IUBio Biosequences .. Software .. Molbio soft .. Network News .. FTP

Thinking without language?

Lee Sau Dan ~{ at nJX6X~} sdlee at faith.csis.hku.hk
Tue Nov 23 06:48:29 EST 1999

>>>>> "John" == John Turnbull <john at turnbull.org> writes:

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

So, thinking MUST be verbal, you YOUR definition.  Period.

    John> Have you ever hummed a tune without realizing it?  

I can hum a tune in my mind.

    John> Just
    John> knowing what you are doing and feeling maybe consciousness,
    John> but I don't think that it is thinking.  Asking the question
    John> "what am I doing?" tends to get a verbal answer.  

I can "ask" that "question"  without thinking in words.  I often think
in  a language-less manner.   I can  easily form  the question  in any
language I'm fluent at.  So,  when I think, I use language-independent
concepts.  Only  when I have  to speak them  out do I  transform these
ideas into words, and order them  by the grammar rules of the language
desired.  So, in  a Cantonese context, I would  say [NO13 tsou22 k at n35
mE53  a33]?   In  a Mandarin  context,  I  would  say <wo3  zai4  gan4
shen4me>?  In an English context, I would say "what am I doing"?  In a
French context, I would say "qu'est-ce que je faire maintenant?", etc.
When I don't need to speak  it out, the idea can stay language-less in
my mind.

    John> what am I doing?  why am I doing it?  is there a better way?
    John> all without words?  Maybe so, but it seems to me a lot
    John> better to use words.

Yes,  except  for the  "why"  question.   Answering  a "why"  question
requires reasoning,  and reasoning  often needs verbal  thinking.  But
answering "what" and  existence questions, I can do  it without words.
Even  when   answering  "why"  questions,   I  can  sometimes   do  it
language-lessly.  So, that's again  without words.  (When I don't need
to speak  out the  answers, why  do I have  to render  the ideas  in a

    John> OK, so you draw pictures with no words.  

I often  avoid words in the  pictures.  When I need  to represent some
ideas (esp. abstract ones) with  words, I usually use the first letter
(in case  of English)  to represent the  whole idea.  So,  that serves
only as  a symbol (somehow arbitrary)  or mark to remind  me that that
particular letter stands for that particular idea.

    John> My diagrams tend to
    John> be more of arrangements of words on the page.  Words are so
    John> much more efficient than wasting all that time with images.

When  I do  geometry or  solve geometric  problems, I  would  draw the
figures  wordlessly.   Yes, I  would  *label*  some features  (points,
edges,  angles) with letters,  but they  are only  labels.  If  I have
enough pens of different colours, I  could do the labeling by means of
colours  instead of letters.   That doesn't  prevent me  from thinking
about the geometric problems.

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

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net