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Thinking Process

 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA



Qur’an Majid (the Glorious) is a book of guidance to humanity. It is known by several names. It is also known as Kitabul Hikmat or the Book of Wisdom. In over 1,100 verses, the importance of thinking, reflecting and pondering on the Signs of Allah (SWT) is emphasized. For example 

“Behold, verily in these things

There are Signs for those who understand            

                                    --Qur’an, 13:4 

“ Lo! Herein is indeed a portent for people

   Who reflect.”                    
                                -- Qur’an,
16: 11


There are several Ayath in the Qur’an in which we are asked to understand the Signs (natural phenomena, e.g. 15: 75, 16: 12, 13, 67, 69, etc.,  

The greatest gift of Allah (SWT) to man (mankind) is the mind. The mind of man has the ability to think, reflect, ponder, and rationalize. This ability of man to think distinguishes him from all the animals on earth. Even with a high degree of advancement in the neurosciences, our knowledge of memory, the thinking process and consciousness is very little. Dr. John Eccles the Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work on the “synapse” says in his book “ THE EVOLUTION OF THE BRAIN” that the consciousness of man cannot be explained by evolution. It is indeed a mystery how consciousness arose. Eccles argues that as all “materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. Each Soul is a new Divine creation which is implanted into the growing fetus at some time between conception and birth.” 

The Muslims believe that the early embryo called the blastocyst, implants in the wall of the uterus about 10 days after fertilization. It takes on a human appearance during the eighth week. Thus, L~O to ~5 nights after its implantation in the uterus, it would be 50 to 55 days old and has an obvious human appearance. Abdullah b. Masu’ud reported the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying, “ When ~I0 nights pass after the semen gets into the womb, Allah sends the angel and gives him the shape. Then he creates his sense of hearing, sense of sight, his skin, his flesh, his bones, and then says: My Lord, would he be male or female? And your Lord decides as He desires....” (Muslim). 

Unlike other religions Islam is not a blind faith with dogmas to be followed without questioning. Islam is called the most rationalistic religion and hence one does not see any contradiction between Islam and science. Actually many modern scientific discoveries lend support to the revelations in the Qur’an pertaining to natural sciences or natural phenomena. This article tries to shed some light on how the thinking process takes place in the three pounds weight human brain. 

The thinking process takes place in the brain, which is the master control center of the body. The brain is an organ that continuously receives information from the senses about the conditions both inside and outside the body. Once the information is received, it is immediately analyzed and then the brain sends out messages to control body functions and actions. Past experience is also stored in the brain and this enables learning, and remembering possible. Another important thing about the brain is that it is the source of thinking, moods, and emotions. 

Apes, dolphins, and whales have an exceptionally well—developed brain. Allah (SWT) has blessed human beings with the most highly developed brain of all. It consists of billions of brain cells called neurons, which are interconnected cells and enable human beings to use language, create works of art, do scientific research, write books, invent and solve difficult problems. An adult brain weighs about 3 pounds or 1.4 kilograms. A newborn has 1-pound brain and by the time the child reaches 6 years, acquires the full weight brain of 3 pounds. During this period the child learns and acquires new behavior patterns at the fastest rate in life. 

The spinal cord carries messages between the brain and other parts of the body. The brain is not only a computer but also is a chemical factory. Brain cell produce electrical signals and sends them from one cell to the other along pathways called circuits. Just like in the computer, the electrical circuits receive, process, store, and retrieve information. The electrical signals in the brain are created in the brain by chemical means whereas in the computer needs an outside energy source. 

Although neurosciences or neurobiology are the fields of study to understand the brain, scientists do not know how the brain works using the modern laws of physics and chemistry. 

The brain is mainly divided into three parts:  

(1)   The cerebrum, which makes up about 85 percent of the weight of the human brain. The outermost of the cerebrum is called the cerebral cortex. 

(2)    The cerebellum, which is part of the brain responsible for balance, posture, and the coordination of movement. Cerebellum is located below the back part of the cerebrum. And

(3)    The brain stem, which is a stalk-like structure that connects the main part, the cerebrum with the spinal cord. The bottom part of the brain stem is called the medulla oblongata or medulla. The medulla has nerve centers that control breathing, heartbeat, and many other vital body processes. The cerebrum has two hemi­spheres, the left and the right. The major’ sensory and motor pathways between the body and the cerebrum cross over as they pass through the medulla. Each cerebral hemisphere thus controls the opposite side of the body. 



