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The Link Between Thoughts and Language
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Posted 4/17/08
In my 0 period Class at school (Theory of Knowledge) we are discussing the importants of language and the question came out, "can we think without language?"

I would like to know what you all think on this as it is an intriguing topic. I myself write poetry, so I depend on language to do my work.

Is it also possible that different languages allow for different thought processes?
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Posted 4/17/08
I would like to thing that we, as humans, are definitely capable of higher thought processes without the use of language, but as we all know, I'm sure, that most of the people on this planet aren't capable of a higher level of any kind of thoughts period.

I also believe that language was firsded developed to meet the needs of the ones who needed, and for those needs only. For instance, it could have been used for hunting when civilization was still completely nomadic in the very early ages of man. If this was the purpose of communicating to each other on the hunt. After people settled down into somewhat more permanent(sp?) villages and communities, language could have been used to help express feelings and philosophical beliefs.
Posted 4/17/08
That's a great question. I (personally) would find it difficult to think without a language. Isn't it that when you think, you hear your thoughts and understand your thoughts? It would be hard for me to imagine trying to think without a primary language cause wouldn't there just be silence?
Posted 4/17/08 , edited 4/17/08
I think you can think without having to use language. Just right now, I was thinking about how I should get some sleep, and rather than thinking about sleep using words, I just envisioned a nice, soft, fluffy bed.
Posted 4/17/08

n_n303 wrote:
I believe language doesnt make us think and understand things. You can do that without language... Yes it helps out a lot and makes it easier, but overall i think even if one didnt know any language what so ever, and were to only use body language, they would still be able to come up with theories and even random things without really using language to process it all through. ...wait does body language count?.. o.O

I disagree. Body language is pretty much limited to communicating emotions.

Without language you're pretty much limited to intuition. Perhaps you can reason in some sense without language, but it's extremely limited and I'm not sure if it could be called reason.
Posted 4/17/08

ketsu_kun295 wrote:
In my 0 period Class at school (Theory of Knowledge) we are discussing the importants of language and the question came out, "can we think without language?"

I haven't studied the subject extensively, but I think we can perhaps "intuit" without language, but not reason.

Note that even without formally defined language, your brain theoretically constructs "symbols" which it uses. Arguably those are equivalent to words even if they are not bound to externally expressible symbols.


Is it also possible that different languages allow for different thought processes?

I believe so. If nothing else, technical terms provide symbols for working with concepts in more convenient ways and applying those concepts to new laws and heuristics in an efficient manner. See mathematical formula and theorems.

I recommend reading Consciousness explained by Daniel C. Dennett. (I haven't read it but am trying to get a copy now.) The Society of Mind by Minsky is also supposed to be good but I haven't read that one either.
Posted 4/17/08

n_n303 wrote:
i believe the brain can work without learning languages. It can function without it and can come up with ideas and theories without words and language. Some animals come up with great ideas to hunt better and use other animals to benefit themselves. They dont speak or use language yet they are able to think up ways to do things. I mean, sure language helps out a lot and makes things easier. But i believe the brain can still function and come up with theories without language.

Yea, that's what I was calling "intuition" and "intuiting" rather than "reason."

Note that according to one theory, the animals still have minds that construct symbols and link them, even if the symbols aren't expressible by them. In some sense the system of internal symbols may be considered a sort of language.
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Posted 4/17/08 , edited 4/17/08

If you have an interest in Language, thought, and consciousness, I suggest you pick up a copy of "The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind".

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Posted 4/17/08 , edited 4/17/08

shibole wrote:

Note that even without formally defined language, your brain theoretically constructs "symbols" which it uses. Arguably those are equivalent to words even if they are not bound to externally expressible symbols.


Correct, and it is through these that we are able to reason (depending on how this is defined, of course) even in the absence of language. I am tempted to say that language allows us to break the world down into smaller parts by which we create something of an internal order regarding external "chaos." However, it is also the case that language limits--the definition of definition--our perception of reality such that we miss other individual parts (to use the classic example, Eskimos supposedly have different terms for different types of snow whereas we have but a few) and even the way in which the parts relate to each other.



Is it also possible that different languages allow for different thought processes?

I believe so. If nothing else, technical terms provide symbols for working with concepts in more convenient ways and applying those concepts to new laws and heuristics in an efficient manner. See mathematical formula and theorems.


