Author Topic: Is language necessary for thought.  (Read 1570 times)

0 Members and 2 Guests are viewing this topic.

Offline Babdah

  • Graduate
  • ****
  • Posts: 265
  • Darwins +4/-3
  • “We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered
Is language necessary for thought.
« on: January 13, 2012, 08:14:53 PM »
I have always wondered if we did not have language could we have thought? Because when I think I think in the language I was first accoustomed to when I was young, but we cannot obviously think in japanese or german if you don't know these languages. So if we did not know any language could we have a though but just not know how to express it?
“We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction

Offline Frank

  • Reader
  • ******
  • Posts: 2363
  • Darwins +38/-20
  • Gender: Male
  • You're doin' my head in!!
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2012, 08:30:48 PM »
Presumably babies must think about stuff before they can understand language. How do they do it.
"Atheism is not a mission to convert the world. It only seems that way because when other religions fall away, atheism is what is left behind".

Offline Babdah

  • Graduate
  • ****
  • Posts: 265
  • Darwins +4/-3
  • “We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2012, 08:33:41 PM »
Donno, that is why i am asking...
“We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction

Offline Nick

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 10491
  • Darwins +189/-8
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2012, 08:35:35 PM »
Right wing Christians manage to get by without a brain...so who knows?
Yo, put that in your pipe and smoke it.  Quit ragging on my Lord.

Tide goes in, tide goes out !!!

Offline Ambassador Pony

  • You keep what you kill.
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 6858
  • Darwins +71/-4
  • Gender: Male
  • illuminatus
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2012, 11:04:38 PM »
Yes, I think so.

The brain is a symbol processor. As a thought experiment I just tried to say "digital photo frame" in Japanese in my mind. While I did not visualize(audiolize?) the verbiage, every meaningful aspect of that symbol's meaning was consciously available to me.

In a way language, I think, is inseperable from thought because language is thought. From that perspective, your OP is saying "is it possible to think without thinking". You're talking about the same thing.

You believe evolution and there is no evidence for that. Where is the fossil record of a half man half ape. I've only ever heard about it in reading.

Online One Above All

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 11129
  • Darwins +293/-37
  • Supreme ruler of the multiverse; All In One
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2012, 03:26:55 AM »
No. You just need to have a concept to think about. It doesn't need to be defined with words. How do you think deaf people think?
The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
Why settle for normal, when you can be so much more? Why settle for something, when you can have everything?
We choose our own gods.

A.K.A.: Blaziken_rjcf/Lucifer/All In One/Orion.

Online Azdgari

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 12432
  • Darwins +289/-32
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2012, 03:36:25 AM »
^^ In non-auditory symbols, probably.
I have not encountered any mechanical malfunctioning in my spirit.  It works every single time I need it to.

Online One Above All

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 11129
  • Darwins +293/-37
  • Supreme ruler of the multiverse; All In One
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2012, 03:37:49 AM »
^^ In non-auditory symbols, probably.

How do you think deaf and blind people[1] think? You just need a concept. You don't need to define it with words. Haven't you ever thought about something by imagining what it looks like rather than defining it?
 1. In the sense that they're both deaf and blind.
The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
Why settle for normal, when you can be so much more? Why settle for something, when you can have everything?
We choose our own gods.

A.K.A.: Blaziken_rjcf/Lucifer/All In One/Orion.

Online Azdgari

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 12432
  • Darwins +289/-32
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2012, 03:39:03 AM »
You must have read something other than the 4-word post that I just made.  I meant every one of those 4 words, and I meant them literally.  What other words did you think I meant?
I have not encountered any mechanical malfunctioning in my spirit.  It works every single time I need it to.

Online One Above All

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 11129
  • Darwins +293/-37
  • Supreme ruler of the multiverse; All In One
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2012, 03:40:27 AM »
My apologies.
The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
Why settle for normal, when you can be so much more? Why settle for something, when you can have everything?
We choose our own gods.

A.K.A.: Blaziken_rjcf/Lucifer/All In One/Orion.

Online Azdgari

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 12432
  • Darwins +289/-32
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2012, 03:46:21 AM »
Symbols aren't necessarily words, and aren't even necessarily a language, but they're certainly the necessary components of a language.  "Symbols which are understood" is an idea very similar to that of a language, even if the symbols are only understood by the one thinking them.
I have not encountered any mechanical malfunctioning in my spirit.  It works every single time I need it to.

