Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about thinking: how by some process of phantasmagoria, thoughts have the power to transport me to the near or distant past, or far into the future, or to some other imaginary and fantastical place. And yet despite these sojourns through time and space, I haven’t physically travelled anywhere at all. In many ways, thoughts are magical things which perform little miracles on us every day. Sometimes the places I go to in my mind, if I let myself wholly be taken in an unfettered way, are so sensory and visceral that I am able to forget momentarily my ‘real time’ self, which might still be sitting in front of a computer screen, or vacuuming or feeding the cat. At those times, it is only when the thought reaches its end, and I am returned back to the moment in which I always was on a physical level, do I realise I’ve been whisked away to another dimension. Like a magician performs magic tricks, my thoughts are always performing, appearing and disappearing, taking me on an ever-changing and moving roller coaster through a myriad of doors to other times and places, to other scenarios and scenes.
Just as the magicians in the video below seemingly cause a woman to levitate and doves to appear, thoughts have the power to do all of this but so much more.
A google search for ‘What are thoughts?’ produced the following information:
What Is a Thought?
What thoughts are remains mysterious from a neuroscientific point of view.
Posted Feb 09, 2012
In everyday life, it is common to hear someone say, “I just had a thought” or “the thought just occurred to me.” For instance, one may have a thought about an event that took place during the last Super Bowl. Thoughts can be idea-like, memory-like, picture-like, or song-like. They are usually short-lived, discrete events, unlike continuous events such as the constant murmurs of air-conditioners or rain. We all experience thoughts and have no problem identifying them and speaking about them to others.
As quotidian as talk about thoughts may be, what thoughts are remains mysterious from a neuroscientific point of view. They are certainly caused by brain function, but we do not yet have a solid idea regarding what it is about brain function that gives rise to them. Is it the particular kinds of neurons involved? The way a population of neurons fire? Do conscious thoughts require the activation of specific networks of brain regions or of tracts (the information highways that allow for brain regions to communicate with each other)? Do thoughts require activation of perceptual areas of the brain (a controversial notion)? At this stage of scientific understanding, we just don’t know.
And the video below which talks about something called ‘concept thinking’ answers a few of the questions posed in the above article:
What does all of this ‘thinking about thinking’ have to do with my research project? A hell of a lot apparently – but it’s only been through the completion of my Early Candidature Milestone report and presentation in recent months that I’ve fully come to realise the central place of reflection in my research and writing process.
I wrote about how steady reflection has helped to shape the direction my project is taking. Here is an excerpt:
A continual process of reflection has been instrumental in surmounting pitfalls and dead ends in my research: I keep a monthly blog where I reflect on my writing and thinking. The tendencies for thoughts to pointlessly meander is discussed by Marta Kawka in her play Stabbed by Duration, a transcription of her internal dialogue prompted by the task of writing an article on reflection:
M: I am talking to myself.
A: You are meandering aimlessly towards an ill-defined target.
M: That is because I am thinking.
A: I approve of you thinking, but your thinking must be goal-directed.
M: But thinking is pointless, it is circular, ideas just emerge and I don’t know how (Fernyhough, 2016) (2018, p. 267).
Like in Kawka’s play, reflections on my writing reveal the circular nature of my thinking about Bohemianism, and yet I am keenly aware that a research methodology which operates within a ‘rhizomic’ framework must embrace this quality as Deleuze and Guittari describe the rhizome as having ‘neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows…defined solely by a circulation of states’ (1987: 21). The meandering nature of thinking Kawka refers to is also observed by Nigel Krauth in his ‘By the Fingernails’ piece which ‘tests the concept of memoirist narrative structure’ (2015, p. 5). His recollections veer from memory fragment to fragment, and he analyses these images in the unbroken course of his writing. When a vision of a carpark near where his mother’s house unexpectedly appears in his mind, Krauth asks, ‘How come I can see it so clearly now?’ He goes on to analyse the memory: ‘This image welled up from within me because it represents a whole lot of stuff making traffic in my brain at a subconscious level. Wow! Clearly, my mother is important to me’ (2015, p. 4). Considering discoveries made through my reflective writing approach, as well as the insights offered by Kawka and Krauth regarding the value of thinking about thinking, I aim to tether my meandering thoughts to make them more accessible and amenable to analysis. In order to achieve this tethering of thoughts, palimpsest will be a central lynchpin for my process at the practice-led pole of my methodology, where creative writing practice is ‘both an outcome and driver of the research process’ (Smith & Dean, 2009: 1).
Kawka, M. (2018). Multiple selves, multiple voices, multiple genres: reflections in writing and art making. Reflective Practice, 19(2), 264–277.
Krauth, N. (2016). By the fingernails. Australia: AAWP.
Here are some slides from my presentation – testament to the fact that I have been a very busy little bee over these last couple of months:
Yes it’s a curious kind of torture I’ve signed on for it seems – academia is so academic… and not everyone’s cup of tea. But I must be a masochist or at least a sucker for punishment because I get a kick out of discovering new discoveries in the rabbit hole of research. My thoughts veer unexpectedly off the side of a road I think I’m travelling on, and then I get sucked into a metaphorical whirlpool, and feel I might be drowning until a thought snaps me out of it – usually during a shower or some other mundane activity – and off I go careening away into some other part of the literature and thought forest. It all just gets curiouser and curiouser.
