Is it possible to have non-linguistic thoughts? | INFJ Forum

Is it possible to have non-linguistic thoughts?

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by Ren, Jan 18, 2018.

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  1. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Okay, time for a new philosophy thread.

    "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. All I know is what I have words for." Ludwig Wittgenstein

    Do you agree? Or do you think it's possible to "think" outside of language? And if so, how?

    The floor is open. :)
     
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  2. James

    James Infamy, infamy.. they've all got it infamy
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    I do think it's possible. A picture speaks a thousand words, and music ?

    A great deal of communication is non verbal.
     
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  3. Lady Jolanda

    Lady Jolanda Perpetual state of doubt.
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    Well, can we first start defining what we mean by "thinking" with quotation marks? Cause I already know where this is headed: talking past each other. :p

    Communication != thinking, James.
     
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  4. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Good idea! Give us your definition/understanding of thinking and then based on this, offer your perspective ;)
     
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  5. James

    James Infamy, infamy.. they've all got it infamy
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    Ok my personal interpretation ? Looking at human evolution it seems we were able to communicate via cave paintings and gestures, long before we could coherently talk to each other verbally.

    I think still today body language and how we express things makes a huge difference to the meaning. Like "that's fine :) "

    Or "THAT'S FINE!"

    I've put that in verbal written form. But just one sigh ? I think that shows how important non verbal communication is.
     
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  6. Cornerstone

    Cornerstone Well-known member

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    Well, yeah. I was under the impression that a great many people primarily think in pictures/images.

    I mostly think in words, mostly. However, there are times when I 'see' a vivid mental image and know immediately what it means. A part of me then often attempts to put it into words and I find myself thinking, again in words, that this is unnecessary and inaccurate because I know that I 'got' the content of the image immediately.

    Jung is all about non-linguistic psychic processes...it's amazing how little he is referenced here!
     
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  7. dogman6126

    dogman6126 Community Member

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    Haha, another grad student asked me this exact question a little while back. My answer is yes, we can have thought without langauge. To give a quick, tangible example of this, imagine a circle. Now, imagine that this circle is rotating on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the circle. What shape does this simulate? While I needed language to communicate my example, you did NOT need language to imagine and transform the geometric shape, and draw comparative conclusions.

    I think that language reflects the structure of thought, not that thought is a result of the structure of language. I think language or the structure of language can influence thought, and even limit someone if they aren't creative enough to think outside the bounds of that language, but this is not due to the relationship between language and thought. Rather, this is due to the limitations of that individual.
     
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  8. Wyote

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    A very strong "ye" of agreement from me. I've been painting pictures in my mind and crafting worlds I could envision vividly since I was a wee lass. So unless I just lost my mind a long time ago and I'm seein' stuff...

    Sometimes it's just one or the other, but often it's both at the same time, linguistic and non-linguistic, like an illustrated story, or images with captions. I've actually been frustrated before due to an inability to find adequate words to express what I see in my mind's eye - Like anything I try to put to paper, whether written or drawn to convey it, pales in comparison.
     
  10. Wyote

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  11. invisible

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    Hi Ren, others are contributing very interesting thoughts I will just contribute my own thoughts about this. I was in a similar discussion to this with other students in a class I was enrolled in. My discipline is information and knowledge, so in classes we discussed a lot of ideas about data, information, and knowledge in human society.

    We discussed a number of papers in the field that made the claim that "All knowledge is inherently social". I think this is an idea that is not exactly linguistic, but is very directly related to linguistics, because language is a sort of inescapable part of socialisation. Our ability to think, to understand our own thinking, is so enmeshed with our education to apply language, that our thinking is inherently social.

    I absolutely reject this claim. My objection is that this hypothesis about all knowledge being social is untestable. It is an extremely poor hypothesis, there is actually no hypothesis at all involved, but it is rather, a statement of supposed fact, a personal belief that is being stated as a fact, an assumption about the limits of possibility. Our ability to test the hypothesis is dependent on the limitations of what is being tested, so it can't be tested. My feedback to the class was that because it is impossible to test this hypothesis, that it is impossible to make such a statement that all knowledge is social.

