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View Poll Results: Is thinking possible without language ?

Voters
35. You may not vote on this poll
  • Yes, thoughts are posssible before & without verbalizing.

    17 48.57%
  • No, they are inseparably related, and in fact the same thing.

    6 17.14%
  • Yes & No; there are different kinds of thoughts.

    18 51.43%
  • Neither Yes nor No; the options are totally off, dummie !

    1 2.86%
  • Does that mean chimps with sign language have intelligent thoughts like me ?

    2 5.71%
  • That's the stupidest question I've heard to date; you lack intelligence but can babble on...so.

    0 0%
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Thread: Thinking & Language

  1. #1
    Chukchi Salmon
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    Talking Thinking & Language

    Multiple Choice Poll: Choose as many as describes or closely describes you idea about the relationship between thinking and language.

    Is thinking possible without language ?
    Or are they inseparable ?
    Or are there different kinds of thoughts; some falling under the influence of langauge, some independent of any particular language's inner machinery ?
    Or are there different stages of a thought; from an amorphous fog to a clear image as seen on a mirror, with each stage interacting with language with different kinds and degrees of inlfluence ?

    The topic of how language is related to thinking has bugged people for ages, and is nothing new. But as usual, I find myself asking (or thinking ?); "What do people think about this ?"
    As you write your response, how are your internal thoughts related to you language, and how they conveyed thru writing ? Are your thoughts pretty much determined before committing to speech, or do they stay vague or amibuous if not put into words ?

    In fact, does knowledge (including thoughts, feelings, all those human things) come before verbalizing, or is it only given clarity at the moment of putting the infinished thoughts into words ?

    A. Some people think that thinking comes before language. This idea may be related to the innate language ability that all humans are born with. According to this theory, a person's mother tongue or native language does not influence the person's thought process but only his ways of speaking his mind.
    Quote Originally Posted by Void
    I suppose my language is expressive for one simple reason – I think speech should be colored emotionally. If you enjoy life then it should be written all over you ! ...
    The only thing I can do ... is to arrange words, trying to fill them with my intense feelings...
    Most of the time I think not in terms of words but in terms of symbols, images and patterns.
    B. Some people believe that the thought process is governed by language. The language is not just any language but the the person's dominant or most favored language. According to this theory, one particular language governs how the person thinks of what the person thinks.
    Quote Originally Posted by YB Yeats
    I had no speech but symbol
    of the pagan speech of Old Ireland
    I made amid the dreams of youth.
    Quote Originally Posted by Void
    I took 'rubai' by Tahir Baba. And while struggling to keep the rhyme I realized that I was thinking in my native manner - in Russian. What I mean is not pronoucing words in Russian (no matter aloud or silently), but construction of the sentences, rythm, stylistics. All the language patterns (and therefore the thoughts) were quite different from English and even more far from Arabic.
    What is your personal opinion on these ideas ? :rolleyes:
    Or if you like to argue on the fine points of others, lets engage in some hair splitting
    Last edited by lexico; 14-04-05 at 23:30. Reason: type-o, unclear wording
    Z: The fish in the water are happy.
    H: How do you know ? You're not fish.
    Z: How do you know I don't ? You're not me.
    H: True I am not you, and I cannot know. Likewise, I know you're not, therefore I know you don't.
    Z: You asked me how I knew implying you knew I knew. In fact I saw some fish, strolling down by the Hao River, all jolly and gay.

    --Zhuangzi

  2. #2
    Satyavrata Maciamo's Avatar
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    It's obvious that thinking is possible without language. I don't need language to visualise 3D situtaions in my head, find my way, drive a car, solve a mechanical problem (eg. change a lightbulb, replace my PC's soundcard, etc.), play chess, find a military strategy to win at PC wargames or any other games or sports, take pictures, design a website, arrange my books on the shelves, understand people or animal's feelings from their facial expression or tone of their voice, etc.

    In fact, most of my thoughts are probably non-verbal and need to be translated into words and I can even choose the language, among those I know, although some non-verbal ideas are easier to express in some languages than in others, regardless of my skills in these languages.
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  3. #3
    Ă闢Gq Damicci's Avatar
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    I don't see why you would need to speak to think. I can think in japanese and in English with out speaking a word. Now if you mean language as the speaking language i think it would be impossible because your thoughts are vocalize din your head with words. so if there was no language as in not being able to use words PERIOD then it would be impossible to think. Only thing possible would be imagery.

