Outline of thought

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to thought (thinking):

A thinking chimpanzee

Thought (also called thinking) is the mental process in which beings form psychological associations and models of the world. Thinking is manipulating information, as when we form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Thought, the act of thinking, produces more thoughts. A thought may be an idea, an image, a sound or even control an emotional feeling.

Nature of thought

Thought (or thinking) can be described as all of the following:

  • An activity taking place in a:
    • brain organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals (only a few invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, adult sea squirts and starfish do not have a brain). It is the physical structure associated with the mind.
    • computer (see § Machine thought below) general purpose device that can be programmed to carry out a set of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Since a sequence of operations (an algorithm) can be readily changed, the computer can solve more than one kind of problem.
  • An activity of intelligence intelligence is the intellectual process of which is marked by cognition, motivation, and self-awareness.[3] Through intelligence, living creatures possess the cognitive abilities to learn, form concepts, understand, apply logic, and reason, including the capacities to recognize patterns, comprehend ideas, plan, problem solve, make decisions, retaining, and use language to communicate. Intelligence enables living creatures to experience and think.
    • A type of mental process something that individuals can do with their minds. Mental processes include perception, memory, thinking, volition, and emotion. Sometimes the term cognitive function is used instead.
  • Thought as a biological adaptation mechanism[4]
    • Neural Network explanation: Thoughts are created by the summation of neural outputs and connections of which vectors form. These vectors describe the magnitude and direction of the connections and action between neurons. The graphs of these vectors can represent a network of neurons whose connections fire in different ways over time as synapses fire. These large thought vectors in the brain cause other vectors of activity. For example: An input from the environment is received by the neural network. The network changes the magnitude and outputs of individual neurons. The altered network outputs the symbols needed to make sense of the input.

Types of thoughts

  • Concept  Mental representation or an abstract object
    • Abstract concept  Classifications that denote whether a term describes an object with a physical referent or one with no physical referents
    • Concrete concept  Classifications that denote whether a term describes an object with a physical referent or one with no physical referents
  • Conjecture  Proposition in mathematics that is unproven
  • Decision (see Decision-making)
  • Definition  Statement that attaches a meaning to a term
  • Explanation  Set of statements constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies causes
  • Hypothesis  Proposed explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem
  • Idea  Mental image or concept
  • Logical argument
  • Logical assertion
  • Mental image  Representation in an individual's mind of the physical world outside of that individual
  • Percept / Perception
  • Premise  Statement that an argument claims will induce or justify a conclusion
  • Proposition  Non-linguistic meaning of a sentence
  • Syllogism  Type of logical argument that applies deductive reasoning
  • Theory  Supposition or system of ideas intended to explain something
  • Thought experiment  Considering a hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences

Content of thoughts

  • Argument  Attempt to persuade or to determine the truth of a conclusion
  • Belief  Psychological state of holding a proposition or premise to be true
  • Communication  Act of conveying intended meaning
  • Data  individual units of information
  • Information  That which informs; the answer to a question of some kind; that from which data and knowledge can be derived
  • Knowledge  Familiarity, awareness, or understanding of information or skills acquired through experience or education
  • Schema  Pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them

Types of thought (thinking)

Listed below are types of thought, also known as thinking processes.

Animal thought

Human thought

Human thought

Classifications of thought
Creative processes
Erroneous thinking
Emotional intelligence (emotionally based thinking)

Emotional intelligence  Capability to understand one's emotions and use it to guide thinking and behavior

Problem solving

Problem solving  Generic and ad hoc approach to problem solving

  • Problem solving steps
  • Process of elimination
  • Systems thinking
  • Problem-solving strategy steps one would use to find the problem(s) that are in the way to getting to one’s own goal. Some would refer to this as the ‘problem-solving cycle’ (Bransford & Stein, 1993). In this cycle one will recognize the problem, define the problem, develop a strategy to fix the problem, organize the knowledge of the problem cycle, figure-out the resources at the user's disposal, monitor one's progress, and evaluate the solution for accuracy.
    • Abstraction  Process of generalisation solving the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
    • Analogy  cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject to another using a solution that solves an analogous problem
    • Brainstorming  Group creativity technique (especially among groups of people) suggesting a large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing them until an optimum solution is found
    • Divide and conquer breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
    • Hypothesis testing assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to prove (or, in some contexts, disprove) the assumption
    • Lateral thinking  Problem-solving manner, using an indirect and creative approach, via reasoning through traditional step-by-step logic approaching solutions indirectly and creatively


