Introduction to The Act of Thinking



Introduction: Is Thinking a Natural Process, or Is It an Action?

By thinking we usually mean such activities as calculating, cogitating, pondering, musing, reflecting, meditating, and ruminating. But we might also mean any of a broader range of actions or activities (or dispositions, states, processes, or whatever). I mean remembering, intending, imagining, conceiving, believing, desiring, hoping, feeling emotion, empathizing, following what someone is saying, minding, being conscious of something, and so on. This is admittedly a mixed bag. It might seem that feeling, in particular, should be separated out. Certainly thinking and feeling can be contrasted, but in the context of this book it is what they have in common that is interesting. Anyway, I would like to include all the above as “thinking.” The general term most philosophers would use is mental phenomena, but, for various reasons, I want to try to do without it. We can use thinking instead.

The notion of thinking helps us to explain people’s behavior. We appeal to thinking to explain actions, qualities of action, abilities and dispositions to act, and even certain kinds of bodily agitation. Consider the distinctive posture of Rodin’s Penseur, an attentive and methodical performance, any goal-directed activity, explaining to someone what one is doing, producing a list of relevant facts, finding the solution to a problem of woodworking or arithmetic, having a disposition to racist remarks or effusive greetings, and trembling or blushing at what someone is saying. We explain these different behaviors and aspects of behavior, and many others, by positing different kinds of thinking going on behind the scenes. The thinking determines the nature of the behavior, then motivates and guides its performance, from within.

What kind of thing is thinking? Is it a “mental” process? Is it a physiological process in the brain? Is it both? Or is it something different again— an action or activity the person performs?

Cognitive Science

According to the currently dominant theory as to the nature of thinking, thinking is the brain’s computer-like processing of “mental representations.” The brain acquires information about reality via the sense organs and encodes it into neural form as mental representations. The brain stores each representation and computes from it—and from other current and previously stored representations—a program of neuron firings that will produce a behavioral response appropriate to the current situation. This representational and computational understanding of the mind/brain is the basis of “cognitive science,” the approach to psychology and philosophy of mind that took over from behaviorism in the mid 1970s.¹

Cognitive scientists believe their theory is a more sophisticated and scientific version of the “folk” theory that ordinary people believe in. According to folk theory, thinking is a “mental” process carried out in and/or by “the mind.” And the mind is assumed to be some kind of non-physical agent inside people’s heads. Cognitive science agrees that thinking goes on inside the head. For the cognitive scientist, however, thinking is information processing done by or in the brain. Mind is redefined as a brain function.

The question to what extent the concepts of folk theory can be retained in scientific explanations of behavior is still a cause of philosophical debate. Nearly all cognitive scientists accept that the entities postulated by folk theory—mental phenomena such as beliefs, desires, intentions, and fears, and minds themselves—have some reality. They agree that folk theory of mind has not only practical utility but also some theoretical justification. Furthermore, cognitive scientists assume that the entities postulated by folk theory are real enough to be studied scientifically. This is implicit in the scientific-sounding terms cognitive scientists employ when referring to these entities: mental phenomena (or processes, events, entities, states, representations), cognitive processes, conscious processes, conscious states, intentional states, propositional attitudes, and so on.

Bald identification of the various mental phenomena with brain processes is the exception in current theory. However, mental phenomena are universally believed to be in some way intimately related to brain processes and brain areas. Various theories—with names like “identity theory,” “functionalism,” “anomalous monism,” and “connectionism”— opt for one intimate relationship or another.

