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Thinking without language?

John Turnbull john at turnbull.org
Sun Nov 28 11:26:14 EST 1999

In article <7fbt8e7v4l.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> 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"?

Not at all.  What is so difficult about thinking of the particles that
make up other particles.  I can think of the particles that make up quarks,
and the particles that make those up, and so on, but if I were to do any
serious thinking about them they'd need a name, maybe inititially "whatsits"
and "thingamebobs"/

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


So how do people understand if there is no common language?

>    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.

Pronunciation is irrelevant, as is the fact that it is called arrow.  It
is a common symbol that has an agreed upon meaning, that is used as part
of a greater whole to communicate.

>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.

I've never mentioned "microscopic lip movement", and don't see what that
is relevant to.  It sounds like you learn new words pretty much the same
way that other people do.

>    >> 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?

Again, I never mentioned anything about speaking, or lip movement.  I
said reading, writing, and signing, which all happen to be purely
visual.  If you want to bring up blind and deaf people, then they can
communicate with touch.

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