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The Absurdity of 'Thinking in Language'
the author's site ^ | 1972 | Dallas Willard

Posted on 05/23/2003 3:59:51 PM PDT by unspun

The Absurdity of 'Thinking in Language'
This paper has been read to the University of Southern California philosophy group and the Boston 1972 meeting of the American Philosophical Association, as well as to the Houston meeting of the Southwestern Philosophical Society. Appeared in The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, IV(1973), pp. 125-132. Numbers in "<>" refer to this journal.

Among the principal assumptions of major portions of philosophy in recent decades have been: (1) That philosophy somehow consists of (some sort of) logic, and (2) that logic is a study of and theory about (some sort of) language. There, of course, follows from these a third assumption: (3) That philosophy is a study of and theory about (some sort of) language--though this implication should not be taken as representing any phase of the historical development of recent philosophizing. Instead of listing these three points as assumptions, it would probably be more correct to regard them as categories or complexes of assumptions; or perhaps, more vaguely still, as 'tendencies' or proclivities of recent philosophical thinking. But precision of these points need not be put in issue here, as this paper does not seek any large-scale resolution of the problem area in question.

The aim here is to examine only one proposition which plays a role in the clearly existent tendencies referred to: Namely, the proposition that we think in or with language. I hope to show, first, that we do not always think in or with language; and then, second, that the very conception of thinking in or with language involves an absurdity. What implications this has for broader philosophical assumptions or tendencies will not be dealt with here, though the implications in question seem to me to be extremely important ones.

That human beings think in language is explicitly stated in such diverse places as ordinary newspapers, the more sophisticated popular magazines and journals, and serious discourse in the humanities and the social sciences, as well as in the technical writings of philosophers. To prove this broad range of consensus would be idle; but, in order to have the philosophical context clearly before us, we may give a few brief quotations. <126> 

     (1) Man, like every living creature, thinks unceasingly, but does not know it: the thinking which becomes conscious of itself is only the smallest part thereof. And, we may say, the worst part:--for this conscious thinking alone is done in words, that is to say, in the symbols for communication, by means of which the origin of consciousness is revealed. (Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom, sub-sec. # 354)

     (2) Let no one be contemptuous of symbols! A good deal depends upon a practical selection of them. Furthermore, their value is not diminished by the fact that after much practice, we no longer really need to call forth a symbol, we do not need to speak out loud in order to think. The fact remains that we think in words or, when not in words, then in mathematical or other symbols. (Frege, Mind, Vol. 73, p. 156)

     (3) It is misleading then to talk of thinking as of a 'mental activity'. We may say that thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs. This activity is performed by the hand, when we think by writing; by the mouth and larynx, when we think by speaking; and if we think by imagining signs or pictures, I can give you no agent that thinks. If then you say that in such cases the mind thinks, I would only draw your attention to the fact that you are using a metaphor, that here the mind is an agent in a different sense from that in which the hand can be said to be an agent in writing. (Wittgenstein, Blue Book, pp. 6-7)

     (4) ... The woof and warp of all thought and all research is symbols, and the life of thought and science is the life inherent in symbols; so that it is wrong to say that a good language is important to good thought, merely; for it is of the essence of it. (C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, II, p. 129)

     (5) Words only matter because words are what we think with. (H. H. Price, Aristotelian Society, Suppl. Vol. XIX, p. 7)

     (6) Theorizing is an activity which most people can and normally do conduct in silence. They articulate in sentences the theories that they construct, but they do not most of the time speak these sentences out loud. They say them to themselves.... Much of our ordinary thinking is conducted in internal monologue or silent soliloquy, usually accompanied by an internal cinematograph-show of visual imagery.... This trick of talking to oneself in silence is acquired neither quickly nor without effort.... (Ryle, Concept of Mind, p. 27. See also pp. 282-83 and 296-97) <127>

     (7)This helps to elucidate the well-known difficulty of thinking without words. Certain kinds of thinking are pieces of intelligent talking to oneself. Consider the way in which I 'thinkingly' wrote the last sentence. I can no more do the 'thinking' part without the talking (or writing) part than a man can do the being graceful part of walking apart from the walking (or some equivalent activity). (J.J.C. Smart, Philosophy and Scientific Realism, p. 89)

These quotations will suffice to establish the context within which philosophers speak of thinking in language (or with language). Many other quotations could be added from the literature.1 It is not assumed here that the persons quoted all occupy the same position with reference to the relationship between thought and language. Yet it would be interesting to see what any of these thinkers, or others who suppose that human beings think in language, could save of their position from the critique which follows.

