Reasoning Is Not Thinking, It Is Instinct: Thoughts Inspired From A Reading Of Hume


David Hume considered the Reasoning power to be a form of INSTINCT with which our species is born– as are many other species. Acting via a Reflex Mechanism not fundamentally different from that of the knee’s jerk at the touch of the doctor’s rubber-mallet, the brain automatically and instantly connects one incoming perception or idea with other perceptions or ideas it has stored as memories. We (that is, our conscious selves) do not directly control the brain’s choice of connections to make. Hume compares the brain’s predisposition to connect perceptions and ideas to the unconscious imperative experienced by birds to incubate their eggs and take care of their hatchlings. Connecting “Like” to “Like” in the brain is, says Hume, “a species of instinct.”

The brain’s connection-making  –though beyond our direct and conscious control–  is nevertheless largely understandable to our conscious selves. We observe that when the brain makes connections between perceptions or ideas it is basing its connection upon SIMILARITY. A red sportscar passed on the road may call to mind another red sportscar we’ve seen in the past. A singer’s voice on the radio may conjure-up memories of a concert we once attended.

Part of the unpredictability concerning WHICH memories are called-up via mental association is probably due to the unavoidable inexactness of the process– no event will exactly match a previous event. One day a sunflower may make us think of Van Gogh– another day, of a neighbor’s garden we used to pass on the way to school.

Also, it seems that the brain tends to favor connections it has made before, as if ruts and trails are being worn in the brain each time a connection is made between two ideas. It seems the brain, like the rest of the Universe, favors the path of least resistance.

Personally, I wonder if frequently connecting memories might “migrate” closer together in the brain, forming DOMAINS of easy, fast, and regular connections.

Whatever the case, we all know that repetition encourages, nurses, and strengthens memory-access and mental connections… whether it’s the motor-memory of driving a car, or the memorization of lines from a poem.

I find it interesting that the mental connection of events, to a large extent, transcends the fourth dimension… Events do not have to occur close to the same time in order to be associated with each other. Not only can the dropping glass and the smashing glass of a second later be connected, but their connection can be recalled years later the instant we see another glass begin to slip from someone’s hand.

The dimension of Time, in fact, is not all that important for the brain except for this fact…  the longer the duration between events, the greater the chance that the connection will become muddled, probably largely due to the formation of billions of other connections made during the interim.

The unconscious brain will recognize and anticipate patterns even if we are not consciously aware of the pattern we are witnessing.  But the brain can only make predictions if there is an ascertainable pattern. I suppose the next question is, What is an “ascertainable pattern?”

A pattern is ascertained by the brain the instant a REPETITION is perceived. The brain comes pre-programmed with Repetition-Recognition– which in turn is due to its innate prejudicial grouping of Like with Like.

Philosophers have maintained for millennia that mathematical thinking is INNATE in humans.  I wager that Mathematics is nothing but Pattern-Recognition and the application of Pattern-Recognition. Two plus two equals four for no other reason than that, in everyday experience, two plus two ALWAYS equals four… it’s a PATTERN.  The most complex Mathematical equation is no more than a large set of recognized Patterns, often set one inside the other like those egg-shaped Russian dolls.

Pattern-Assertainment -is- Mathematics -is- Reason -is- Logic.   Reason is just another name for the current running through the brain from Like to Like.

Thinking Logically – that is, reasoning from Cause to Effect– is merely the application of Pattern-Recognition. If in the past, we experienced several occasions during which Event-One occurred with Event-Two following in Time, then the next occasion we witness Event-One, we will naturally look for Event-Two to occur, as part of the brain’s innate recognition of Repetition and Pattern and its automatic connection of Like to Like.  It is for this reason that Hume declares that Reasoning allows us to “transfer the known to the unknown”... When faced with an entirely new set of stimuli– as every instant in life is– we can nevertheless UNDERSTAND the new stimuli-set as long as it possesses patterns that we have experienced before.  All thinking is ANALOGOUS thinking.

Hume contends that the brain’s constellating of perceptions across the fourth dimension into patterns IS what we call “causation” or “cause-and-effect.” The brain does not care, it does not consider –at the non-conscious level– whether Event-One actually “causes” or creates Event-Two… The brain, at this subconscious level, only grasps– only needs grasp– that the two Events occur together in a Pattern (the separation in Time between the Events being entirely irrelevant as long as the connection is still discernible to the brain). Brain-associated stimuli or events form what I’ve been calling “Constellations” in the memory.

“Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation,” writes Hume, “arises entirely” from objects “constantly conjoined together”... from the patterns recognized. “Beyond the constant conjunction of similar objects and the consequent inference from one to the other, we have no notion of any necessity or connection.”  Indeed, continues Hume, “had no objects a regular conjunction with each other, we should never have entertained any notion of Cause-and-Effect.”

Inferences concerning the future are “altogether founded on PAST experience.”  If Nature were not “regular in its operations,” then our predisposition to think logically (that is, our inborn prejudice to group Like with Like and to recognize Patterns) would prove worthless. The pattern-recognition “program.” though installed by Nature, would never be run, as there would be no patterns to recognize. We would be adrift, helpless, aimless… and since all thinking is analogous thinking… it is doubtful we could think at all.


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