Books have been written, and will continue to be written, about the thinking process, and it cannot be presumed that the subject will be given adequate treatment in these few pages. Yet a general introduction may serve as a point of departure that will help you. Here is a case where some information, however incomplete, is better than none at all.
Strange as it may seem, students are not as familiar with the meaning of thinking as their teachers often suppose. The word, think, has a great many meanings in our language, and not all of them are implied when a professor exhorts his students, “Think! Think! Think!”
While it is true that everyone does a great deal of thinking in the normal course of a lifetime, the nature of the process expected in thinking about high school or college subjects is not usually made clear.
Thinking may be broadly defined as a mental activity which brings about new relationships by rearranging symbols with respect to one another. The process sometimes follows formal rules (logic), sometimes informal rules (common sense), and at other times no rules (insight). The rules of logic can be found in books on the subject. Common sense is the patterning of cause and effect after the manner of people we observe solving their problems. Insight is a flash of realization that comes from pondering separate events and suddenly perceiving a relationship between them. Sometimes insight comes when not forced and sometimes after intense concentration.
The mental activity of forming new relationships is a process that grows as we grow. The small child does not have the same “reasoning” or thinking capacity as the older child, nor does the child ordinarily think as deeply as the adult. (However, children form more of their adult reasoning patterns than we realize.) Thinking is a skill that comes easily for some people and harder for others. Like most skills, it can become more or less automatic with practice. This is why discussions are educational if you participate.
The advantage of thinking is simply that it enables a person to come closer to the true nature of complex things around him. Thinking does require time and effort; yet it has its own rewards (the satisfaction of knowing) and its conferred rewards — conferred by society in the form of higher pay, prestige, and power. If one’s thinking is based upon solid and accepted assumptions, it can be a powerful force in personal advancement and in helping others.