The human mind is a source of facts and fantasies, ideas and ideologies, faculties and feelings. The human mind has fascinated mankind throughout the ages. For hundreds of years philosophers and religious people were searching for the knowledge of the mind, and its relationship to the body. Only recently the study of mind has come under scientific domain. Scientists are defining and trying to quantify such abstract entities as intelligence and personality, emotions and creativity. 

Great advances have been made in correlating the parts of the brain with certain functions of the mind. It is now known, that the two halves of the brain are involved in different kinds of creativity and activity. For example the left hemisphere is involved mainly for inference, deduction and language, whereas the right brain furnishes our Visio-spatial skills, our creativity and our appreciation of form and color. 

Inspite of the many advances, there are still, many unknown areas. We still do not know the specific anatomical relationships between intellectual functions and clusters of brain cells. Memory, self—awareness and thought processes are so complex that they are believed to require the involvement of the whole brain rather than one or two restricted regions.

 The study of man’s mental processes remain very engrossing and many of the answers are so remote, that this itself is an indication of the phenomenal powers of the cerebrum, which is the seat of human consciousness and of all learning, speech, thought and recall. For neuroscientists this is the most challenging field of exploration of all. The availability of High Technology such as SPECT (Single Photon Emission Tomography) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) in Nuclear Medicine is accelerating our understanding of the structure and function of the brain and in understanding diseases related to the brain such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, etc.



The definition of personality is the nature of man and his behavior. It is believed that the personality originates in the frontal lobe, because it is associated with higher mental activity. The largest part of the cerebral cortex, and still the least understood, the frontal lobe is the great mass of tissue, which extends from the region behind the forehead to the central sulcus, or groove. The most intelligent animals have the largest frontal lobes. Based on this it was considered that the center of emotional control as well as the seat of intelligence is the frontal lobe. However, this assumption is discarded because it is now known that patients with frontal-lobe injury achieve normal scores on most standard intelligence tests. What is known today is that the frontal lobe is responsible for planning and judgment and for giving us the ability to form concepts, by the use of information from other areas of the brain, including the memory stores.  

Today there are so many different and often contradictory views of personality; each backed by a fund of evidence, that it is doubtful whether there will ever be one comprehensive theory to account for the complex nature of man. A simple definition of personality, which is acceptable by everyone, remains one of neuroscience’s greatest challenges. 


In 1874 the British neurologist John H. Jackson described the left hemisphere of the brain as the seat of the “faculty of expression.” Now it is known that the left-brain has the power of logic. Patients who have only a functioning left hemisphere, act more like total persons than individuals with only a functioning right hemisphere. These patients can speak, and can write with their right hands. The left hemisphere permits them to describe feelings and sensations, although they cannot draw shapes and they are poor in music. It is also known that damage to the left hemisphere often interferes with language ability. Hence they difficulty in speaking or they cannot speak at all. Numbers, mathematics and logic, and the abilities necessary to process a mass of information into words, actions and thoughts are also controlled by the left cerebral hemisphere, which functions as the logical brain. The left hemispheric activity has been evaluated by performing Intelligence tests, which investigate vocabulary, verbal comprehension, memory and mental arithmetic. The difference in abilities between the two cerebral hemispheres seems to be unique to human beings. One reason why the two parts of the brain became specialized in this way is that language and logic call for more-ordered thought processes than the brain-power needed for spatial orientation. The two halves of the brain are complementary, giving human beings alternative modes of thought, which they can utilize, in an increasingly complex world. The right hemisphere is of equal importance and is principally responsible for Visio-spatial ability, for artistic ability and for the understanding and appreciation of music. 