As well as developing formal theories about the relations between mental phenomena and brain processes, cognitivist philosophers often make do with metaphors. Brain researchers often use the same expressions. Consciousness and other mental phenomena are said to be “dependent on,” “supervenient on,” “underpinned by,” “caused by,” “correlated with,” or “the product of” neurophysiological processes. Or the latter are held to “support,” “be the mechanism for,” “be responsible for,” “give rise to,” “determine,” or “underlie” mental phenomena. Such language clearly implies that, even if mental phenomena are not strictly identical with brain processes, brain processes are still where the action is as far as mental phenomena are concerned. The following is a typical statement of the task of cognitive science:

We believe that at the moment the best approach to the problem of explaining consciousness is to concentrate on finding what is known as the neural correlates of consciousness—the processes in the brain that are most directly responsible for consciousness. By locating the neurons in the cerebral cortex that correlate best with consciousness, and figuring out how they link to neurons elsewhere in the brain, we may come across key insights into . . . the hard problem: a full accounting of the manner in which subjective experience arises from these cerebral processes.²

Here, despite the modest hopes of progress, it is unquestioned that brain processes constitute the underlying reality and that the task of explaining mental phenomena is just the task of finding the relevant brain processes and seeing how they work.

The important thing for the purposes of this book is that both the layperson and the cognitive scientist, by assuming that thinking is a process that goes on inside people’s heads, are excluding in advance the possibility I want to consider: that thinking may be a kind of action, something the person actively does. In both popular and scientific views, thinking is seen as an impersonal internal process rather than an action the person performs for himself. In the folk view, thinking is a mental process; in the scientific view, it is a neurophysiological one. But the same “impersonality” applies. In neither view is the person doing the thinking. Rather, as with natural processes such as gestation, blood circulation, and digestion, a dedicated organ or mechanism carries out (or hosts, or is responsible for) the process. The main difference between the popular and scientific theories is the nature of the organ or mechanism that is nominated for the job. In the one case it is the non-physical “mind”; in the other it is the physical brain.

The Possibility of an Actional Account of Thinking

In chapters 1 and 2, I review several theories of thinking I call “actionbased.” While all of the theorists I talk about in those chapters see thinking as having intimate logical and practical ties to action, none of them regards thinking as itself an action. Their accounts are “action-based” but not “actional” theories of thinking. For none of them is thinking something the person does. In Gilbert Ryle’s logical behaviorist, adverbial, and refraining theories, thinking is a behaviorally vacuous “grammatical construct” or some such. For methodological behaviorists, it is a theoretical construct: a hypothetical intervening variable between stimulus and response. Physiological abbreviationists believe thinking is an internal physiological process involving not just brain events but subtle physiological events throughout the body. For the various internalized social activity theorists, thinking is also an internal and hence impersonal process—it is social action that is so abbreviated as to be “internalized” in a person. But the emphasis in internalization theories is on the action’s becoming non-physical rather than on its becoming subtle and physiological. In these theories, thinking remains, effectively, a mental process in the folk sense.

It seems that every theory of thinking—from the folk theory of mind (which has been around since before Plato) through the various behaviorist, abbreviationist, and social internalization theories of the early and mid twentieth century and the contemporary orthodoxies of cognitive science— either discards or ignores the possibility that thinking is something people do. What I suggest in this book is that, despite the weight of popular and expert opinion, the possibility of thinking’s being an action of the person is a very real one. And by “action” I mean an ordinary, albeit unique, learned and voluntary action.

There are several initial grounds for believing that thinking must be an action. I will list some of these very shortly. However, first it is worth getting clear about the difference between impersonal (natural) processes and people’s actions.

Natural Processes vs. Personal Actions

In everyday speech, the word process is often used to mean things other than natural processes. In one usage it means much the same as procedure and refers to an action or course of action with clear stages, often with more than one person contributing. Thus we might talk about a legal process or a manufacturing process, or being in the process of shaving, or something’s being in the process of construction. For the purposes of my argument, these procedure- type processes can all go into the “action” bag.

