I have a thought, but it’s an incoherent one.

I like the above statement; it suggests I’m in one place, and the incoherent thought is in a slightly different place – sort of like the incoherent thought is in my hands rather than my head. The metaphorical separation doesn’t make it any less incoherent, but I will try to develop it anyway.

What prompted me to think about thinking is something that happens to me from time to time. I’m in a gallery looking at a piece of art and trying to guess who the artist is; the work looks familiar in terms of approach / style / materials, etc, but I’m not 100% sure. What’s going on in my head during this guessing process? It seems to be something like this: Part A of the brain is looking at the clues and saying “Could it be the work of X?" Part B hears the suggestion and weighs the likelihood of its being correct. And there may even be Part C overseeing the whole process and perhaps wondering how much time to invest in the game.

Detail from the High Cross at Moone – but you knew that, right? Image held here

Or consider this. Part of a person’s training in Art History is to be able to recognise and describe all sorts of works of art. A classic example for long-suffering second- and third-level students in Ireland is probably the High Cross. You look at the images, as an Art History student, and you say to your brain “Remember this!" and “Note the differences!" Does your brain comply? Yes, gradually. One part of your brain is trying to train another part, and for some reason that other part is a bit slow.

Although I personally put psychoanalysis in the same pot as voodoo, with the latter being slightly less dangerous, psychoanalysis has at least familiarised us with the notion that there can be multiple things going on in our brains at the same time, much of it sub- or unconsciously. I like the notion that when I look at an artwork in a gallery, Parts A, B, C and more of my brain may be having their own little field day.