Uneasiness about the conception of thinking in or with language has been expressed by a number of writers, but only over limited aspects of it.2 Here we shall consider arguments which purport to call the conception into question entirely and in principle. First, consider a reason for rejecting the view that we always think in language. It consists in the fact that thinking often occurs without the production, manipulation, or perception of sense-perceptible signs, without which there is no use of language. Such occurrences often provoke offers of 'A penny for your thoughts.'

Thinking: Whatever we may decide to call them, and however it is that we are conscious of them, there are intentional states of persons, more or less fixed or fleeting, which do not require for their obtaining that what they are about or of be perceived by, or be impinging causally upon, the person involved. In order to think of3 Henry the Eighth, <128> of the first auto one owned, of the Pythagorean theorem, or of the Mississippi River, it is not required that they should disturb my nervous system. Such states (t-states) of persons are often called 'thoughts', especially in contrast with 'perceptions', and being in such a state is one of the things more commonly called 'thinking'. One no more needs to be going through a change of such states in order to be thinking, than he needs to be changing his bodily position in order to be sitting or lying or sleeping. Rarely if ever--as is alleged in the case of mystic contemplation--are these t-states unchanging. Usually they flow, at varying rates, intermingled with person states of many sorts, governed by such transitional structures as inference, goal orientation, objective structures given in perception or in other ways, and elemental association of 'ideas', among others. In what follows, we shall use 'thinking' to cover both the single t-state and the flow of such states, without regard to how intermingled with other person states.

Language: Sense perceptible signs or symbols are an essential constituent of language. It is always false to say that language is present or in use where no signs are present or in use. And, whatever else a sign may be, it is something which is apprehendable via its sensible qualities. That is, it is something which can be either seen, heard, felt, tasted or smelled. Moreover, the use of language requires some level of actual sensuous apprehension of the signs which are in use on the occasion. (Confusion or distortion of this sensuous feedback can render a subject incapable of writing or speaking; and, of course, without perception of the sign-sequences emitted, one cannot understand the person emitting language.)

Now cases can be produced almost at will where thinking occurs without language being present or in use. This, of course, is something which everyone--including the proponent of thinking-in-language--very well knows. It is these cases which, together with the assumption that we always think in language, create what in (7) was called "the well-known difficulty of thinking without words." If, as in (3), "thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs," then when there are no signs--and when, consequently, the means by which we produce, manipulate, or perceive signs are not functioning--we do have a difficulty. In fact, a difficulty so severe that it amounts to a proof that thinking is not essentially the activity of operating with signs, and that often we think entirely without language. One cannot operate with signs where there are no signs. <129> 

As the above quotations indicate, the most common move made to save 'thinking in language' at this point is the shift to 'silent soliloquy,' as in (6), or to 'pieces of intelligent talking to oneself,' as in (7). These are latter-day shades of John Watson's 'sub-vocal language.' Of course one can talk to oneself or write to onself. But talking and writing to oneself require the production and perception of sensuous signs just as much as talking and writing to another. The realization of this is what drives the thinking-in-language advocate to silent soliloquy or to nonvocal speaking--the written counterpart of which would be invisible writing. That is, they are driven to flat absurdities. A silent soliloquy--that is, silent speaking--is precisely on a par with a silent trumpet solo, for example, or silent thunder. A poet may say:

       Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

            Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

       Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,

            Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone;...

               (Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn)

But there are in fact no unhearable melodies, no ears other than the "sensual," no ditties of no tone.

What those who speak of silent discourse have in mind is, no doubt, the fact that interlaced with our thinking of or about things is a great deal of imaging of linguistic entities. (This is especially true of academics or intellectuals in general, because of their great concern with expression of thought. Probably an adequate phenomenology of thinking would exhibit great contrast between them and other classes of persons precisely at the relation between thinking and degree of activity in imaging linguistic entities and events.) But imaging a word is not using a word, any more than imaging a horse is using a horse. Moreover, imaging a word, phrase, or sentence is not producing or perceiving a word, phrase, or sentence any more than imaging a horse is producing or perceiving--or otherwise 'having'--a horse. To image a linguistic sequence is not to have it in a special sort of place--the mind--nor is it to have a special sort of linguistic sequence. To image is to exemplify a certain sort of thinking or intentional state, and a sort which does have interesting relationships with other kinds of thinking. But there is no reason at all to suppose that all kinds of thinking necessarily involve or are accompanied by this kind of thinking (imaging) directed upon language segments. And if there were, it still would not follow that all thinking requires language, since this kind of thinking about language segments is not itself language at all. Nor does it require any <130> language present in order for it to come to pass, since intentional inexistence applies to mental events when language segments are the objects, as well as when sticks and stones and animals are.

