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Thinking without language?

John Turnbull john at turnbull.org
Tue Nov 23 22:34:00 EST 1999

In article <7f7lj98m42.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> Have you ever hummed a tune without realizing it?  

>I can hum a tune in my mind.

That wasn't really the question.  I would imagine most people can play
music in their 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

Maybe I am being too restrictive when I say thinking, and mean
reasoning.  You still haven't given an idea where you think the line is
between thinking and non-thinking response.  I think the reason words
seem so important is that ideas can be expressed in words, and the words
are inherently invoked.  Just as if the word "apple" is thought about
you will recall the taste, or the feel, or the image of an apple, if you
think about the idea of an apple the word is known as easily as the
other features.

>    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.

It's been a *long* time since I've done any geometry, and I'd probably
need to draw diagrams, but it would be in response to thoughts in words.


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