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Thinking without language?

Leo Smith Leo at Shaman.co.uk
Sat Nov 27 14:10:55 EST 1999

Etaoin Shrdlu wrote:

> > 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.
> Good point! I paint, and for hours at a time I'll be deciding how best to
> bring out the shadows on the fence, or wondering why the cat still looks
> flat, or thinking the mouse in the corner should be an umbrella after all,
> or placing a very fine line along the edge of a complex shape, or even
> considering that maybe I should have done this one as a pen and ink, but
> very rarely does an actual word cross my mind in relation to all  this. I'm
> just thinking about it; I don't need to spell it all out to myself by taking
> the lengthy option of applying lingual structures to it. Why would I go
> beyond the realization that I need yellow in some spot to actually
> verbalizing this to myself? I certainly don't need to think the words "I
> need yellow" to realize it in the first place, so why add a step after that?
> --Katrina

I think that there is a common experience here - which may reflect itself into
something the neuro boys can actually detect - and that is what we do, as
conscious and sublimainal beings, is look for patterns and form associations.
When the problem is large and new we use all sorts of approaches - random
response, similar-to-something responses, and ultimately
lets-sit-down-and-think-about-this responses.

But once we have LEARNT a valid response, it gets coded as a sort of interrupt
servie routine for speed and low computational overhead. If I play guitar, I
think of the next note and my fingers (sometimes) go to the right place on the
fretboard. When I drive, I don't often consciously think about it - but as soon
as a pattern comes up that my driving persona recognises, it's full attention
time to handle the situation.

Lots of this stuff doesn't use words - it uses pattern recognition keyed with
sort of low level symbols. Whether you call that language or not I don't know.
You can certainly think without words, but maybe what you are using is another
form of language.That is semantic play though. There is a HUGE amount of data
procesing going on inside you somewhere without ever coming into full conscious

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