What Overthinking? – Imagination vs. Speculation

When someone remarks that they are prone to overthinking things, what they are talking about is more likely a problematic tendency to be cynical.

If all of the people who claim that they overthink things were being more semantically accurate they would say that they worry too much. And while worrying is definitely a cognitive activity, it flies in the face of what we usually consider the purpose of thinking to be, which is problem solving. Worrying invents problems rather than solving them.

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
– Robert Fulghum

So perhaps the important distinction to make here is the difference between imagination and speculation. When we speculate we work from things which are known to us to try to predict what might become. The act of imagining, in it’s purest form, is to invent things unknown to us or anybody else. To imagine is to make something out of nothing; to speculate is to make informed guesses.

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power to that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” 
– J. K. Rowling

This is not to say that there is anything intrinsically wrong with speculation, or that we should never hold concerns about the future. Those things are good and helpful in many situations. The issue is that we may have come to equate them a bit too much with thinking, which seems to me has become stifling and is endowing us with a hopeless worldview.

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