In a closely related usage, we speak of a “process” when the contribution made by people’s actions is about equal to, and intertwined with, one or more natural processes. This is true especially of technical processes. Industrial processes, such as steelmaking or electric power generation, involve natural processes that are everywhere controlled by people’s actions. And there are mechanical and electronic processes that, once initiated, can proceed with little human intervention, but which nevertheless require people to design, make, and employ the mechanism (or other device or system) the functioning of which constitutes the process in question. The mechanism operates in conformity with natural laws of cause and effect, but putting it into operation is something people do. The respective actional and natural-process contributions to technical processes are often difficult to disentangle. Consider sorting out the actions from the natural processes in, say, drying one’s hair with a hair dryer.

For present purposes, we can safely ignore these technical processes. Despite popular conceptions of the brain as a computer, and despite talk of neurophysiological “mechanisms” in the brain, no one believes that thinking is literally a technical process involving people using technology to manage natural processes. The question whether thinking is an action or a process is not complicated in the way the same question about hair-drying might be. If thinking is a process, then it is a purely impersonal and natural kind of process that goes on in the brain unaided by technical interventions from us. In the case of thinking there is no problem of disentangling natural processes from the functioning of mechanisms and from the actions we perform in operating those mechanisms. Thinking is either all action or all process. The question is: How does thinking take place? Do people do it, or is it a natural process occurring in the brain?

Despite the variety in the everyday uses of process, I will restrict my use of the word to natural processes, such as biological, physiological, and chemical processes. It is natural processes that I want to distinguish actions, especially thinking, from. I will assume that the distinction between natural processes and learned and voluntary doings of people is obvious. If it is not now, it should be by the end of the next section.

I also assume for now that the two categories are mutually exclusive— that a natural process cannot be an action, and vice versa. There is in fact a widely held philosophical assumption, which I call “action physicalism,” according to which the distinction between an action and a natural process is only superficially valid. It is valid “at the everyday level” perhaps, but not “at a deeper scientific level.” Action physicalists argue that people’s actions are physical events and can therefore, in principle, be analyzed down to and explained in terms of physiological and other natural causal processes. If action physicalism is true, showing thinking to be an action is pointless. Thinking still could (or would) be a natural process, such as a brain process. I tackle action physicalism in the final chapter. Until then, I assume that the everyday distinction between natural processes and actions is valid, and valid all the way down.

Initial Indications That Thinking Is an Action

Thinking Is Usually Self-Aware
Actions are characteristically, even by definition, self-aware. That is, when performing an action we are generally aware of and can describe what it is we are doing. One indication that our concept of thinking is a basically actional concept is that this automatic self-awareness feature also applies to thinking. We generally know, and can say, both that we are thinking and what we are thinking. This cannot be said of the natural processes going on in our bodies. Such inner goings-on as digestion, circulation and oxidation of the blood, insulin secretion by the pancreas, and conception are not usually— and certainly not characteristically or by definition—subject to awareness by the host person. Some internal processes are sometimes accessible to awareness; however, few are characteristically so, and none necessarily. In the normal course of events, we are never aware of the neurophysiological goings-on in our own brains—and yet we usually are aware of our thinking.

Thinking Is Often Publicly Observable
Actions nearly always involve overt movements, so normally one can see people performing actions. On the other hand, internal bodily processes— including brain processes—generally don’t involve overt movements. One reason people might have for believing that thinking is an internal process rather than an action is that one often, and perhaps characteristically, cannot see it going on. This alleged characteristic unobservability of thinking could easily be equated to the characteristic unobservability of internal processes. From there, one could easily infer that thinking is an internal process too.

However, there are actions that one can perform without making observable movements. “Staying absolutely still” is one such action. Deliberately refraining from doing X may also involve “doing nothing.” In these cases, the person is making no overt movement yet is performing an identifiable action. What is more, although it involves no movement, the action—staying motionless, say—is not unobservable at all; it can easily be observed.

