Looking for Food for Thought? Here’s the Buffet

Looking for Food for Thought? Here’s the Buffet September 16, 2020

Are you xenodochial? If you’re not sure what this means … it’s something we advise children not to be, but something we wish more adults would be.

Being kind to strangers comes naturally for children. ? Image by simple_tunchi0 from Pixabay

It’s from the Greek language, and it’s a highbrow way of saying someone is friendly to strangers. (I translated Greek in college for two years and never stumbled across the term.)

I bring it up because it’s one of the few emotions we can experience that begins with the letter X. It’s also one of over 600 emotions I’ve researched and listed in the Thinkadelics Table of Emotions PDF file. You can download it now by clicking the link or chart to your left. It’s not the most exciting read, so you might want to wait until you’re ready to fall asleep. But if you check it out now it will give you a rush regarding the range of emotions we can experience!

And yet, this chart represents just a list of emotions, along with terms designating a few mental states you’ve likely experienced. To get a real handle on how complex our thoughts can be we will have to go deeper.

Up to 70,000 thoughts per day!

It’s estimated that on any given day we all experience roughly 6,000-70,000 thoughts per day! That’s a lot, even if we think the number is in the lower range. The reason for the wide variation is because researchers define a thought in many different ways. Some count every random thought and others count a train of ideas as one complete thought. For example, in the span of 12 seconds I can visualize at least a dozen places I’ve visited. So, I could easily surmise this as 12 thoughts. However, if I’m counting a single train of thought, which includes 12 locales, then I merely had one thought.

As it turns out, there’s an excellent new study that further explains our trains of thought. I’ll quote a summarization of the main point by Satviki Sanjay of VICE below, but you can delve into the “heady” study here for more in-depth information.

“Dr Jordan Poppenk and his student Julie Tseng … have established a method that, for the first time ever, can detect where one thought ends and another begins. …a phenomenon they described as a ‘thought worm.'”

 

That’s a monumental achievement! And I really like the metaphor they use, “thought worms.” This term offers great insight into how thoughts burrow through the neural networks of our mind; tugging at memories, inspiring imagination, conjuring up mental images, and all the while triggering within us certain emotions and mental states.

Obviously, when we think about our own “thought worms” we know that the emotions I’ve listed in the PDF file represent just one component of thoughts we can experience. The reality is our thoughts involve a host of other complex variables, which don’t just affect our brains, but also our bodies. Here’s just a few of the major variables:

  • The senses – (These include both exteroceptive and interoceptive senses.)
  • States of mind – (These differ from emotions, but they can also be stimulated when we experience an onslaught of emotions.)
  • Mental timeframe – (This involves how our minds move seamlessly through or memories or, imaginative scenarios of the future or, in realtime.)
  • Biological factors – (When we are sick, tired or drunk it impacts our thought patterns as well as our mood.)
  • Genetic factors – (Your capacity to think as well as your physical abilities are partly dependent on the genetics you’ve inherited.)
  • Evolutionary psychological factors – (Our thoughts about sex, gorging on food, or surviving by “flight or fight” are thoughts that often take control of our ability to reason.)
  • States of consciousness – (Like being asleep or awake, dreaming and daydreaming, or being hypnotized, our levels of awareness vary enormously.)
  • I, me, mine – (I use these terms to refer to some of the perceptions we have of our “self,” and the perceptions others have about us. These perceptions can also trigger unusual mental behaviors, such as the ongoing conversation we have with the narrator in our minds.)
  • Emotions or feelings – (There are hundreds of them as the chart points out.)

As if these variables  were not complicated enough, thoughts are also highly fluid in nature. Like a stream of consciousness, at any given moment we are experiencing a commingling of any or all of the eight variables I listed above. And with each passing moment that stream of consciousness changes.

Examining the spiritual and materialist dynamics of our thoughts. / Image by Ioannis Karathanasis from Pixabay

Our thoughts under the microscope

And yet, we can conceptualize thoughts on a far more microscopic level. Think about the cellular dynamics involved in human thinking. In this purely materialistic view thoughts are comprised of nothing more than matter and energy. Specifically, thoughts are the processes of the neurons, cells, chemical reactions, and the electrical energy within our brains, all of which are generated by the sensory inputs from our bodies.

We should also recognize that thoughts can also occur within an ethereal or spiritual frame of reference. Which is to say, that many religionists believe their thoughts are influenced by supernatural agencies. Or, like in the case of avid meditators, otherworldly thoughts and thinking patterns can be achieved by reaching deeper meditative states. Now, whether thoughts are influenced by the supernatural, or that they can help us achieve higher states of being, is open for debate. My point is that many seek meaning in life through spiritual sources, and this adds yet another diverse layering to the complexity of our thoughts.

All of the above makes our task of understanding the “anatomy” of our thoughts all the more fascinating and precarious. For thoughts don’t only represent silly notions like why elephants aren’t born pink, but thoughts can and do alter the course of our lives.

One final thought …

As I alluded to above, the human mind is a marvel. Similar to the physical universe we dwell in, it’s filled with yet-to-be-discovered wonders. For those up to the challenge, taking the time to sit and “watch” how our own “thought worms” move through your mind is an enlightening experience.

 

About Scott R Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is the author of the novel "Blind Guides, “Picking Wings Off Butterflies,” and “How to Escape Religion Guilt Free.” He is also a former pastor and previous owner of several hospice agencies. There are a lot of websites that offer a place for believers and nonbelievers to debate. Thinkadelics is different. It’s about looking at life with a fresh, freethinking perspective. You can read more about the author here.

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One response to “Looking for Food for Thought? Here’s the Buffet”

  1. Scott, lately you’ve been offering a whole cornucopia of things to think about. I wanted to take the time with this post to consider everything you’ve packed into a relatively short post.

    One of my goals to starting a meditation practice was to bring order to my thoughts and to develop a better train of thoughts (or, as you put it, “thought worms”). One phrase that I sit with often is “better thoughts, better reality” (a variation on your thoughts shaping your reality).

    Thank you for providing the Table of Emotions! I printed it out.

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