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Thinking without language?

John Turnbull john at turnbull.org
Mon Nov 22 23:23:28 EST 1999

In article <7fd7t27zaa.fsf at faith.csis.hku.hk>,
Lee Sau Dan 李守敦 <sdlee at faith.csis.hku.hk> wrote:
>>>>>> "John" == John Turnbull <john at turnbull.org> writes:

>    John> I don't see how it can be anything but, especially as the
>    John> pace picks up.  Feels more like acting without thinking.
>    John> What do you consider thinking?
>Yes, I consider that "thinking".

You previous posts have made it clear you consider playing Tetris to be
thinking.  You haven't provided a clear idea of where you draw the line
between thinking, and not thinking as far as mental activity goes.

>I see...  to you :
>	Axiom 1) consciousness = presence of verbal thinking  
>	Axiom 2) no consciousness = not thinking.

The second one I would agree with, if you are not conscious, you are not
thinking.  To me thinking is the answering of questions, which requires
explicit communication between different parts of the brain, and some
language is needed for that.  For me words are the language.  Pictures
and diagrams are occasionally useful to help clarify things or gain a
different insight, but the question and answer are still in words.

>    >> So, you're that kind of person who think predominantly in
>    >> words.  But there are still times that you don't: Hum a
>    >> familiar melody.  Did you do it verbally?

>    John> No, but I don't consider humming a familiar melody to be
>    John> thinking.  I am likely to think verbally of the name of the
>    John> tune though.

>That's what I  don't agree on.  As  long as I know what  I'm doing and
>feeling, that's consciousness --  even without the intervention of any

Have you ever hummed a tune without realizing it?  Just knowing what you
are doing and feeling maybe consciousness, but I don't think that it is
thinking.  Asking the question "what am I doing?" tends to get a verbal
answer.  Can you answer the questions:

what am I doing?
why am I doing it?
is there a better way?

all without words?  Maybe so, but it seems to me a lot better to use words.

>    John> Are there no problems you could not solve without a pen and
>    John> paper to take notes, and help you think?
>No.  Sometimes, I do need a pen and a paper, but only to draw pictures
>because my temp.  memory can't hold  that much drawings all in my mind
>at once.   I don't  have to  take notes.  Taking  notes does  not help
>much.   Rather, I  find  drawing organizational  charts, flow  charts,
>plotting curves,  etc.  help  much more than  simply jotting  notes in
>point form.  Talking to oneself is so much slower and inefficient than
>visualizing the concepts and thinking.

OK, so you draw pictures with no words.  My diagrams tend to be more of
arrangements of words on the page.  Words are so much more efficient
than wasting all that time with images.


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