Where do thoughts come from?

I have been pondering this question for a long time, and I’m sure many others before me have too. Often, when I’m stuck on a problem or going through a particularly mundane phase of life where nothing seems interesting, suddenly there is light. And by light, I mean a new idea; a potential solution, or a topic that makes me feel giddy with excitement again.

So where did this thought come from? Did it pop out of nothingness? Or was it always there, bubbling in the sea of potential that is my brain, waiting for the right time and temperature to manifest into form?

We say, “I am thinking”, but really, the agency we have in that process is fairly limited. I can surely recall memories on will, but I cannot come up with new thoughts or ideas. Instead, they come to me.

I think it is more accurate to say that I provide the medium, i.e. my brain, for the thought to arise. When I say “I am thinking” it is more that I am setting an intention, sending out an invitation, and creating space for a thought to come through. It is somewhat like growing a plant, if you know what I mean.

Well one day I was particularly paranoid due to self-inflicted herb abuse, and as I finally made it to bed that paranoia turned into a general bombardment of thoughts. Somehow, in that torrent of emotions, I started mapping each intrusive thought that was hitting me with one of my grandparents and their personalities.

Each one of my thoughts felt so obviously alike to one of them. Over the next few days, as the turbulence subsided, this insight remained. Even the mundane thoughts seemed to match their personalities.

As the weeks went by, I started to come up with rational explanations for this. Of course, genetics influences our personalities, and our personalities influence our thoughts. But I felt that did not capture the full story. Veneration of the dead is found in so many ancient cultures, which are otherwise diverse in their beliefs and their geographies. It seems like a natural human instinct.

On the non-woo side of things, there is still some debate on whether trauma is transmitted through generations and, if yes, how. The leading theory is epigenetics, which makes me wonder if the same is true for non-traumatic events and general personality traits. Do I inherit traits of my ancestors that were more nurture rather than nature? Is it a good approximation to say their spirits guide me?

Many of these philosophical questions used to bother me, ever since I was old enough to be bothered by such things. Now I am starting to get bothered less and less by this particular question of where thoughts come from. I feel old saying this, but sometimes you experience certain events, and one of life’s mysteries stops being a mystery. Even if you do not have a scientifically valid explanation, the urge to keep gnawing at the question goes away.