How to think what no one has ever thought before

Calvin, William H (1995) How to think what no one has ever thought before. [Book Chapter]

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The short answer is to take a nap and dream about something. Our dreams are full of originality. Their elements are all old things, our memories of the past, but the combinations are original. Combinations make up in variety what they lack in quality, as when we dream about Socrates driving a bus in Brooklyn and talking to Joan of Arc about baseball. Our dreams get time, place, and people all mixed up. Awake, we have a stream of consciousness, also containing a lot of mistakes. But we can quickly correct those mistakes, usually before speaking out loud. We can improve the sentence, even as we are speaking it. Indeed, most of the sentences we speak are ones we've never spoken before. We construct them on the spot. But how do we do it, when we say something we've never said before - and it doesn't come out as garbled as our dreams? We also forecast the future in a way that no other animal can do. Since it hasn't happened yet, we have to imagine what might happen. We often preempt the future by taking actions to head off what will otherwise happen. We can think before acting, guessing how objects or people might react to a proposed course of action. That is extraordinary when compared to all other animals. It even takes time to develop in children. By the time a child goes to school, adults start expecting them to be responsible for predicting the consequences: "You should have realized that..." and "Think before you do something like that!" aren't seriously said to babies and most preschoolers - or our pets. We don't seriously expect our dogs and cats to appraise a novel situation, like a fish falling out of the refrigerator, with an eye toward saving it for the dinner guests tonight.

Item Type:Book Chapter
Subjects:Biology > Sociobiology
ID Code:3216
Deposited By: Calvin, Prof. William H.
Deposited On:14 Oct 2003
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55


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