When we are awake we experience new things and store them in our memories for future use. As a result of these past experiences, we respond in certain ways in the future. This is the process of’ learning. Walking, taking medicines to cure pain, wearing clothes, reading a book- are all examples of’ learned responses, and many other forms of behavior which we have taken for granted. Learning has a great influence on our lives, on our likes and dislikes, our opinions and beliefs, and even the pattern of the society in which we live. For a long time it was thought that learning is associated with a stimulus and response relationships, and correct responses being “stamped in” with a reward. Later it was believed that all learning was built up from basic units of behavior called conditional reflexes. Rewarding them for certain behavior and punishing them for certain responses or to “unlearn” the behavior or suppression of a certain habit can train animals. Psychiatrists are attempting to cure undesirable patterns of’ behavior by using the principles of conditioning and counterconditiong. Treatment of alcoholism and phobias are two examples. American psychologist B.F. Skinner tried to explain human behavior in terms of rewards and punishment. He said money could be used as a reward in order to reinforce certain activities in humans. But human beings’ motivation to learn cannot be explained so simply. 

Our intelligence makes learning and behavior far more complex than a matter of more rewards and punishments. Learning for its own sake is found not only in man, but also in other animals to which we attribute curiosity. 

Allah (SWT) has blessed human beings with an ability to learn that far exceeds that of any other animal. By learning language human beings have taken one of the greatest steps forward in intellectual advancement. Through language not only can we learn from our own experiences but we can also pass on this learning to others.  


Memory is not a distinct physical entity, which is located somewhere in the brain. Memory is nowhere near as tangible as a part of the body. It is known not as a thing, but as a fundamental function built into the living brain. Without memory we would be mindless, unable to learn, to read, to write, to talk or even to think. Without memory we could comprehend nothing and communicate nothing. Without our awareness, for every fraction of every second, information is entering the brain and memory is at work. Whether transiently or for long periods, the information from all our senses modifies the brain’s activity in some way, so that events are “remembered” in its complex circuits. 

Nobody can explain the physical basis of memory. It appears that there are quite distinct stages in the process of acquiring and storing information. When information is acquired, there is first an extremely brief stage, which is called sensory storage, or sometimes immediate forgetting, and this is followed by short-term memory. Long-term memory, the storage of information for considerable periods, may or may not follow. Short-term memory retains information and passes it into long-term memory only if the information is “rehearsed”- that is, thought about again and again by making a conscious effort. If’ not the information will be lost in less than 30 seconds. For example in order to dial, one has to repeat a telephone number to oneself after looking it up. Without rehearsal, a seven—digit number is forgotten in seconds. If sufficient rehearsal is given, it may pass into long—term memory and be remembered for days or even years. Nobody knows how information is retained in long-term memory. Nor is it even known whether one particular memory is stored in a specific part of the brain, or diffusely throughout it. 

Besides acquisition (registration), and retention, memory has a third component called “recall.” Again it is not known how this process works. Also how, out of all the memories we store up in our lives, we can select certain ones at will quite readily, while others seem to remain temporarily inaccessible and yet others seem to disappear forever. 


One of the most baffling abstracts for human beings to grasp is the size and scope of their own intelligence. Human intelligence is a resource so much greater than anything to be found in the animal world. Intelligence is difficult to define. Some say intelligence is a collection of abilities all closely interwoven. It is well recognized that intelligence is a function of the entire brain and nervous system. The brain as a whole is implicated, rather than any specific part of it, although its two hemispheres are involved in different types of ability. Intelligence is not related to the brain’s size. 

Studies of identical twins show that intelligence is inherited. Birth order is a modifier of intelligence. First-born children tend to be more intelligent than their siblings. Inspite of genetic endowment, a satisfactory environment is essential to the attainment of’ high intelligence levels. This realization is very important for minorities living in any country, and particularly so for Muslims living in India, occupied Palestine or Afro-Americans living in USA. 

Creativity is a vital feature of intellect. Geniuses are in a class of their own, most of whom share a close relationship with their parents. They tend to develop early and experience a very unusual child­hood. Francis Galton, an early pioneer in the measurement of intelli­gence, knew several languages and was reading Homer at the age of six. Mozart, who played the harpsichord at the age of three, was composing at four and touring at six. At the age of 10 Ibn Sina was well versed in Qur’an and different branches of literature. Before he reached the age of 17 he mastered logic, geometry, astronomy, medicine, physics and metaphy­sics. Other reputed physicians in difficult cases consulted him. It is a fact that Olympian intelligence does not necessarily correlate well with success in life. Psychologists do not know what proportion of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) may contribute to measure of’ academic successes, such as examinations, or of commercial or industrial triumph. Whatever its dimensions, intelligence is still only a part of’ what makes an individual an outstanding human being. 


