"Ordinarily we believe that other human beings are conscious, and almost everyone believes that other mammals and birds are conscious too. But people differ over whether fish are conscious, or insects, worms, and jellyfish. They are still more doubtful about whether onecelled animals like amoebae and paramecia have conscious experiences, even though such creatures react conspicuously to stimuli of various kinds. Most people believe that plants aren't conscious; and almost no one believes that rocks are conscious, or kleenex, or automobiles, or mountain lakes, or cigarettes. And to take another biological example, most of us would say, if we thought about it, that the individual cells of which our bodies are composed do not have any conscious experiences."

[Thomas Nagel , What does it all mean? p. 24]

I've got a questions to ask:

What does "if we thought about it" mean? Does it mean "In case of we thought about it"


  • In the cited context, if we thought about it is more or less equivalent to if we were asked about it. That's to say - what it "means" to include either of those optional elements is we don't normally think about it. Which carries the strong implication it's not a very important question, we don't feel strongly about it. May 26, 2020 at 15:10
  • I wouldn't go so far as to say "not very important" -- at most "not very relevant to our day to day lives." Possibly because we just take it for granted, such as, "if we thought about it, creating money is one of the most important jobs the government does, as our economy would be impossible with barter."
    – Mary
    May 27, 2020 at 14:31

2 Answers 2


The writer is saying that if we turn our thoughts/minds to the subject, we would say....

Other ways of putting if we thought about it are:

If we were to think about it
In the event that we thought about it
If we were to give it thought/consideration.

You could also say in case we thought about it as you suggest.

  • I don't think it's idiomatic to replace if by in case we thought about it in this exact context. I'd go along with in the [unlikely] event that we thought about it. But in case is normally equivalent to lest, which simply doesn't make sense here. May 26, 2020 at 15:12
  • Agreed! I wouldn't have put it that way either but I think OP had the idea! May 26, 2020 at 15:35

"If we thought about it" means that in the ordinary course of things, if someone just sprung the question on us, we wouldn't have an answer. We would have to stop and think before we came to a conclusion.

But, if we did stop and think, we would say that.

  • So it means "on refrection"?
    – XVI
    May 27, 2020 at 11:20
  • Err -- on reflection. But yes.
    – Mary
    May 27, 2020 at 14:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .