Thought: A Very Short Introduction

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OUP Oxford, Jan 31, 2013 - Philosophy - 126 pages
There is no denying that thinking comes naturally to human beings and that thinking is indeed central to what it means to be human. But what are thoughts? How does the brain--billions of tiny neurons and synapses--accomplish thought? In this compelling Very Short Introduction, Tim Bayne offers a compact but wide-ranging account of the nature of thought, drawing upon philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology. Bayne touches on a stimulating array of topics. Does thinking occur in public or is it a purely private affair? Do young children and non-human animals think? Is human thought the same everywhere, or are there culturally specific modes of thought? What is the relationship between thought and language? What kind of responsibility do we have for our thoughts? In what ways can the process of thinking go wrong? Beginning with questions about what thought is and what distinguishes it from other kinds of mental states, he explores the logical structures of thought as well as the mechanisms that make thought possible. In sum, this book provides an engaging survey of what we know--and what we don't know--about one of the most central of human capacities.

About the Series:

Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

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Thinking is a quintessential human activity. Capacity to think is considered such a prominent human trait that the very name of our species – Homo sapiens – means “thinking man.” Thinking comes so naturally to us that most of us rarely reflect on the fact that it’s a very complex activity. In fact, it’s very hard to properly define what thought really is.
This very short introduction aims to give the reader a better understanding of what thought and thinking are all about. The approach is predominantly philosophical, although it contains a fair dose of contemporary psychological and scientific understanding of thought processes and human mind in general. The book is very well written and it’s generally accessible, although some parts can be conceptually challenging. Readers should ideally have some familiarity with the philosophical ways of thinking and be willing to engage and entertain some pretty abstract concepts. The book presents various contemporary views on variability and malleability of thought between different individuals and across cultures. This is actually a very contentious academic area, and the book tries to be neutral between various arguments. (Sometimes to the fault, in my opinion.)
It is probably impossible to cover every topic pertaining to the idea of though in such a short book, but I do wish there were few interesting ones that were covered. In particular, I wish the book covered more on the topic of intelligence, and at least introduced artificial intelligence. The latter is one of the topics that I am very interested in, and over the past few years it has become a field that has brought out a lot of practical applications.
I really enjoyed reading this book, but its approach might be more academic than what one would have expected from a book intended for a very general audience.


1 What is thought?
2 The mechanical mind
3 The inner sanctum
4 Brute thought
5 They dont think like we do
6 Thought gone wrong
7 The ethics of thought
8 The limits of thought
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About the author (2013)

Tim Bayne is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manchester. He has taught at the University of Canterbury, Macquarie University, and the University of Oxford. His main interests are in the philosophy of psychology, with a particular focus on consciousness. A native of New Zealand, hedivides his time between Manchester and Geneva.

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