  • Abstract thinking  Process of generalisation
  • Adaptive reasoning
  • Analogical reasoning  cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject to another
  • Analytic reasoning
  • Case-based reasoning
  • Critical thinking  The analysis of facts to form a judgment
  • Defeasible reasoning  Reasoning that is rationally compelling, though not deductively valid from authority: if p then (defeasibly) q
  • Diagrammatic reasoning reasoning by means of visual representations. Visualizing concepts and ideas with of diagrams and imagery instead of by linguistic or algebraic means
  • Emotional reasoning (erroneous) a cognitive distortion in which emotion overpowers reason, to the point the subject is unwilling or unable to accept the reality of a situation because of it.
  • Fallacious reasoning (erroneous) logical errors
  • Heuristic  Problem-solving method that is sufficient for immediate solutions or approximationss
  • Historical thinking
  • Intuitive reasoning
  • Lateral thinking  Problem-solving manner, using an indirect and creative approach, via reasoning through traditional step-by-step logic
  • Logic  The study of inference and truth / Logical reasoning
    • Abductive reasoning  Form of logical inference which seeks the simplest and most likely explanation from data and theory: p and q are correlated, and q is sufficient for p; hence, if p then (abducibly) q as cause
    • Deductive reasoning  Method of reasoning by which premises understood to be true produce logically certain conclusions from meaning postulate, axiom, or contingent assertion: if p then q (i.e., q or not-p)
    • Inductive reasoning  Method of logical reasoning theory formation; from data, coherence, simplicity, and confirmation: (inducibly) "if p then q"; hence, if p then (deducibly-but-revisably) q
    • Inference  Act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true
  • Moral reasoning process in which an individual tries to determine the difference between what is right and what is wrong in a personal situation by using logic.[5] This is an important and often daily process that people use in an attempt to do the right thing. Every day for instance, people are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to lie in a given situation. People make this decision by reasoning the morality of the action and weighing that against its consequences.
  • Probabilistic reasoning from combinatorics and indifference: if p then (probably) q
  • Proportional reasoning using "the concept of proportions when analyzing and solving a mathematical situation."[6]
  • Rational thinking
  • Semiosis
  • Statistical reasoning from data and presumption: the frequency of qs among ps is high (or inference from a model fit to data); hence, (in the right context) if p then (probably) q
  • Strategic thinking
  • Synthetic reasoning
  • Verbal reasoning understanding and reasoning using concepts framed in words
  • Visual reasoning process of manipulating one's mental image of an object in order to reach a certain conclusion – for example, mentally constructing a piece of machinery to experiment with different mechanisms

Machine thought

Organizational thought

Organizational thought (thinking by organizations)

Aspects of the thinker

Aspects of the thinker which may affect (help or hamper) his or her thinking:

  • Ability  Ability to influence the behavior of others
  • Aptitude  Ability; competence to do a certain kind of work at a certain level
  • Attitude  Psychological construct, a mental and emotional entity that inheres in, or characterizes a person
  • Behavior  Way that one acts in different situations
  • Cognitive style
  • Common sense  Practical judgement in everyday matters
  • Experience  The effect or influence of exposure to an event or subject
  • Instinct  Inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior
  • Intelligence  Ability to perceive, infer, retain or apply information
  • Metacognition  Thinking about thinking, higher-order thinking skills
  • Mental image  Representation in an individual's mind of the physical world outside of that individual
  • Mindset  Term in decision theory and general systems theory
  • Preference
  • Rationality  The quality of being agreeable to reason
  • Skill  The ability to carry out a task
  • Wisdom  The ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight

Properties of thought

  • Accuracy and precision  Closeness to true value or to each other
  • Cogency
  • Dogma  Principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
  • Effectiveness  Capability of producing the desired result
  • Efficacy  Able to finish something satisfactorly
  • Efficiency  Degree to which a process minimizes waste of resources
  • Freethought  Position that beliefs should be formed only on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism
  • Frugality
  • Meaning
  • Prudence
  • Rights  Legal, social, or ethical principles
  • Skepticism  Questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief
  • Soundness  Logical term meaning that an argument is valid and its premises are true
  • Validity  Argument whose conclusion must be true if its premises are
  • Value theory
  • Wrongdoing  Act that is illegals or immoral

Fields that study thought

Thought tools and thought research

History of thinking

History of reasoning

Nootropics (cognitive enhancers and smart drugs)

Nootropic  Drug, supplement, or other substance that improves cognitive function

Substances that improve mental performance:

Organizational thinking concepts

Teaching methods and skills

Awards related to thinking

Awards for acts of genius

  • Nobel Prize  Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel
  • Pulitzer Prize  Award for achievements in journalism, literature, and musical composition within the United States
  • MacArthur Fellows Program  prize awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation





Television programs

Persons associated with thinking

People notable for their extraordinary ability to think

Scientists in fields that study thought

Scholars of thinking

Related concepts

Awareness and perception

Learning and memory

See also





  1. Dictionary.com, "mind": "1. (in a human or other conscious being) the element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.: the processes of the mind. 2. Psychology. the totality of conscious and unconscious mental processes and activities. 3. intellect or understanding, as distinguished from the faculties of feeling and willing; intelligence."
  2. Google definition, "mind": "The element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness."
  3. Tirri, Nokelainen (January 2012). Measuring Multiple Intelligences and Moral Sensitivities in Education. Springer. ISBN 978-94-6091-758-5.
  4. Danko Nikolić (2014). "Practopoiesis: Or how life fosters a mind. arXiv:1402.5332 [q-bio.NC]".
  5. "Definition of: Moral Reasoning". Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  6. "Dictionary Search › proportional reasoning - Quizlet".
  7. "History of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy". National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists. Archived from the original on November 26, 2010. Retrieved March 8, 2011.