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Medical Can We Think Without Language?

  1. May 25, 2004 #1
    the 19th century German Philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt claimed that language was directly connected to thinking

    that people around the world should actually think differently due to their native language

    the American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf based his (Whorf-Hypothesis)
    on the idea that thoughts are controlled or influenced by the language we speak.

    perhaps we can take this one step further into the science of Chorology
    which is the relationship between thought and native environment

    is our thinking shaped by our native language and native environment?

    does the average person in China experience the same thought processes as the average person in Sweden?

    does the average person who has grown up in a city surrounded by water such as Stockholm think in the same way as a person who has grown up in a dessert such as Saudi Arabia?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2004 #2
    I believe you can. I have a very hard time trying to translate complex (or at least to me) ideas to other people because of language. Its easy to think of an idea, but hard to put it into words.
     
  4. May 25, 2004 #3
    You can. That is not to say that language, as a part of culture, which obviously influences thought, does not influence language.

    For most of my childhood, I usually thought wordlessly. Some of my clearer thoughts have been without words. Sometimes, as DarkAnt said, it can be hard to put your ideas into words, sometimes even in your own language.
     
  5. May 25, 2004 #4
    i've had this experience as well

    sometimes a thought or emotion arises which has no obvious word to define it
    and yet it can be overpowering

    but is it possible to have complex thoughts without attaching words to them?
    in the form of visual images maybe?
     
  6. May 25, 2004 #5

    Janitor

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    Squirrels manage to think without a language, so I don't see why humans couldn't.

    In grade school they showed us a black and white movie about Helen Keller once a year, in just about every school year. I got to where I knew that darn thing verbatim.

    She was deaf and blind from an early age, and I am sure that before she learned to communicate by sense of touch she was still plenty sentient. She must have recognized, for instance, that the meal cooking on the stove and putting out the odor of spaghetti (or what have you) meant that within an hour she would be sitting on a chair at a table and eating spaghetti.
     
  7. May 25, 2004 #6

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    I've long thought that English is lacking a good word for the feeling you have when you witness somebody else getting blamed for doing something (or for failing to do something) that you actually did (or failed to do). I wouldn't be surprised if there are other languages which do have such a word.
     
  8. May 25, 2004 #7

    Thats oddly specific...
     
  9. May 25, 2004 #8
    I wonder if he had any direct observational evidence to support his claim. Personally, I think he was mistaken, as I have known people who thought in different languages than myself, yet never noticed anything out of the ordinary (quite the opposite, in fact). Expressing thoughts in another language can come across seemingly queer (sideways is how I sometimes think it). There are words, even meanings of words, which may be absent from one language to another but generally there seems to be a way to arrive at similar conclusions, so I think they way humans think is similar. Culture can skew outcomes, but I think the process leading to those outcomes is basically the same.

    I would be cautious not to mix what I see as apples and oranges (cultural differences vs thinking processes). That’s my 2-cents, for what it’s worth.
     
  10. May 25, 2004 #9

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    In answer to franznietzsche

    I agree that it is specific. I think that the relative rarity of the situation may have to do with why there isn't an English word for it. But for me at least, it is an intense feeling when it does happen, the kind of feeling that leaves an 'aftertaste' for quite some time, if I can put it that way. It was particularly gratifying when it was my mother admonishing my brother for something I had done. I always carried with me a mental list of wrongs I had received at the hands of that little creep :tongue2: so on the rare occasion that I found myself overhearing that sort of thing happening, I was gratified in a way that the word "giddy" comes close to describing, though "giddy" covers a broader range of situations than what I am talking about. Giddiness mixed with a mostly-suppressed feeling of guilt maybe is closer to describing the feeling, along with a touch of dread that he would convince Mom that it was actually I who had done it. But if we just had a single word for it, like "globbly" to make one up on the spot, that would be dandy.
     
  11. May 25, 2004 #10

    I believe this word already exists in english

    'guilt'


    17 entries found for guilt.
    Entry: guilt
    Function: noun
    Definition: blame
    Synonyms: answerability, blameworthiness, contrition, crime, criminality, culpability, delinquency, dereliction, disgrace, dishonor, error, failing, fault, guiltiness, indiscretion, infamy, iniquity, lapse, liability, malefaction, malfeasance, malpractice, misbehavior, misconduct, misstep, offence, onus, peccability, penitence, regret, remorse, responsibility, self-condemnation, self-reproach, shame, sin, sinfulness, slip, solecism, stigma, transgression, wickedness, wrong
     
  12. May 25, 2004 #11
    Energia,
    Since Janitor did not detail how such an event came to pass, it's possible a prank was pulled on someone and a feeling of glee is experienced. I suspect he meant more the way you accepted it though. Still, combined with guilt might also be some sense of relief or other combination of emotion, dunno.
     
  13. May 26, 2004 #12

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    Boulderhead, what I had in mind are situations that were not at all pre-planned to get anybody in trouble, if that is what you mean.

    Thanks for doing the legwork, Energia. And yet... None of those synonyms really quite nails down the feeling I am thinking of.

    Here is an example: When I was about 9 there was a family that lived across the street for a couple of years. They had a son about two years younger than I was. He had been playing with his tricycle out in the driveway in front of their house. I was too big to fit on the tricycle, but for some reason I held on to the handlebar with one of my hands and made it roll around a bit on the driveway, while my friend was engrossed in something else in the front yard. Then he called me over to where he was. Within minutes his father came out of the house and got in his VW Beetle to go somewhere. As it happens, I had left the tricycle right behind the back bumper of the VW, and the boy's father realized that when the back of his vehicle tipped over the trike and made the trike scrape on the concrete driveway. The man got out of his car and worked the trike out from underneath the car, and then walked over to where we were in the yard. He was all red in the face as I recall, and he said in an angry tone, "Danny! How many times have I told you not to leave things behind the car?"

