A novel perspective on thinking about thinking: Review of Mindsponge Theory

Tam-Tri Le (*) Ruining Jin (**)

(*) Phenikaa University (Hanoi, Vietnam); https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3384-4827
(**) China University of Political Science and Law (Beijing, China); https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8542-7614

December 17, 2022

Thinking is a tool we use so naturally that it is almost always taken for granted. Quite rarely, we use this tool to examine itself, asking questions of “what”, “how”, and “why” about the nature and mechanisms of thinking. Trillion-dollar questions start to tease our minds: “Where did intelligence come from?”, “What exactly is consciousness?” or “Why do I even ask questions?” Now, the book Mindsponge Theory invites readers to explore these unfamiliar questions and go into the deeper conceptual realms of their own minds to find the answers. While a knife cannot cut itself, we can look at the abundant evidence of how it interacts with the world. In this book, with invoked natural curiosity and presented well-crafted scientific methods, readers are encouraged to be the explorers of arguably the most foundational human power: thinking.

Figure: Frontcover of Mindsponge Theory (hardcover ISBN 978-83-67405-14-0; De Gruyter, Imprint: Sciendo; Feb. 3, 2023; https://www.amazon.de/dp/8367405145)

The book Mindsponge Theory presents a new systematic framework for examining the information processing mechanisms that all “minds” (systems) in the biosphere use to interact with the “environments” (other external systems) [1]. The term “mindsponge” is derived from the metaphor comparing the mind to a sponge that squeezes out unsuitable values and absorbs new ones compatible with its core value. The framework was developed and initially employed to examine acculturation processes where individuals and organizations grow their global mindsets [2]. Upon further conceptual development and expansion of applicability, mindsponge has proved to be an effective theoretical foundation in various psychosocial studies. Notably, mindsponge was the core of three books: an investigation into the psycho-religious mechanism behind suicide attacks [3], the information processing mechanisms of serendipity in creative thinking [4], and the research method named Bayesian Mindsponge Framework (BMF) for studies in social sciences and humanities [5]. Staying true to its own descriptions about the updating manner of information systems, the mindsponge theory itself never ceases to develop and innovate. Mindsponge Theory, thus, is not just a more polished version of prior mindsponge publications but a new fresh wind for even those already familiar with the concept.

Using evidence from natural sciences, especially evolutionary biology and neuroscience, a strong foundation for information processing is established and consistently reinforced throughout multiple levels of “thinking”, from basic biochemical reactions to genetic materials, from instincts to advanced cognition. The patterns of how systems adapt to their infosphere (environments) can be seen in various scopes of space and time: cell activities and cooperation, brain development from infants to adults, human society and its history, the evolution leading to the current multiplex biosphere, etc. The thinking mechanisms of the human mind are as natural as all other principles of the objective universe, and that is what makes great thoughts (e.g., scientific discovery, art, philosophy, wisdom, etc.) all the more precious.

As an information collection-cum-processor, the mind grows by filtering information available in its surrounding environment. This fundamental function can be very basic in expressions (e.g., think about an amoeba in a Petri dish) or extremely complex in advanced systems (e.g., neuroplasticity in humans [6], identity shifting [7], or ideation of extreme behaviors [3]). All filtering processes use cost-benefit judgments [1,5], with their subjectivity and objectivity levels determined by the observer’s relativistic viewpoint concerning the systems [8]. Newly accepted values become inputs for future processes. A system keeps updating itself to adapt to the constantly changing environment. This highly dynamic process emphasizes the brilliance of living systems in keeping their “inertia”. For humans, it is beyond just the prolongation of biological existence; sometimes, it is about building a legacy that dares to question the limits of impermanence. While the book obviously cannot provide every detail about how exactly the mind works in each context, it surely brings the big questions of human desires and purposes to the forefront of the reader’s mind.

Overall, the content of the book is highly conceptual and philosophical in nature. Despite this fact, the high applicability of the theory in practical studies is also demonstrated in the book through three quick mindsponge-based quantitative analyses employing the BMF [5]. The mindsponge theory can be helpful for Early Career Researchers (ECRs). Particularly in developing countries, ECRs have limited resources and professional experience in conducting research, which further exacerbates their struggles in the publish-or-perish academic culture [9-12]. Due to the flexibility of the mindsponge theory in practical applications, ECRs can pursue a wide range of topics and approaches, especially when multidisciplinary research is considered a growing tendency in the academic landscape [13-14].

Additionally, with the aid of mindsponge reasoning, ECRs can build their skills and confidence in conducting multidisciplinary studies, especially those that span both natural and social sciences. The mindsponge-derived research method BMF [5] can help establish a competence-based and trust-based system for future generations of scientists. In mindsponge language, it is to expand one’s perceivable range (receiving formerly unperceivable values), strengthen one’s buffer zone (open-mindedness), and upgrade one’s processing capacity.

Having the natural gifts of curiosity and creativity, the human mind can and should take full advantage of its system’s wonderful built-in thinking mechanisms. As Vuong stated in the book: “With the high processing capacity of the human brain, we can generate multiple layers of representation and thus can simulate a whole new mental world to conduct further information processes upon it”.


[1] Vuong QH. (2023). Mindsponge Theory. De Gruyter. https://www.amazon.de/dp/8367405145

[2] Vuong QH, Napier NK. (2015). Acculturation and global mindsponge: An emerging market perspective. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 49, 354–367.

[3] Vuong QH, Nguyen MH, Le TT. (2021). A Mindsponge-Based Investigation into the Psycho-Religious Mechanism Behind Suicide Attacks. De Gruyter.

[4] Vuong QH. (Ed.). (2022). A New Theory of Serendipity: Nature, Emergence and Mechanism. De Gruyter.

[5] Vuong QH, La VP, Nguyen MH. (Eds.). (2022). The mindsponge and BMF analytics for innovative thinking in social sciences and humanities. De Gruyter.

[6] Eagleman D. (2015). The Brain: The Story of You. Canongate Books.

[7] Jin R, Wang X. (2022). “Somewhere I belong?” A study on transnational identity shifts caused by “double stigmatization” among Chinese international student returnees during COVID-19 through the lens of mindsponge mechanism. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 1018843.

[8] Lahav N, Neemeh ZA. (2022). A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 704270.

[9] Vuong QH. (2018). The (ir)rational consideration of the cost of science in transition economies. Nature Human Behaviour, 2(1), 5.

[10] Nobes A. (2016). AuthorAID – supporting early career researchers in developing countries. The Biochemist, 38(5), 39–41.

[11] Andrews E. (2020). Supporting early career researchers: Insights from interdisciplinary marine scientists. ICES Journal of Marine Science. https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsz247

[12] Horta H, Li H. (2022). Nothing but publishing: The overriding goal of PhD students in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Studies in Higher Education, 1–20.

[13] Lyall C, Meagher LR. (2012). A masterclass in interdisciplinarity: Research into practice in training the next generation of interdisciplinary researchers. Futures, 44(6), 608–617.

[14] Nguyen MH, et al. (2022). Mindsponge-Based Reasoning of Households’ Financial Resilience during the COVID-19 Crisis. Journal of Risk and Financial Management, 15(11), 542.