    The practical outcome is that if we operate on an assumption that all knowledge is social, we risk excluding some potential fields of knowledge, or explanations for current knowledge, or variables involved in the construction of knowledge, from our understanding... we cause our potential (more complete) understanding of the construction of knowledge to become impossible by excluding potential alternatives of knowledge construction.

    My thoughts on this topic were not well received by my colleagues in study or by my tutor, to me they seemed very invested in the legitimacy of the historical scholars in the discipline, but I think I had a point.

    I don't really know whether or not it is possible to think outside of language, but hope these thoughts contribute to the topic.
     
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  12. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    I have non-linguistic thoughts when I solve Rubik's cubes. When I do puzzles in general really. I solve them spatially.

    Even if I had to use some form of language, it would be a notation which is not recognizable to most people, e.g. R' U' R U' R' U2 R

    Edit:
    Games like Chess and Tetris also cause me to have non-linguistic thoughts.
     
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  13. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Wow, I see there’s been a lot of thinking done here ;) Plenty of great points, which I’d like to engage later today. I am myself not decided on the question, but I cannot help feeling a bit bad about poor Wittgenstein. Let’s be honest, he’s currently sort of being torn apart. Nobody has taken his side, so far. He’s completely alone.

    So I guess I will take his side. And not because I have a crush on him. But I need to think about this in more depth first – linguistically, of course.

    I hope to see more illuminating perspectives in the meantime!
     
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  14. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    He probably didn't try to think without words.

    Consider that most of language is explanatory. We have phrases like "if you do, then" which are all about preparing a context. When you're thinking in your own mind however, you don't necessarily need to prepare your own context since you can assume it to be known. "if x then y" becomes superfluous.

    For example when I'm solving a cube, it could be seen as a string of "if this, then that." Since this is happening repeatedly, you can essentially ditto out the parts of the thought which are not unique. "if this, then that" loses its purpose and you can soon end up thinking in terms of simply "this, that" because the rest is implied by what you're doing. "This" and "that" can then quickly be replaced with mental images of the states of the cube. It is no longer "If I make this move, then that happens" I simply see "this move" as an image of itself, and then the result of it as an image of itself.

    If I had to think about it in words, it would probably take hours rather than the usual 30 to 50 seconds it takes me.
     
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  15. Pin

    Pin "Magnificent Bastard" / Ren's Counterpart

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    Yes, when someone is hurt and they yelp in pain, they're not verbalizing.
     
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    #15 Pin, Jan 19, 2018
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  16. Ginny

    Ginny Displaced Naiad

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    It is great of you to bring it up and that I see it today :D If you hadn't posted this I would have made a similar thread, though it is not rooted in language, but the perceptions of existentiality. The thing you're asking is very much rooted in this question of how reality is perceived. (Though actually my question would have approached the same topic, but from a different perspective.)

    My thoughts were very similar to yours. What I have come to know during the last hour, is that people perceive and determine what is real (not only but primarily) depending on which their preferred etymological function is, Ni or Si. While Si perceives reality based on tangible evidence and the experiences of the self, Ni believes that reality expands beyond what the self can perceive, which includes thought and language. These are the basic points, which can be expanded on, but this is not the place for it.

    Back to the OP, I don't agree with Wittgenstein in full. The limits of language can only limit the thought in terms of what you can express and prove. But it cannot constrict perception and creativity. Abstract thought can be devoid of language, being completely or partially in form or even without form. Only in it's most abstracted form can thought defy not only the use of language to define it, but even tangible meaning as a consequence. It doesn't mean though that the thought doesn't exist, but that it has not yet emerged out of your subconscious to take on form yet. I think that only after thought is formed, can it be attempted to define it by distinction.

    For example, if there is an unknown thing, a tangible object out in the world, it doesn't have a word to describe it (or you just don't know it yet), but that doesn't mean it does not exist. I think this is called the Observer Effect. Therefore, it includes the perspective of physics, metaphysics and quantum mechanics (not exactly sure about the last one).

