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Thoughts on Thoughtlessness

Student's picture

I can’t imagine being thoughtless as a way of life. The only time I ever think of myself as thoughtless, more or less, is on a tennis court, where tennis is my only thought. Even then, I’m thinking; thinking about the game, the moment, the point. I observe and respond- this is my logic. To be thoughtless, to me, would mean that I act without this logic, without any reasoning. Is it better to be ignorant and simple, or aware and complicated? Is thoughtlessness ignorance? Does being aware necessarily equal complication? I’ve grown up being taught that thinking about issues, about lessons being taught in school, is the most beneficial way to gain the most I can out of my academic life. Now, in this moment, I wonder whether I’d be happier to not have adapted this mentality. I say those dreaded words, wonder that forbidden thought, thinking that life could be much simpler if I didn’t take responsibility for what I see around me.

I wonder what people think all around me. I remember when I was eight years old, my mom was driving somewhere, and I turned around in the backseat, and looked at the car behind me. I realized that there were people in that car, living their own lives, with their own thoughts, and I’d never know what the world looked like to them. I think that moment changed a lot for me. I realized that nobody could ever get inside somebody else’s head. So, I write this essay streaming my conscious thoughts, hoping that somehow they can translate to you, the reader. To you, though, this may seem a thoughtful rambling, rather than a cohesive essay. I’ve looked for the value in both, and while one may offer a more academically accepted point of view, the other appears to be more honest, more truthful, and, in that, to me, and hopefully to you, more useful.

Is there such a thing as thoughtlessness? When Helen, from Howard’s End, runs off, to escape, to flee- when she just acts, is there no thought (1)? I think that there needs to be a distinction between quick, impulsive thoughts, and longer, more logical, more reasoned thoughts. I think that some people are more impulsive than others, and I think Helen is an example of that. When she acts impetuously, I think that there is thought there. I think Helen acts on her sudden emotions, and I think that she’s aware of how she feels and has a reaction that she follows. I think in the middle of that, there’s thought- she comes up with the idea to run, and she follows it. I don’t think she’s necessarily thoughtless as much as I think she wants quick fix- as much as I think she wants not to have to think. I think she runs because she wants the moment to be over, she wants to have her answer, without laboring her mind. Maybe that’s more logical than long reasoned thought- maybe it’s less stressful, and maybe less, in the moment, burdensome.

I explain things to myself for reassurance that I’m doing the right thing. I justify by having concrete observables that give me confidence. It sounds safer than acting without having some kind of prior experience for how the situation will turn out. I wonder though, why, if I value this reassurance and security, I find the idea of thoughtlessness so intriguing. I wonder why, if I am comfortable with my way of thinking, I find it the idea of being thoughtless so tempting. I enjoy thinking and revelations, but I don’t enjoy the guilt of acknowledging problems that I can only do so much about. I don’t enjoy empathizing with the poor, and the sick, and the needy, and those who suffer, but I do so strongly feel for them. Maybe what I enjoy about Helen’s thinking is that she offers herself quick fixes in the moment- maybe I want a quick fix for the problems of the world. In that way, we both just want answers; we both just want not to have to think, or feel, negatively, in that moment.

How does feeling relate to thinking? Is there a connection? I’m bound to say that there is. I think our thoughts can impact our feelings, and our feelings can impact our thoughts. So which came first? Is there a clear division line between the two? I don’t know whether or not I feel first or think first, and, after many attempts, I find it difficult or impossible to be able to distinguish between the two. If I’m happy, I’m brighter about the world around me, but both are so interconnected that I can’t see the line. If the line is, as it seems, so blurry, does a desire for thoughtlessness indicate a desire for numbness? I’m hesitant to completely agree, as I’ve come to associate thoughtlessness as more of a desire to avoid negative thoughts rather than thoughts in general, but, by a dictionary definition (2), I’d be wrong. However, if I use it in my context, I would place emotions in the same category- I don’t think there’s ever a real desire for numbness as much as for one to not feel guilty, to not feel pain.

I think the idea of thoughtlessness is interesting to think about in relation to people and extreme, horrible actions, such as the Virginia Tech shooting. After reading one of the shooter’s plays (3), I sat and thought about it. I wondered how this kid could get such shocking, terrible ideas in his head, and wondered just how much he drew from his own, direct life, his own, conscious feelings, versus purely his imagination. I read descriptions of him, citing how he was a loner, quiet, and sometimes quite inappropriate (4), while the whole time he probably had these horrific images implanted somewhere in his brain, ready to blow at anytime. This is a rambling- maybe it was too soon to bring this up, maybe right now this is too sensitive an area, and I can’t think clearly, or logically about this, but there’s something here that I find so puzzling and so, just, frustrating, maybe, is the right word. This kid was clearly crazy, as useless as that word is, and maybe no one can ever see into his head, but the idea that such a quiet, calm exterior, granted inappropriate sometimes, hid such an insane interior, bothers me a lot. I’d feel inappropriate to try to comment, to try to relate him to Helen or some kind of impetuousness, just because this is so real, and therefore, in the moment, I’d just like to leave it open as a kind of wondering of thoughts in people, and of the possibility of seemingly thought out impulsive actions, as much as those two seem to contradict each other.

After thinking and writing about thoughtlessness, I’m realizing that all I can do is say, ironically, what I think about it, but never really know if it truly exists since I can’t see into anyone else. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a complete lack of thought. On a tennis court, I am thinking, just not about the things I don’t want to think about. It’s a gained will power of thought, having the ability to block out the world around me. When shocking events happen, there’s a moment where I’m stunned, but I don’t think that’s thoughtlessness as much as an overwhelming, tangled flood of thoughts. When Helen fled, maybe there were no thoughts in her head. Maybe her body just sent impulses telling her to move one leg at a time, and just to go. I wonder if our ways of thinking are like awkward body parts- do we always want what we can’t have? It seems like a good story at the moment. As for thoughtlessness, and for thinking thoughtfully about it, it remains an intriguing idea to me. Maybe part of the intrigue is that it’s difficult to define, or to understand. Maybe the only ones who can explain it are those who don’t think about it. Maybe, for these reasons, it’ll remain such a tempting mystery.

Works Cited:

1. Forster, Howard’s End. Penguin Classics. April 3, 2000.
2. Random House Abridged Dictionary. 2006.
3. Seung-Hui, Cho. “Richard McBeef”. Unpublished, replicated by AOL news. April 17, 2007.
4. April 20, 2007.


Anne Dalke's picture

The tempting mystery of thoughtlessness

What intrigues me here, Karen, is your willingness to try out your thoughts on thoughtlessness in a format that mimics the random wanderings (you call it a "rambling") of the unconscious, a sort of free-writing experiment that explores the "usefulness" of being thoughtless. The repeated echo of "I think...I think" is part of that experiment that I think (sic) works.

Although, overall-- surprisingly (and probably paradoxically and inconsistently)--I find myself wanting something a little more "thoughtful," focused and backed-up-with-some-sources other than your own experiences. You say that you can never know if thoughtlessness "truly exists since you can't see into anyone else." No, but you can read their reports. There's tons of material on Serendip, for instance, about the loopy action of consciousness and the unconscious.

I also find myself with questions about why you feel "bound to say" one thing (rather than another), and about how you understand the difference between "conscious feelings" and imagination. "Conscious feeings" has the feel, to me, of an oxymoron, as do "thought-out impulsive actions"; I'd like to hear those concepts teased out, explicated, along with your puzzlement about the relationship between outside (actions) and inside (thoughts).

To conclude, in short, with a "tempting mystery" doesn't go far enough....