Thinkers often deliberately stay still. They may freeze in a particular posture— grip their hair, say, or put on a particular intent expression, or hold up their index finger, or do a full Le Penseur. Such conspicuous, even ostentatious, immobility is plausibly an “overt behavior.” It can also be a deliberate display of one’s thinking, with an implied Do not disturb. At any rate, here is a perfectly good sense in which we very often, even usually, can see people thinking in just the way we can see them walking or knitting. And this too counts against thinking’s being an intracranial process.

In fact, a considerable range of overt behaviors and mini-behaviors are associated with and reliably indicative of thinking. Apart from immobility, these include frowning, giggling, fist-clenching, and sotto voce muttering. Admittedly, there is an important distinction—which I will revisit later— between behaviors that are part of (or constitutive of) an action or activity and behaviors that are mere contingent by-products of an action or activity. There are certain movements with knitting needles that are constitutive of knitting, but the squinting and frowning that may also be associated with knitting are not parts of knitting; they are only by-products. In cases of a third kind, an action may occur in connection with knitting that is neither a part of it nor a by-product of it but rather is ancillary to it—as when you purl exaggeratedly so I can see it better.

On the “internal process” view, any overt behavior associated with thinking can only be either a by-product of it or ancillary to it. Nothing observable could count as constituting, or as part of, the actual thinking. It is true that many of the behaviors and micro-behaviors that go with thinking are merely involuntary by-products of it. Into this bag we should put blushing or blanching, sweating, trembling, becoming sexually aroused, having one’s voice crack, and being “paralyzed.” However, involuntary bodily agitations are not the only kind of behavior associated with thinking. There are other kinds of overt movement—such as muttering words, adopting specific facial expressions, making eye movements as if inspecting things, tensing specific muscles, feinting gestures (e.g., drawing in the air), and arguably the abovementioned immobility. These movements are deliberate actions, and they do seem to help constitute the thinking performance.

Thus, although thinking often occurs in the absence of readily observable movement, it is still true that overt behaviors of certain kinds may sometimes be integral to and constitutive of thinking. Thinking out loud is one kind of thinking, just as reading out loud is one kind of reading.

Is Thinking Voluntary, or Is It “Automatic”?
Actions are performed by people, whereas natural processes just happen. This means that actions, but not natural processes, are characteristically subject to the imperative. Other things being equal, one can get people to do things or stop doing things just by asking or telling them to. As King Canute found out, however, natural processes are not similarly subject to the imperative. The very idea is odd.

The fact that actions are normally performable on request is logically tied to the fact that they are normally voluntary. That is, a person P being asked to do X has, in principle, a choice. P may do X or refrain from doing X. It is the idea of natural processes’ being voluntary—e.g., of the wind’s choosing to dry someone’s hair—that is odd, fanciful, or incomprehensible.

In any event, thinking is both subject to the imperative and voluntary. One can sensibly ask someone to think of or about something, or to remember, imagine, heed, hope, or fear—and to at least try to believe, desire, or love. Although there is always a chance that one’s request will fail, asking someone to do thinking of some kind is seldom if ever logically odd. It would always be logically odd if thinking were a natural process.

Actions normally require at least some effort. Another possible reason for believing that thinking must be a natural process and not an action is that it often seems to proceed without our trying. In familiar situations and when responding to everyday speech, our imagining, remembering, anticipating, or inferring is mostly so habitual as to be quite effortless. The think- ing seems to get done automatically, without our consciously doing it. We can even “tune out” and still follow what is happening or what is being said. However, the automatically is only metaphorical. Like all metaphors, apt or otherwise, it is false when taken literally. What is actually being talked about is the kind of facility that any very habitual action would acquire. It is not that one is not doing the thinking, let alone that a mechanism inside one’s head is doing it; it is just that we are so good at doing this particular bit or kind of thinking, so practiced, that we can do it without attending to our doing of it, and perhaps even while doing and attending to something else. And, of course, not all thinking is effortless. One may have to pound one’s forehead to remember the name of Claire’s husband, or to multiply 3 by 14.

