Knowing without Thinking

Most people assume that in order to exist or to be; one needs to “think”.  René Descartes (a French philosopher and scientist) has suggested this in 1637 in his famous statement: “cogito, ergo sum”.  (I think, therefore I am)

He suggested this as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought. With the latest insights from neuroscience however, we now know that the “separate self” is not an entity. Perhaps one could describe it as an activity, but the self is NOT a “thing”.

This article poses that what most people call “knowing” is actually “conceptual thinking”.  “Knowing” in the broader sense does not end however when thinking takes a pause.

You can test this for yourself: look at someone and see how thoughts come up like: “oh, he/she has nice hair/a big belly/a beautiful nose, etc. etc.”  Notice how the conceptual/abstracting thinking puts labels on what you perceive, puts it into a box and limits it. Most people tend to believe such thinking and take it as meaning something real and important.

Suppose the next day you are asked whether you “know” this someone… So what do you answer?  Perhaps in your mind thoughts come up which recall something about what you observed the day before, but what do you know really?

Test this out for yourself: look at someone or something but simply ignore whatever thoughts come up. Perhaps you’ll notice how now and then there is a pause between those thoughts. You may be astonished that what you may call “knowing” or “perceiving” does NOT end in the space between thoughts!  During this silence another form of “knowing” continues, one that is not limited by abstractions, labels, conclusions, or in other words by; “me thinking about something”!

That kind of “Knowing” goes much deeper, is free, immediate and needs no conclusions, it needs no thoughts actually. When looking at someone or something, you see and sense without the usual labeling and evaluating. To recognize such “Knowing” is the discovery of a great sensitivity, a great freedom. All of the above is not implying that (chronic) conceptual thinking is bad, but it does point to the limitations of it. There is much more to Life than that!

Have you discovered this too?  Feel free to share your experience in the comments below…


  1. The reason Descartes came to the Cogito was that he was trying to doubt everything he “knew” until he could find some knowledge he couldn’t deny. He tried believing his senses, but he realized that they could deceive him. He tried believing that his body physically existed, but then he remembered that in vivid dreams, one can believe they are something they are not. Therefore, he couldn’t know that his physical body existed. In addition to dreams, Descartes postulated that there might be an evil demon tricking him into believing everything he thought was real. But, no matter how hard the demon tried, it couldn’t deceive Descartes into believing that his mind didn’t exist. Because, by trying to prove to Descartes that Descartes didn’t exist, the demon would inadvertently prove to Descartes that he did exist. Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” could probably be better phrased “I think, therefore I know that I am.”

    I would suggest reading Descartes’ book Meditations. While I don’t agree with everything he says, I feel that he explains his Cogito argument quite wel

  2. I’ve heard that Decartes changed his opinion on that near the end of his life to, “I am, therefore I think”. The way often quoted, “I think, therefore I am” would imply that the moment one stops thinking, they would cease being. So the moment we might hold own breath, we would vanish? (try it, can you think while holding your breath? No, the body overrides all thought so the only action is to take another breath) Thoughts depend on us, there has to be some sort of a basis for thought to move upon.

    Saying that, I end up in the same place as you, most of what is considered knowledge will simply come and go with time. There is a truth to the space between thoughts that is not influenced by the likes and dislikes of the ego, where perception is clear.

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