What is thinking? How much will we ever know of the ever-present but changing human mind? When we ask about its nature, we ask questions of concern to all men and women. Interest in the processes of thought is an ageless one. It is linked to the search for an understanding of our species, homo sapiens. Today this inquiry is shaped by the tools and quests of this age, by preoccupations of the last decades of the twentieth century.
Human beings are characterized by a great plasticity of body and mind; however, this plasticity can be narrowed by habit and by the fears of the unknown. The philosopher Hannah Arendt has suggested that habitual responses (a certain kind of thoughtlessness) protect one from the burdensome aspects of reality, "against the claim on our . . . attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence. If we were responsive to this claim all the time, we would soon be exhausted." 1 While the power of thought is threatened by trivia, by the enormous spill of information present today, such power is necessary for our survival as a species. As we approach the limits of the abundance of the earth, and our tenure is threatened by nuclear war, we need to learn anew how to plan and construct a humane and lasting world. To do that, we need to mobilize fully the creative possibilities of the mind.
But our knowledge of thinking is still limited. While we are awed by the accomplishments of the gifted in the arts and sciences, our study of thought has largely ignored them. The basic assumption that governs this work is that a powerful resource for the understanding of thinking is provided by the self-knowledge of the creative individuals among us.