Thinking can happen out of the blue sometimes too, as if spontaneously. Realizations can suddenly dawn, pennies drop. Here also, thinking seems to be something that happens, rather than something one does. In these cases, however, the realization generally comes as a result of past thinking that was both effortful and aware. Discoveries are the culmination of work. Unless one has in the past been actively and persistently interested in some possibility, then finding that that possibility is an actuality will not be a “realization.” Similarly, when a poet “hears” lines and has only to write them down, this is in fact the outcome of untold previous aware, or halfaware, apparently fruitless strivings.

In other cases, thinking can persist despite the best efforts of the thinker. One may be gripped by anxiety, suspicion, envy, jealousy, or a memory that one would fain be rid of. It keeps coming back. Some people hear voices in their heads, voices they cannot shut out. Faith, hope, or love may be similarly compulsive, as if the person is in thrall. Surely compulsive thinking, at least, cannot be an action of the person. However, I suggest that the situation is much the same with compulsive thinking as with compulsive doings of other kinds—addictions, for example. We might say figuratively that a person is “struggling in the grip of” something, or is a “helpless victim,” but we would never go so far as to say that taking an extra drink is not something an alcoholic himself does. Although the person may find it in practice difficult or impossible to refrain from taking the drink, it is still something he is doing and not an impersonal process.

It is always possible in principle, if not in practice, that the victim of an addiction or an obsession might refrain from doing or thinking whatever it is. Although it might be surprising, it would never be incomprehensible, or logically odd, for an alcoholic to refrain once in a while, or for a schizophrenic to once in a while ignore and thus quell the voices. Yet if drinking or thinking were natural processes, it would be logically odd to speak of the person’s “refraining” or “desisting,” even once. In at least this sense, even the most terrifying compulsions, delusions, and obsessions are voluntary actions.

We Evaluate Thinking Morally
Another near-universal feature of people’s actions, related to their voluntariness, is their moral relevance. We hold people responsible for their actions, and we evaluate those actions morally. In any society, everyone’s actions are at all times subject in principle to moral evaluation. One’s own welfare depends to a considerable extent on what others do, on what is acceptable and customary, and the question whether a given action is acceptable or not is everyone’s business and always relevant. Furthermore, praise and condemnation are useful instruments in improving the behavior of others.

Natural processes lack the moral dimension entirely. Natural processes may be good or bad news for people, but they are never morally right or wrong. We may take practical steps to prevent or enhance natural processes, but these steps never include praise or blame. Yet we do evaluate people’s thinking in the moral way. Although much of what most people think is morally neutral (as is much of what they overtly do), some thoughts are worthy, virtuous, kind, or thoughtful and others are unkind, disgusting, despicable, or otherwise bad. They are unthinkable, for moral reasons. It is not just that one may sin in thought as well as in deed. To sin in thought is to sin in deed. To contemplate a horrible possibility, especially while smiling, is already to do something bad. The thinking may be morally bad even if it is never voiced and has no effect on anyone else.

Why this is, I am not sure. Perhaps there are issues here of psychologically harming or demoralizing oneself. In any event, as I have said above, the same cannot be said of natural events and processes. By definition, they are never morally bad. No one would think of condemning a natural process or condemning a person on account of a natural process going on inside him. In this respect also, thinking looks to be much more like a personal action than like an impersonal process.

Thinking Is Something We Learn to Do
Unlike natural bodily processes, actions must be learned. In most cases this means that they must be taught. Most commonly, actions are taught by demonstration and imitation. Thus, typically, actions must be demonstrable. Wittgenstein suggests that being demonstrable is part of what it means to be an action: “. . . doing is something that one can give someone an exhibition of.”³

The prevailing view, in both lay and professional circles, is that thinking— or consciousness—is not something we learn but is rather a natural, biologically evolved, genetically programmed-in ability, similar in this respect to digestion or breathing. Consciousness is a gift rather than something we earn by learning. This assumption seems to be borne out by several considerations. First, consciousness seems to be a precondition for any learning, rather than something that is itself learned. Second, no one can remember learning to think in the way one might conceivably remember learning to speak. Third, because thinking or consciousness is usually or characteristically unobservable, it is difficult to see how it could be learned. At least, it could not be taught by demonstration in the way most learned skills are.

