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Thinking without language?

kenneth Collins kpaulc at earthlink.net
Fri Nov 19 12:45:29 EST 1999



Sergio Navega wrote:

> Bill Skaggs wrote in message ...
> >"ADR" <a.dalla_rosa at virgin.net> writes:
> >
> >> >I don't know about you, but I'm perfectly able to think verbally while
> >> >sticking my tongue out and keeping it still.  The fact that I'm typing
> >> >this with my tongue stuck out proves it.
> >>
> >>
> >> No muscular movement at all? Not even in the throat or with the lips?
> That
> >> would be a miracle.
> >
> >There is considerable danger of going astray here.  One should be
> >careful to distinguish between thinking that involves words and
> >thinking that involves *only* words.  There is good reason to think
> >that, in people who have language, the linguistic parts of the brain
> >are always to some degree active, and always activate the machinery
> >for speech to some degree, even if it is far too weak to be
> >noticeable.  But this doesn't mean that thinking is exclusively, or
> >even mainly, verbal.
> >
> >In fact, the idea that any kind of thinking could be exclusively
> >verbal is almost absurd.  Consider a very simple example of thinking,
> >such as going from "What is seven times six?" to "Oh yes, forty-two",
> >and suppose you have the task to programming a system to get from the
> >former to the latter, but it is only allowed to operate on words --
> >the only operations it can do is directly transform sentences into
> >other sentences.  I won't say it's completely impossible, but it would
> >be outrageously difficult.  Any sort of plausible algorithm would
> >involve creating a sub-linguistic representation of the "meaning" of
> >the sentence and operating on the elements of that representation.
> >Most likely, the sub-linguistic representation would need to be
> >considerably more complicated than the sentence itself, involving
> >probably hundreds (or even millions) of auxiliary variables.
> >
> >If you buy what I'm suggesting -- that even during "verbal" processing
> >most of the cognitive operations don't act directly on words, but
> >rather on sub-linguistic representations of the meaning of sentences
> >-- then the differences between verbal thinking and nonverbal thinking
> >become a lot less important.
> >
> I agree. Most of our thinking (even purely linguistic) is composed
> of a great deal of sublinguistic, unconscious elements and this is
> a elusive enough process to fool us into thinking that most of our
> thoughts are linguistic.
> As another example of a purely non-linguistic reasoning, follow the
> description:
> Draw in your mind a square. From the upper right corner, draw a
> diagonal that meets the lower left corner. Now take the middle
> point of this diagonal and from it drop a vertical line to the
> base (inferior) side of the square. Take the middle point of this
> vertical line and draw a straight horizontal line over it, extending
> all the way over both sides. Now answer: how many lines does this
> horizontal line crosses? The answer (4) cannot be obtained by
> purely linguistic methods.
> Regards,
> Sergio Navega.

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