Having considered a reason for rejecting the proposition that human beings always think in language, let us now consider whether they ever do. In fact, the difficulty is not, as Smart (above) and others have thought, in seeing how one can think without language, but in seeing how one would think with it. Thinking with or in language must consist in doing something with symbols, and so necessarily involves doing something to them--e.g., producing, altering, or perceiving them. If we would do something with the knife (e.g., cut the bread), we must do something to the knife, (e.g., clasp it in our hands). But, as we have seen, thinking occurs where nothing at all is being done to or with signs, there not being any signs in these cases. The power or act of having or changing t-states--that is, the power or act of thinking--is, then, not a power or act of having or altering linguistic symbols. (It is not, in fact, a power of doing anything with or in anything at all. The profound difference in kinds of powers and acts involved here is what Wittgenstein calls attention to in the last sentence of (3) above.) Thought is, of course, practical, in that it exercises an influence upon, or makes some difference in, the world of sense particulars. But it alone is not capable of acting with the sorts of particulars used in linguistic behavior as its immediate instruments. It is just this incapacity which makes it impossible for the advocates of thinking-in-language to give any account of the mechanisms or the 'how' by which the words in which we, allegedly, think are produced, manipulated, and gotten rid of--though they must be produced (or stored and hauled out), manipulated, and, in some sense, gotten rid of, if we are to think with and in them as our tools or instruments.

Merely to ask the question of how, in detail, this is done in the course of thinking reveals, I believe, the absurdity of 'thinking in language'. Mere thinking can do nothing to signs which might be used in a language, and hence it can do nothing with such signs, or in the act of modifying the conditions of such signs. It is absurd to suppose that one can do x with y without in some way bringing about a change in the condition, state, relations, or properties of y. It is this and only this that I put by saying that it is absurd to suppose that one can do something with y while doing nothing to y.

If it is replied that, of course, the mind or thought does not do these things, but that when we write, speak, hear, see, and otherwise relate to actual words in the actual employment of language, we then are thinking, with bodily parts managing the symbols involved, then it <131> must be pointed out that, while we may indeed also be thinking in such cases, we are not simply thinking. The total event here, to which language certainly is essential, is not thinking. Correct use of language can even occur, as has been pointed out by Wittgenstein, without the occurrence of any peculiarly relevant t-states. On the other hand, thinking does occur without the use of hands, mouth, ears, eyes, fingers in any appropriately relevant manner. Hence, what can only occur by the use of these is not the same as thinking, though it may somehow involve or influence thinking.

Smart remarks in (7) that, when he thinkingly wrote the sentence, "Certain kinds of thinking are pieces of intelligent talking to oneself," he could "no more do the 'thinking' part without the talking (or writing) part than a man can do the being graceful part of walking apart from the walking." This may be true of thinkingly writing the sentence (whatever that means). But it does not follow that one cannot think that certain kinds of thinking are pieces of intelligent talking to oneself without the use of language, though Smart clearly thinks that it does. Of course one cannot thinkingly write without writing. But that is nothing to the point of whether or not we can and do think with or without words. Also, the comparison to graceful walking is not apt. We do, as above shown, sometimes think without words or symbols, while no cases of grace without behavior are known.

Now it is very certainly true that some processes clearly involving thinking as described above depend for their occurrence upon linguistic behavior and the sensible signs which it involves, for example, the processes of learning algebra or the history of the Basques, or learning how to counsel emotionally upset persons. But it is to be noted that these are not themselves processes of thinking, but rather are extremely complex processes involving all kinds of events and entities other than language and other than thinking--e.g., feelings, perceptions, buildings, other persons, days and nights, books, and so on. None of these processes is a process of thinking; and for that reason alone it is invalid to infer from them that thinking is linguistic behavior, or that one thinks with language. What is essential to things or events of a certain sort must be shown essential to them taken by themselves, not in combination with many other things. With reference to the involved processes in question, it might be more appropriate (though it would still be wrong) to say--as some have said in recent years--that we live in or with language. Nevertheless, it is certain that some kind of dependence relation--probably similar to feedback mechanisms--exists between linguistic processes and their sensuous signs, on the one hand, and certain sequences of t-states on the other. What, exactly, this relation <132> of dependence is continues to be veiled by, among other things, a priori assumptions about what thinking and language must be and do. One such assumption is that which holds thinking essentially to be an operation with signs or symbols, or doing something with--or in--linguistic processes or entities.

The view that we (necessarily) think without language is, today, regarded as so outlandish as not to merit serious consideration. But this is not due to a lack of arguments to support it. My object here has been to focus upon certain arguments purporting to show the absurdity of thinking in language. The main points in these arguments are: Thinking does occur without any accompanying language whatsoever, and thus shows itself not to be a power or act of managing linguistic signs, once it is clear what such a sign is. Thinking, as distinct from behavioral processes involving it, can do nothing to signs or symbols, and hence can do nothing with them.


NOTES

  1. See for example, Ramsey's Foundations of Mathematics, p. 138, and Kneale's remarks in Feigl and Sellars, Readings in Philosophical Analysis, p. 42. Return to text.
  2. See S. Morris Engel, "Thought and Language," Dialogue, Vol. 3, 1964, 160-170; Jerome Shaffer, "Recent Work on the Mind-Body Problem," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. II, 1965, esp. p. 83; R. Kirk, "Rationality Without Language," Mind, 1967, pp. 369-368; G. Ryle, "A Puzzling Element in the Notion of Thinking," in Studies in the Philosophy of Thought and Action, P. F. Strawson, ed., (Oxford: 1968), pp. 7-23. Interesting remarks on the issues here are also found in Bruce Aune's Knowledge, Mind and Nature, chap. VIII and H. H. Price's Thinking and Experience, Chap. X.  See also Wm. James, "Thought Before Language; A Deaf Mute's Recollections," Mind, Vol. I, 1892; and see Wittgenstein's comments on this in Philosophical Investigations, No. 342. Return to text.
  3. I use only think here, for simplicity; but think that and other structures of such intentional states (and sequences thereof) might also be mentioned. Specifically, I would also wish to hold that instances of thinking that, in the sense of inferring or puzzling something out, occur in the absence of appropriate linguistic entities or activities. Return to text.


TOPICS: Philosophy
KEYWORDS: consciousness; dallaswillard; epistemology; faithandphilosophy; godsgravesglyphs; intelligence; intention; intentionality; language; linguistics; metaphysics; mind; ontology; psychology; semantics; semasiology; semiotics; sense; thinking; thought; willard
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An objective look into thought and language, subjective to the reality behind the curtain of popular fallacy held by many thinkers and theorists for generations. Sensible as well as logical, I think. Therefore, I'll summon the words to say it is quite thoughtful... well expressed in words, too.

This may not stir a lengthy debate here, but I thought I'd post it as something to refer to from time to time, for the meditation of course. I admit it is "deep." Deeper perhaps than many would want to think....

1 posted on 05/23/2003 3:59:51 PM PDT by unspun
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To: unspun
ROTFLOL,........ROTFLOL,........ROTFLOL,......
2 posted on 05/23/2003 4:05:42 PM PDT by maestro
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To: unspun
How do you take into consideration those people who are telepathic. They have no language, they only have understanding.
3 posted on 05/23/2003 4:08:59 PM PDT by fifteendogs
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To: unspun
I tend to regard thinking as being a pseudo-sensory process. Since verbal language is one form of sensory perception, some thinking can be done in that form. Thinking may also be done in written form, non-linguistic visual forms, musical form, non-musical non-verbal audio forms, tactile forms, etc.
4 posted on 05/23/2003 4:11:58 PM PDT by supercat (TAG--you're it!)
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To: fifteendogs
Right,......and don't forget the 'Christian Science' scientists.

/sarcasm

5 posted on 05/23/2003 4:13:52 PM PDT by maestro
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To: unspun
Some interesting concepts in this piece though I admit much of it is over my head. I've often wondered if we do sometimes think without symbols. I believe I do in the spatial sense, but not in other areas.
6 posted on 05/23/2003 4:15:15 PM PDT by Lorianne
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To: unspun
that logic is a study of and theory about (some sort of) language

Logos - word. Logic - word. Legis - word. Law - word. In the beginning, etc. Law, logic, and word. Same old same-o.

7 posted on 05/23/2003 4:17:48 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: RightWhale
Right!.......language w/out syntax and interpersonal 'relationships'....!!

/sarcasm

8 posted on 05/23/2003 4:20:51 PM PDT by maestro
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To: unspun
Like a great deal of philosophy, it reminds of a line from Macbeth:

"..it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

9 posted on 05/23/2003 4:23:00 PM PDT by expatpat
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To: unspun
An objective look into thought and language,

If you want objective, read " Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics" by Alfred Korzybski.
This paper is nothing but subjective twaddle.

