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Thinking without language?

Lee Sau Dan ~{ at nJX6X~} sdlee at faith.csis.hku.hk
Sun Nov 21 06:39:19 EST 1999

>>>>> "Alan" == Alan Roth <alan42 at mindspring.com> writes:

    Alan> I used to be a totally verbal thinker. One day (in 1983?) on
    Alan> a whim, I went around the office to 7 or 8 of my
    Alan> high-tech. co-workers and asked them "how" they think. In
    Alan> those days, that would not get you fired immediately--I
    Alan> wouldn't recommend it today. Once they understood the
    Alan> question, the answers seemed to fall about equally into two
    Alan> groups, (and, yes, I know this is a very small
    Alan> sample)--either they were verbal like me, or they thought in
    Alan> "pictures."

I don't  think there  are anyone who  thinks completely  verbally.  If
there is  any such person, I'd  be interested in  investigating how he
would play  the game of  tetris, and how  he tells apart  squares from

Anyway, your  observation is a  pretty typical one: some  people think
more dominantly  in words and  some people tend to  visualize concepts
more often.   I myself  fall into  the latter group.   I find  it much
easier to  memorize and make  derivations by visualization:  a diagram
beats a thousand words!  However, there are times that I think neither
verbally  or visually:  When I'm  humming a  piece of  music.   When I
recite the first  200 decimal places of pi, I do  it musically: I rely
on the sounds and (predominantly) tones of the Cantonese pronunciation
of  the 10 digits.   So, I  can't recite  them if  I try  to do  it in
Mandarin or English.

    Alan> This was novel to me, but I taught myself to visualize
    Alan> concepts, even abstract ones--guess what--my comprehension
    Alan> of the world increased with practice and I suspect my
    Alan> measureable IQ has risen too--(it hasn't been tested
    Alan> recently, but one knows what things are amenable to solution
    Alan> and not).

Knowing  more methods  of  thinking  (as well  as  more languages)  do
increase your ability to think.   At least, you have more alternatives
to try,  so that  you can hit  some more  effective ones by  trial and

    Alan> I learned to switch modes, depending on the type of
    Alan> problem. There is no doubt that "a picture is worth a
    Alan> thousand words." It is explication for others that is
    Alan> sometimes difficult--words are so limiting and so slow.

True.   Same  for  languages:  I  can  think  in  Cantonese,  English,
Mandarin, or  even none of these.   Being able to switch  is surely an

Lee Sau Dan                     $(0,X)wAV(B(Big5)                    ~{@nJX6X~}(HZ) 
| http://www.cs.hku.hk/~sdlee                      e-mail: sdlee at csis.hku.hk |

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