Monday, May 25, 2009

Collingwood on the Gestation of Thoughts

Collingwood made the following observation in his Autobiography: "I know that I have always been a slow and painful thinker, in whom thought in its formative stages will not be hurried by effort, nor clarified by argument, that most dangerous enemy to immature thoughts, but grows obscurely through a long and oppressive period of gestation, and only after birth can be licked by its parent into presentable shape."

I have a similar problem, if it is a problem. The trick is, of course, to know when "the" thought has actually been delivered or when the period of gestation is over.

In any case, there was a time when I believed that electronic methods or programs that make the processing of information faster and more efficient were what was most important, and that this simply was what it meant to "augment the human intellect." I have come to realize that this is only a small part of their usefulness. It is perhaps also the least important part. For a slow and painful thinker, it is the enhancement of the "formative stage," not "hurried by effort," that is more important.

The German thinker Hans Blumenberg, who also had an enormous Zettelkasten, observed quite correctly—I think—that "thinking is not the shortest distance between two points." It may take a rather circuitous route, and is thus enhanced by hypertextual applications just as much as by hierarchical outliners, since both allow different perspectives on the same two points and their relations to other points.


steve said...

Can you give an example of a thought in the formative stage and then that same thought when it finally came to conclusion?

MK said...

Don't know whether this will help: Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 10 in E flat major is an unfinished thought (work), his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 is a finished thought. What makes it less than helpful is that "thought" here means the same as "work."

In any case, Collingwood seems to have thought that when a question was answered or a problem solved, you have a complete thought. See also this post.