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Wassily Kandinsky: Composition VIII, 1923, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Thinking (Old High German: thenken (8th century)[1] or dankjan, denkjan; Germanic*þank-ja-", from Indo-European: *teng- "to perceive, to feel, to sense, to have the appearance of, to think"; from this also derived thank, especially in the sense of devotion, remembrance etc., which makes clear the grateful disposition originally associated with thinking; Latincogito "I think", 1st person sing. of cogitare "to think, to ponder, to be [good or evil] minded") or thinking faculty (Greekδιανοητικόν dianoetikon or διανοητική ψυχή dianoêtike psyché, from Greekδιάνοια dianoia "pondering, understanding, reasoning"; Latinanima rationalis) is one of the three fundamental soul forces of man. Through thinking, we experience or form concepts and ideas and, with the help of memory, also imaginative conceptions, in which the inner lawfulness of that which initially confronts us without understanding in the isolated perceptions is supposed to reveal itself. Without thinking, perception would remain an incoherent, diffuse aggregate of objects of sensation.

Usually, only the final result of the thinking activity in the form of fully formed thoughts becomes conscious, since the attention is directed entirely towards the object of thinking, but not towards it itself. The conscious observation of thinking, on the other hand, represents an exceptional state, which, however, every thinking person can deliberately bring about with a little practice. He then observes his own spiritual activity - and thus stands at the beginning of spiritual perception in general, through which he experiences himself as a spiritual being. This is at the same time a safe starting point for all further spiritual perception.

The foundations of thought

Through the activity of thinking, which grasps the brain and forms it into a reflecting apparatus, the thoughts produced by thinking are made to appear in consciousness. As a rule, therefore, we do not become conscious of the thinking process as such, but only of its result, the thoughts that are the mentally experienced manifestation of this purely spiritual process. Mere having of thoughts, i.e. the presence of finished thoughts in consciousness, which are called up from memory as the result of earlier thinking without any actual actively experienced insight, or which were only more or less passively acquired as knowledge without one's own deeper insight in reliance on an authority, or which even consist only of factually largely unrelated associations of thoughts, is not yet thinking. Real thinking only arises when it is brought forth by one's own effort and progresses self-actively to the immediate clear insight into the present ideal connections. The observation of thinking, i.e. of the spiritual process itself that brings forth the thoughts, furthermore represents an exceptional state, which, however, is accessible to every thinking person with the appropriate training of attention. Insofar as the thinker thereby observes his own spiritual activity, it is the most important and fundamental form of fully conscious spiritual perception, on which all further modern spiritual research can build. In intellectual contemplation, as Fichte already remarked, intelligence sees itself:

„Intelligence, as such, looks at itself; and this seeing itself is immediately united with everything that comes to it[3], and in this immediate union of being and seeing consists the nature of intelligence. What is in it, and what it is in general, it is for itself; and only in so far as it is it for itself, it is it, as intelligence.“ (Lit.: Fichte, p. 435)

Due to the ahrimanic influence, we today very easily fall into thought automatism, in which ready-made thoughts are combined at will without real thinking being actively involved. Here, therefore, special attentiveness is necessary, especially with regard to the verbal expression of our thoughts. We should therefore pay strict attention not to use common phrases thoughtlessly. In other words, we should not follow the urge of memes, which spread very quickly from person to person in our modern information society.

„The best way to protect ourselves is to strive more and more to develop clear and precise thinking, to think as precisely as possible, not to simply rush along thinking about things, as is the current social custom. Not jumping over things, but thinking clearly. We should go even further: We should try to be more and more careful not to use common phrases and words. For the moment one uses passable words, which one has not from thought but from the habit of speech, one becomes thoughtless, if only for a brief moment. And these are particularly dangerous moments, because one does not pay attention to it. One should take care to avoid using such words where one does not think enough.“ (Lit.:GA 254, p. 177)

Thinking and etheric forces

In thinking, the same etheric forces are at work that shape the physical body, regenerate it and cause it to grow. In contrast to the physical forces, these are potential-free universal cosmic peripheral forces.

„It is of the utmost importance to know that the ordinary thinking forces of man are the refined shaping and growing forces. In the shaping and growth of the human organism a spiritual reveals itself. For this spiritual force then appears in the course of life as the spiritual power of thought.

And this thinking power is only one part of the human formative and growth power weaving in the etheric. The other part remains true to its task in the beginning of human life. Only because the human being, when his formation and growth have advanced, that is to say, have been completed to a certain extent, develops still further, can the etheric-spiritual, which weaves and lives in the organism, appear in further life as a thinking power.

Thus the plastic formative force reveals itself to the imaginative spiritual view as an etheric-spiritual thing from one side, which appears from the other side as the soul-content of thought.“ (Lit.:GA 27, p. 12f)

See also


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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