Experience unsymbolized thinking

Think without words

This series of posts has described flawless inner experiences - whatever is right in your experience in a moment. My colleagues and I have given people beeps to carry into their everyday natural surroundings. If the beeper happens to beep, make a note of what the experience is about (your "flawless" experience) when the beeper signals you. Later we interview them about these experiences.

I have said that this procedure reveals five common phenomena of everyday internal experience: internal language, internal vision, feelings, sensory awareness and "characteristic 5". I didn't say what Feature 5 is so that you can open your guesswork. Now I'll describe it: unsymbolized thinking.

Unsymbolized thinking is the experience of an explicit, differentiated thought that does not include the experience of words, images, or other symbols. For example, if you had received a beep a moment ago, you might have experienced an unsymbolized thought that, if expressed in words, would have been something like"I wonder what Feature 5 is"But if this were an unsymbolized thought, there would have been no skilled words - no experience of the word 'miracle' or 'feature 5'. There would have been no skilled images - no seeing a beeper or anything else. It would not have any experienced symbols given, and yet you would have understood yourself ("in front of the headlights of your consciousness") directly as the thought of that exact thought.

Another reader might have said to himself while reading: "I wonder what Feature 5 is?" That experience would have been very different from yours, which involves the experience of words. And another might have seen a list that looks like this:

  • inner speech
  • inner seeing
  • Feelings
  • sensory awareness

Plus a space indicating the fifth feature. Another may have felt a little irritated about wasting time before getting down to business. Another may have been thinking about the war in Iraq. Another may not have had any internal experience reading this paragraph, just read with understanding.

So there are many experiences people might have while reading this paragraph. Here I am trying to illustrate one thing: unsymbolized thinking I was wondering what feature 5 is.

In order to qualify as a non-symbolized thought, the thought must be experienced directly, just as directly experienced as an inner speaking or seeing a picture. You are that Not just infer the existence of a non-symbolized thought (I. must have been I was wondering what feature 5 is. If this is a non-symbolized thought, grasp the thought directly as an experience before the headlights of consciousness at the moment it occurs.

One non-symbolized thought is specific: you are wondering what Feature 5 is. You are Not wondering if there are any other functions, Not I wonder how Hurlburt knew this. Not wonder what is going on in people's inner experience, Not ask yourself how inner experience is measured Not try to remember what sensory awareness is, and so on. That said, you're wondering what Feature 5 is, and not something else more or less closely related to it.

A thought that is not symbolized is not "hinty" or "general" or just part of some other phenomenon. A thought that is not symbolized can be grasped just as completely and directly as an inner speaking or an inner seeing.

Many people (maybe most), including many (maybe most) psychologists, believe that unsymbolized thinking is impossible.

Our beeper studies show the full range of frequencies of experiences with unsymbolized thinking. Some people rarely or never have such experiences, others experience unsymbolized thinking in almost all waking moments, and still others experience it sometimes and sometimes not.

Most people who experience unsymbolized thinking, including those in the "almost always" category, do not realize they are doing so. In fact, many people almost always think unymbolized believe that unsymbolized thinking is impossibleuntil the beeper reveals its existence to them. A method that carefully examines certain moments is necessary in order to know what is really going on in the inner experience.


Hurlburt, R. T. & Akhter, S. A. (2008). Unsymbolized thinking. Consciousness and Knowledge, 17, 1364-1374.

Hurlburt, R. T. (2011). Investigating Untouched Inner Experience: Moments of Truth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CH. fifteen.