I think a thought
Is ever so wrought
By asinine explanations
An action is sought
To generate a thought
Without any complications
All that stuff about bats thinking in Time and the reality of UFOs got me thinking about thought. What exactly is it?
Either thought starts at the very beginning of any life form or it sneaks in as part of the evolutionary process. I am no expert, but my guess is that thoughts are initially just reactions to stimuli and that they grow in complexity over time and evolution. The process of a cell reacting to heat or light could be considered a very basic thought. Reaction to a trail of varying chemical concentration a little more complicated and catching a ball a little more complicated again.
We could imagine that we can create a robot to go through the process of catching a ball with all its intricacies of motion and perception. Humans learn to do it by trial and error, although some of us never master the process. Dogs can also learn to do it. Is it a process that probably requires thought? Do we think when catching a ball or is it just a complex reaction where our neurons relay information about the various stimuli involved?
Henning Beck has an interesting TED talk about thought. For him computers output the result of an algorithm after a specific input. A kind of basic linear thought. Humans use a less linear process with plenty of inaccuracies with a lot of reality perturbation. We call this creativity. We happily react to the world we know, processes like identifying a chair but have problems with things we don’t understand, like UFOs.
People and presumably dogs also create a virtual model in their minds and can then practice the physical act of catching without actually doing anything physical. Is this virtual model where real thought processes start, rather than simple reactions? Humans have also created more complex systems to develop their reactions into what we consider thoughts, including verbal and mathematical models and processes. Additionally, there are the concepts of self-awareness and metathoughts or the idea that we can think about our own thoughts to complicate matters further.
Humans are probably the best at this thinking process, or at least in our own eyes. But do we even need a brain to think? Dr. Suzanne Simard came up with the idea of the Wood Wide Web a few years ago in which she describes the complex interaction of trees, their roots, soil fungi as a highly complex social interaction. Tree roots fight chemical wars with other trees and bugs, assisted by fungi, but should this process be considered as thought?
A large part of what we think of as thought is the virtual model we make in our minds and presumably many other species do the same. The model is a framework to put our memories of the real world into. For example, we can easily review a large mental map of our local area so that we can move around it with ease and return home again. A complicating factor is that we can perturb that map, as it does not have to follow an accurate one to one correlation with reality. Now we get into the realms of imagination and the possibility that is where real thought begins.
Do animals actually think or is language necessary for thought? Again, not that I have any expertise, but I suggest that all of those reactionary processes together with memory and virtual models are thoughts, whether human, animal or plant. Any virtual model can be considered imagination.
Human mental maps are most likely created with position and distance in mind, but kind of imprecisely. If I asked anyone to draw a map of their local area, I doubt that many would create anything like an accurate map. But somehow, we can always return home. Try drawing a map of Australia for example. Unless you are a cartographer, I imagine you are laughing at the result of your own efforts.
Bats on the other hand create their mental maps using time. Everything to them is the time taken for a return signal to their brains from an ultrasound pulse, created using their mouths. Their map is in two-way time in three dimensions and it is obviously good enough for them to leave home, catch prey and return home safely. They have no way to measure distance separately and no need for it.
If their mental map is in time, I suggest that their movement is also measured in time for simplicity. They are probably aware that their flight time to an object is some percentage less than the signal time. Like us, they probably can’t reproduce an exact map but they update their location constantly and compare it to their memory like we would for distance.
Like us, they also do not need to calculate their velocity to make it home again. Imagine having to calculate how fast you are moving constantly just so that you can make it home accurately. You are obviously aware of changing velocity but take little notice of it when deciding how to get home.
Bats need pretty accurate watches though.
If, as Miss Smilla says, that the Inuit have 47 words for snow of different types perhaps we need a similar number to describe levels of thought.
And as Newton said in a different way; for every thought there is a corresponding initiating action.