The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Cognition occurs both consciously (as in concentrated thinking) and unconsciously (as when dreaming).
It has been argued quite convincingly that the purpose of the brain is to think. But what's the purpose of thought?
The answer, in its simplest form, is to make sense of incoming data and use it to determine the best instruction to give to the body. Since we know that all human action is motivated by needs and by wants in any number and any combination, we know then that the purpose of achieving that action has the same goal: our prosperity.
There are two types of thought: critical and creative. They serve different functions: The purpose of critical thought is to make sense of our perception of reality; the purpose of creative thought is to determine what reality ought to be. They can be done in isolation, or as hybrid cognition. All that's required for any cognition to occur is data input.
A small example of data inputs initiating cognition:
1. A person sees a sports car. They perceive the aesthetic, and ability of the car. These 2 data initiate critical thought.
2. The person imagines himself owning and driving the car. These 2 ideas initiate creative thought.
Critical thought is the realm of logic. It encompasses deduction, analysis, evaluation, understanding, and the conversion of data input to knowledge. Critical thought is concerned with what is, and why.
Creative thought is the realm of the imagination. It encompasses speculation, possibilities, and gaining knowledge from theorising. Rather than what is, creative thought is concerned with what could be, and how.
Judgement & Behaviour
To carry on the simple example above, all 4 data are combined into ideas in the brain. It relates the data and evaluates them in the context of the person's needs, wants, means, and limitations.
This results in a decision, and the decision is acted upon. It is at the point of action that the value of cognition is realised: not only has data input given understanding, but it has also resulted in an output effecting a tangible influence on reality.
Each outcome category is, in itself, a spectrum: an acceptable outcome is one that was desired but unintentional. Although it may be far from ideal, if it's acceptable than it can't be bad or erroneous. It might be phenomenally positive, but unless it was actually caused intentionally it can't be considered ideal, since the element of chance outweighed the element of control. Similarly, an erroneous result is one that was undesired, like a bad result, but to be categorised as an error it was also intentional. A bad result, on the other hand, is one with undesirable effects that happened unintentionally despite our intentions, rather than by our own intentions.
You may think one would have to be a lunatic to cause an undesirable outcome intentionally, but it happens all the time, particularly when we think we have all the information but actually don't. In these cases we mistake our assumptions for deductions, and things go awry. Such an event should be considered a cognitive fault, and one attributed to critical thinking (i.e. by failing to remember and evaluate all variables and their degree of influence), but also sometimes creative thought (i.e. by failing to imagine unknown variables).
Exercise: Cognitive Mindfulness
- Do you find you spend a lot of time imagining things?
- Do you spend a lot of time analysing things?
- Do you find decision making difficult or easy, or does it depend?
- What can make reaching a decision difficult for you?
- Are you comfortable making decisions without complete information?
- How quickly do you get through the cognitive process?
- Would you like to be faster, or slower, or simply be able to consciously choose the speed at which you think?
- Do your behaviours tend to focus on gaining outcomes in the immediate term, or are do you prefer to set long-term consequences in motion?
- What needs and wants are you fulfilling right now?
- Do you like to have all the facts before making a decision?
- Why do you think about the things you think about?