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Thread: Try to think about something without using language

  1. #1 Try to think about something without using language 
    Forum Senior Weterman's Avatar
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    Pretty hard, isn't it? Imagine how people would have thought about things, before language existed. How would they think about the point of life? Would it be possible? I would assume it would be similar to knowing what a word means, but not being able to explain what the word means.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    Pretty hard, isn't it?
    Depending on the activity; not particularly.

    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    ... before language existed.
    By language, did you mean something along the lines of verbal language similar to that of an inner monologue, or language in the form of any communicative structure as a whole.


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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    Pretty hard, isn't it?
    Depending on the activity; not particularly.

    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    ... before language existed.
    By language, did you mean something along the lines of verbal language similar to that of an inner monologue, or language in the form of any communicative structure as a whole.
    i mean words.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    i mean words.
    In that case, my answer is - not particularly difficult to your first question.
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    I have asked a similar question once before, at another forum.

    Do you think in 'words' or in 'images'?

    Even today, with all of our nuances of language and our ability to combine visual and audio technologies to convey our story, we can never be certain that the other person has fully comprehended that which we are attempting to convey.

    The image of a stadium full of spectators comes to mind.

    Every observer is watching the same event yet each one has a unique perspective both physically and also based upon their experience and understanding at the point in their life. No two person's account of any event will ever be identical.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scheherazade View Post
    Do you think in 'words' or in 'images'?
    In my experience, depending on the activity; one usually processes "thought" in both, and rarely distinctively in one particular mode. Times that one processes thought and action in non-verbal form and structure (to quote Weterman - words) can be seen in particularly fast paced physical sports; such as that of martial sparring or that of ice hockey. The execution of strategy & strikes seldom leaves sufficient time for verbal monologue-type thought processes, and these usually take on the form of visual thought processes to my knowledge. In a slower paced form of activity such as that of sculpturing, the visualization processes can become more evident to the user. On a slightly related micro-processes of our anatomy, muscle memory too comes into play.
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    it would be all emotions and feeling. when you feel hungry you'd eat, or thirsty you'd drink or if your tired sleep.
    soooo just picture the life of an indoor house cat.
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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    Pretty hard, isn't it? Imagine how people would have thought about things, before language existed. How would they think about the point of life? Would it be possible? I would assume it would be similar to knowing what a word means, but not being able to explain what the word means.
    What about babies? They are born without language, as far as we may observe.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scheherazade View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    Pretty hard, isn't it? Imagine how people would have thought about things, before language existed. How would they think about the point of life? Would it be possible? I would assume it would be similar to knowing what a word means, but not being able to explain what the word means.
    What about babies? They are born without language, as far as we may observe.
    good point.
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    And just think about how often you think you know something or want to contribute an idea to a conversation. And then, when you try to convey what you were thinking, you "can't find the words". If your thinking was in words in the first place, there'd be no problem. But there often is.

    Quite often you'll see in online discussions people thanking others for expressing clearly something that they couldn't "find the words" for. Seeing as they agree totally with what that other person wrote, it's obvious that the way they first perceived the idea wasn't in words - otherwise they'd have been able to say it for themselves.
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    Yeah, I understand what you are trying to get at.
    It is kind of like thinking about economics without talking about money or trying to think about statistics without using numbers.

    It is not impossible, but it is not very convenient either.
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  13. #12  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weterman View Post
    Pretty hard, isn't it? Imagine how people would have thought about things, before language existed. How would they think about the point of life? Would it be possible? I would assume it would be similar to knowing what a word means, but not being able to explain what the word means.
    Huh?

    Not hard at all. when I'm drawing, taking pictures, interpreting the sky to look for patterns, trying to sort out a complex angle while wood working there's no words per say...in fact they are a great distraction to solving those types of problems. My cats probably use the same techniques without the distractions to figure out how to get on the highest bookcase.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Yeah, I understand what you are trying to get at.
    It is kind of like thinking about economics without talking about money or trying to think about statistics without using numbers.

    It is not impossible, but it is not very convenient either.
    I disagree. In many instances it is far more convenient, relevant, revealing and precise than words could ever be. If I am considering the failure of a bearing system I am visually picturing its environment, fluctuations in that environment and the consequent impact on the bearing surfaces, lubricant and sealing system. I may then turn to the language of mathematics to quantify some of those effects. Finally I shall seek the words to describe the scenario to interested parties. But words will have played only a secondary, or non-existent role until then.

