Where do thoughts go? Like many people who write, I carry a notebook with me to try to catch fleeting thoughts that make their way into my work. That doesn’t mean you’ll catch everything, of course. One of the most frustrating things is when you come to a key point in an essay or story and it vanishes before you can catch it. Such things happen rather frequently. More so than I would like, and, I’m sure if it happens to you it frustrates you as well. Where do such important thoughts go? This is a tricky question to answer because philosophers and scientists still don’t know what thinking, or what consciousness, is (are). Whatever they are, they have some of my property.
Or do I have some of theirs? Some have suggested that thinking is a much more collective activity than we suppose. Our materialist view is that all my thoughts come from my brain and only get out if I share them. Another way of thinking about it is that thoughts are out there and individuals receive them, like a radio or television. Clearly our brains are involved in this, but mightn’t they be more like receivers instead of creators? At least creators working ex nihilo. One comforting thought, although it doesn’t help at the moment, is that that missing thought might still be out there, and like bread cast upon the waters, it will come back to you. Sometimes it does.
Years ago I was working on a short story. While out for a jog a perfect culmination for a scene came to me. Naturally, by the time I reached home it was gone. I was in anguish over it for many weeks. Then, long after I’d stopped worrying about it, it came back within reach. Something, I have no idea what, brought it back. I hope this still works. While rewriting a point in my latest book project, a stunning answer came to me, right in the middle of a paragraph. By the time I’d hit “return” it had vanished. The more thought I put into it, the more I felt like I was hitting a concrete wall. As of this point, the key idea is still AWOL. Since I don’t know where it possibly could have gone I can’t look for it. Believe me, I’ve turned over every rock in this aging grey matter I regularly til and I just can’t find it. Experience tells me it’s still out there somewhere. And I do hope my receiver’s still functioning when it makes its way back around here.