My English 102 class's final project is to write a free-form paper, answering the question, "Am I thinking for myself?" (One of the points about this I find most amusing is that an entry on the rubric states that a paper which contains no original ideas will earn below a C, which sort of presupposes the correct answer of the question.) I don't think I think for myself, and I think that's going to be a hard case to make. So I'm going to start working on the paper here, now. Starting with a definiton:
Thinking: the inter-relationship of ideas, present in a mind, when simultaneously cognitively observed.
As far as I can tell, the act of thinking is the act of holding two or more pieces of information in your conscious attention, and seeing what happens when they interact. It's like chemistry, with memes. And, like chemistry, it often produces predictable outcomes.
There are different mechanisms of comparison:
Metaphor: Mapping the shape and key points of one idea or concept using another, more familiar concept as a template. This is the easiest, most used, and most error-prone method of thought.
Logic: If A then B. Prone to formal fallacy.
Moral evaluation: The use of previous mechanisms of comparison, holding a particular broad conceptual outcome in mind to compare the result of the initial comparison.
Free-form: Emotional or cognitive; usually both. Most thought contains an element of this.
Emotional: Holding concepts in mind and gathering information based on what automatic feeling responses they trigger.
Cognitive: Holding concepts in mind and allowing for other cognitive concepts to seep in, adding those to the comparison base.
For these mechanisms to fail to constitute thinking for myself, though, there has to be a 'self' within the database and comparison equipment doing this work, and that's not very well-supported. But if no such independent, free-willed self exists, then all that is present is this collection of mechanisms, one leading into another in a constant, free-flowing stream of consciousness that I mistake for selfhood.
That collection of thoughts is therefore subject to (and entirely driven by) the presence of outside influence. The things my teachers taught me, the books I was exposed to, the vocabulary I have available, all shape the possible thoughts I'm equipped to generate.
So, no, I don't think I'm thinking for myself. That's not to say I'm incapable of generating original ideas -- concepts might combine, collapse and interrelate in totally new ways in my head, which I can then spill out into the broader idea landscape that I share with the minds of everyone with the power to communicate with me. (In this case, the internet means I share a collective, though heavily compartmentalized, meta-consciousness with the entire connected world.)
Instead, I'm part of a broader community, a civilization of interrelated thinking. I couldn't think for myself unless I was the only person, and had always been alone. Instead, I inherit thoughts from others, and think them in old or new ways for my own benefit and the benefit of those around me. I choose, insofar as I'm capable of choosing, the guiding values that direct my ability to think, and via that selective mechanism and the idea landscape I have access to, I choose sources of new input that are (a.) productive towards the avenues of thought I feel most comfortable in, and (b.) within my range of comprehension, so I can productively interact with them, and possibly even contribute.
Broadly speaking, I, along with the rest of my species, am not an independent thinker, but a host for thinking, a territory in a landscape of thoughts larger than I can fathom. Fortunately, it seems those thoughts are interested in and capable of maximizing the quality and size of their environments, so I and my species can look forward to increasingly comfortable civilizations that are increasingly friendly towards open and varied thinking, and well equipped to fight back hostile or violent thoughts.
...This kind of got weird. It's very possible that I will have changed my mind by the time the paper is due for class. Still, I like the conclusion a lot: I'm not thinking for myself. I'm thinking for the sake of thought.