Does it make sense to think of thoughts as "perceived"? Do we perceive thoughts or do we experience them directly?
Is there some categorical distinction between ordinary sensory experience and our experience of thinking? Are different kinds of experiences somehow categorically distinct versus contextually distinct?
Do we sense and then perceive or do we perceive and then sense? ---> We have sensations and those sensations are followed by our perceptions of them. This same process happens with thoughts. We have thoughts, followed by perceptions of thoughts. Thoughts and sensations pre-exist perceptions about them. Then what is a perception of thought?
Is perception of thought another instance of thinking or perhaps of sensing?. Do we find a subject that is thinking when we reflect on thoughts and experience? Or when thoughts and experiences attach themselves to a perception of thought, do they also attachto a perception of self which perceives it's thoughts? What are perceptions of thought but a meta-layer of thought content where thought itself is the content?
Does it make any sense to say, I was thinking about things but I was not aware of thinking about things? No... although we often say, " I forgot what I was thinking about."
Does it make sense to say, I was thinking about one thing and my mind drifted onto another subject? Yes. That happens all the time. It is not as if thinking comes and goes in experience, just as sensory experience does not come and go. Our attention on particular sensations is what comes and goes. Our awareness, or rather the content of our awareness shifts around.
When we note that our sensations shift or change, or our thinking "moves around", we are not implying that the process of thinking or sensing is intermittent. We are referring to the change in the contents of our thought and sensation. We are referring to the changes of thoughts and sensations themselves. We may be referring to the character of our experience changing and the contents changing too. But then that character is an experience we are also aware of.
How do thoughts and sensations and feelings change? What is changing? When our thoughts drift, we say our "attention shifted". We say the same thing when our sensory experience changes. Our awareness changes and the contents of that awareness change accordingly. Our experience changes as our awareness changes. And when our awareness changes, our experience changes.
Some thoughts or sensations initiate changes in our awareness while other thoughts and feelings result from changes in awareness. Thoughts are manipulated by changes in awareness. We say our awareness changes, or our thinking shifts, when thoughts or sensation initiate a change. And a change in awareness or in our experience is a change of the contents. For instance, seeing a naked person is going to change your experience and change your thoughts. Imagining (that is thinking about) a naked person can begin to change what you have been thinking about too.
Sensations seem to be generative of changes in awareness. We say the contents of sensation change, thus shifting our awareness in sensory experience. When we talk about feelings we often use both external and internal language to describe changes and shifts in feelings. When we talk about thoughts we talk about changes to our mind which shifts the content of thought.
This internal/external way of talking about experience, of distinguishing one kind of experiences from another, based in how it affects our awareness, is a construction. It is an idea that we experience about ourselves and the world. it is not explicit in either sensations or thought. Unstructured experiences, experiences, we do not order into our language models, are not confined to this kind of form. meditations, make believe play, improvisations, impersonation/acting, physical activity that engages flow, religious/spiritual engagement, suspension of disbelief in art, can all be experiences that change how the content of experiences themselves shift our awareness, even though it appears to be our own action of awareness which is dictating this content driven change.
What we see is that there is a relationship between awareness and the contents of awareness. Some of these relationships look like the contents of awareness modify experience and sometimes contents are modified by shifting awareness. For example, in meditation and other activities our contents shift from our efforts at directing awareness. Just as thoughts can be intrusive into awareness, into experience, a change in experience can bring sensation which dominates awareness. (eg. the discovery of the sunset, or a dead body) Changes to experience or to the content of experience are contextually dependent. That is, there is a fluidity between awareness and the objects of awareness.
What are thoughts? Thoughts are one kind of experience. Like sensations or feelings, they are experiences, but thoughts also have contents of experience; . thoughts, ideas, sensations can be put together to form new experiences. "Meaning" are thoughts that attach to experiences, to perceptions, to sensations, to any sort of content that we experience. What something means, is a thought.
There is a distinction, that is made up, between our thoughts as experiences and thoughts about our experience. There is nothing superior to thoughts or feelings or sensations in experience. That is, all our experiences demonstrate there are varieties of experience and there are varieties of the contents of experience. It is possible to find examples and counter-examples where we make the pure sensation superior to the thought, or the thought superior to the sensation. Where an idea is somehow more certain than a sensation, and vice versa. With these kinds of contradictions, it seems best to stick to a simpler model that there are all kinds of experiences and we differentiate them.
To say that thoughts are experiences tells us one important thing. It puts thoughts into a common framework with other experiences. Because there are so many contradictions when we try to create some kind of hierarchy of different experiences, it seems best to treat all experiences as experientially equivalent. But this does not give us a way to distinguish thoughts from sensations or from feelings or actions.
The interesting question to ask is, what are thoughts DOING?
How do we distinguish different types of experiences like thoughts or sensations? Especially when our distinction is only one that we think about or feel?
When we say that "this is an idea" or "that is the color red", where is that distinction being made? We feel that those experiences are different, or we think they are different. We have different connecting experiences when we think about different experiences. But the thoughts and feelings of the differences between various experiences is itself an experience. That an idea is different from the color red is an idea itself. It is an experience we have. That difference is something we are aware of.
As Descartes observed, the color may be dreamt and not physically extant at all... of course the idea of a physical world apart from a mental world is another idea that we have. it is an experience that we have. It is an epistemic idea that orders our experience.
One consideration is that ideas, feelings, and sensations are fluid in the impact they have in our experiences. But ideas can be as overwhelming as sensations or feelings. Who has not felt patriotic duty? Or revulsion at carnage? (a note: Animals may have ideas but they may not distinguish them from sensations in the same way we do. )
This field of experience is the field of the contents of experience. And some of the contents of experience are what we call "modes" of experience. Not that modes actually exist, only that we usually make distinctions of this this type. We HEAR a noise. We SEE a shape. We THINK a thought. It could be that what makes a mode a mode is simply the content. Noises, shapes, thoughts are distinct in their qualities so that we distinguish them as being from different modalities.
If we distinguish thoughts from sounds, how is that difference a part of experience too? When we recognize that a memory of a song is different from the song on the radio, what is happening?
To distinguish two experiences, we must be aware of them separately. If the experiences are the same, then there is no difference to be aware of. But if the experiences are different, then there must be a difference of awareness.
If I think of a number(12), and then I think of a number that is larger(13), am I aware of the same number or two different numbers? I am aware of two different numbers. My experience of these numbers is different because my awareness is different (arguably because the numbers are different). If I see a man, and a picture of that same man, and I recognize they are the same man, what does it mean that I think (have the thought that) they are the same man? It means I am aware of them as being the same.
When a person who is suffering from dementia believes a younger person, say their grandchild, is actually their child, does their experience indicate a difference? Or is it that their awareness is of an identity between the two people? Or when you mistakenly identity your car in the parking lot and then get closer to it and realize it's not your car at all, what has changed? Is it that your awareness changed?