Thinking About How You Think


“The same organizing forces that have shaped nature in all her forms are also responsible for the structure of our minds.”

What does this mean? Werner Heisenberg made this assertion in his book Physics and Beyond. You might recognize his name; he was the theoretical physicist who developed the Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics.

What does his statement mean and what does it have to do with trends in philosophy? I’m interpreting this week’s theme as trends in thinking, and there is one particular thinking trend that I want to get to. But let’s get there in a roundabout way for fun. It might not be falling off your ergonomic rocker accidentally drooling on your friend fun, but I’m hoping at least it won’t hurt.

In Heisenberg’s statement I can loosely interpret forms and structures as patterns, and these underlying patterns not only connect nature to our minds but form a common background in a sense, a metapattern. It is a movement toward inclusion, a relation or perhaps middle or background. The pattern that connects is a type of unifying pattern, a pattern which seeks to relate, to get beyond the thing in itself. I must confess that I’m sharing with you a trend in thinking that was developed by the anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson.

In his book Mind and Nature A Necessary Unity, he says we are “taught at a tender age that the way to define something is by what it supposedly is in itself, not by its relation to other things.” We normally think of things as fixed rather than dynamic and contextual. Relations live temporally and spatially. Here’s an example on relations pulled from his book. He quotes the philosopher Goethe:
“A stem is that which bears leaves.”
“A leaf is that which has a bud in its angle.”
“A stem is what was once a bud in that position.”

Do you sense something occurring here? A sense of circularity? The stem, the leaf, the bud, and the stem. What is the stem in relation to the bud? Look around you. You are participating in multiple and complex systems of relations. Now that I think about it, this pattern that connects speaks to a multitude of themes on our dot429 website, by reading and blogging and participating, you are the bud that stems an insight for others to bud. You are the leaf in relation to the stem and the bud. You are also the stem. You provide feedback; the relationship becomes circular. We re-enter our relationships time and time again, changing them, being changed by them. Unfortunately, we’ve been trained to think solely, linearly, in a habitual march of causal and isolated events.

You might be wondering what this has to do with Heisenberg. You just think about that. Take a walk around the block today. If you have courage, walk backwards for a bit. Observe you environment. Observe yourself. Observe your self observing your environment. Get a little loopy with it, think about what is happening. Think about how you think. I’m curious! Share your field experiment with me here. I’ll share mine.

Photo Credit: LukeAndrewScowen Photography

About The Author

Cynthia Vale is a budding scholar and doctoral student in Transformative Inquiry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She writes the dot429 philosophy blog. You can reach Cynthia at

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