    A second example. I have to pack this evening for a lengthy journey. I was just "running through my mind" some fo the things I need to take. I did not think- "Better not forget the medication." Rather I saw the pills sitting on my dresser. The only time I think Felodopine is when I'm placing a repeat prescription.

    In short, for me, thinking without words is commonplace and easy. As is thinking with words. It's horses for courses.
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    One of my favourite paintings is Summertime by Jackson Pollock (it would just fit in my living room if anyone wants to buy [or steal] it for me). What makes it great is that it captures and suggests so much rhythm and movement without words, or even anything representational. It doesn't need words. And in fact, would be hard to capture in words.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    One of my favourite paintings is Summertime by Jackson Pollock (it would just fit in my living room if anyone wants to buy [or steal] it for me). What makes it great is that it captures and suggests so much rhythm and movement without words, or even anything representational. It doesn't need words. And in fact, would be hard to capture in words.
    I suspect the word you are looking for is impossible.

    I've seen the Pollock's at Tate modern in London (I think they have two), but this one is in Tate Liverpool. I would have seen it about eight years ago, except my wife insisted the gallery was in Manchester, not Liverpool and it was easier to agree and drive there. (And besides, Manchester has a good science museum and better architecture.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I suspect the word you are looking for is impossible.
    I was thinking that a beat/performance poet might be able to get close...

    They must move it around, or something, because I have never been to Liverpool (or Manchester).
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    er.. i thought of a waterfall. just the water, rocks, noise, etc. no language needed there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    It's horses for courses.
    I had to look that expression up because I never heard it before.
    Yes agreed. We all have different thinking styles.
    Last edited by dan hunter; February 26th, 2014 at 03:57 PM.
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    I just came back around to this thread and the old expression, "A picture is worth a thousand words", came to mind.

    Which then raised another question...

    How does a visually impaired individual process thought?

    Which got me to contemplating sensory data streams as they are perceived...

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    It's kind of hard to do, but what I really like to do is try to think about absolutely nothing for about 60 seconds or so.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scheherazade View Post
    I just came back around to this thread and the old expression, "A picture is worth a thousand words", came to mind.

    Which then raised another question...

    How does a visually impaired individual process thought?

    Which got me to contemplating sensory data streams as they are perceived...

    i imagine they would have a picture in their head of what the world looks like.. a blind girl came to my school a few days ago and talked actually.
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    I don't believe that I have ever had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a blind person. Now that I contemplate the matter, I do not encounter many visually impaired or blind persons in the venues that I frequent. To be born without sight would be different from losing one's sight later in life as far as the means by which one would perceive the world to my way of thinking. The closest that I can come to imagining what it would be like to be without sight is the training exercises we undertook in structural fire fighter training. We had to search a structure with the masks of our SCBA's blacked out to simulate a smoke filled room and how one navigates and searches for smoke inhalation victims. It was quite intimidating for many taking the training. One also cannot communicate verbally very easily in such circumstances and so other means of signalling are utilized.
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    When I paint a picture, or I'm fixing something, (taking it apart, putting it back together) or doing a visual search (raspberry picking) I often find I can go for an extended period of time thinking without words. But with most activities, say, gardening, folding laundry, driving a car, I will eventually start thinking about something else and the internal dialogue starts up.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    When I paint a picture, or I'm fixing something, (taking it apart, putting it back together) or doing a visual search (raspberry picking) I often find I can go for an extended period of time thinking without words. But with most activities, say, gardening, folding laundry, driving a car, I will eventually start thinking about something else and the internal dialogue starts up.
    Is that not simply because you're so deep in concentration that any form of conscious thought will disturb your activity?
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    Is that not simply because you're so deep in concentration that any form of conscious thought will disturb your activity?
    That's presuming that conscious thought requires words. Analytical or logical thought usually requires words, but not all thought is analytical or logical. Often you don't need analysis or logic until you're describing what you're doing to someone else or when you're working out how something's gone wrong - or spectacularly right.
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    I'd think that in ancient times, cavemen would refer to animals by the sounds the animals make.

    If talking about now, if we count Mathematics as a language on its own, the only things I can think of are shapes. The physical shapes.
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    This is an interesting topic. I particularly liked John Galt's description of his thought process.

    I often think in words - if my purpose is to think through how I intend to communicate an idea. How I want to approach a meeting, or how I will give a presentation, or how I want to compose this post. In situations like that, I have a running commentary of sorts, and I cycle through words and syntax, composition, etc. as needed. Language is an inherent part of that process, because language and communication is the objective.

