With eyes that gaze outward, hands that manipulate the environment around us, ears to catch the sounds of others, and a variety of other complex sensory mechanisms, it seems as if we are built to receive and interpret external input, constantly responding to stimuli. Indeed, we as individuals must be concerned with the events transpiring around us or be weak and ineffective agents in our own lives. However, I find it fascinating how we are able to take a step back from all that bombards us externally, and instead turn our focus inwards. In essence, it is our very outward nature that makes introspection so interesting to me.
Officially, introspection is the examination of one’s own mental and emotional processes, and it is this phenomena, I believe, that makes us so complex. This inherent awareness of our own thoughts and actions. This inward reflection intended to better our consciousness. This seemingly unnecessary discussion with one’s conflicting thoughts and ideas. If you thought thinking was complicated enough, how about metacognition! Thinking about thinking! And now as you read this, you’re thinking about thinking about thinking!
You’re probably rubbing your temples in utter frustration as you’re reading this. “Alright already. I understand that my thoughts are complex. Can we stop this please?” And to this request, I respond with grudging compliance. I was just trying to make a point about the tremendous complexity and potency of introspective thought.
Earlier I had said that introspective thought was “seemingly unnecessary” and I stand by that assessment. Many organisms do not perform introspection and still survive and reproduce at extraordinary rates. Take mice, for instance. While I may not know much about the cognitive processes of mice, I’m fairly certain that a mouse does not contemplate the morality of his actions after snatching a piece of cheese from his counterpart. Instead, driven by the fierce instinct of hunger, the mouse quickly devours the food until it is satisfied. It does not require any deep thought to fulfill its basic needs. Thus, introspection appears to be seemingly unnecessary in the survival of organisms.
However, I do believe that humans must perform introspection in order to maintain emotional and psychological well-being. While I’m certain that most of us don’t spend every waking minute contemplating the implications of our thoughts and actions, I do believe that we occasionally take advantage of quiet moments of reflection. Because we are such emotionally complex, ambiguous, and sensitive individuals, we require introspection as a means of justifying our various actions. We need to know that we are not simply acting impulsively or aggressively. We need to know that we are guided by a some moral compass, so that we are not forever lost in an abyss.