In chapter 3, I claim that infants are at birth neither able to think nor conscious (except in their being able to imitate in a rudimentary way) and that they must learn how to think. And in a long argument put forth in chapters 3–7, I claim that infants learn, for the most part, by being taught— and taught in the way that is usual for actions, that is, by having the thinking trick demonstrated to them.

That thinking is in any way demonstrable might seem mysterious. What I argue is that the ability to think begins with the infant’s acquisition of abilities to perform certain kinds of overt communicative action, such as speech and gestures. These are all taught by demonstration and practice in the normal way. Thinking is the “performing” of the relevant communicative actions in an especially rapid, subtle, and covert way. Although the fully covert version may not be demonstrable, the covertizing process is. The progressive abbreviation of originally overt communicative performances can be demonstrated. And I claim that many familiar mother-infant games and other interactions have just this purpose. Thus, I argue that, despite appearances, there is a plausible story according to which infants and children are taught, and taught largely by example, how to think. They are taught how to be conscious of things.

There are other reasons for believing thinking to be a learned skill. The concepts of natural ability, practice, skill, quality of performance, degree of care in performance, and level of effort all apply naturally to actions and reflect the learnability of actions. And none of them is logically applicable to natural processes. We cannot speak of natural ability, of practice’s improving skill, of care and quality of performance, or of effort in connection with natural bodily processes such as digestion or blood circulation.

Again, though, these skill concepts readily apply to thinking. Thinking is a performance; it is something one may do well or badly. One may think something out half-heartedly, perfunctorily, carelessly, or one may think it out enthusiastically, thoroughly, carefully, systematically. Some people have a talent for thinking and are better at it than others. Some thinking is slow, routine, and dull; other thinking is clever, quick, creative, and adventurous.

As we will see in chapters 1 and 2, Ryle is generally adamant that thinking is neither an intracranial process nor an action of the person. According to Ryle, thinking is closely tied to actions but is not a “proprietary activity” in its own right. However, in the following passage Ryle insists that thinking has at least the distinctively actional quality of skill and teachability I am talking about. And he equally insists that natural processes lack that quality:

...thinking is an art, like cricket, and not just a natural process, like digesting. Or, to put it less bluntly, the word thinking covers a wide variety of things, some, but not all of which embody, in differing degrees and respects, such things as drills, acquired knacks, techniques and flairs. It is just in so far as they do embody such things that we can describe someone’s thinking as careless or careful, strenuous or lazy, rigorous or loose, efficient or inefficient, wooden or elastic, successful or unsuccessful. Epithets like these belong to the vocabularies of coaches and umpires, and are inapplicable to such natural processes as digesting. We cannot be clever or stupid at digesting...³

The Argument of This Book

My aim in this book is to present a coherent account of thinking as a learned action. The mid-twentieth-century action-based theories of thinking come reasonably close to doing this, but, as I said, none of them goes the whole hog and identifies thinking as an action. For several reasons, however, these theories are worth looking at, and I devote chapters 1 and 2 to reviewing them.

The above brief arguments as to the actional nature of thinking could be extended and buttressed. On the other hand, no argument that thinking is an action we perform, however cogent, could be as compelling as a plausible account of just what kind of action it is. That is what I attempt in chapters 3–7.

