Thoughts are a lot like clouds — ethereal and ephemeral forms that emerge, not from the mechanics of clockwork-like parts, but out of the dynamic interactions of smaller forces. We can imagine that a thought (abstract representation) is composed of feelings (affective/energetic representations) in much the same that an organism is composed of cells, or that cells are composed of molecules. Feelings, therefore, are the basic building blocks of thoughts.
However, it is not only the feelings that give rise to thought; it’s the interactive relationships among them. And it’s not only about a network of feelings working as a collective unit; it is also about the higher level patterns that these networks create. The whole (thought) isn’t simply greater than the sum of its parts (feelings) – it arises from the collective interaction of the parts which manifests at a scale beyond the individual parts themselves.
Following the same pattern as thoughts, a feeling (emotional / affective / energetic representation) is composed of sensations (physical representations), which themselves are composed of units of information from the physical world. In a similar way, sensations are the basic building blocks of feelings. To the extent that sensations inform feelings and feelings inform thoughts, the processing of thoughts involves the processing of both feelings as well as sensations.
Thoughts, feelings, and sensations, while very different in their characteristics and functions, are nonetheless derivatives of a common essence. Each involves a level of cognition that interprets the patterns produced by lower scale interactions. This version of cognition cannot be organized into a standard model of hierarchical or network systems. It is best understood as an emergent system of physical, affective, and abstract representation. From this perspective, we have a profoundly different frame of reference for exploring how our bodies affect/effect our minds, how experience affects/effects learning, how our perceptions affect/effect our conceptions, and how design can affect/effect what we think, feel, and do.