Last Monday I conducted a mini-thought-experiment with the aim of writing down all the thoughts which came to my mind, but also reflecting on those thoughts as they came – observing the breaks and pauses, the sudden shifts and any physical sensations or movements I made. I sat in my garden, journal in hand, and let myself write. Here are the near exact words which came out of my pen in that writing session:
The first day of the rest of my life.
I have been imbibing Brett Whitely. Wendy. Arkie. Janice. All the artists who trickled into Lavender Bay well before I was born.
I stopped at the end of the previous sentence, looked up into the cloudy, blue sky and out onto the full green of grass and weeds. I took a toke of my cigarette. But for the slightest moment I wasn’t here at all. I went far away, to West End. I went to Boundary Street. The edge of the river there. The South Side. An image of a huge water rat, being carried down the street in a procession came to my mind. Or perhaps I went there to it! Tomas. I thought of how he was a water rat, and as I wrote ‘water rat’ just now, I saw him lying on the ground near that statue in front of QPAC. He was sobbing, crying all alone.
The garden is darkening now, cloud is covering the sun. The green is like moss, but no. A section is lit up again, the colour of fat limes, and the shadow of leaves from the umbrella tree waves its fingers gently at the edges.
Moving. Always moving. ‘The mind is an association machine.’ I heard this in a documentary I watched yesterday.
I looked up again just now. I saw the coral headed mushroom light standing softly in a corner of the garden. The weeds, I saw them too, how they’ve grown tall about the mushroom and look now like mini trees, a mini forest burgeoning in a patch near the neglected strawberry plant, reaching higher, further away from the ground, so that the mushroom is becoming smaller than before, daintier, and a world is opening up in front of me, after the rain.
I sighed quickly just now, the air forced its way out like a puff of smoke from a fire, only the smoke was also seemingly powering the flow of the flames, for now I’m writing with speed, as though my pen is being pulled along by the back-draft of an internal fire that works mysteriously, of its own accord. I am merely its tool, and my tardy hand is too heavy and clumsy to catch whatever the fire wants me to show on this page.
This will be the start of my blog post.
But I need to weave together all the ideas, observations, thoughts and experiences that have some meaning to me at this point, that have propelled me onward of late.
It’s been a while since I reflected like this and there are many strands I need and want to revise.
A dragonfly hovered just now in the air above my garden.
‘Be like the dragonfly.’ I heard these words in my mind.
And so I am wondering what dragonfly qualities might I want to emulate? And why would this be a helpful pursuit?
But a honey-eater is here now, its black claws are clasped onto the stalk of an umbrella tree branch. There’s the dragonfly, still circling nearby, a hazy long blue against puffs of cloud, their undersides all soft greys, their crowns golden white.
Rattling bamboo and others sound out the life that is all around me now. All the little mysteries and unknown pleasures. Rattle. Rhythm. A rumbling truck passing by even sounds beautiful in this moment.
I had been watching a lot of documentaries leading up to this writing experiment, on Brett Whiteley, on Van Gogh, on how the mind works by association, and so it doesn’t surprise me that I began writing about the most recent documentary I’d watched. It felt as though my mind needed this jumping off point, a scaffold of sorts to prop itself up so that it could ‘get going’. And go it did, jumping from the ‘real time’ scene in my garden, the insects and light and shadow and sounds, to what seemed like a random image of a water rat being carried down the street near QPAC in Brisbane. Where did that come from? It wasn’t until I read back over what I’d written, and traced my thoughts back over the previous day or two, that I realised that I had seen a photo posted on Facebook about the West End Kurilpa Derby: specifically, a photo of a water rat sculpture which was to be part of the procession along Boundary Street. See the photos below:
Interestingly though, I didn’t see the rat as it appears in these photos; rather I saw it travelling down the far end of Boundary Street, near the intersection in front of the Performing Arts Complex and Museum… from my view (in my mind), I must have been standing over near where the Art Gallery is, although it felt like I was standing further away near Goma, and I was elevated because I had a bird’s eye view of the enormous rat – there was fanfare, streamers, confetti – the water rat was clearly an honoured and prized citizen or symbol of West End, of that side of the river.
It is from this thought ‘stepping stone’ that I ‘stood’ on Michael Parekowhai’s ‘The World Turns’ sculpture:
What on earth are you on about, I hear you ask. In short, the water rat procession I saw in my mind during my thought experiment made me think of ‘The World Turns’ sculpture by Michael Parekowhai – why? I think maybe because sitting at the base of Parekawhai’s sculpture, minding its own business, is a little water rat; maybe because from my vantage point, from my ‘mind’s eye’ view, I felt as though I was over near Goma, which is where this ‘The World Turns’ sculpture is currently. There are lots of other little observations and so many other questions I want answers for regarding the mysterious workings of the mind, but I won’t bore you here with the details.
One thing is absolutely certain though at this point in my journey: thinking about thinking has awakened me to the power of thoughts. Like magicians, they can materialise and disappear at will, manoeuvre through and in between and over other thoughts, stretch, bend and slide away into infinity, and bend time, place and space along the way. They certainly are slippery little suckers.
And now dearest blog and blog readers, I will leave you with ‘Gymnopedies’ by Erik Satie – guaranteed to soothe a brain which has been fried from too much thinking about thinking Xx