The Aim of Aimless Thinking

A Skype contact recently told me he was envisioning apocalyptic scenarios. He’s an avid gamer, so I asked whether it had something to do with games. He said, “Nah, just aimless thinking.” And that led me to ponder whether thinking really can be aimless, and what the implications are that it either can or can’t.

Thinking is necessarily constructive. Every thought follows somehow from the one before it, or at most from some thought before that one. This is true even in stream-of-consciousness thinking, where the constructiveness and derivation of thoughts is convoluted and hard to puzzle out, but definitely extant. Most casual, relaxed thinking that people do when not actively pondering an issue–and we all think in every waking second–relates the next thought to the previous one by association, and the association can seem illogical, but is at bottom coherent if you know all the elements of the person doing the thinking that go into it. We can’t help our thoughts being that way. Just as our brains have a definite physical structure with a definite order, so must the thoughts that occur within them.

But does that really stop some thinking from being aimless? The thoughts of people who are just relaxing or engaged in an activity not requiring much conscious input, as well as people who have disordered minds, don’t go in any particular direction. The structure their thoughts build is haphazard and architecturally unsound. Yet, in an important way, it still has direction, because it builds upon the edifice of who they will be in the next moment, simply by having had a specific thought and remembering having had it. Ultimately, even thoughts that seem to be aimless carry us along our journey toward the completion of our lives. The order of our physical brains again requires it.

I wrote this post while still carrying on a conversation with the contact who had inspired it. Then he bowed out saying some people wanted “to do a co-op session of Magicka” and he’d be too busy to talk. So, instead of sharing with him the ruminations he inspired, I am sharing them with you. It’s up to you to decide whether you are luckier or unluckier than him.

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