Offline Samuelxcs

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 669
  • Darwins +6/-18
  • Gender: Male
  • The oldest and strongest emotion of humans is fear
    • Fallen Angels
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2012, 05:30:44 AM »
There are a lot of things that requires no thought at all, like using a machine or speaking. If someone looks at a symbol they could instantly know about it without thought.
"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget."
-Thomas Szasz

Offline screwtape

  • The Great Red Dragon
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 12550
  • Darwins +703/-28
  • Gender: Male
  • Karma mooch
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2012, 08:23:01 AM »
related

http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/07.22/21-think.html
Quote
Which comes first, language or thought?
Babies think first
By William J. Cromie
Harvard News Office


It's like the chicken and egg question. Do we learn to think before we speak, or does language shape our thoughts? New experiments with five-month-olds favor the conclusion that thought comes first.

"Infants are born with a language-independent system for thinking about objects," says Elizabeth Spelke, a professor of psychology at Harvard. "These concepts give meaning to the words they learn later."

(more)

there is loads of stuff on the first page of a google search for "language and thought"

Links:
Rules
Guides & Tutorials

What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline Babdah

  • Graduate
  • ****
  • Posts: 265
  • Darwins +4/-3
  • “We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2012, 08:48:59 AM »
So, if I am understanding this correctly, we think in pictures then translate it into the language that we know?
“We live in an age disturbed, confused, bewildered, afraid of its own forces, in search not merely of its road but even of its direction

Offline bosey926

  • Reader
  • ******
  • Posts: 1039
  • Darwins +8/-1
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2012, 08:59:30 AM »
     I wonder if there are any pediatric PET scans (you know from epileptics like myself or those with other neurological disorders) that are available to be seen via some psychology research text? 

Offline kevinagain

  • Undergraduate
  • ***
  • Posts: 215
  • Darwins +8/-0
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #15 on: January 14, 2012, 09:36:52 AM »
you know, babdah, this is a really interesting question.

what do you mean by "thought?" if you define thought as a string of symbols that represent abstract ideas and the processing that goes with them, then you have reasoning. or description, perhaps. that string of symbols might as well be called "language."

i don't use language in a lot of my thought. if i'm riding my smelly ancient motorcycle through a long right-hand sweeper and have to change my line in mid-turn because of a bump, i don't use language at all. instead, i take in the image of the turn and the feel of the bump, process it somehow, make a decision about how to correct, then use learned skills and my meagre talent to go around the corner. there doesn't seem to be a symbol string in there, but what i'm doing is way above just motor memory, because i have to adapt to changes in the turn.

what about musicians? what are doing when you play an instrument, something that you just make up as you go? is that thought?

what is going on in your head when you paint a picture?

Offline Ambassador Pony

  • You keep what you kill.
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 6858
  • Darwins +71/-4
  • Gender: Male
  • illuminatus
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2012, 10:06:42 AM »
So, if I am understanding this correctly, we think in pictures then translate it into the language that we know?

no.
You believe evolution and there is no evidence for that. Where is the fossil record of a half man half ape. I've only ever heard about it in reading.

Offline Samuelxcs

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 669
  • Darwins +6/-18
  • Gender: Male
  • The oldest and strongest emotion of humans is fear
    • Fallen Angels
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2012, 09:19:56 AM »
So, if I am understanding this correctly, we think in pictures then translate it into the language that we know?

no.

Guess I am the only one that does that.
"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget."
-Thomas Szasz

Offline Ambassador Pony

  • You keep what you kill.
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 6858
  • Darwins +71/-4
  • Gender: Male
  • illuminatus
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2012, 04:21:46 PM »
Nothing goes with the pictures? They are meaningless without words?

I am not an expert.
You believe evolution and there is no evidence for that. Where is the fossil record of a half man half ape. I've only ever heard about it in reading.

Offline kin hell

  • Professor
  • ********
  • Posts: 5380
  • Darwins +152/-7
  • Gender: Male
  • - .... . .-. . /.. ... / -. --- / --. --- -.. ...
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #19 on: January 20, 2012, 04:26:25 PM »
.....how was language developed without thought?
"...but on a lighter note, demons were driven from a pig today in Gloucester."  Bill Bailey

all edits are for spelling or grammar unless specified otherwise

Offline Samothec

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 585
  • Darwins +49/-2
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #20 on: January 20, 2012, 09:40:46 PM »
I have always wondered if we did not have language could we have thought? Because when I think I think in the language I was first accustomed to when I was young, but we cannot obviously think in japanese or german if you don't know these languages. So if we did not know any language could we have a thought but just not know how to express it?

Yes, we can think without language but in some ways words facilitate thought. And make expressing it possible.