  4. #4
    Satyavrata Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Damicci
    I don't see why you would need to speak to think. I can think in japanese and in English with out speaking a word. Now if you mean language as the speaking language i think it would be impossible because your thoughts are vocalize din your head with words. so if there was no language as in not being able to use words PERIOD then it would be impossible to think. Only thing possible would be imagery.
    I didn't see any mention of "speaking" in Lexico's post. Language means the words, such as the one I am typing here without speaking. Verbalisation can be in one's head or written, not just spoken.

  5. #5
    Chukchi Salmon
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    Wink Good point !

    Quote Originally Posted by Damicci
    I don't see why you would need to speak to think.
    Thanks for pointing out this important distinction between the silent vs. the outspoken. Although language in its most obvious and perceptible form is indeed speech in the spoken form; the other, unseen froms of language also exist. Schematically this can be divided into the four verbal faculties of 1) listening 2) speech 3) reading 4) writing. These separate abilties can be considered both related & independent in their logical distinction, origin, development, & functional aspects. I have often found fascinating stimulations between the four. These should also involve at least the subdivision of silent/expressed; hence even a minimalist division should include

    1A/B. passive listening/active listening
    2A/B. silent speech/outspoken speech
    3A/B. silent reading/reading aloud
    4A/B. silent writing/explosive writing
    Quote Originally Posted by Damicci
    and I can think in japanese and in English with out speaking a word. Now if you mean language as the speaking language i think it would be impossible because your thoughts are vocalize din your head with words. so if there was no language as in not being able to use words PERIOD then it would be impossible to think. Only thing possible would be imagery.
    This also brings attention to the role words play when we engage in logical thinking. Although certain analog, non-logical, quantitative reasoning may be possible with non-verbal, non-linguistic images in the senses whether visual, tactile, acoustic, palatal, or olfactory, it is highly questionable how refined they may be how accumulative. The question is do they, or can they, form a common system of communication as does language. Whereas language ensures that most/much of what is expressible will be transmissible to others, ideas or imageries in the other, non-linguistic area are not always guranteed that possibility of transmission. It is obvious that something significant is going on there; but how to define it ? I am at a loss; can anybody help me understand the nature of this non-verbal area as well exmplified in Maciamo's response ?
    Last edited by lexico; 14-04-05 at 22:57. Reason: misspelling

  6. #6
    Ă闢Gq Damicci's Avatar
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    Thats the reason I asked if he meant vocalized language or language in general. I consider language anything that relates to communication. So without language in it's entirety then I believe it would impossible to think. But if you were to say remove only spoken language(s). Thinking could still be possible.

    With what lexico has also written. I did neglect the fact that imagery is also a form of language such as sign language. This is the use of hand movements to signify what one person is thinking and wanting say without the ability to speak.
    Games such as Win,Lose or Draw are also big forms of image communication.

    Sounds heard while crossing the street also signify and stimulate thoughts "I hear a car I should not cross" these are also considered forms of language in one way or another. Smells that make you hungry or bring back fond memories.

    I wish I could change my answer to Language is inseperable from thinking. I now understand that without one there is no other.

    I think I am rambling on about nothing so i'll shut up now.

  7. #7
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    I wish I could change my answer to Language is inseperable from thinking. I now understand that without one there is no other.
    Well, it sort of depends I suppose. Some would say abstract thinking starts in kids from the time they can recall and search out objects not in their immediate environment, which is under a year when they are still largely pre-verbal....Mathematical reasoning is possible even in people who have lost language abilities and the deaf/blind can become instrumentalists and have great musical thinking skills.

    I'm just not a good one to ask because I must have a congenital defect that prevents thinking in pictures. Either that or the imagistic sense has atrophied from disuse by this point....but for speed, accuracy and general clarity of mind, there must be a better way than belabouring everything into language. This may better be directed towards any of our Japanese monk or contemplative religious types for their insights....

  8. #8
    Regular Member misa.j's Avatar
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    I like this thread a lot, lexico, often wonder about things like this myself.

    I think it is possible for the thoughts to come before and without verbalizing. The language is one of the tools to express one's thoughts, which takes you to the next step after "thinking".

    I have worked with a 2 year-old girl who had a stuttering problem, whose mind worked more quickly than her speech had developed; I could actually see her thinking ahead by observing the way she tried to communicate, but she couldn't find the right words because her vocabulary was limited.

  9. #9
    The Angel of Justice Zauriel's Avatar
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    No, they are inseparably related, and in fact the same thing.

    When I have those thoughts, I usually picture them in English words.