    So my friend got all the blame, and could not put up a believable defense for himself. I knew full well that I was the culprit. I also knew that the right thing to do was to speak up and take the wrath upon myself to get Danny off the hook. But I stood there stone-faced and did nothing. My feelling was more of a mixture of things than the word "guilt" or any of the synonyms for that word can convey.
     
  14. May 26, 2004 #13
    I've often wondered if two people were able to communicate telepathically, how would they do it? Would they send images of words to each other, or would they transmit actual ideas? It seems unnecessary to have to send your "voice" to another person when communicating telepathically, afterall words are just a representation of our ideas, and usually a crude representation at that.
     
  15. May 26, 2004 #14
    I think that many people (children and adults) have had such an experience

    now that you've made the situation more clear, I can't seem to think of a single suitable word to fully describe this feeling
     
  16. May 26, 2004 #15
    Perhaps something approaching a paralyzing state of shock ?
     
  17. Jun 3, 2004 #16
    autism----> thinking in pictures does not require words.
    art-------> a visual idea manifested physically without words as in a sketch.
     
  18. Jun 4, 2004 #17
    All languages are not oral or written people. Let's think this through and while we think this through why don't we try to think about this without using language. Good luck to everyone. While it may be possible to cognize without language I highly doubt it. Nothing any of you have presented has disproven Humboldt's assertion.
    *Nico
     
  19. Jun 4, 2004 #18

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    When I was about 13 years old I tied a chunk of cheddar cheese to a thread, and then tacked the thread to the ceiling of the family living room, such that the cheese was suspended four feet above the floor. I let our hound dog into the house. In a few minutes he went into the room where the cheese was. He picked up the scent, and sniffed around the floor looking for it. After a couple of minutes of such futility he raised his head and sniffed again. Within seconds he looked up just above his head and saw the cheese there, and happy as a clam he raised himself up on hind legs to snag it with his teeth.

    Even if you claim that dogs have a language consisting of barks, growls, yelps and wimpers, I don't think you can reasonably claim that dog language can convey the sort of thoughts that had to be processed by our dog in figuring out how to procure his cheesy reward. It is clear to me that he was thinking in a way that his language was completely inadequate to convey. I have to say, if a dog can think non-linguistically, surely humans can too.
     
  20. Jun 5, 2004 #19
    i think in pictures most of the time, then i choose wether or not to convey verbally with language my idea to a friend. this is a very normal thing for me (thinking without mentally talking to myself). I hope im not missunderstanding the point here. for example, im a skateboarder, i visualize a trick i want to do, then i visualize myself doing the trick, then i go out and learn it. Thinking in words is far from necesary in all of this process.(unless ofcourse if i wish to describe my achievement to a friend!)
     
  21. Jun 6, 2004 #20

    Evo

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    Language has nothing to do with it. It is the culture, not the "language".

    Also, language is not necessary for thinking. Our ancestors were quite capable of thought before a formal language evolved. Language is just the means of exchanging information between people in a uniform way.
     
  22. Jun 6, 2004 #21
    of course humans and other animals are capable of visualising objects and events as graphic images (except those who are born blind)

    but are they capable of complex analysis (abstract thought) without language?

    can the blind think without language?

    is mathematics possible without numbers?

    can a mathematician process numbers without converting the abstract image of a numeral into a word representing a quantity?

    as an experiment take a stopwatch and see how long you can think about the environment around you without a single word entering your mind
     
  23. Jun 6, 2004 #22

    Evo

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    Those born deaf have never heard language. When you think, you hear yourself say words in your mind, it would be different for them. Those born deaf and blind have neither, yet they still are capable of thinking.

    That would probably be a better question. Someone deaf & blind would have much more difficulty attaining a higher level of education.

    Because we have language, it is difficult for us to imagine anything without it. But to say that the language you speak affects behavior is a bit "out there". I believe that it is not the language but the culture in which you are raised.
     
  24. Jun 7, 2004 #23
    In recent years, I have been thinking with the voice more and more to the point that it has become an addiction, and I want to sometimes voice my thoughts out loud just for the hell of it. I sometimes miss times when I thought predominantly without the voice.
     
  25. Jun 7, 2004 #24
    "Language" is not a well-defined concept, so those kinds of questions are tricky. "Language" can be used to describe something as sophisticated as "upper-class British English" or as simplistic as "Fortran". It's really hard to see much in common between the speech of an English aristocrat and a few lines of code in a computer program, except perhaps for the fact that both are collections of symbols.

    I think a better way to approach the issue of thought vs. language is to ask instead, "is it possible to think about something that cannot be communicated with language"? And to that question I think the answer is clearly "no". And that makes thought perfectly isomorphic with language - not the same thing, but exhibiting the same fundamental properties.
     
  26. Jun 7, 2004 #25

    Evo

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    Language can't always acurately describe things though. Language is also subject to interpretation by the person listening or reading. I can think of many things that I would never be able to accurately describe, it could be an object or a feeling, so I don't use language when I think of these things.

    Picture something imaginary in your mind. Do you just see it or are you using words to describe it to yourself? I just see it...no words. Therefore language is not necessary for thought.
     
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