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  1. #1
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Default Is language essential for rational thinking?

    Is it possible to think without using words? Thinking in the most generalized case doesn't need to involve words... for example when I ask you to think about a horse... the first thing that appears in your mind is probably an image of a horse rather than a description of what a horse is... or the word HORSE. Words are simply the means to provide a symbolic representation towards ideas/objects... the way to store multiple experiences we have on a given topic. It appears to me to be a way to get around the limits of our mental processing capacity (working memory is 7 plus minus 2 objects). By labelling a huge list of experiences together as a symbol (one word), we can now start to relate different experiences/ideas together.

    Here's a what-if scenario... What if our minds have unlimited processing capacity... do we still need language to think rationally? Feel free to completely bash this nonsensical idea if you feel like it... just provide justification for your thoughts.

  2. #2
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Very complex ideas are communicated through the arts w/o language. This is especially true of music, visual arts, and dance. Although I supposed it could be argued that those are another form of language just with different symbols and processes. They do often more immediately recreate an experience, and are more concretely representative of their meanings than words which tends to have rather arbitrary relationship to their meaning.

    When you extend the concept of language to include sensory communication as in the arts, then that does open up a continuum in which it is necessary to include animal communication as having the rudiments of language, just more concrete. Wolf calls, dolphin songs, as two examples. Dolphin calls have specific sounds for each member, much like names. An offspring's identifying sound is related to their parent's. Penguins have unique calls to identify mated pairs. (Yes I watched March of the Penguins multiple times. ) Animals do have specific sounds that represent specific actions. Certain barks tell pups to return to the den because of danger, etc.

    In my experience, my most complex thoughts are experienced w/o words.
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
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  3. #3
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daphne View Post
    When you extend the concept of language to include sensory communication as in the arts, then that does open up a continuum in which it is necessary to include animal communication as having the rudiments of language, just more concrete. Wolf calls, dolphin songs, as two examples. Dolphin calls have specific sounds for each member, much like names. An offspring's identifying sound is related to their parent's. Penguins have unique calls to identify mated pairs. (Yes I watched March of the Penguins multiple times. ) Animals do have specific sounds that represent specific actions. Certain barks tell pups to return to the den because of danger, etc.
    Interesting idea you brought up... art form and animal communication as language. From that definition, does that deligate language as a means of facilatating communication between conspecifics? What about communication with ourselves? It seems to me that we need language for introspection... or is that just natural tendency for us because we're use to doing it with other people?

    The second thing you mentioned about wordless experience of thoughts. Is there a distinction between experiencing something compared to analyzing something? The former can be done unconsciously, while the latter must be done consciously with words?

  4. #4
    Senior Member Dark Razor's Avatar
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    I think laguage is not necessary to think about complex ideas, it is however necessary to accurately communicate them. You certainly can communicate complex subjects through the arts and such, but then the expression of your thoughts are open to a wide range of interpretations, while thoughts processed through the filter of (adequate) language are much more precise and to the point. Though I must say that communication through language is a rather cumbersome process for something like me who thinks primarily in pictures, it would be much easier if I just could telepathically communicate the images in my head, but since that is not possible language remains the most efficient and precise alternative.

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    Senior Member cafe's Avatar
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    I remember, when I was little, noticing that I no longer thought without words. I felt a little sad. I was a little sad, too, when I realized I could no longer look at words without reading them. I don't know why.

    I think I was having rational thoughts before I thought in words.
    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    ~ John Rogers

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    Senior Member HilbertSpace's Avatar
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    I do think that language, to a large extent, constraints thoughts. Thoughts also create language, of course - the two systems mutually inform - but I'm of the school that says language is paramount. I think that systems are characterized by information exchange, so I include all communication - from tail-wagging to bacteria establishing a chemical gradient - under the general category of language.

    At the same time, I think that we do exercises in things like naive physics (the thing that lets you catch a Frisbee without thinking about it) without calling to mind terms like vector or parabola. There's still 'language' going in with your brain, but it's something biochemical - it's not English, or even mathematics.

  7. #7
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Razor View Post
    I think laguage is not necessary to think about complex ideas, it is however necessary to accurately communicate them. You certainly can communicate complex subjects through the arts and such, but then the expression of your thoughts are open to a wide range of interpretations, while thoughts processed through the filter of (adequate) language are much more precise and to the point.
    I wish telepathy exists... I had thought conversations with myself, those are way way more effective and rapid in comparison to saying everything out loud. It's true that with language, we can communicate ideas more clearly than art form. However it's still subjected to interpretation. Words carry slightly different connotations from person to person, but certainly variations will be significantly less than art/music etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by cafe View Post
    I remember, when I was little, noticing that I no longer thought without words. I felt a little sad. I was a little sad, too, when I realized I could no longer look at words without reading them. I don't know why. I think I was having rational thoughts before I thought in words.
    The joys of childhood... I really miss it too.

    So there can be rational thoughts without words? I'm not sure if anybody else have done this, but I sometimes talk to my ummm altered ego? in my head. It's a way of clearing things up by talking to myself. I really wanted to track these conversations but whenever I tried to do that it just doesn't work well. Typing it out, way too slow. The process of typing means I have to repeat everything that is said to myself in order to type. Even speaking out loud and recording doesn't work. Because then I have to repeat what the voice in my head said. It interrupts the flow of the conversation. Also you can convey thoughts about an idea so much quicker in your head without words. It's almost like flashing isolated images with continously running emotion as commetary. The whole incident is over within a second or two. Something you just can't record in words. But that has always been more about experiencing something rather than like thinking to me. Hmmmm...

    Quote Originally Posted by HilbertSpace View Post
    At the same time, I think that we do exercises in things like naive physics (the thing that lets you catch a Frisbee without thinking about it) without calling to mind terms like vector or parabola. There's still 'language' going in with your brain, but it's something biochemical - it's not English, or even mathematics.
    Hmmm so we get into the issue of conscious vs unconscious "thinking"... whether the automatic processing our brain do, say to instinctively know what angle to throw something at to hit a target, is rational thinking or not.

  8. #8
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    We think in ideas and translate them into symbols, not the other way around.

    Language is fundamental to communication of ideas and not creation of them.

    So no, language is not necessary for rational thought.

  9. #9
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    We think in ideas and translate them into symbols, not the other way around.

    Language is fundamental to communication of ideas and not creation of them.

    So no, language is not necessary for rational thought.
    Ah! But how much of a difference is there between ideas and symbols? Have the use of symbolism (aka language) become so ingrained in us that we think/explain ideas to ourselves using words? That is how do we communicate an idea to ourselves without using words? Is there a way of describing that process?

  10. #10
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nightning View Post
    Ah! But how much of a difference is there between ideas and symbols? Have the use of symbolism (aka language) become so ingrained in us that we think/explain ideas to ourselves using words? That is how do we communicate an idea to ourselves without using words? Is there a way of describing that process?

    No it is not possible to communicate without language. Symbols become strongly attached to our ideas, yet they can only invade certain ideas, yet not the creator of ideas in itself-the mind. So the mind produces without symbols and they only stick to some that have been influenced earlier on by the language that we have encountered in the world.

    Symbolic representation of ideas can only come from the outside, not from within, therefore it is not possible for an idea to be born with a symbol. Maybe shortly after its birth it may be attached to one, but this will be because of its affiliation with ideas that have long been associated with a particular symbol.

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