The Hard Business of Thinking

No doubt there are those for whom the business of thinking comes effortlessly. For me, not so. I find thinking equivalent to any other form of exercise – hard and generally intrusive. I mean to say, it’s all about rigidly aligning one’s thoughts, ironing out wrinkles in a puzzle of bewildering details and having to shackle one’s natural buoyancy to arrive at some kind of pointed conclusion, hopefully one that coincides with the original mission of the ordeal. What a great deal of trouble! So unlike reading an alleviating book or listening to improving music, almost anything other than straining one’s mental bandwidth.

Thinking is such a letter-perfect undertaking. It is as uncompromising as Christianity. If one even dares to border on imprecision the entire point of the process is a lost cause. You might as well not think at all as to think sloppily. It is this hounding subjugation to detail that is so wearing. You wouldn’t for example suggest that something was well thought out if it lacked a discussion of its anticipated execution. Clear thinking demands preciseness and particularity. None of that global estimate or stab-in-the-dark stuff! One must unavoidably get down to it.

For me to do any credit whatsoever to the task of thinking I must first sort out the landscape of the problem. I say the “problem” because normally when I am called upon to exercise the little grey cells it is in response to a dilemma. Thinking is quite superfluous if there is no problem, one simply reacts to the native visceral instincts and thereby avoids the cerebral painfulness. Anyway, after having hesitatingly resigned myself to the anticipated toil I first dissect the constituent elements of the quagmire. This is the metaphorical procedure of spreading out the situation before one’s self, the hope being to penetrate the thickness of it all and highlight the separate pieces (rather like the “divide and conquer” motif adopted by a successful military general). Inevitably the various features of the now diffused landscape admit to connections or associations. I am a firm believer in the proposition that nothing happens by accident. Given sufficient examination one shall eventually discern the theory behind the otherwise mystical and ostensibly random affiliation of facts.

Here the path bifurcates. It might usefully be said that at this juncture the professionals are separated from the amateurs. What I am getting at is this: Although one might know the facts, the application of intelligence to those facts may nonetheless depend upon experience and training. Certainly there is room for anyone who is clever enough to assess the situation sufficiently to know that there is an issue, but the resolution of it may require that further advancement which derives only from instruction and tuition. This is the intellectual exertion of thinking;viz., applying the abstract to the particular aimed at finding an answer to a question or the solution to a problem. It is a performance which is taxing and one which flies in the face of everything intuitive. Consider how utterly unnatural it is to assess the merits of one course of action on the basis of entirely theoretical analysis! Small wonder thinking is hard! We’re required to make inductive leaps from the physical to the metaphysical, from grounded experience to complex imagery. How quickly one becomes tangled in this burdensome occupation that is thinking! Once engaged there is little hope of extricating one’s self from the complicated circumstances. The mere taste of mental refinement has the nasty tendency to trivialize one’s erstwhile innocent hobbies. And then the real application begins – seeing it to its ultimate end! More work! How preferable it is to avoid thinking altogether!