From the linked article (thank you screwtape), it reveals something few people probably would have considered: that language restricts thought in part. I say in part because it also allows us to learn things we have never experienced, thus expanding our knowledge.

So, if I am understanding this correctly, we think in pictures then translate it into the language that we know?

No, it's not that separate. For some things, like riding a motorcycle, we don't use language at all – the mind focuses on the sensations associated with the experience to do it correctly again. But when discussing riding a motorcycle, the mind utilizes the connections between the various concepts and their linked words to form the verbal/written expressions needed for the communication.

Contrary to Samuelxcs comment, none of us translates the concepts we're using into our native language; we have it more ingrained than that. (Although he may have had a valid thought that he was unable to properly express.) But as kevinagain indicated, we don't need to access that info all the time.

"Turn right" is a concept that has several very tight connections in our minds: the words, the feeling of turning right as we walk, the feeling of turning right as we drive a car, the feeling of turning right as we ride a motorcycle, what you see when turning right as you step out of your room/house/cubical and maybe a few others. Then there are more loosely connected concepts that are then linked: rules for turning right in traffic, any accidents you had while turning right, who you might want to avoid when exiting your house/cubicle, etc.

I took German in high school and got to a point where I thought in German. The concepts were just there in German without translation. I have forgotten most of it but I know that "Tur" is a door and "Tisch" is a table without translating. What's really weird is I can partially understand things but translating is the difficult point.

As for deaf and blind people, non-auditory symbols are still words and still connected to concepts but the set of tightly linked concepts is going to be different than the set a sighted or hearing-capable person has. And at times you run into weird gaps like English not having a single word for "hearing-capable" like sighted is for "vision-capable" – not one that came to my mind anyways.   :P

Nothing goes with the pictures? They are meaningless without words?

The concept exists alone but has tight links to the word and picture.

.....how was language developed without thought?

 &)  Considering your other posts, I'm guessing you're asking that to point out to people that we needed to develop thought first to a degree at least. There was possibly some concurrent development of thought and speech such as making sounds to alert others which led to meaning getting assigned to certain sounds and then recognition of combining sounds (and their meanings) to enhance communication then to language.

Consider the fact that great apes have been taught sign language. They have a quite small natural vocabulary (of sounds used among their own kind) but can learn a fair amount of human sign language. They only use it symbolically but that is still a significant achievement. So thought is there even though they have not developed a language of their own.
Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. - Martin Luther

Offline ParkingPlaces

  • Professor
  • ********
  • Posts: 6605
  • Darwins +789/-6
  • Gender: Male
  • If you are religious, you are misconcepted
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #21 on: January 20, 2012, 10:12:25 PM »
I always loved the story about the first primate taught sign language (I forget the critters name, but I know it was somewhere in California). It had been taught some words, and knew some signs for various items in it's environment.

It really loved watermelon, but hadn't had any for awhile and had not been taught a word for it. But one day it asked for "water fruit". Everyone knew immediately what it wanted.

Language may be pretty easy.
Jesus, the cracker flavored treat!

Offline Irish

  • Fellow
  • *******
  • Posts: 3153
  • Darwins +18/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • Moraxella catarrhalis on BA
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #22 on: January 20, 2012, 10:43:30 PM »
Language isn't necessary for thought but conveying those thoughts to another person takes some form of communication ability.

I don't need to know the word for "ball" to think about a ball.  Same with the gorilla[1] in the post by ParkingPlaces.  The gorilla didn't need to know the word for watermelon to think about and want a watermelon.
 1. I believe it was a gorilla
La scienze non ha nemici ma gli ignoranti.

Offline kin hell

  • Professor
  • ********
  • Posts: 5380
  • Darwins +152/-7
  • Gender: Male
  • - .... . .-. . /.. ... / -. --- / --. --- -.. ...
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2012, 04:09:03 AM »

.....how was language developed without thought?

 &)  Considering your other posts, I'm guessing you're asking that to point out to people that we needed to develop thought first to a degree at least.

Correct as to my intent.
 
I imagine "Considering your other posts" must refer to my posting in general as I have not posted previously in this thread, it begs the question considering what about my other posts? (Genuinely interested not being problematic or argumentative, seeking post habit/style feedback not a blue  :))

I would disagree with your ...."develop thought first to a degree".
The level of thought required even to begin to infer/conceive the possibility of a language at all, would I imagine be massive, let alone to try and develop one from first principles, and then share it with those who aren't even on the same start point literally.

