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The language of concept/perception

  1. Sep 28, 2010 #1

    The language of concept/perception - I’m not sure if this topic makes sense, but... 

    Let’s pretend that humankind has not created letters and words yet, that every group of people from different corners of the globe communicates by murmurs and sound --- I assume this is how our ancient ancestors used to communicate with each other.

    If there is no language that does not mean there is no perception, there is perception prior to description or expression through the use of language. Individuals perceive things, then describe them and put them into words. Then those words agreed upon (commonly understood) by group of individuals are now use to describe things. A ‘thing’ is being ‘described’ in different languages and the ‘meaning’ these languages are trying to convey can be (is) the same.

    Is the way we understand things dependent upon the use of words? Or we are trying to understand things because of the words? Is it language first before the perception or perception first before the language?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2010 #2


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    Extreme positions can be taken either way on this question. For example, google Benjamin Whorf for the standard "words shape perception" controversy.

    But the sensible answer is that it is all about the interaction. It is not one ahead of the other, but how the two combine. And here psychologist Lev Vygotsky is the best general guide.
  4. Sep 29, 2010 #3

    One of the key differences between chimps and humans is that we have an interest in teaching and being taught. Toddlers learn to point at things of interest as a way of sharing and eliciting feedback long before coming anywhere near mastering language and their parents look for and encourage this behavior. Chimps, on the other hand, never display such behavior. They either learn something by being lucky enough to observe it or by trial and error. In one experiment a chimp that had been taught sign language was introduced to a wild troop of chimps. After weeks of trying to teach them sign language without them showing the slightest interest he finally gave up.

    Other animals may instinctively teach their young basic skills such as hunting, but never demonstrate any real interest in teaching and learning in general. The implication is that humans have an unusually strong innate desire to teach and be taught and, therefore, if we didn't have language some of us would probably invent one just as twins sometimes invent their own private languages. Whether or not you consider such things to be thought then depends upon your definition of the word.

    Antonio Demasio is a famous neurologist who specializes in people who have lost the ability to emote, usually through some sort of traumatic brain injury. His findings indicate that without emotions thought as it is commonly defined is impossible and people become little more than walking computers utterly dependent upon their memories and the kindness of strangers. The question then arises as to which came first, the chicken or the egg, reason or emotions, and the answer seems to be the two cannot be seperated.
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