Musing Two

Musing Two

I recently heard a speaker say that thoughts are things. That set me thinking (or maybe “thinging”). Are thoughts really things? If I ask, “What are you thinking?”; and you reply, “Nothing”, are you really saying that your thoughts are not things? Or, are you saying that at that moment you are thinking of no particular thing or that you are not thinking at all? (Is that possible? Another question; perhaps another musing.)

To begin my quest for an answer, I turned to my dictionary, Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 2nd Edition. It’s over thirty years old; but authoritative enough for my needs. For the word, thought, it provides eight definitions:
1) The act or process of thinking, reflection, meditation; cogitation.
2) The power of reasoning or of conceiving ideas.
3) A result of thinking; idea, concept, opinion, etc.
4) The ideas prevalent at a given time.
5) Attention; consideration.
6) Mental engrossment; preoccupation.
7) Intention or expectation.
8) A little; a trifle.
And for the word, thing, it gives 13:
1) Any matter, circumstance, affair or concern.
2) That which constitutes an end to be achieved.
3) That which is conceived, spoken of, or referred to as existing as an individual, distinguishable entity.
4) Any single entity distinguished from all others.
5) A tangible object as distinguished from a concept, quality, etc.
6) An item, detail, etc.
7) That which is represented as distinguished from the word or symbol that represents it.
8) An inanimate object; any lifeless material or object.
9) A person (as in “poor thing”).
10) An act; a deed; a transaction; a matter; an event; an action; that which is done, or is to be done.
11) Something mentioned but unnamed as in contempt or because the name is not known or remembered.
12) Clothes; personal belongings.
13) In law, that which may be owned.

Nothing in the definition of thought refers to any object; and the fifth definition of thing, excludes thought (a synonym for concept). So according to Noah thought aren’t things. But, Webster on the web states a thought is “something (such as an opinion or belief) in the mind”. Which implies that the “mind” is an object itself. (And that leads to the whole body/mind conundrum which I do not want to tackle.)

My take is that thought is not a thing but an activity. I think and the outcome of that thinking is a thought. Just as if I walk, the result of that activity is travel. So when you ask me “What are you thinking?” and I say “Nothing”, I am merely saying that my thought activity has no desired outcome. I am not applying it to any concept within the context of our mutual exchange. And if I say “I just thought of something.”, it can mean I have been thinking about a particular object which I am not naming. Or it can mean that I have a concept which I am not codifying; but would probably elucidate if asked.

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