So9

10 posted on 05/23/2003 4:23:13 PM PDT by Servant of the Nine (A Goldwater Republican)
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To: unspun
How come ya didn include da pictuers?
11 posted on 05/23/2003 4:23:26 PM PDT by per loin
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To: laredo44; donh; Doctor Stochastic; RJCogburn; Hank Kerchief; PatrickHenry; LogicWings; spunkets; ...
I thought you might want to give this some thought. You may even wish to find the words to express what you think.
12 posted on 05/23/2003 4:24:28 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: f.Christian
Need your help and insight over here. Are we limited in thinking by our language structure?
13 posted on 05/23/2003 4:28:24 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: fifteendogs; maestro
fifteendogs: How do you take into consideration those people who are telepathic. They have no language, they only have understanding.

I take them into account fairly easily, after a good deal of thought. ;-`

Then what is understanding?

14 posted on 05/23/2003 4:30:58 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: unspun
Shouldn't this be under Breaking News?

;)
15 posted on 05/23/2003 4:33:07 PM PDT by freedumb2003 (Peace through Strength)
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To: unspun
Oops, this is obviously not a Computer Programming Language thread.
16 posted on 05/23/2003 4:34:47 PM PDT by katnip (Carry on.)
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To: unspun
This illustrates perfectly why I love Nietchze (sp?) and detest the others.

I really like it when he referred to J.S. Mills as a 'blockhead'. My philosophy professor went beserk when I expressed my agreement with the blockhead comment. Being the animal rights person that he was though, he did go on to laud Nietchze for dying in service to his horse.

I'm basically with expat, and Macbeth and all that.

17 posted on 05/23/2003 4:36:04 PM PDT by AlbionGirl (A kite flies highest against the wind, not with it. - Winston Churchill)
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To: unspun
This following might interest you, although it is a bit long-winded at times:

A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness, by Merlin Donald

18 posted on 05/23/2003 4:37:22 PM PDT by KayEyeDoubleDee (const vector<tags>& oldTags)
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To: RightWhale
See my post 18
19 posted on 05/23/2003 4:38:17 PM PDT by KayEyeDoubleDee (const vector<tags>& oldTags)
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To: unspun
Deeper perhaps than many would want to think....

I'm thinking about it now and I'm thinking without the use of any language ...... but usually when I do this my Doctors say I'm acting autistic.

20 posted on 05/23/2003 4:38:42 PM PDT by Mike Darancette (Soddom has left the bunker.)
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To: Mike Darancette
Einstein thought in pictures, he said. For an autistic person he sure made a lot of lucid contributions in many fields.
21 posted on 05/23/2003 4:42:50 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: unspun
As an architect I often think spatially without symbols (words or numbers). I think conceptually in terms of form, volume and voids. (I'm sure there are other fields where this is common). To express my ideas I have to build a 3D model or draw a 2D drawing to express a 3D concept.

I've often wondered if there were a way to think about other non-spatial concepts without language or symbols but I don't think I have been able to do this. Some musical composers were said to have been able to compose music conceptually and then play it withough having to trascribe it to musical notation. I'm sure mathematicians are able to think like this too, very theoretical without actual numbers.

There is also a condition known as synethesia in which people can smell a form or taste a number or letter or hear a note in place of an image (say of a tree) or see a color in place of a symbol. In this condition people mix up their senses. It's a facinating condition.
22 posted on 05/23/2003 4:45:00 PM PDT by Lorianne
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To: unspun
Yeah, right.

“It consists in the fact that thinking often occurs without the production, manipulation, or perception of sense-perceptible signs, without which there is no use of language. Such occurrences often provoke offers of 'A penny for your thoughts.'”

Note his thesis is to prove that thinking occurs without language, and right out of the gate he simply asserts that it is so –- dishonestly. He is already narrowly defining "language" -- but see below.

He then makes an assertion: “Thinking: Whatever we may decide to call them, and however it is that we are conscious of them, there are intentional states of persons, more or less fixed or fleeting, which do not require for their obtaining that what they are about or of be perceived by, or be impinging causally upon, the person involved’”

What the heck does THAT mean? Typical academic slight of hand. If he can't blind you with his brilliance he will baffle you with his bullshit.

“Such states (t-states) of persons are often called 'thoughts', especially in contrast with 'perceptions', and being in such a state is one of the things more commonly called 'thinking'. One no more needs to be going through a change of such states in order to be thinking, than he needs to be changing his bodily position in order to be sitting or lying or sleeping.”

Another assertion. No effort is made to prove this assertion.

