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Thinking without language?

John Turnbull john at turnbull.org
Tue Nov 23 23:37:56 EST 1999

In article <81f0om$esa$4 at nntp.Stanford.EDU>,
Larisa Migachyov <lvm at leland.Stanford.EDU> wrote:
>John Turnbull wrote:

>>  No, but I don't consider humming a familiar melody to be thinking.  I am
>>  likely to think verbally of the name of the tune though.
>What about performing a musical work?  Especially when playing in an
>ensemble without a conductor (quartet, quintet, whatever) - there is quite
>a lot of mental activity involved.  For me at least, most of the mental
>activity is not verbal - it is musical.  I am, for example, likely to
>think about how the notes I play fit in with the notes that everyone else
>is playing, or about how I need to play a little louder to bring out the
>melody, etc. - mostly, without words. 
>And if you still say that performing a memorized work requires no thought
>- a contention that I will violently disagree with - what about
>improvising?  You would have to say that improvisation involves some kind
>of thinking.  And yet, even when I'm improvising together with some
>people, I don't think verbally.

As I mentioned in another recent post maybe I've been too restrictive in
my thoughts on thinking, equating it too much with reasoning.  I am
certainly not saying performing music doesn't require skill.  Not being
a musician I can't comment on the thought processes involved.  A couple
of questions though:

	Would any kind of detailed thinking be a distraction to performing
	well?  Are the thoughts more on a macro scale, and not on the micro
	scale of which notes do I play, how do I play them, how would I
	play louder?

	When improvising, do you ever surprise yourself?  The closest I've
	come recently is sparring in the martial arts.  When I spar best
	I've tagged my partner before I realize what I'm going to do.  That
	to me indicates activity below the level of conscious thought.


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