Stating the Obvious | Value of the Obvious | Knowing and Thinking

Knowing and Thinking

It might be handy at this point to probe briefly into the idea of ‘knowing.’ We’ll ingress with a quote from the Journal of Analytical Psychology, in which a reviewer, writing about R.D. Laing’s book The Divided Self, describes it as having “that particular touch of genius which causes one to say “Yes, I have always known that, why have I never thought of it before?”” This quote is of interest because it suggests that to know something can be different than to think of it; in other words, we can know something without having consciously articulated it in thought.

It may be that most of what we ‘know’ we have devoted very little concentrated thought to, and in this sense a lot of our knowledge may be unexamined. We’ve already looked into different ways of thinking, with Ricard’s ideas of dog-thought and lion-thought, and have seen how unexamined thought can lead to premature cognitive commitments, with all the various negative implications that these entail.

So it is worth bearing in mind that knowledge can be articulated to varying degrees, from unconscious knowledge through to articulated knowledge. Knowledge needn’t have been articulated –passed through a conscious thought process - in order to become assimilated. This is how we can arrive at the situation touched upon in the quote above, when we read a book and think ‘How obvious! How come I’ve never thought of it like that before?’

To meditate upon a thought is to flesh it out, and to assimilate it in a different way. To think about something in a concentrated fashion allows us to develop our own approach to it, and to prune away any unhelpful second-hand assumptions and prejudices that may, heretofore, have been attached.

It is in this sense that devoting thought to an obvious subject can produce valuable insight. In retrospect the insight offered by others may seem obvious because, had we allowed ourselves the conditions necessary to hold onto the thought, to pursue it to some conclusions, then we may have come to these same conclusions ourselves. It may well have been that we were only ever a short distance away from such insight.

Often it may be that a subject appears so obvious that we simply never devote any time to truly thinking about it; it is taken as a truism and left as that. In this sense we avoid ownership of the thought, and we open ourselves to the danger of committing to things that we do not truly believe in. To assess an idea and to come to our own conclusions is to take possession of it; to assume ownership of our thoughts is to assume responsibility for them.

It is natural that most knowledge will at some point recede to the back of our mind, as we once again get caught up in the daily flow of thought; in this sense knowledge becomes structural; unseen, yet potentially informing what we do and how we think. To know that we have taken the time to meditate upon important ideas, to fully take possession of them, allows us to be more in control of our knowledge and the way that it subsequently affects further thought and action.