While they are observed, thoughts do not unfold as they would unobserved. As we observe thoughts, they occupy the cognitive space called working memory. They are like echoes of what just happened in our heads, often represented as word fragments that may or may not be decent proxies for their pre-observed form.
It’s possible to get really efficient at directing and re-directing attention. Meditation is a useful technique for acquiring this skill. It’s possible also to get really good at tracking our attention, otherwise known as “aware-ing”. Meditation is also useful here.
Being aware of an object is not the same thing as making sense of it. Awareness is not understanding. Understanding is a dynamic process, evolving as new information comes to light.
Awareness is not understanding yet it does operate according to assumptions about how the world works. Awareness cannot follow a moving object without anticipating its next move. Otherwise, it would keep getting stranded, not knowing where to look next. This is true whether the moving object is attention or a stream of thoughts.
Anticipation is part of the default system, at least as it initially unfolds and before it is converted to symbolic form and becomes a decoupled object in working memory. Anticipation is a type of unsymbolized thinking (without words or images) that often characterizes the resting state (Hurlburt et al, 2015). Like wordless wondering, questioning, or realizing, anticipation draws attention to certain things, with awareness tagging along.
Awareness takes its orders from unseen forces. Awareness is not the all-seeing master. Awareness is a servant.
What goes on in the resting-state? A qualitative glimpse into resting-state experience in the scanner Hurlburt, R. T., Alderson-Day, B., Fernyhough, C.s and Kühn, S. Frontiers in Psychology www.frontiersin.org October 2015 Volume6 Article1535 http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01535