Quote
There was possibly some concurrent development of thought and speech such as making sounds to alert others which led to meaning getting assigned to certain sounds and then recognition of combining sounds (and their meanings) to enhance communication then to language.

again I reckon extensive thought has to exist first    ...stimuli direct to a capable brain will generate snapshot internal dialogue without external language being necessary, but to be able to order it to create a language has whole other required levels of thought beyond stimulus response communication.

I suppose language may be an evolutionary offshoot of thought becoming less chaotic less experiential and more contemplative....


Quote
Consider the fact that great apes have been taught sign language. They have a quite small natural vocabulary (of sounds used among their own kind) but can learn a fair amount of human sign language. They only use it symbolically but that is still a significant achievement. So thought is there even though they have not developed a language of their own.

..........and so you have answered your original question mate  ;)
"...but on a lighter note, demons were driven from a pig today in Gloucester."  Bill Bailey

all edits are for spelling or grammar unless specified otherwise

Offline Poseidon

  • Graduate
  • ****
  • Posts: 399
  • Darwins +24/-0
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #24 on: January 21, 2012, 11:46:02 PM »
This a very old philosophical argument. There are those who make a pretty good case for the proposition that inellectual thought is limited by ones vocabulary.   Language/thought vs thought/ language is kind of like the chicken or egg conundrum.

Another argument that may be related, is that in order to speak well in a language other than our own, you must learn to think in that language.  Samothec mentioned something along those lines.

Offline Neil C. Reinhardt

  • Novice
  • Posts: 1
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • WWGHA Member
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #25 on: January 22, 2012, 12:35:59 AM »
There are many other mammals, animals reptiles, birds and fish which have from limited, to perhaps no language skills at all and yet, they think very, very well.

Proof of this is shown over & over again by the videos in the website is "Animals Don't Think" 

And while "Animals Don't Think"  is the name of this website, they provide video after video after video which PROVE the exact opposite.

http://animalsdontthink.com/

PROVING words are NOT needed!

Offline Samothec

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 585
  • Darwins +49/-2
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #26 on: January 22, 2012, 02:40:27 AM »
 
I would disagree with your ...."develop thought first to a degree".
The level of thought required even to begin to infer/conceive the possibility of a language at all, would I imagine be massive, let alone to try and develop one from first principles, and then share it with those who aren't even on the same start point literally.
It was only upon rereading things now that I see within my own post that point – when I mention the great apes. I didn't need the qualifier of "to a degree".

again I reckon extensive thought has to exist first    ...stimuli direct to a capable brain will generate snapshot internal dialogue without external language being necessary, but to be able to order it to create a language has whole other required levels of thought beyond stimulus response communication.
I suppose language may be an evolutionary offshoot of thought becoming less chaotic less experiential and more contemplative....
The discussion is almost reminding me of materials I've read – how certain faculties needed to be developed first then language which facilitated further development by helping organize thought IIRC.

..........and so you have answered your original question mate  ;)
Hindsight is 20/20 – so I should have been looking at the tail end of my own post.
Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. - Martin Luther

Offline Samothec

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 585
  • Darwins +49/-2
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #27 on: January 22, 2012, 02:59:35 AM »
...  is kind of like the chicken or egg conundrum.
This stopped being a conundrum for me the moment I realized dinosaurs, and before them lizards and amphibians, laid eggs. Now I can't think of it was a conundrum. I still understand the gist of the question but now it just seems foolish. Am I the only one?

Another argument that may be related, is that in order to speak well in a language other than our own, you must learn to think in that language.  Samothec mentioned something along those lines.
I've heard that idea too but don't know how true it is. In a way I lucked out when learning German since my vocabulary wasn't huge and my grammar wasn't spectacular but something did click allowing me to be able to think in it.

I was mainly trying to point out that memory is not a neat spreadsheet with just one bit of info in each cell. There are linkages all over the place and – for some reason – the linkages facilitating translation in my head have faded more than the linkages between the words and concepts.
Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. - Martin Luther

Online Azdgari

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 12432
  • Darwins +289/-32
  • Gender: Male
Re: Is language necessary for thought.
« Reply #28 on: January 22, 2012, 03:21:16 AM »
This stopped being a conundrum for me the moment I realized dinosaurs, and before them lizards and amphibians, laid eggs. Now I can't think

The fact that new information solved the "chicken and egg" conundrum, is the whole point of the conundrum:  That without actual data on which of 2 parts of a cycle came first, or if the cycle gradually evolved out of a different cycle, it's hard to say which of the 2 parts of the cycle actually did come first.  Essentially, the "chicken and egg" conundrum points out the need for information.
I have not encountered any mechanical malfunctioning in my spirit.  It works every single time I need it to.