  10. #10
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    what if i`ll say that the word is symbol by itself?

    in fact, there is nothing impossible in non-verbal 'thinking'. Our conscience reflects the reality, the inner and the outer. Some psychological theories describe the evolution of a human language from the dawn of humanity. At these early ages we might not have much of a spoken language. But humans are social beings, and what is essential - they intentionally transform the world around them to feel their needs. This cooperative traansfomation required some form of communication, in order to direct mutual efforts in proper way (reach the goal fast and effectively). first the simple words developed, for them you can easily find the object or a procees in a material world. Later came time for more abstract and complicated concepts.

    Though, i like Exupery who said that he met fair (impartial) people, but
    never met Justice (an so on)

    How world is reflected in our mind? Think of 'table', for example. And
    now trace down all the sensations it roused up? Is it made of wood? Covered with cloth, smells somehow, what`s the shape, colour and so on. Every attribute can trigger a chain reaction of other images and sensations.
    And now say cannot it be just backward? The chain of sensations leading to the symbol (which is a word)?


  11. #11
    Hentai Koutaishi Lina Inverse's Avatar
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    NO. Thinking and language are absolutely inseparable. If you can't give your thoughts a distinct form by the means of a language, you wouldn't be able to have concise thoughts in the first place. Your thinking would be reduced to animal niveau only, at best.

  12. #12
    FIGHTING FOR JPOP Dutch Baka's Avatar
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    NO, thinking you can do with colors, shapes, sounds.

    what is Lanqauge btw... just some signs... and sounds? isnt

  13. #13
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    Would I be unable to think if I had not learnt a language? Strange idea, as it seems to me.

    It all depends of what you call language, though. Since, in order to think, you have to be able to communicate with yourself, some kind of "language" is necessary. Yet, this is largely done by electrochemical impulses. If you want to call this language...

    Another point: AFAIK, apes have the ability of abstract thinking (learning, planning ahead, etc.). Yet they don't really have a (verbalising) language.

  14. #14
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    If you are reading maps, painting, drawing or doing anything that requires your creative part of your brain you don't think about it using language. Take maps for instance (I use this because it is someting I do a lot of in my job). You find point A and then point B. you then follow the roads from one point ot another. You don't think words when following the route. The same when you paint or draw something, especially if it is abstract. You visualise the picture you want and then transfer it onto paper. You don't use language. Apes that paint have no complex language, Very young children don't have langauge, but can still visualise objects and reach, draw and paint them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by misa.j
    I like this thread a lot, lexico, often wonder about things like this myself.

    I think it is possible for the thoughts to come before and without verbalizing. The language is one of the tools to express one's thoughts, which takes you to the next step after "thinking".

    I have worked with a 2 year-old girl who had a stuttering problem, whose mind worked more quickly than her speech had developed; I could actually see her thinking ahead by observing the way she tried to communicate, but she couldn't find the right words because her vocabulary was limited.
    Interesting topic.

    On the contrary of this example, a person who has epilepsy may be talking normally, yet this person has no idea of what he/she is talking about.

    In my opinion, I believe we can think without languages, depend on how you want to define "think".

    But I wonder, can we do maths without language? If you do not know one to ten....then how?

  16. #16
    Ă闢Gq Damicci's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mycernius
    If you are reading maps, painting, drawing or doing anything that requires your creative part of your brain you don't think about it using language. Take maps for instance (I use this because it is someting I do a lot of in my job). You find point A and then point B. you then follow the roads from one point ot another. You don't think words when following the route. The same when you paint or draw something, especially if it is abstract. You visualise the picture you want and then transfer it onto paper. You don't use language. Apes that paint have no complex language, Very young children don't have langauge, but can still visualise objects and reach, draw and paint them.
    See my 1st response to this thread regarded speaking b/c speaking is paert of language. but it seems to me IMHO that your saying basically that language will normaly only consist of words. But what about hyroglyphics(sp?) many people use different methods of communicating which is there form of language words represented by images. map basically tells you image wise how to go from point a to b you just have to be able to read it. If I am way off here just let me know. It's all in good fun.

  17. #17
    Regular Member Sensuikan San's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lina Inverse
    NO. Thinking and language are absolutely inseparable. If you can't give your thoughts a distinct form by the means of a language, you wouldn't be able to have concise thoughts in the first place. Your thinking would be reduced to animal niveau only, at best.
    So ... as a very young child .... with no developed language skills or language .... how do you learn language at all? .... if you can't think at all without a language?