“Usually they flow, at varying rates, intermingled with person states of many sorts, governed by such transitional structures as inference, goal orientation, objective structures given in perception or in other ways, and elemental association of 'ideas', among others. In what follows, we shall use 'thinking' to cover both the single t-state and the flow of such states, without regard to how intermingled with other person states. “

Fuzzy academic prose at it finest. Pay no attention to the fact that he is talking pure nonsense by this point.

“Language: Sense perceptible signs or symbols are an essential constituent of language. It is always false to say that language is present or in use where no signs are present or in use…”

Ah ha. So of course, as soon as I speak of concepts, or metaphors, or any other higher level construct, I am not really using language but something else. And therefore I don’t need language to speak. See, the way this works is first he puts you to sleep with a bunch of nonsense. Then he defines things the way nobody else would define them. Then, using his personal definitions, he proves his case. TA DA!

23 posted on 05/23/2003 4:45:29 PM PDT by dark_lord (The Statue of Liberty now holds a baseball bat and she's yelling 'You want a piece of me?')
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To: unspun
I thought you might want to give this some thought. You may even wish to find the words to express what you think.
12 -unwound-


Finding the words to express my thoughts has never been me big problem here at FR.
Choosing the right ones to avoid being banned is the kicker..
24 posted on 05/23/2003 4:45:32 PM PDT by tpaine (Really, I'm trying to be a 'decent human being', but me flesh is weak.,)
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To: supercat; Lorianne; betty boop; Alamo-Girl; cornelis; Phaedrus; logos; Dataman; general_re; ...
I tend to regard thinking as being a pseudo-sensory process. Since verbal language is one form of sensory perception, some thinking can be done in that form. Thinking may also be done in written form, non-linguistic visual forms, musical form, non-musical non-verbal audio forms, tactile forms, etc.

Then, would it not be likely that thinking is a sub-sensory process, at its root? Is thinking not our behavior on a level which may "hold" things sensory, so to speak and deal with them and fashion things from them (or not) as well as other imaginings, impulses, considerations, desires, etc?

Lorianne just said this:

Some interesting concepts in this piece though I admit much of it is over my head. I've often wondered if we do sometimes think without symbols. I believe I do in the spatial sense, but not in other areas.

What other areas? And what happens in your mind just before you arrive at the symbols you relate to the impetus your mind generates?

25 posted on 05/23/2003 4:50:15 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: tpaine
Finding the words to express my thoughts has never been me big problem here at FR. Choosing the right ones to avoid being banned is the kicker.

;-) But is much of that really going on?

26 posted on 05/23/2003 4:51:27 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: unspun
Some interesting concepts in this piece though I admit much of it is over my head. I've often wondered if we do sometimes think without symbols. I believe I do in the spatial sense, but not in other areas.

What other areas? And what happens in your mind just before you arrive at the symbols you relate to the impetus your mind generates?

Am I the only person who, when I get hungry, starts thinking about how food will taste? Or who, when I miss my kitty, think about the feel of his warm furr and purring vibrations against my face? Such thoughts are clearly verbal in neither nature nor origin.

27 posted on 05/23/2003 4:53:59 PM PDT by supercat (TAG--you're it!)
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To: unspun
I'm not sure. Anything no spatial I gues.

Have you ever had an idea that you think is an not an idea because you can't express it? The word "ambiance" sort of alludes to this. You can walk into a place and have a certain conceptual feeling that cannot be put into words for example. Sometimes a piece of music can illicit the same response that can't be captured or conveyed in language.
28 posted on 05/23/2003 5:00:51 PM PDT by Lorianne
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To: Lorianne
I do think you're on to something.

BTW, I don't think I've often tended to mix up my sensations, but I grew up with distinct impressions of some letters and may be even more, numbers; even a tendency to feel what they would be like if they were personified. I think that may be due to being quite "right-brained" (intuitive and so on) while having to deal with very "left-brained" (logical, linear) tasks, but... there is more to such things, it seems to me.

One tends to naturally (humbly) ascertain that there is much more there, than what our human concepts reach, eh? More there than the stolidness of our words relate, especially.
29 posted on 05/23/2003 5:01:06 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: Lorianne
Have you ever had an idea that you think is an not an idea because you can't express it? The word "ambiance" sort of alludes to this. You can walk into a place and have a certain conceptual feeling that cannot be put into words for example. Sometimes a piece of music can illicit the same response that can't be captured or conveyed in language.

Very 'definitely.' Well, maybe not so "definately," but very objectively true nevertheless.

30 posted on 05/23/2003 5:03:06 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: Lorianne
a way to think about other non-spatial concepts without language or symbols

Eventually there will be symbols in the results. As a relatively recent development, database analysis and the Geographical Information System, GIS, is coming along to be a powerful tool where words still fail.

