Sunday, September 10, 2006

Can you think?

big e brought up a good point, and i want to open a new discussion to it otside of the 5 senses post.
The question is: Can you think without language?


Vvyynn said...

Of course. This can be taken two ways, but I think that both of the two ways end up with a "yes". First: I can think without someone using language, however still using words in your head (I hope that made sense). Right now, I am thinking and I am not speaking. Second: You can think outside of language. One can think in pictures, in sounds, in moving images, one does not need words to describe a thought, one only needs the senses.

chays said...

How do we define language? Can it be moving pictures? sounds? Does one need to communicate in abstract symbols to using language? My pets appear to have a language that I can't understand. By not being able to understand it, does this mean an animal doesn't possess language?

a casnellie said...

To the first comment, I believe that you of course can still be using language even if you are not speaking. I think with language, as I believe the vast majority of people do.

I think that psychologists typically define language as having two main parts: vocabulary and syntax. Vocabulary by itself is not language. Grammar is a necessity.

I think a great case study to look at is that of Genie's, a feral child who was kept in almost complete isolation until she was thirteen years old. When found, she could not walk - much less speak. She did, however, learn during that period of isolation, and learning requires thinking. For example, she was often punished for throwing up, so she learned to try to suppress this reaction. I believe that this clearly requires some sort of thought process whether the learning was a result of conditioning or some other more advanced cognitive process.

When Genie was rescued, she did develop a fairly large vocabulary, but she never really understood grammar, therefore she never truly acquired language (critical period hypothesis). Yet she still lives today and obviously can think, though her mental development clearly plateaued (is that a word?) at a rather low level and will never be able to live independently. Many believe that her inability to live independently is largely due to her lack of language. But the point is she can obviously think and obviously does. Without language.

So though I cannot fathom thinking without language, I believe it is very possible and that at one point in my life I was thinking without language. I also believe, however, that once we acquire language, it completely shapes our reality. I believe that my native tongue causes me to see the world differently than someone of a different first language. There are some words in Spanish, for example, that just don’t translate into English – at all. So a Spanish speaker essentially has a concept that I will never know or understand because that concept does not exist in my language. Clich├ęd example: the Inuit have like 40 words for snow, while we only have one. So they see snow differently than we do. (All of that was pretty much the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by the way).

So basic point of all of that: we do not need language to think, but it is to our advantage to have language. And once we have language, it completely changes the way that we do think.

(Sorry for the longwinded comment; I’m doing my extended essay on language acquisition)

Kaitlin said...

When I first read this question, I thought about it and I see that I use words to define my thinking, but I understand what Alysha said with being able to think without language, but language changing how we think once we learn how to use language; I definitely agree with that statement.
As for animals, I think that they have a language of their own. I justify it in that I see my dog learn to act a certain way in order to get a treat, or when he hollers at the cat across the street. I think that not being able to understand what my dog says doesn't discard it as a language.

Big E said...

I think there needs to be some definition of "think". We can train dogs to do things by punishing them, but that doesn't mean they "think" in the same way we do. This same question has been raised before and not resolved: Is thinking something only sentient beings have or merely any brain activity at all?

a casnellie said...

I personally believe that if someone or something is conscious, then they're thinking. I can't think of any time in which a conscious person would not be thinking... I don't believe that any brain activity at all necessarily means that someone is thinking though. A lot of brain activity is involuntary. I don't believe that the signal our brain sends telling our heart to beat is thinking.

Vvyynn said...

I agree with A, You foolish foolish E. In fact, in order to punish you, I will no longer us that lttr for th rst of this post. Now, on to my rant. All bings ar sntint, including dogs, cats, squirrls, and ls. Thus, sinc all bings ar sntint, all bings can think, and ar prfctly capabl of thinking. This dos not count in my cruad against bad splling. This is mrly m taking a stand against a tyrant. Down with . Down with . Down with .

Vvyynn said...

NO! You can't think! Now quit trying! I hear thinkings illegal in some states now.