    I am still reading Herder's "Treatise on the Origin of Language", in which he proposes that before language evolved, there had to be perception and rationality/prudence (I think it's the Latin ratio or sapientia rather than prudentia, i.e. the capability of rational thought. Ergo, language comes after thought.
    I think what we perceive as thinking in a language or with language is a specific mindset that is taught through language. (I have a book on that which I am planning on reading soon.)

    I just had to delete my last sentence because another thought occurred to me, a distinction or definition that has not been made yet. It is not just the term "thought" which has to be defined, but "language" as well. If we think back in the history of writing, there were pictograms and other sign-based languages. Even our abstract letters are signs, which have evolved through the millenia of human history. So, if we say we use signs and images to manifest thoughts in our minds, we still use language, only in a different form. It doesn't necessarily have words, or syntax, but it is still language, or proto-language if you will. From this point of view, Wittgenstein could be right.

    However, these images are, even if they are signs which hold meaning, not the limits of thought. These images still only represent conscious thought. But what about unconscious thought? I see it as a tiny unit, a snippet from the mass of thought, merging into tendrils or strings and emerging from the void of knowledge. (The reason why I call it a void is another topic.) While in the void, it can only be called an inkling, an idea, a tangent of conscious thought. It is unquestionable that only conscious thought can find manifestation in the form of language as it exists in the vernacular. But as the transition from unconscious to conscious is fluid, we cannot see where conscious thought or even language begins. They don't have to begin at the same point. Also, there must be something before unconscious thought, something which triggers the thought to form in the first place.

    It is not just an issue present in the humanities and philosophy, but also physics and biology. What I did was merely an abstract idea of how thought forms. For the moment, it can only apply to me and my perception, unless there is someone that agrees with me and perceives it the same way. Until we can prove the existence of thought and consciousness, this is not a question that can be answered with veracity.
     
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  17. OP
    Ren

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    Ok, let’s see. I cannot help but feel like Wittgenstein was trying to get at something quite profound, even though I can’t bring myself to completely agree with it. Still, I’ll try to take his stance and see where that leads me.

    "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. All I know is what I have words for."

    On the face of it, this does seem like an easy statement to challenge. Two different sets of words are implicitly conflated here, language-words and world-knowledge. But like @Ginny and others said, language is not confined to words, it applies to every type of socially derived system of signs. On the other hand, I struggle with the idea of “my world” being restricted only to my knowledge, that is, to what I know or could know to be true. Surely “my world” is also my emotions, my insights, my dreams, etc. But it seems almost too easy to dismiss Wittgenstein’s statement in that way.

    So perhaps we could relax the definition a little, and take what “I know” to mean what “I think” – not that something or a set of things is true, but thinking as an activity that could yield a true or a false statement – a « proposition with sense », as W himself would have defined a thought. So a thought would have to be about something that can be genuinely scrutinised. Is a mental representation of a landscape a thought under this definition? I don’t think so. When one is picturing a landscape, one is only “thinking” about the landscape in a manner of speaking. There seems something missing for it to be considered a thought (again, under the definition I proposed, if under nothing else.) It is when the question about the aboutness of the landscape is raised that the thought arises, so the question becomes: “Can the aboutness of this object that is the landscape be tackled non-linguistically?”

    Here we probably have to provide a definition of language for the sake of clarity. Once again, I disagree with the Wittgenstein of the quote above who associates language with mere words. But let’s maybe define language as a socially constructed system of signs that represents the objects of the world and structures the propositions via which we speak about those objects. I think the key here might be whether, when we think about an object, we really only think about that single object, or whether we only ever think about it in relation to other objects, the concatenation of which is the thought (the “logical picture of the world” in W’s words). Maybe directing consciousness towards the representation of a single object, just like the landscape, is not really a thought, because it is not really about anything at all, it is “just” a representation, like a mental replay of a sensory experience.

