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Helen Keller example Is it possible to think without a language?

  1. Jun 29, 2005 #1
    is it possible to think without a language? Helen Keller knew nothing about language untill the age of 16 when she began to speak. To any deaf and mute person, language would not be a medium of thought, or would it? My Father says he thinks in pictures, but to me that in a way makes no sense. When people talk about things they can't express in words, it isn't the same thing. Reason being that when i closely examined this phenomenon with myself it turned out, when it came to expressing it to the others, it became difficult but when i explained it to myself in my head, it made perfect, absolute sense... any help?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 29, 2005 #2
    depends on how you define language...sign language is considered a form and braille is a way to portray language by sense of touch. Body language(interaction) may also be a form of language. And helen keller apparently didn't lose all her senses which makes you wonder which sense is more important. I wonder if there are any cases where the infant has lost the sense of touch or proprioception.

    In the case of your father if converses in everyday language I doubt he thinks in pictures any more..the brain IMO has synapsed so as to make language the shorter method of producing thought(temporally that is) However if he is a "mute" most of his life then perhaps his speech box is used less.

    it'd be interesting if you can bring up a normal infant to be a mute by not conversin with it but interacting so it grows up in a "deaf" environment. how well would they handle the situation and will they grow up to learn to speak if not spoken to. I belive there are such studies but none off the top of my head.

    also artists may not think in words to express themselves
     
  4. Jun 29, 2005 #3
    Sure it's possible. What about babies? They have basic instincts which they recognize but cannot convey through normal language - hunger, sadness, joy. We as humans laugh, cry, and have other external ways of showing our thoughts, but I still believe that we can think internally without words as well.
     
  5. Jun 29, 2005 #4
    Language has probably indirect effect on thinking but definetelly not direct.

    First, brain does not store information in words. As you said, thinking process in your head seem to make sense. I do most of my thinking without words (dont ask me how i do it, but any human does it). I have huge problem translating those ideas into words to another human begin. Just like this post is probably showing.

    The knowledge is integrated into our beliefs and etc which makes thinking holistic, in our head. However, when i decided to write this message im not gonna go into explaining my ideology which this post is based since any thinking i have done is compared how well it fits my previous picture of the world. I hope you can see main points im trying to show.

    The indirect part of language is interaction and 'learning' among human beings. The better developed system of communication the better and faster learning from each other. Therefore, we can say we dont have to reinvent the wheel like other animals about their surroundings.

    I dont think that knowledge is stored in the memory as words (which is kinda see that we do not remember books word by word but rather through concepts and ideas). Only when we want to communicate the knowledge we have to use endcoding to encode the idea into impression such that it will be received with impression that matches the impression.

    i hope it makes sense.

    sneez
     
  6. Jun 29, 2005 #5
    I am a visual person, I think in "images" and make a living attaching meaning, emotion and feeling to images as a Illustrator/Graphic Designer. I've always been a visual person from my earliest memories. I learn best while watching something done (as opposed to reading it) and find myself more often than not drawing ideas to others around me as our only form of explaination.

    My wife, also a designer, thinks in images as well. Her issue is that she was born in another country learned said language...then moved to another and learned that language and then another and finally another until I met here here in the USA. She speaks 7 languages fluently but due to that she doesn't have one language that is her core language anymore. She says she thinks in a jumble of languages and her most lucid ideas are all image based.

    Those are my personal experiences.

    In the bigger picture you first need to define what language is. You can define language as "something" that two or more people use to transmit ideas... then it would encompass eveything we think as language. In that sense you can't "think" without language.

    Humans are generally visual creatures. We see and react. We can see words on a printed page or smoke signals in the sky but our minds can attach meaning to them. Both words and smoke signals are visual. Meaning in tose cases are constructions of man's mind. Neither exists naturally without man (well smoke does, but not in the patterns it appears in as smoke signals). So someone who grew up alone, with no contact with another human or society in general would most likely think in pure image, with a little sound. Said person would have no need to develop some kind of language as they have no one to communicate ideas to other than themselves.

    Newborns...have a language. They might not understand a spoken or written language but they develop their own...crying. They cry when the want something, some parents even think they can tell what they want (food, comfort, etc) from the type of cry. Even from an early age children are learning words and their attached meanings. Later on most learn to read and write, etc etc.

    So is it possible to think without language. Yes and no. It depends on the definition of the word. I know personally that I can think about and construct and idea without using words or letters. I dream mostly in images too, little to no sound and rarely typography anywhere.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2005
  7. Jun 29, 2005 #6
    One can't communicate clearly without a defined language, but people think in images. These thoughts are expressed verbally, emotionally, and physically. Language helps one communicate to others and to oneself. And with that defined language, one can think on a wider scale of awareness which in turn allows a person to make choices based on thoughts and instinct rather than just instinct alone.
     
  8. Jun 29, 2005 #7
  9. Jun 29, 2005 #8
  10. Jun 30, 2005 #9
    I think the idea is that language has differnet purposes, in whales and dolphins, it appears to be only used for mating, hunting and saftey - key survival instincts. And although they are communcating, they are not communicating for pleasure as humans do.
     
  11. Jun 30, 2005 #10
    Absolutely. Thought is electrical impulses in the brain. Helen Keller's brain didn't only begin having electrical impulses when she turned 16! She would have responded to stimuli, such as heat. If you had put her hand on a stove she would have realized (through thought) that it was hot (without the need of the word "hot") and reacted as such.

    I agree, it is hard to imagine any sort of cognitive process of problem solving without the use of language. However, I think it is possible. Monkeys can problem solve, and although they do have a primitive form of language, I doubt their "language" is advanced enough to lend any sort of cognitive aid to figuring out how to peel a banana. Why would monkeys need to think in terms of "oo oo"s and "ah ah ah ah"s in order to peel a banana? They merely need to do it once (maybe out of frustration or curiosity) or observe another monkey doing it, and then remember that the simple action of peeling a banana yields fruit. I don't think language is needed to describe such an action to oneself.

    (Note, I have no idea if monkeys actually peel bananas. It was merely an example. I have seen monkeys use a stick to retrieve candy they wouldn't have been able to reach without the stick. This is clearly a form of problem solving.)
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2005
  12. Jun 30, 2005 #11
    are images/sounds/thought without langauge the only ways to think? could you have thoughts of touch? or taste?
    i dont see the purpose of such a thing, but im just curious
     
  13. Jun 30, 2005 #12
    yes...it hasbeen shown(sorry don't have the reference) that you can see through your tongue.....but it is a question of how do you define THOUGHT.
    Only amoral experiments will tell whether language is so dominate in our thought process for those capable of language. that is to take out the language centers of the brain and see how the patients react.

    There are some such experiments but i can't remember the results.
     
  14. Jun 30, 2005 #13
    "that is to take out the language centers of the brain and see how the patients react.
    "

    It has been proven that memory is not affected by removing portions of brain. IF memory is not affected thought has not be affected either.

    holographic universe book mentions this memory removal experiments.....
     
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