What is the difference between thinking and staring into space?
I do not remember when or how I came across the question of What is the difference between thinking and staring into space? but I could not let the question go ever since it entered my mind. At long last I think I have come up with an answer. Staring into space is the waiting part of the thinking process. Let me explain.
The common notion of thinking is that it is a rational process of logical deduction. I tend to look at it differently—I believe that it is rather an interweaving and never ending process of asking questions and waiting for answers. The questions originate from one's curiosity or, more often, inner cravings and are sent into the black box of his mind—not entirely dissimilar to how you drop a line and a hook into water and hope to catch fish. Now and again you wait in vane, occasionally you catch fish but it slips back into water, and every once is a while you celebrate the moment when the waiting was well worth your while.
The timing of the replies that come from the black box is completely beyond our control. Sometimes answers come very quickly, sometimes a question might take years to be answered, and some questions remain unanswered throughout our lives. The timing has also nothing to do with how eager we are to receive an answer—the more torturous questions quite often take longer to be answered or never get answered at all. Finally, the timing has no apparent connection with the stimulus or circumstances of the outside world—answers to important questions often come when we least expect them and valuable ideas may surface in the most inappropriate circumstances. The answer to the question that initiated this article came on a packed–like–sardines–in–a–can subway car on the way from work.
The question–answer sequence is rather random, too. It happens very seldom that a question is followed by an answer to that question. Much more often, you ask question one, then you ask question two, question three, and so on. By the time you ask question twelve an answer to question five surfaces; an answer to question three might come when question ninety is born; and question ten might never get answered at all. One thing, however, is certain—answers, even though not to all questions, do keep coming. And the chances of them surfacing are much higher when you stare into space.
At first glance our role as thinkers might appear too passive. That, however, is not the case—the black box, after all, is on our side and it does the best it can. We know nothing about its internal workings but we can help it by, first, keeping sending questions in and, second, actively waiting for answers. The latter means being attentive and ready to pick up on whatever answers the black box might send to the other side; this is exactly what staring into space is.
I have asked a million questions, including all the big ones, and have a whole lot of answers to wait for. When I stare into space I seldom think of something concrete (staring into space is too much of a tool for that); were you to ask me what I am thinking about I would have a hard time coming up with an immediate answer (does this sound like a black box, too?). When I stare into space I am either sending in more questions or, much more often, simply waiting for answers. I never know when they will surface; neither can I be sure what questions will be answered. But I keep on staring into space. To me, it is a matter of natural disposition.