    On the other hand, if a thought is a logical picture in that it aggregates various objects in relation to one another, thereby giving this logical picture the possibility of being “original”, “unusual”, “true”, “false”, “nonsensical”, or whatever other adjective – the question that fascinates me is how it is that we manage to connect the objects in such a way as to string a thought together, and create the opening for further strings of thoughts based on it, perhaps even to the articulation of a concept at the end of the road. It is not the objects themselves out there in a world which exhibit this innate, instantaneous connection: it is not written into the DNA of a heater that a cat will come and sleep on it during the winter, yet when we think of a cat sleeping on a heater, we are connecting these two objects together in the mind. How do we do that? How do we bring about this state of affairs?

    Maybe we do that through language. The heater and the cat are things/beings in the world grasped as objects in the mind through the signs (“cat”, “heater”) that we have at our disposal to represent not just each of them separately as mere mental representations, but how they interact with one another in a completely virtual way, by means of signs and through the linguistic apparatus that connects signs together – call it logic or grammar. Of course, when we “perform” such thinking, we are not constantly telling ourselves under our breaths that “this is a cat and he’s now jumping on the heater to have a nice long cozy sleep”. But it’s possible that we are implicitly operating from the very beginning, without realising it, with an understanding of the heater and the cat as signs (linguistic signs) that can interact with each other through the grammar that connects them. And if we can find a way to show that all objects, circles included, fall into that category of signs, and that only in that way does one articulate thoughts and string them with other thoughts, maybe W has a point.

    I should add that to my mind, this understanding of the relationship between language and thought would in no way necessarily “blunt” creativity and original thinking. You could even suggest that the more numerous the objects that interact with one another in thought, and the more complex the grammar that provides the rules under which the interaction takes place, perhaps the more likely the thoughts strung together are to produce novel insights. Language does not limit thought as such, it only provides the boundaries beyond which a thought isn’t a thought, but a mere phantasm. But perhaps the phantasm can be objectified into a sign by means of language, and subsequently made to interact with other objects in thought, to produce a novel insight, perhaps even a new word. Here language really seems omnipresent and inseparable from the activity of thinking: the “voice of thought”, endlessly extending along with thought.

    Anyway, this is the best case I can make, right now, for W’s elusive words. It is probably ridden with unvoiced and unsubstantiated assumptions, but I thought it might be useful to offer a counter perspective.
     
    #17 Ren, Jan 20, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2018
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  18. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    @Ren
    I can see that making sense. What do we gain by stretching things to fit though, other than a feeling of rightness?

    Edit:
    Also some times a cat is just a cat. When you see an actual cat on an actual heater, it's not symbolic, it's a thing being itself. It might become a symbol when you recall it later as memory or knowledge, but I'd argue it's only trivially a symbol for the sole reason that your memory is not the actual cat.
     
    #18 sprinkles, Jan 20, 2018
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  19. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Not a feeling of rightness, just a different perspective. I could even go so far as to say that because I enjoyed your own posts as well as other posts on this thread a lot (I had them very starkly in my mind for a good while today), I wanted to contribute something worthwhile, and since I was not decided on the matter, I tried to take Wittgenstein's stance for the sake of sparking further conversation, and maybe (hopefully) providing some interesting insights. Nothing that anyone has to agree with.

    You could see an OP question as a way to determine what's a right answer, settle on it, move on and terminate the thread de facto; or you could see the OP question as a way to exchange thoughts about a problem that probably will not be strictly resolved, but may be illuminated by all the different sparks of people's perspectives on it. When it comes to philosophy questions at least, I am always approaching them in the latter way. I just learn and enjoy myself more in that way, than by trying at all costs to be right.
     
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  20. sprinkles

    sprinkles Well-known member

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    @Ren
    I see. Here's a thought then:

    Connecting a cat to a heater is no different than connecting a cat to being alive. What about the cat itself? Understanding that cats sit on heaters takes for granted the cat (and the heater even) but the cat (and the heater) is also a relationship of objects - the cells and internal organs of the cat (and the parts of the heater that make it produce heat)

    The cat has organs which relate to each other just as the cat and the heater relate to each other. What makes a cat alive in the first place is probably more complicated to understand than what makes a cat sit on a heater.
     
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