31 posted on 05/23/2003 5:06:23 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: RightWhale
Einstein thought in pictures, he said.

But, Einstein had to be able to think in language (be it English, German or mathematics) to convey his pictures to the "language thinking" world".

I would think most people do some thinking in non-language ways such as remembered smells, tastes, noises and sights. Some of these non-language thoughts probably defy translation to traditional languages.

Imagine the Autistic who cannot covey his hunger, thirst or boredom to the speaking world.

Methinks this author's mental machinations are aimed at making irrelevant the very qualities that make man superior to the lesser (very un-PC) animals.

32 posted on 05/23/2003 5:07:39 PM PDT by Mike Darancette (Soddom has left the bunker.)
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To: unspun
Going on?

Are you really that naive?
33 posted on 05/23/2003 5:08:01 PM PDT by tpaine (Really, I'm trying to be a 'decent human being', but me flesh is weak.,)
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To: unspun
Truth is, I can hardly read this kind of BS, written as it is with very few concrete nouns. The eyes just glaze over.
34 posted on 05/23/2003 5:10:39 PM PDT by VadeRetro
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To: unspun
With respect, that quote from Wittgenstein is out of context and the general premise of this paper is entirely contrary to Wittgenstein's work, which holds (oversimplifying horribly here) that there is an inextricable link between how we speak of the world and how we think of it; that the structure of language mirrors the structure of reality itself (in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus he goes even further but backs off a bit in his later work, such as the footnoted but not cited Philosophical Investigations. Quine and some of the other University of Chicago philosophers have explored this facet of philosophy well past my humble understanding.

The Tractatus understands thought and language as essentially ways of representing the world and then investigates how they represent in accordance with two basic premises: (1) that representation is only possible by means of underlying structural identities; and (2) that these structures must be in the logical form of possibilities of existence and non-existence....the "representable" side of sense experience belongs to the form of the world, while the non-representable side is the unsayable content, which has no place in language.

(Henry Finch, Wittgenstein, the Early Philosophy)

If you do wish to explore the "direct reference" school of linguistic philosophy as opposed to the Fregean treatment of the matter, I'd recommend an older book, Nathan Salmon's Reference and Essence, 1981, Princeton University Press.

Or you can do as I do and reread Gay Caballeros in Bondage. Wittgenstein probably did...

35 posted on 05/23/2003 5:13:45 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: RightWhale
Excellent point. But a Native American of old he would be able to know exactly where he was without the use of symbology but how would he convey that place to someone else?
36 posted on 05/23/2003 5:14:10 PM PDT by Lorianne
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To: supercat; VadeRetro; Billthedrill; betty boop; Alamo-Girl; general_re; Dataman; cornelis; ...
Am I the only person who, when I get hungry, starts thinking about how food will taste? Or who, when I miss my kitty, think about the feel of his warm furr and purring vibrations against my face? Such thoughts are clearly verbal in neither nature nor origin.

Well said. You've described "apprehensions," it seems to me, but don't similar occurances happen after the fact, or in yet more imaginary ways, more detached from actual events?

The question remains: What happens in the impetus of our minds, right before we grasp either images or symbols, or anything related to what is sensory?

And aren't there things "tangible" to the mind and any number of its kinds of functions, but which are not about things "tangible" to the body?

What about when we sense that an "attitude" is not a "good" attitude, and we "reflect" upon not only how this feels, but how this places us -- and how it is someting having to do with a thing called being "good-natured?" Good for... what? ("What" used here not just to refer to inanimate objects.)

Not the kinds of things that we can stub our toes on, these things, but they are very, very "thingey" to us, are they not? And naturally so. And we know, don't we, that things that occur naturally with us are about what "things" we relate to?

37 posted on 05/23/2003 5:17:28 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: tpaine; Jim Robinson; John Robinson
Going on...?

I'm sorry to hear that. Seems like FR may be getting a bit crusty as time goes on. If you ever need a "character witness," I'll vouch for you!

One has to draw lines, but at least some should always be pushing against the lines people just up and draw.

I think our founding fathers would agree.

38 posted on 05/23/2003 5:23:28 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: Mike Darancette
It's a mixture of all these. The various brain lobes seem to specialize in different functions all the way from conscious motor control to subconscious feelings. But, back to language. The language one uses seems to affect how one thinks. Thought associations seem to be different between Englishmen and Chinese, for example. Engineers can often visualize better in 3-D than can non-engineers. Musicians and mathematicians are often the same people. Politicians can't imagine anything beyond the next election. Lawyers see a different world than the one we think we live in. It's not all language differences, but something must account for the fact that sports is in a different section of the paper than theater.
39 posted on 05/23/2003 5:24:29 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: Lorianne
how would he convey that place to someone else?