I claim that there are two key ingredients in the act of thinking, both themselves actional. The first is our ability to do things in concert. The second is our ability to—jointly with others or alone—perform concerted activity in merely token form. I identify the concerting of activity as the matrix out of which solo action, cooperation, language use, solo perceiving, and thinking develop. And I say that the main instrument of development, the means by which all these other abilities derive from concerting, is our ability to “token” actions. Tokening is a learned skill whereby parts and aspects of concerted activity are merely incepted by participants, rather than being fully performed. As the child masters more sophisticated and covert ways of tokening actions, he eventually becomes able to, in this special token way, “rehearse” concerted activity while alone. And the rehearsing may be done without any overt movement. Basically, this is thinking.

If the initial hypothesis that thinking is an action and not a natural process is correct, and if my description in chapters 3–7 of what kind of action it is isn’t too far astray, then both popular and expert opinion according to which thinking is an impersonal process that goes on inside people’s heads must be gravely mistaken. This would require explanation. An “error theory” would be required, to show how so many could have got it so wrong for so long. In chapters 8 and 9, I offer an error theory. The gist of it is that the assumption common to both popular and scientific theories— that thinking goes on in people’s heads—stems from most people’s naively literal understanding of certain metaphors in the colloquial vocabulary for talking about thinking.

The colloquial vocabulary for talking about thinking is, I argue, basically figurative. The stock expressions in it are nearly all metaphors, and most of the central nouns—including mind—are derived by nominalization from the corresponding verbs. I suggest that the content of the metaphors, the especially seductive power of metaphors used in conjunction with nominalized verbs, and the propaganda-like repetitiveness of these idioms in everyday speech combine to foster the illusion that there is a mysterious agent and/or venue of thinking—the mind—inside our heads.

I try to show that, when the various figures of speech are properly unpacked, it can be seen that what the colloquial thinking vocabulary really refers to is not—as it seems when the vocabulary is taken literally—intracranial phenomena. Rather, the real, underlying subject matter is certain subtle actions and meta-actions that people perform. Specifically, it is what I describe in chapters 4–7 as covert tokening of concerted activity or covert token concerting.

The vernacular explanation for the covertness of covert tokening—in terms of its taking place in the person’s head—is metaphorical. Thinking does not literally go on inside the head, any more than does watching a football match, carefully describing a traffic accident, or pretending to be a walrus.

I argue that cognitive scientists have taken the “in the head” metaphors too seriously. The apparent intellectual advance in going from mind to brain as the internal agent and/or venue of thinking really only cements the mistake in. Certainly the brain is real and can be studied, and its functions can be studied. If we want to study thinking, however, then taking the brain as the agent and/or venue of thinking, and going on to study the brain and its functions, is quite the wrong approach. The fact is that thinking has no internal agent and/or venue. It is something the person does.

The question whether lay folk make the same sort of mistake—whether they take the colloquial thinking vocabulary too literally, and believe there really are such intracranial phenomena as minds, beliefs, desires, and intentions— is more difficult to answer. Certainly the layperson may habitually visualize according to, and in response to, the colloquial metaphors. However, these visualizings are fragmentary, unsystematic, and extremely diverse, reflecting the diversity of the metaphors. No matter how inveterate these imaginings become, they can never approximate a theory. I suggest that it is unrealistic to think even of a folk “concept” of mind. The most earnest attempt to extract a concept or a theory from the colloquial vocabulary could result only in a kind of minestrone of extended and mixed metaphors. To find out what lay folk really believe about the mind, we can only go by what they say. And what they say is figurative. They hardly ever try to speak literally about the mind in the way philosophers do.

In chapter 10, I attempt literal paraphrases of several of the more important families of thinking metaphors—especially those associated with the noun mind. In each case, the metaphor can plausibly be read as intended to highlight some aspect of covert tokening of concerted activity, alias “thinking.”

Finally, in chapter 11, I address the question I raised earlier: whether people’s actions (including their thinking) can be reduced to or explained in terms of natural, and especially physiological, processes and events. Is action physicalism true? I provide two arguments that suggest it is not. I also briefly address some further questions: What kind of things are actions? Are they things in the world? If not, then is our knowledge of actions more basic or less basic than our knowledge of things in the world?