The mind is a mysterious place. So strange that there are questions researchers haven’t answered to this day. There is the ongoing debate on whether the mind, brain, and consciousness are connected, and what shapes our fears, beliefs, and thought processes. Additionally, we recognize there are different types of thought.
Some thoughts are deliberate, like when you’re directing your mind-power towards working on a project. Others seem random, like why certain songs come to mind from nowhere. Still, others seem inherent, like the things that make us afraid (spiders, big eek!).
But all these thoughts stem from the same place—the mind. Is there a connection between different forms of thought, and if so, what is the driving force behind them? How do our brains put these thoughts together? It comes down to six different things.
Your memory plays a significant role in influencing your thoughts, as well as your decision-making process. Think about studying for a test. You’ve gone over your notes again and again, packing your brain full of information. The day of, comes decision time. Do you remember who the 33rd President was?
Perhaps you do, or at least you believe that you do. Your decision is made based on that memory, and you think, “Yes, I’ve got this.” Conversely, maybe you can’t recall the information you’re searching for. You may begin to experience thoughts of frustration leading yourself down a path of negativity.
Memory can also trigger thoughts that seemingly come to mind from nowhere. You may not know why you’re suddenly thinking about the beach, but something in your memory triggers your brain to begin the thought process. It’s a complex concept that can bring you down a rabbit hole of trying to decipher the non-decipherable.
Imagination also plays a large role in our thoughts. It’s human nature to think of how things could be. When choosing a life partner, you imagine your future life together. You see happiness, success, and love. You imagine adventures and the way you believe things will turn out. You think you belong together.
Your thoughts may be correct. You may have a long life filled with joy. Or, your relationship may not turn out the way you thought it would, based on your imagination. None-the-less, your thoughts were significantly impacted by what you believed could be.
Reasoning steps in when memory and imagination don’t suffice. As your brain tries to decipher information and form a thought, it performs a balancing act. Maybe your memory is failing you, and you can’t remember the name of that President. Or, you imagine a hopeful life with a spouse, but you don’t see how that vision can turn into reality.
Here is where reasoning kicks in. You may use deductive reasoning to narrow down your options when thinking about the answer to a multiple choice question, eliminating answers that don’t make sense. Or, logical reasoning may help you see the path to your future more clearly.
Experience is the third element in human thought. It functions much like memory, though you may be able to remember things you did not physically experience and memories may not always be correct. For example, you may remember that a friend broke their leg skateboarding, but you did not experience it yourself.
However, perhaps you fell from a tree when you were little. That’s an experience. That fall may make you afraid of heights, or lead you to make a conscious decision not to climb trees anymore. Experience also works hand-in-hand with reasoning. If you experience something, your mind learns to expect the same outcome from a similar situation reasonably. Even when it may be irrational (you may never fall from a tree ever again, even if you have in the past).
Experts explain how the human brain can distort memories, yet a physical experience is more likely to stick.
The human mind uses data to direct thought. Data can come from science, or in the form of memory and experience. Maybe you climbed four trees, and you fell three times. Now you reasonably think that you are likely to fall again, based on that statistic.
Or, you may read that a certain percentage of planes crash every year and you decide that flying isn’t for you. Our minds store data, often subconsciously, to use when we embark on the journey of thought. Compiling data takes place over time, as senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology Robert Epstein explains.
Stimuli and the Human Brain
As Epstein explains, babies are not born with any data stored in their brains. They don’t have memories, do not have the experience to draw upon, lack reasoning skills, and we’re unsure if they can imagine. Yet, babies still think.
They can’t speak their thoughts, yet they still recognize their parents, which is an ability driven by the human brain. Researchers believe that this is the result of stimuli that leaves an impression on the brain and influences human thought. Stimuli include the sound of a mother’s voice, the shape of a father’s face, and so on.
Certainly, a baby does not think as deeply as an adult. And yet, they are still able to make subconscious decisions based on the stimuli around them. Their memories, imagination, reasoning skills, experiences, and the data they collect are all a result of early stimuli.
How Everything Comes Together
Each thought that passes through the human mind, deliberate or otherwise, is influenced by each of these six things. Human thought is one of the most abstract concepts to grasp, as it involves, well, thinking. Thinking about thoughts can seem like inception that sends us into a tailspin.
But every thought is connected through memory, imagination, reasoning, experience, data, and stimuli. The human brain reacts to stimuli, enabling us to make new connections, store data, and form memories. We turn those things into thoughts, without even thinking. Odd, right?