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Christian Life
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We Don’t Know Exactly How the Thoughts We Think Originate, Including Why You Decided to Read This Title [Video]

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Why did you decide to click on this article and give it a read? Neurologically speaking, nobody knows!

Neuroscientists don’t know how we think thoughts in the first place. This remains elusive.

If I think to myself, Raise my right hand and wave at my neighbor, the “origin of thought” or the “neural basis of thought” continues under investigation. Even the smartest scientists and researchers do not know how that thought originates.

Where do dreams come from? How about intuition, love, vivid mental images, or creative “aha” moments?

Neuroscientists can study the brain when we have dreams, but they don’t know why and how the brain generates these dreams. 

We know we have intuition, but these scientists still cannot explain the exact neural basis for the “gut feeling” that arrives inside us, which we cannot shake. 

Our emotional attachments and the love we feel as we connect intimately cannot be explained in the sense that this originates in us since it does not appear biologically as love neurons. Love cannot be proven neurologically!

Or, after you return home from vacation, you shut your eyes and have a vivid mental image of the sunset on the ocean horizon and the kids building sand castles the day before. Even there, researchers cannot determine how that vivid image forms in the first place.

The same holds on the other end of the nerve cell process. Scientists can observe brain activity during creative tasks but not track that instance of creative insight, resulting in the “aha” moment. 

Overall, they can observe brain activity with brain mapping. God has allowed scientists to unfold the wonders of His creation of the cerebral matter. (I wish some of them displayed a bit more awe and reverence!) They can describe in mind-boggling detail many of the roads and landscapes in our brain that show the “information” traveling. 

But when going back to “Start Here” with the original thought about raising the hand to wave, this original thought escapes explanation at this time.

While these scientists may not fully understand why you thought, “I should read this article,” they can often trace it back to factors like your interests or past experiences. You may have been contemplating how your brain thinks, and in seeing the article, that former thought explains why you are reading this right now. Indeed, one thing triggers another thing. So, the “origin of thought” may not be elusive. 

But to be exact, it wouldn’t be a pure origin of thought. So, to clarify what I mean, let me state that when researchers move far enough back, there comes a point when they may see the “Start Here” location. It is there they ask, why and how did that thought originate? This remains the place of mystery.

What Do We Know Then?

For now, we know this: We control the creation of our deepest thoughts. This mystery is majestic to me.

We have control of our thoughts.

Past experiences or future expectations do not determine our choice to think our own thoughts. We are not preprogrammed robots. 

We are not passive victims of another’s mistreatment of us and have only one thought we can think, such as: I hate them and will retaliate

No, God designed us with incredible freedom to originate another set of thoughts.

Paul instructs in Philippians not to intimidate us but to take our breath away in wonder and enthusiasm at the undetected freedom we possess to do what eludes an explanation from scientists. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV, emphasis added).

We can choose upfront the nature of our thoughts, and neuroscientists cannot explain how we do that, but believers in Christ know why. God reveals to us by implication that healthiness and holiness is derived when we originate thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

That’s food for thought if there ever was.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you ever thought before about this topic of where our thoughts actually come from? For those who do not believe in a Designer, why should this be truly baffling?
  2. Why, in your opinion, can the things mentioned above not be proven neurologically? How does this point to a Designer?
  3. Emerson said that as believers we can know that we control the creation of our deepest thoughts. Do you agree or disagree? Why? Consider an example of a “bad” or “troubling” thought you have had. Did you still have control over that thought’s creation?
  4. Reread Philippians 4:8 above. Why should this instruction from Paul—to think about whatever is true, noble, etc.—encourage you?