If thought processes are the way in which we order and subsequently see the world, then this is certainly the case; if thought processes are the way by which we arrive at that order, I'm not so sure, and it seems like it would be incredibly difficult to prove.
Posted 4/18/08

Regulus133 wrote:


shibole wrote:
Note that even without formally defined language, your brain theoretically constructs "symbols" which it uses. Arguably those are equivalent to words even if they are not bound to externally expressible symbols.


Correct, and it is through these that we are able to reason (depending on how this is defined, of course) even in the absence of language. I am tempted to say that language allows us to break the world down into smaller parts by which we create something of an internal order regarding external "chaos."

I think the "symbols" that I'm talking about are essentially what are called qualia which are essentially perceptions. I'm not sure that qualia really constitute language in the strict sense though, and I'm not sure they're actually symbols. I need to read up on this stuff more. Symbols are probably more like unique identifiers that can point to qualia or other symbols.

Really I should be able to understand this just from playing go, where I mostly rely on intuition, I think. I mean there are go terms for certain patterns in go, and knowing them forms a bridge to certain heuristics that can increase the efficiency of finding the best move. However, you can play without knowing these terms. You can just see something and go "oh, that piece will get captured in one move" without knowing that there's a term called "atari" for that. Humans, though, if not taught the terms, will notice certain patterns after a while and will come up with their own names for them in order to aid in reasoning.



However, it is also the case that language limits--the definition of definition--our perception of reality such that we miss other individual parts (to use the classic example, Eskimos supposedly have different terms for different types of snow whereas we have but a few) and even the way in which the parts relate to each other.

I don't know if it limits or not. It seems like you could build up qualia for different types of snow just by paying attention to them and categorizing them in your head without coming up with terms for them, but like go patterns it seems that you'd start to come up with terms if you did this. In any case, not having terms and definitions makes it harder for someone else to come up with and use these qualia; they'd have to go through the same process of examining snow and they might come up with a different set of qualia (different snow categories).



If thought processes are the way in which we order and subsequently see the world, then this is certainly the case; if thought processes are the way by which we arrive at that order, I'm not so sure, and it seems like it would be incredibly difficult to prove.

I don't think these things are mutually exclusive; it's both. Lower level intuitive processes build up qualia, highler level processes associate symbols with them and come up with rules, this leads to more "mental only" qualia being generated which then get more symbols which get used in more rules, etc.

I really need to read more on this though.....
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Posted 4/18/08
Yup. If early cavemen (if they really did exist) could do it, then why not? Of course, now it would be impossible because our heads are already filled with languages...
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Posted 4/18/08
It makes me wonder though, how did people invent letters, where did they first originate and for what purpose?

If people can really think without language then how do we express the feelings that words cannot emphasize enough? Through actions?
Or is it that, we want to think we are capable of doing something without language but we can't describe the feelings because we can't think deeper on a matter unless there is language pre-programmed into your mind to facilitate you in elaborating on some certain emotion or tension in your mind that cannot be ascertained through the use of existing languages?
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Posted 4/18/08
Funny; kinda, at least now I know there's others on this world that question the same thing as I.

Anyways....

I personally know three languages by heart (two of which are mother tong; and the latter is English- which is the only language i can write in) I often wonder; which language do i really use to think? it come to the conclusions that i do not use any /human/ language, for example like my path of though; was there something else in there that translates it into words? most 100%, because when you feel something like...lets say...sadness, we'll have to pause and think even for a mere second to pin-point what you feel; yet you ALREADY know before you NAME it.

but when we READ something, the voices in our head reads what we're writing/reading in what ever the language is. So yeah, I suppose thats' also an factor; but come to think of it when you read some other language that you barely understand it then becomes hard because you'll have to first read it and then translate it in to some kind of /human/ language then UNDERSTAND it.

I suppose; language is too wide of a range of things to "pin point" and give out "absolute" answers, for example like someone mentioned that there can also be body language...

You know when sometimes when you're talking to your best friend or whom ever; and you just shoot them a glance and they would get the message? even if if you were to put that message in words; you'll have to pause and THINK about it and THEN word it? what kind of language is that? i'd have to say, its the common language which all humans share; one which we are born with and TRULY use for our path of thoughts and logic. =)
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Posted 4/18/08
From what i remember from my intro to psych class some years ago people's brains think in pictures and only then translate the pictures into words. So yes not only is it possible for people to think without words/language, it is happening, we do it all the time. Now communicating without words could be difficult, albeit not impossible, just look at all the symbols around us that are not words but communicate great amounts of information.
That's my $0.02
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