The lifecycle of a thought

I’ve been thinking recently about how thoughts are formed, how they move from something vaguely intuited or perceived to being more clearly understood and articulated.

I think about this quite a lot these days. I watch myself, I observe my teacher education students, and I think back to the secondary classrooms I taught in.

The first thing that strikes me is that it’s a slow process. At least it’s slow for me, and I know it’s been slow for many of my students (university and school). Insights or understandings rarely arrive fully formed. For example, as my last few blog posts have documented, my understanding of what Deleuze and Guattari meant by the term ‘body without organs’ kept shifting (and indeed it’s shifted a lot since I wrote those last posts). I’ve had to read and re-read sections of their books. I’ve needed to write the blog posts, in order to allow my emerging thinking to become worded, so that I could sit with it for a bit. I’ve gone through gloomy times when I thought it was too complicated a concept for my brain. I’ve read commentaries and watched some online lectures about Deleuze. I’ve let things percolate. I’ve gone back and adjusted my provisional understanding of the ‘body without organs’. I’ve (finally) written a fictional story about someone wrestling with, and then applying, the concept. It’s been a slow process, never linear, constantly looping back on itself.

It’s made me think about the lifecycle of a thought.


The alchemist at work: sourced from

Jung once compared (in The Psychology of the Transference) the psychoanalytic encounter between doctor and patient to an alchemical process: encounter, mixing of the raw materials, blackening (and seeming death), emergence of the elixir (new life). Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ has a similar pattern to it. Perhaps the lifecycle of a thought is similar: encounter, confusion, despair, emergent new form. Something like that.

The image that comes to mind (perhaps only because Deleuze and Guattari at one point liken the body without organs to an egg) is of the slow process as the matter within an egg takes shape over time, and only emerges into the fresh air once it has gone though countless changes.

It is for this very reason that too much of school- and university-based learning is, for many students, not real learning at all. There’s so little time for that slow, hesitant, sometimes distressing (but perhaps telelogically driven) process to take place. There’s a reading and then a quiz, and then the students are moved on to something else. Even the idea of a cumulative curriculum (‘In week 1 we do x, in week 2 we build on x by doing x+1) doesn’t fit what I’m describing here as the more chaotic but still patterned lifecycle of a thought.


4 thoughts on “The lifecycle of a thought

  1. Agree. There is no time for quiet contemplation, percolated thoughts or sifting for ideas. An essay task seems to require an instant opinion (certainly if you are to meet assessment timeframes). I think writers, in particular, find this hard. Or perhaps I merely mean that I find this hard. I think and the ideas gestate for quite some time before I write. Sometimes my Introduction takes weeks and then everything else is done in a rush and a flourish – then honed if I still have time….. Of course, there is also the me who trips gamely into an online conversation (like now) with my thoughts still unformed and partly only forming as I type…. She’s prolific, that version of me….. But the polished me needs more… time….

  2. Hey steveshann, I found your blog while rummaging for things BwO-related. I enjoyed reading this post about your take on the life-cycle of a thought and thought you might be interested in Gilbert Simondon’s theory of individuation which is what Deleuze used to develop some of his concepts like “virtuality.” There is an interesting concept Simondon makes use of called “transduction” which can be applied to any process of concretization from a preindividual (virtual) milieu, whether it be the birth of an individual cell, societies, or even thoughts. Your best bet for an English language introduction to his thought would probably be “Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual” by Muriel Combes. I hope my suggestion isn’t too forward, and actually turns out to be relevant to the theme at hand. Keep up the interesting posts!

    • Thanks Michael. Not at all ‘too forward’. The sharing that goes on is one of the lovely thing about these online places. Steve

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