Of all the abilities of human beings, the creative faculty has always been regarded as the most mysterious. In many cultures, creativity is believed to emanate from a divine or at least an unconscious source, a power not to be summoned up at will or brought under control by ordinary conscious sources. Ramanujan, the South Indian mathematical genius gave credit to his family goddess for his mathematical creativity. Mozart, speaking of his musical Ideas, said, “Whence and how they come, I know not, nor can I force them...I really do not aim at any originality.” The French Mathematician Jules Poincare described how an important mathematical insight came to him as he boarded a bus. “At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thought seeming to have paved the way for it.”

 Modern psychology has failed to explain creativity in objective and logical terms. Recently it is known that the difference between the highly creative groups and relatively noncreative groups did not lie in intelligence as it is measured by intelligence tests. It is possible for a creative individual to be sharply differentiated from the others on the basis of personality measures. It has been shown that highly creative people tend to be introverted, need long periods of solitude and seem to have little time for what they regard as the trivia of every day life and social activity. They tend to be strongly intuitive and more interested in the abstract meaning of the outside world than in the way it appears to the senses. Creative people have poor human relationship and may avoid social gatherings. Creative individuals appear to be relatively free from conven­tional restraints and are not particularly concerned with what other people think of them.  

There are two types of creative personalities-the artistic and scientific. Musicians and creative scientists tend to be more emotionally stable than the average individual, when this is not so their instability emerges as anxiety, depression, social fears or excitability, rather than neurosis. Among artists and writers, however, genius often appears to be akin to madness; serious neurosis, drug or alcohol addiction or insanity appearing with abnormal frequency. There is no relationship between creativity and IQ, because it is quite possible to be highly creative but of average intelligence or to be of high intelligence but lack originality. Convergent-thinking people are inclined to approach problems logically and find conven­tional solutions. Whereas divergent thinkers tend to use nonlogical or “lateral” thinking in order to find fresh and no conventional approaches. Modern Western educational school system favors the intelligent noncreative child (the converger) over the creative child. The converger is likely to produce the kind of work the academic machine asks for, not doubting the textbooks. On the other hand the creative child may not have a very likable personality. He is found to be shy, withdrawn, not obeying the teacher, preferring to follow his own interests rather than those laid down in the curriculum. One important aspect of’ creativity is independence from the opinions of others. People of creativity are perceived as a danger and threat in Muslim countries particularly to the Muslim rulers and the Ulemas (Muslim Scholars). Unfortunately the Muslims of creativity are eliminated from society either by confinement in jails or by execution. They become a target of hatred. Muslims should be encouraged to voice every passing notion, however wild, without self-censorship or criticism. This will lead to an increase in creativity. Other ways in which creativity can be increased have been suggested by studies of the states of mind in which creative people usually perceive their insights. The pattern remains constant. The mind must be prepared by the collection of all relevant information. There are persistent attempts to come to terms with the problem in a logical fashion while being careful not to accept a conven­tional solution. But the answer itself, the creative idea, nearly always comes at a time when the individual is not concentrating on the problem, but is in a peaceful state of drowsiness, waking dream or reverie.

 Creative people tell us that creative insights often seem to occur on train or bus journeys or in the bath, both situations, which can induce, by their monotony, a trancelike condition. In these states of consciousness the barriers against the unconscious are lowered and fantasy and imagery are allowed free play. And it is from the unconscious, with its faculty for synthesizing across gaps which logic is insufficient to span, and its relative freedom from conformity and convention, that creativity ultimately springs. 


Scientists have an elementary understanding of the extraordinary complicated processes of thinking and remembering. Thinking involves processing information over circuits in the association cortex and other parts of the brain. These circuits enable the brain to combine information stored in the memory with information gathered by the senses. Scientists are just beginning to understand the brain’s simplest circuits. The forming of abstract ideas and the study of’ difficult subjects must require circuits of truly astonishing complexity. Explanation of these types of thinking is still beyond scientists’ understanding. Scientists also know little about the physical basis of memory. But evidence suggests that memories may be formed through the establishment of new brain circuits or the alteration of existing circuits. Either process would involve changes at the synapses that is, at the points where impulses pass from one neuron (brain cell) to another. Extensive research will be required to verify this general explanation of memory formation and to discover the specific details of the processes involved.

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