    Think about it (with or without a language ...!)

    Regards,

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  18. #18
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    in my opinion:

    a person goes through patterns, which were recognized previously.

    this includes:

    education by parents/school
    books, movies/television, computer games
    recognized and recorded environment (i.e. the city were one lives in)

    now, these system are determined by object lists, and possible/legal actions.

    if a so called thought is developed, in the most cases a previous situation is evealuted, which matches closely, or at least somehow, to the problem.

    this is not thinking, it is called "intuitive reaction"

    real thinking comes into play, if there is no obvious solution.

    means, there is an idea/problem, but no representation within the object/rule set.

    example physics, it is made up/connected to human system of perception.
    models are not too true, but often they work...

    now, not all people are scientists, or able to utilize their mind like a scientist. and, of course, it is not desireable to explain everything intellectual.

    not all people think!

    myself, i have reduced my thought... and this was a good idea.

    there is "intuition", sometimes without a verbal explanation (no words for it)
    there is "thought", problems are analyzed/solved intellectual
    there is "reactive mind" -> "i can not do it"

    and, more things... just a short reply

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    I think it's difficult to specify whether there is thinking without words or not because I already have words for things so of course I'm bound to apply them to my thoughts even though they wouldn't have been verbal.

    Then there's always the question whether feeling is thinking - is thinking a process of analysing a problem and solving it or feeling as well? I can certainly feel without thinking and don't always have words to describe my feelings.
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    My first response when I read the title of this thread was

    the same as Lina's in that any thinking beyond very rudimentary ideas requires language. I personally know that when I am mulling over any perplexing issue in my head those thoughts always take the form of words. Even simple things like opening up the refridgerator and trying to decide to have pepsi or orange juice, I find myself having a conversation in my head... "the orange juice would be better for you.... I sure could use some caffeine though... hey this paunch isn't going to disappear with either one maybe it should be water.." etc.

    Then I read Sensuikan san's post:
    So ... as a very young child .... with no developed language skills or language .... how do you learn language at all? .... if you can't think at all without a language?
    That changed my mind, I think that for me on an individual basis language is required for thought. (hopefully when I was very young this wasn't the case) An interesting side note is that when I lived in Japan I found myself thinking in Japanese. I often talk in my sleep (so my wife says anyhow I've never heard it) and apparently I often speak Japanese while asleep. I think that with a lot of exposure to a language it finds a home in a part of our brains that runs deeper than any other thoughts.

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    Does eidos exist in thought? I doubt it.
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  22. #22
    Regular Member Sensuikan San's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheKansaiKid
    the same as Lina's in that any thinking beyond very rudimentary ideas requires language. I personally know that when I am mulling over any perplexing issue in my head those thoughts always take the form of words. Even simple things like opening up the refridgerator and trying to decide to have pepsi or orange juice, I find myself having a conversation in my head... "the orange juice would be better for you.... I sure could use some caffeine though... hey this paunch isn't going to disappear with either one maybe it should be water.." etc.
    This is weird !

    Personally - if I stand at the 'fridge door in the same predicament - I mentally see a movie of myself choosing the Pepsi or the juice .... ! Language doesn't even come into it !

    Sounds a little silly - but obviously, many of us actually 'look' at the world in a totally different way !

    Is this what determines wether or not we become architects, or engineers, or accountants or writers or ..... ? (I'm not even going to bring in ... musicians ...!)

    Regards,

    W

  23. #23
    Elite member edao's Avatar
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    I would imagine thought possible without language.

    One example would be a baby that is only a few months old, while the child has no real language ability to form a formal thought in their mind they will still cry when their mother lays them down. They are displaying the ability to recognise that their mother is about to leave them and are capable of expressing their discomfort in her actions.

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    Well, I think thinking is definitively possible withouth a language - but I guess it'll find its bounds when you want to "visualize" a conversation, for myself it always helps to "visualize" what I would like to say, before I "say" it.

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    I find I have a nasty habit of using language without thinking.

    However I take solace in the knowledge that I'm far from alone in this.

    To be serious, it’s surprising how many people go through life so often using mostly what have become clichés rather than original thought.

    “I never have and I never will” for example when faced with a question that requires effort to formulate a reply, or a question the answer to which would mean abandonment of some bit of bigotry or prejudice.

    “Yes, make it a pint” when asked if you want another drink. At least that’s what seems to be the case with most of my friends and acquaintances.

    Come to think of it that probably says more about me and the people I mix with than anything else I suppose!
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