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Consciousness and language

  1. Jan 9, 2008 #1
    Hi all,

    As I know, we think by language. So before language appeared, how could human beings think?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2008 #2
    By having simpler thoughts. :smile:

    Certainly dogs think too, even though they don't have sophisticated language like humans have. But they don't think about very complicated things.
  4. Jan 9, 2008 #3


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    Language is a symbol manipulation system. Words are symbols which represent some structure, action, or other idea within the mind. I believe it was Dennett who said that the ability to think in terms of symbols was a crucial evolutionary step that differentiates humans from other animals and allowed us develop the society we have.
  5. Jan 9, 2008 #4
    I am trying think of doing something simple without using words. It seems possible though quite hard.
    Thank you both.
  6. Jan 9, 2008 #5
    How about riding a bicycle? Subconscious is doing all the work for you, (not sure if subconscious mind is still accepted by psychologists), but at least you aren't aware of the steps your mind takes to keep you in balance.

    Or can you visualize a circle in your mind and enlarge it? Do you need language to do that?
  7. Jan 9, 2008 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    Without the need for words, I can think through the actions of performing a manual task; I can imagine driving to a specific location; I can imagine scenarios and outcomes viewed as an observer; I can imagine pictures in sequence that tell a story.

    You seem to mean that it is hard to think thoughts that require language, without using language. :biggrin:
  8. Jan 9, 2008 #7


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    Language is not necessary to think. I know there are books out there that say differently. Hogwash. I can think in pictures. I can think in forms or colors or sound, even in emotions. I do not need a spoken or written language.
  9. Feb 4, 2008 #8
    it seems that there are 2 types of thinking. one is active and another passive. because the question was ..."how could humans think?" the process of absorbing information like take a baby for instance. their minds are so new that colors, shapes, scents etc... are making them think. they are "wondering" and curious of what it is. once they experience the object, by touch smell etc... and a few attempts, the mind "remembers" (how I don't know exactly), but it does. Later, the baby combines 2 objects and learns relationships and relativity. So even as babies we learn the most complex things (applications etc...), but later in life we study and postulize with reasoning (mathematics, physics).

    Which would be the active thinking.
    learning could be a passive thinking and applying could be active.
  10. Jan 11, 2009 #9


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    The tao that can be told
    is not the eternal Tao
    The name that can be named
    is not the eternal Name.

    The unnamable is the eternally real.
    Naming is the origin
    of all particular things... (Lao Tzu)
  11. Jan 12, 2009 #10
    It is believed by some that we are genetically born with a universal grammar.


    The question is then how basic is the universal gramer. As a minum I think it should include

    Implication: If X then Y
    Assignment: X is a Y
    Negation/complement: X is not a Y
    Conjunction: OR
    Disjunction: and

    Example of an AI system that uses these ideas:
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2009
  12. Jan 22, 2009 #11
    Yours is the only post that ventured anything substantive on what "thinking" is. It's information processing according to basic logical rules. Language is a higher level manifestation of these processes. Thinking should not be confused with the more nebulous concept of consciousness. The most primitive organisms process information.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2009
  13. Mar 22, 2009 #12
    Well if you somehow monitor your thoughts(which can be a bit difficult), you'll notice that you don't just think in language. If you ask you friends to do the same, they most likely won't think entirely in language either. Something else will be shown if you do that, everyone's mind differs in thought process. Some people think more in pictures than they do in language and others think more in language.
    Also babies do not think in language but they do think. Someone above me said this but dogs think but do not have language like we do.
  14. Mar 23, 2009 #13
    the answer is 'not very well'.

    'feeling' doesnt require wording. (as in 'I have a feeling that someone is lurking behind the shower curtain)

    look up the greek word 'logos' and Carl Jungs 'directed thinking'.

    basically, before language appeared we werent human beings.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2009
  15. Apr 1, 2009 #14


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    Vygotsky would be the best cite for the first well thought out examination of this question.

    Words scaffold thought, allowing humans to direct their attention to events past, future and imagined. The animal mind is locked into present tense thinking.
  16. Apr 6, 2009 #15
    I always thought of language as a type of "image" representation of thoughts.

    The question reminded of the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" at the beginning where the chimps are fighting over the pond. There definitely is no language, I am sure there is thought.
  17. Apr 6, 2009 #16
    Hi Pixel01, deep question indeed keeping in mind the paradox of Name-Form .. Name and form are inseparable. Whenever you think of a form its name comes before your mind at once. Whenever you utter a name the object comes before your mind.

    Coming to your question, It is possible to think without having to depend on "language".Ex: There is a man who is born deaf and dumb.He never heard any word nor spoke any word. He is independent of language.Now, lets show a pen to him. He might not know its a 'Pen' and its usage. However,if we use the pen in his presence for couple of times, he will understand that this object (pen) when scribbled on a paper, produces some symbols/text.

    Your question could be more accurate by asking-"How could human beings were able to express / communicate, before language was present" To which my views are given

    Derek Bickerton and Noam Chomsky concluded that humans are born with a universal grammar hardwired into their brains

    My view is that the mankind has slowly evolved the process of communication as time moved on and slowly generalized the objects to a specific group until majority of them got satisfied and came to a concensus. Initially,(before language's evolution), it must have been wierd!
  18. Apr 6, 2009 #17


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    Before, during, and after the origin of language, humans still think and thought in sounds, pictures, time, sequences, feelings including sensations(meaning emotional feelings and physical feelings).

    Imagine yourself as a worker or professional in a scientific or technological laboratory. You do your tasks, and with experience, you do not recite to yourself in words and sentences most of what you do in order to plan and perform your tasks. Some language may be involved, but much of what you may do daily is managed without direct use of language.

    Because of the sophisticated science needed to develop the concepts which your skills depend, much, great use of language was needed (like during your education), but later on in such as your lab job, you manage much of what you do without directly resorting to language.
  19. Apr 6, 2009 #18


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  20. Apr 6, 2009 #19
    I don't agree with Lacan on this subject (the one that says we are made by language) because, first of all, it doesn't explain most of the affetive feeling, that has a different organization, and IS thinking (unconscious though it is).
    Second, the thinking said to be done by language is actually logic, isn't it? And people can recognize logic in wathever way it appears, even if the symbols aren't completely clear on their heads.
    Language is agreement on symbols, and to make a large code for those, like english for instance, is indeed a great advance in tecnology.
    I'm not a graduated psicologist or social scientist, what I expose here is just what I know out of my own personal studies and from some teachers.
  21. Apr 6, 2009 #20
    I think language allows for "higher level" consciousness, higher level thought, which is why humans are generally considered the most intelligent animal. Language allows us to form more complicated structures, especially written language, it allows us to organize large scale endeavors, like society, and society builds the notion of consciousness. But language, at least human language is obviously not necessary for consciousness, or at least it's obvious to anyone who has a dog.

    Our brains are wired for consciousness, not language. That's why it's still possible for deaf/mute people to be part of society... they are just as "conscious" as anyone else.
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