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Thinking without language?

Sergio Navega snavega at attglobal.net
Tue Nov 23 04:35:12 EST 1999

Peter T. Daniels wrote in message <3837EAE9.5C46 at worldnet.att.net>...
>Paul Miller wrote:
>> On Sun, 21 Nov 1999 07:29:21 -0500, "Alan Roth" <alan42 at mindspring.com>
>> >> 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.
>> >I have a musical background but had not thought of using it this way,
>> >(and I certainly can't recite pi to 200 decimal places with sheer
>> >memorization).
>> You certainly could if you put the effort into it.  Actors memorize
>> plays, and Homeric poets memorized epics.  Surely 200 words is not too
much to
>> memorize?  Some soliloquies in Shakespeare run longer than this!
>A 200-word speech has semantic content. A string of 200 occurrences of
>10 different words has no semantic content. (Unless, of course, you
>*calculate* the value of pi each time you recite its digits.)
>Off-the-shelf memory can handle lists of "five plus or minus two"
>unrelated items.
>Peter T. Daniels     grammatim at worldnet.att.net

This is a bit late reaction to this message, but it touched on
interesting points. Indeed the semantic content eases a lot the
rote memorization of sequences of words. But we can memorize
them even without this semantic content (although it is much

George Miller's "rule-of-thumb" says that one is able to
store 7 plus/minus 2 digits of information at once. Although
this rule has been devised in 1956, it is pretty applicable
today. However, what Miller was referring to is the short-term
memory, the one that we use, for instance, to store a temporary
telephone number. Long-term memory does not suffer from this
limitation and an american opera singer is able to "store"
the whole text of an italian opera without having much semantic
content to help. Obviously, he/she will have to invest more
energy than an italian (and will certainly suffer with the

Sergio Navega.

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