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Thinking without language?

Lee Sau Dan ~{ at nJX6X~} sdlee at faith.csis.hku.hk
Sun Nov 28 05:44:58 EST 1999

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

    >> Why did physicists had to coin the new word "quark" for that
    >> very concept?  Why did physicits have to coin the new term
    >> "chromatic charge" for those new concepts in quantum mechanics?

    John> New words are created to reduce the number of words needed
    John> to communicate.  If physicists said "itty-bitty particles
    John> that compose the little things that make up atoms" then they
    John> would probably think differently.  Creating a new word
    John> allows them to treat "quark" as an independent concept, and
    John> think further about it.

But by your  great theory, physicist shouldn't be  able to think about
quarks before a  word for it exists.  So, how could  they come up with
the concept of "quark"?

    >> Explain to me how mathematicians think and develop the concepts
    >> before the words "complex number", "differentiation", "vector",
    >> "integration", "tensor", "curl", "quarternion", etc. are
    >> coined.

    John> Not being a mathematician I'm not familiar with half of
    John> those terms, but surely the same thing applies.  Something
    John> is described with a lot of words, and then a new word or
    John> term is used to describe it, which allows thinking about it
    John> without worrying about the details.

Very often,  the experts can have  a new concept for  some time before
they have  a word for  it.  I don't  think this MUST think  about such
things with "a lot of words".  An  idea is an idea.  I doesn't have to
be associated with words.

    John> Don't you also communicate with diagrams?  There must be
    John> some common language to the diagrams so people understand.


    John> Languages are composed of words.  An arrow in a flowchart is
    John> a word.

No.  It's  a visual symbol, not a  word.  That you call  it "arrow" is
irrelevant.  People reading the chart  do not have to say "arrow" when
he reads it.  Similarly, many Chinese students are unfamiliar with the
various Greek letters  used in maths.  They don't have  to know how to
pronounce these "words" before they can manipulate formulae containing
Greek letters.   A written  symbol is a  visual concept  (it's shape).
Even if  you can't pronounce that  symbol, you can  still recognize it
and work with it.

When I  read a Chinese novel,  I may encounter rare  ideograms which I
don't  know how  to  pronounce at  all.  I  don't  have to  look up  a
dictionary.   By contiuing  reading, I  can get  its meaning  (but not
pronunciation) from  context.  Thereafter,  when I encounter  the same
ideogram in the novel, I know what it means without having any idea of
how to pronounce  it.  Now, tell me how come  that's possible, if your
theory of "microscopic lip movement" holds.

    >> BTW, how do you think deaf people think?

    John> Deaf people usually know languages.  They read, write, know
    John> sign language.  Why would it be a problem?  Words don't have
    John> to be heard.

What about  those deaf people who  can't speak at all?   Do their lips
move microscopically when they think?

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

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