By allegory. Smoke a pipe and tell tales around the campfire. The words build images and make a map to take you all the way from here to there. And of course the trail is made clear using certain mystical powers over animals and nature that are unavailable to modern man.

40 posted on 05/23/2003 5:29:36 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: unspun
The idea that you think in words is kind of like --- like ...oh, what's the word? It's on the tip of my tongue! I know what I am trying to say, and if I wasn't trying to think of it right now the word would just come right out....

Oh, well. You know what I mean.

41 posted on 05/23/2003 5:30:09 PM PDT by Yeti
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To: unspun
9%2798 *79 *7(87980- {}[u@

<>_+0~~ ^38 68 %#6* #678 \]3[]?3$!` @ #4 05=--=/,.\]95&8 90

3*9 78#2 1#`- 8 87/;''

/85%# @7(7 )8^$##^%*&8 &8(87
42 posted on 05/23/2003 5:32:35 PM PDT by Semi Civil Servant (&979 #4 653 *(0 08 ":]+= ?/<,.)
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To: unspun
Whether or not we need words to think, we do need words to talk about thinking. One could characterize mental activity as chemical, rather than verbal. Much of it consists in reactions that are too instantaneous or too vague to be put into words. But how do you render this in a form that you can communicate to other people? You need language.

Words are inadequate to convey some reactions: witness the failure of "stream of consciousness" in fiction writing. The true "stream of consciousness" is subverbal or nonverbal or at most only partially verbal.

But what would we be if we had to rely on mental activity that does not make use of words? What could we think without words? Wouldn't it have to be very simple?

I wonder if truly subverbal or nonverbal activity isn't primarily emotional or sensual or at most action-oriented. It says "fear this," "this is bitter," "this feels good," "movement there" or "run!"

Perhaps I'm totally wrong, but when we get away from the bioemotional, aren't we already on the road to language? "Fear this" or "this is warm" gets perceived in the skin. More complex relations and qualities may not be so easily felt on a physical level.

And the senses bring us information that we feel strongly and directly, and other information that doesn't impress itself strongly on our emotions. Language allows us greater access to the second group. We can express not just that this or that is hot or moving, but that this object is to the left of that and behind the other thing, without pointing or needing to have the objects in our field of vision.

Consider color. Colors had to be invented or discovered by human cultures. You might see something of a certain appearance, but you couldn't say what you saw until you had a word for it. And the full palette of colors that we see today took time to develop.

43 posted on 05/23/2003 5:33:12 PM PDT by x
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To: RightWhale
Musicians and mathematicians are often the same people.

And yet popular culture often presents these as diametrically opposed personality types.

44 posted on 05/23/2003 5:34:11 PM PDT by Yeti
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To: VadeRetro
Truth is, I can hardly read this kind of BS, written as it is with very few concrete nouns. The eyes just glaze over.

Serously and uncontentiously, I'd be really interested in knowing if you've had any "personality" or "temperament" tests. I wouldn't be surprised at all if those who lean "objectivist" or "logical positivist" tend to be "left brained" and the Interneters of them, more ISTJ or INTJ in "MBTI/Meyers-Briggs" terms. The opposite for the opposite, of course. (I tend to be INFP, though I tend to splash around.)

But then again, this last paragraph might cause your eyes to glaze or at least roll, too! ;-`

45 posted on 05/23/2003 5:34:46 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: Semi Civil Servant
85%# @7(7 )8^$##^%*&8 &8(87

My thoughts exactly.

46 posted on 05/23/2003 5:35:19 PM PDT by Yeti
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To: Yeti
Oh, well. You know what I mean.

Eggsactly, chicken!

47 posted on 05/23/2003 5:37:13 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: tpaine
u: "If you ever need a "character witness," I'll vouch for you! "

You sure are a character, so it's easy.
48 posted on 05/23/2003 5:39:02 PM PDT by unspun ("Do everything in love.")
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To: Yeti
I've been hanging out in both departments recently. It's amusing to notice those two students over there in complex analysis class are also in the chamber ensemble, English horn and cello, and both in the 90s on the Riemann space test. Not everyone, but it happens often enough that you do notice. And that's Einstein on second violin.
49 posted on 05/23/2003 5:40:32 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: unspun
How do you take into consideration those people who are telepathic. They have no language, they only have understanding.
50 posted on 05/23/2003 5:42:30 PM PDT by fifteendogs
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