    How I think for an analytic project, however, is very different. It's much more visual... but not image-based. I tend to think in representation abstractions... or at least that's the best I can come up with to describe them. I tend to think of the factors and forces as nodes attached to the subjects by springy lines of stretchy bungie cords, or sometimes it's planes depending on how they are related. I often think in terms of the relationships that the various aspects of the problem have to one another, how they exert force on each other, how they move and alter each other, and how they connect.

    At some point, I will start translating that abstract image into more concrete formulas and snippets of code and building a model. But even during that process, there are few words in my mind. The only words are the names given to specific fields or cells. The rest of it is still more of a gestalt understanding of the relationship.

    It's only after it's finished, and I'm at the point of presentation, that I begin to think in words. Because at that point I need to communicate the insights and findings to someone who is usually of a less technical bent than I

    So at the end of the day, I don't find it difficult to think without words; I might argue that it's the majority of what I do. I think much more quickly without words. When I have to compose language, I have to slow down and arrange my thoughts more linearly. I'm not bad at it; by many accounts I'm a fairly good writer and I give clear presentations. But it's more difficult for me and takes more effort.

    That might be in part because I am an introvert and people exhaust me
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    Absolutely. I think I've commented in a similar fashion earlier. I'm in the middle of transferring flights in Heathrow and working my route through terminals, immigration, security checks, transits, etc simply involved visualising the route. In parallel I was running through wording for a technical document wholly unrelated to my travel.

    I don't recall who it was made the point that we think in almost only words, but several of the responses here have clearly demonstrated they are mistaken.
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    Quote Originally Posted by EugeneT View Post
    I'd think that in ancient times, cavemen would refer to animals by the sounds the animals make.

    If talking about now, if we count Mathematics as a language on its own, the only things I can think of are shapes. The physical shapes.
    I'd suspect cavemen would be inclined to refer to animals as "tastes good", "not enough meat for all of us" or "hard to see in the undergrowth, watch out."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anathema View Post
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    Well said. (And nice avatar, by the way.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    I'd suspect cavemen would be inclined to refer to animals as "tastes good", "not enough meat for all of us" or "hard to see in the undergrowth, watch out."
    And that particularly dangerous one, the "aaaarrrgh".
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Anathema View Post
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    Well said. (And nice avatar, by the way.)
    Thank you! What's not to like about tasty delicious and healthy fractals that border on mind-blowing complexity?
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    Quote Originally Posted by EugeneT View Post
    I'd think that in ancient times, cavemen would refer to animals by the sounds the animals make.
    You should travel abroad more....I've often used that technique to order a meal--the shared laughter helps break the ice to some of the best conversations as well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    One of my favourite paintings is Summertime by Jackson Pollock (it would just fit in my living room if anyone wants to buy [or steal] it for me). What makes it great is that it captures and suggests so much rhythm and movement without words, or even anything representational. It doesn't need words. And in fact, would be hard to capture in words.
    Why not beg for it, you might get it.
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    Never had an abstract concept in your head and couldn't remember the word? You know, that "thing" that is like this but not like that?


    I really have the feeling that i have to translate my thoughts in to words. My words aren't my thoughts. And this is not just for paintings and arts... I don't think i think in images either.


    What about the people with brain damage at the talking centers. They'll complain that they have great difficulty remembering the words. They can still think straight though.


    I think that the popular idea that somehow we think with words is just wrong...
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    I contemplate that we 'think' by comparing the memories of experienced sensory data. In other words (no pun intended) our brain retrieves, compares and collates all incoming sensory data against all that which it perceives to be relevent.

    With time and practice, we have the potential to become very analytical thinkers, capable of inductive and deductive reasoning. The brain is capable of moving rapidly through large chunks of experience or contemplating the minutest of details depending on the circumstance. While it is about this task, words are a very low priority if they even register at all. Sensory information is what is being processed. I use words to share it with another but while I am 'thinking', there is no need for an internal dialogue.
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    That's presuming that conscious thought requires words. Analytical or logical thought usually requires words, but not all thought is analytical or logical. Often you don't need analysis or logic until you're describing what you're doing to someone else or when you're working out how something's gone wrong - or spectacularly right.
    Do you remember how earlier in the post, someone referred to being in a discussion where you were thinking of a concept and you didn't have the words to explain it? Well, what a coincidence

    Without responding to anyone in general, what I'm seeing in this discussion is an evolution of ideas (after reading at least 3/4's of everyone posts )

    The OP questioned how difficult it is for one to think without the use of words. From there, everyone below began pointing out many different forms of thought.

