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Is It Possible To Think Without Language?


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#1 oRCaz

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 07:15 AM

Hey, I just got a philosophy question, which I can't really think of any points to start with... The question is "Is it possible to think without language?".
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#2 Klinkaroo

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 09:15 AM

I would say so... I would babies think before they have learned a language.

#3 jgweed

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 01:05 PM

It depends primarily on how narrowly you define "think."
If thinking is doing logic problems, or if thinking is habitual responses to actions (flinching when a baseball comes too close, or eating with a knife and fork) then one can think without language.

But, on the other hand, if by thinking you mean an action by the active intellect to a purpose, then the problem becomes more of to what extent language defines or causes-to-come-into-being, reality. Heidegger, among others, would say that a meaningful world is "always-already" there and by learning language we learn the meaning of the world. Wittgenstein would probably add that "thinking" really describes many activities, all of whom share a family resemblence, but all these descriptions might not have one single characteristic in common. Think of all the ways one commonly talks about thinking, and the varying situations in which the individual uses "thinking." We tend to hold real thinking to one specific model or logical paradigm, but this seems to be just one special case.

Where the problem really becomes interesting is to consider that you cannot describe thinking without language.

Cheers,
John
BC Department of Philosophy

Edited by jgweed, 29 June 2006 - 01:10 PM.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent.

#4 yano

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 01:42 PM

I'm sure one can rationalize without "language." Like when man discovered fire. I'm sure that was before there was language. Cavemen probably grunted when communicating, and used pictures to communicate (hence the reason behind hyroglyphics (sp) and drawings inside caves.)

I'm sure man didn't intend to make fire, however when we found out how to make it we have to let everyone else know what it was. So one showed them it.

#5 jgweed

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 02:18 PM

But, Yano, cave paintings, heiroglyphics (which are actually phonetic symbols as well), even grunts are a form of language, are they not?

Suppose Cary Caveman in fact "learned" how to make (or perhaps even earlier in time, to preserve) fire. He could teach others, one would suppose, by grabbing them and forcing them to watch him do it. But is this kind of learning actually what we commonly call thinking? What about monkeys who use sticks (tools) to get grubs out of holes- - -is that only a special case (perhaps by analogy to human) of "thinking?"

Cheers,
John
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#6 Mr Alpha

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 06:03 PM

Where the problem really becomes interesting is to consider that you cannot describe thinking without language.

Cheers,
John
BC Department of Philosophy

Oh, professor! I'd like to point out that you cannot describe anything without language.
"Anyone who cannot form a community with others, or who does not need to because he is self-sufficient [...] is either a beast or a god." Aristotle
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#7 need TOS

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 06:13 PM

Well I would like to make a suggestion that no one has yet.

That we had to be able to think before language or there would be no language at all because some one would have to be able to think of the language.

My input

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#8 ddeerrff

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 07:05 PM

What is "think"? When a dog decides to chase the rabbit on the left instead of the one on the right, did he have to 'think' to make that decision? Or does one need to be able to make connections in a logical manner, ie A->B->C before one is 'thinking'?

Edited by ddeerrff, 29 June 2006 - 07:08 PM.

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#9 yano

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 09:20 PM

Another can of worms:

If we cannot really describe what "thinking" is for a human, how will we ever know if computers can "think" like humans or even close?

#10 need TOS

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 12:57 AM

What I am trying to say is that we had to think before we could have a language. Thinking is in my opinion the processing of logical information and then acting upon that information. Now how could we have a language before having the ability to think? With what point would there be for us to have a language if we could not apply it in a constructive way? We simply would have to have the ability to take sounds we can make and put it in a logical combination that humans can understand. Then with their ability to think and now able to share ideas we can then improve on our knowledge and advance as a species. A Dog simply does not have the ability to think at an advanced level like humans can. A Dog runs mostly on instinct but there is some thought that the Dog gives to certain things like walking instead of running or to bite or not bite. They would have a language if they could think at an advanced level but since they dont we are the only sepcies that has a level of knowledge to actualy speak. Other animals communicate in certain ways but not on a level that humans do.

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#11 jgweed

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 09:06 AM

On a certain level, all living organisms capable of movement seem to be able to "think." This form of stimulus-reponse activity can even extend to some elementary forms of planning, as when a monkey uses a stick to get ants, or Fido brings his bowl to me when he wants food, that one would not attribute to instinct. Some of the higher organisms can, as far as we can determine, communicate through the use of a simple language.
But if thinking involves a self-reflective and engaged intelligence, or the ability to logically consider alternative actions in concert with others, or to undertake a project beyond an immediate gratification of needs, then animals do not appear to be able to "think." The proverbial painting of dogs playing poker is funny because it is a projection of the elementary kind of activity into an unrealistic complex (or "human") kind.
Cheers,
John
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent.

#12 yano

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Posted 24 July 2006 - 08:01 PM

Exactly. What is "thinking," does one have to be able to make choices, or just understand the world around him?

#13 yano

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Posted 27 July 2006 - 01:19 PM

Also without language how would you describe something to yourself? :thumbsup:

#14 jgweed

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Posted 27 July 2006 - 02:02 PM

"We come to know what it means to think, when we ourselves try to think."

And as we describe to ourselves what we are doing when we call ourselves thinking, the realisation comes to us that while everyone uses the word "thinking," we are not so sure that we know what it means. This, at least, was the position of Sokrates, one of the models of what it means to think, in the dialogues fashioned by his pupil Plato. The latter's own dialogues make the distinction between opinion (doxa) and knowledge (episteme). Authentic thinking leads to knowledge, belief to opinion.

We turn to examplars in history to glean from them other perspectives about thinking; our use of the past for this purpose is itself part of what it means to be thinking.

Aristotle begins with "All men by nature desire to know." That knowing is an instinctive and natural activity, by implication unique to humans (Metaphysics, 980a21). He points out the levels, or steps, of rational activities that end in cognition (knowing):
Sensation, which we share with other living beings.
Memory, which to some extent we share with some of the higher living beings, and causes these to be able to learn.
Experience, which is unique to human existents, in which individual instances of experience are subsumed under universals allowing for predictive action. Language allows these general rules to be taught.
Knowledge (art, or science, or understanding), which involves truths, or insights, as to the reason (or cause) that such and such a thing is as it is. It is the difference between knowing fire is always hot and knowing WHY it is always hot.

"Cogito, ergo sum" writes Descartes, and places the thinking activity as central to human existence. Instructive beyond his own purpose and the consequent place doubt has in his discussion, is that we conclude that doubt is also a part of what it means to think. Doubt, uncertainty, and the possibility of error enter into an understanding of what it means to think; can these occur without language?

Sartre makes a point of putting a lack, a notion of the possiblity of non-being, into human thinking (Being and Nothingness). Heidegger places time and the possibility of futures---and action to a purpose or ideal---as an important part of thinking (Being and Time). What role does language play in "fixating" a future-to-be-achieved?

Wittgenstein asks the question, can there be such a thing as a private language, and returns with the reply that language is always public, or shared between individuals. This echos Nietzsche's aphorism that "truth begins with two." Can there be private knowledge, or private truth, or private thinking (for all of these concepts seem bound together)?

These considerations help clarify the role of language in some kinds of mental activity, or perhaps whether the possibility of thought AS knowledge depends on language.

Everyone uses the word "think," and everyone has "thoughts" about every conceivable subject under the sun. But maybe "to think" is a shorthand concept that when examined has many different levels.

Cheers,
John

Edited by jgweed, 04 August 2006 - 07:55 AM.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent.

#15 brooksey!!!

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Posted 02 August 2006 - 01:29 PM

good question!




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