we think of it in visual terms and we can understand the swirl of the galaxies and the effects of a singularity in as much as we can construct a visual model in our minds. We understand the forces involved as they are analogous to the forces our eyes observe in nature and we use the motion processing centres used in vision to create this model.

This is why we have such trouble understanding the quantum world, because it is impossible to visualise what is going on.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@flutherother Thorough explanation, though I arrive at the complexity of observation from a completely different angle.

If you attempt sitting for 5 minutes doing nothing other than observing the in and out flow of the breath through your nostrils, you quickly discover how random thought repeatedly diverts your attention.

Pure observation is one of the most difficult techniques to master because we’re used to having an opinion about everything.

gondwanalon's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Thank you for the observable information. Fortunately I have codes for the observable information that you present to me. I don’t have to give it much though as I’ve had codes for gobbledygook and B.S. for a long time now.

thorninmud's avatar

For me, the difference is this: Observation deals with the unknown. Thinking deals with the known.

Observation is a receptive act. It requires an openness to the unexpected. It has to be undertaken with the recognition that there are things one doesn’t know (or, at the very least, that one’s knowledge may be wrong). When we think we know, we cease to observe. Fundamentally then, observation is a form of questioning; specifically, a questioning directed toward the the realm of present experience.

Thinking takes as its raw material what we know (or believe to be true). These bits of knowledge are our mental representations of reality. Close your eyes and imagine a hammer. That “hammer” is a mental object—a concept—composed of what you “know” about hammers. You can manipulate that mental hammer, know what it feels like in the hand, know what tasks it will and won’t be suited for. This realm of concepts is our mental library of the “known”. Manipulating these concepts is thought.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@thorninmud Damn good, muddy…damn good!

mattbrowne's avatar

Thought generally refers to any mental or intellectual activity involving an individual’s subjective consciousness. Observing involves sensory data reception and processing which all happens unconsciously. There are several layers of filters. Even the optic disc and nerves engage in significant preprocessing.

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