Textual Stage: Levels of Inner Voice

I tried analyzing the method by which I come up with thoughts a few nights ago and made a lot of interesting discoveries. [Originally written Mar 1 2021, saved and made into this essay on April 17 2021]. The mode of thought which I am most aware of is inner voice — mentally speaking in complete sentences — but there are multiple levels of inner voice, the higher levels going much faster, too fast to be mentally spoken. (Higher means deeper, less conscious, harder to analyze; these are just the levels of the part of my brain which thinks in English, which is the 'lowest' part here, contrasting with the entirely non-textual higher parts).

I will call these three parts the textual stage of (my) thought; they are the first and lowest stage of my thought process. I feel comfortable breaking this stage down into levels, as I have sufficient mental clarity to grasp them and see how they operate.

Pretextual Stage: The Unconscious Synthesis of Ideas

The second stage is what I'm calling the pretextual stage. I really can't see what's going on here; when I peer into it, I just see (metaphorically) a roiling sea of blackness, which clearly houses lots of activity but which I cannot even begin to see through. It's scary not knowing where my thoughts really come from.

The first level of the pretextual stage I can sort of feel — and it feels like a sort of alchemical warfare, with raw ideas constantly synthesizing, constantly breaking down and releasing energy. But having this vague feeling for it is as far as I've been able to go: I don't have sufficient mental clarity to actually analyze it.

Now, there is likely a stage high enough that no amount of mental clarity would let me analyze its higher levels, as it houses the very faculty of spontaneous analytical thought, which may be capable of operating on itself but is certainly not capable of operating on any higher levels of the stage.

In other words, there is an end to the journey. But I'm nowhere near there. If I can feel the next stage, then I know I can start to penetrate it by developing sufficient mental clarity and building meditative skills. It'll take a long time, though.

I think the essay https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/10/15/the-chamber-of-guf/ starts to get at what I'm calling the pretextual stage of thought, except he calls it the Chamber of Guf (the chad Kabbalah reference vs etc.), and analyzes it from a neuroscientific point of view, as opposed to the structural analysis I offered. I don't want to call it the Guf, though, since I believe there might be stages beyond it, and the Kabbalah metaphor doesn't extend that far — so let's stick with boring descriptive names from the start.

Footnote: I guess this is a good argument against analogical naming systems in general: unless you somehow know in advance that the structure of the system you're giving names to fits within the structure of the metaphor's original domain, you run the risk of coming across elements of the system you can't name according to the metaphor...

The fragment "If you want to see the Guf directly, advanced meditators seem to be able to do this. They often report that after successfully quieting their conscious thoughts, they become gradually aware of a swamp of unquiet proto-thoughts lurking underneath." seems strange to me, as I can notice it and I’m not a meditator at all; perhaps Scott Alexander didn't try it for himself (doubtful), or it’s within closer reach for some people than others, or some people have more natural talent at noticing such things than others.

Dynamical Stage: Deduction of Necessary Structure

Now, in assembling thoughts from raw sense data & neuronal noise, there are so many steps to go through, and by exploring what these steps necessarily must be we can infer the existence of higher stages, right? In particular, I notice that the pretextual stage works with mental formations somehow endowed with semantics: this formation represents this concept, this formation represents this other concept, and so on. Let's define the pretextual stage, then, as the stage whereby semantic data is manipulated before being “released” to immediately noticeable consciousness.

As new semantic data exists, it must have at some point been formed; there must then be a third stage by which new semantic data is formed from existing data, sense experience, and noise. I'll call this third stage the dynamical stage, with the caveat that this name is liable to change once I gain more understanding of it.

To recap, the stages are as follows:

  1. The textual stage, which consists of a series of levels whereby semantic representations, or "pure thoughts", are converted into language and processed
  2. The pretextual stage, which consists of a series of levels whereby semantic data is received and processed; this is where things like 'revelation' happen, and where unconscious thought happens
  3. The dynamical stage, which consists of a series of levels whereby sense, noise, and existing data are made into a legible combination which is again treatable as semantic data. While I believe the pretextual stage can be accessed, this stage is probably beyond the reach of all but super-meditators, and, since we can’t trust that they haven’t changed their forms of thinking in the very development of that ability (it’s easy to lick your elbow if you break your arm!), the dynamical stage should be attacked via neuroscientific research.