    For the sake of the discussion, can we try to outline what types of thought there are? I read that someone mentioned photorealistic thought, analytical and quantitative thought, verbal thought... what about emotional or sensory thought? As in, thinking of how it feels to be heartbroken after losing your boyfriend/girlfriend, or the flavor of strawberries or the sound of a bus honking?
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    many people with alzheimers can see a picture of a hammer, hold a hammer in their hands, knowing it's usage, even still capable of using it quite well, but can not verbalize its name. this is thought without words ?
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    i usually try to imagine random objects att full detalj i remember them and keep trying untill i get a perfect image of it in my head.

    when i've practised it, i try to make sentences with only images :P

    Guy Waving [means hello]
    Me [means my name is Calle ]

    and like that for few hours :O
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    Sometimes my migraines (during the aura phase) can trigger aphasia, which literally means "speechlessness". When that happens I progressively forget words, and within five minutes I am completely unable to write, read and talk. If I listen to someone talk it sounds like alien gibberish but I'll pick up a few occasional words and briefly understand the basic concept behind them, yet I'm completely unable to reproduce any of them.

    This is also true for my inner monologue. It is terribly confusing when you have no words to use to form thoughts. At best it will be a slow stutter of random words that I can't repeat and can only make sense of for a very brief moment.

    At this point, if I want, say, a banana; I know what a banana looks like, I know what a banana tastes like, I know what colour it is, that it contains carbohydrates. I know that if I drop it on my t-shirt I'll need a paper towel. But I have no words to put to anything in the whole process. Difficult to explain. It's all done based on concepts, and how those concepts interact to change the situation.

    I'll also have a whole range of symptoms that are off-topic, so I've never thought of (hah!) experimenting to see if it includes numbers as well, though I do prefer to use analogue clocks to tell the time.

    Luckily I do not get migraines so often anymore.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ByAccident13_7 View Post
    That's presuming that conscious thought requires words. Analytical or logical thought usually requires words, but not all thought is analytical or logical. Often you don't need analysis or logic until you're describing what you're doing to someone else or when you're working out how something's gone wrong - or spectacularly right.
    Do you remember how earlier in the post, someone referred to being in a discussion where you were thinking of a concept and you didn't have the words to explain it? Well, what a coincidence

    Without responding to anyone in general, what I'm seeing in this discussion is an evolution of ideas (after reading at least 3/4's of everyone posts )

    The OP questioned how difficult it is for one to think without the use of words. From there, everyone below began pointing out many different forms of thought.

    For the sake of the discussion, can we try to outline what types of thought there are? I read that someone mentioned photorealistic thought, analytical and quantitative thought, verbal thought... what about emotional or sensory thought? As in, thinking of how it feels to be heartbroken after losing your boyfriend/girlfriend, or the flavor of strawberries or the sound of a bus honking?
    I agree with you, however there seems to be a problem with the individual perception of life, and the acceptable values. Thoughts are created at each moment of your life, and needs direct contact with a part of you. You ask the question "how does it feel to be heart broken". The real truth is, our hears can be broken in so many different ways, in some ways it is not even broken at all, as we think it is. I do like the point you have brought up.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chucknorium View Post
    many people with alzheimers can see a picture of a hammer, hold a hammer in their hands, knowing it's usage, even still capable of using it quite well, but can not verbalize its name. this is thought without words ?
    The question arises though, is it really thoughts without word, or not being able to express the words? Do you see a difference?
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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    It occurs to me that we do not need words to think about anything. We mainly require words to share our thoughts with others.

    (The Vulcan mind meld from Star Trek, original series, would be a thoroughly precise way to share information.)
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  45. #44  
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    Quote Originally Posted by scheherazade View Post
    It occurs to me that we do not need words to think about anything. We mainly require words to share our thoughts with others.

    (The Vulcan mind meld from Star Trek, original series, would be a thoroughly precise way to share information.)
    I have no evidence for this but i've always been of the opinion that language is simply a reflection of the structure of thought (hence why Universal Grammar exists), and is simply a tool for communicating thought with others.
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    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trivium View Post
    hence why Universal Grammar exists
    Yet to be shown.
    "[Dywyddyr] makes a grumpy bastard like me seem like a happy go lucky scamp" - PhDemon
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dywyddyr View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Trivium View Post
    hence why Universal Grammar exists
    Yet to be shown.
    It's accepted by most linguists, i'm aware of the criticisms but afaik they're not at all serious, i'll have to find the article but I remember reading Chomsky writing about how Daniel Everett completely misunderstands the idea for instance.
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