Good question. My response is below,
Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com
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From: Pat Hayes [mailto:phayes@xxxxxxx]
Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2013 4:01 PM
To: Rich Cooper
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf
On Feb 23, 2013, at 3:39
PM, Rich Cooper wrote:
Simon Spero wrote:
> the world is
presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by
our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic
systems in our minds.
Note the use of the word “largely”
Does it mean that? I find
this claim to be highly doubtful, myself. I have, at many times in my life, had
to think and act while my mental linguistic system was not functioning at all,
and found that my thinking was unimpaired by a temporary (epilepsy-induced)
Could you enlarge on
this please? Do you mean you had an epileptic seizure while in action, but
were unable to verbalize?
I had an experience
as a ten year old where someone had pulled out the board that bridges a ditch.
While riding my bike over the (missing) board, I took a tumble. For the next
hour or so, I acted normally at my sailing class, went out in a boat,
participated in a race, returned to the harbor, returned the boat (a pram) to
the storage stack, and then finally became conscious again. Either I had lost
consciousness but kept in action, or I just lost my memory of the actions. I
will never know which. But my sister was at the same sailing class and told me
I had done all those things, even talked and listened properly, during the lost
So in my case, I had
both rational action and rational language during the missing hour.
But in any case, this idea
that thought somehow *is* language seems unlikely on a variety of grounds. I
know I am not alone in being able to think many thoughts that I find it hard to
utter in language - in some cases, impossible to do so. Why would this be true,
if thought simply were language, or if it used the "linguistic
system" in our minds?
I agree that actions
can be performed and thought can be performed, but not always together. I can
ride a bike, but I couldn’t explain to my kids HOW I ride a bike. They had to
learn by doing, the same way I did.
But we could define
thought as linguistic, and use a different word for actions. So I suppose its
really a matter of how you define “thought”. Does it really have to encompass
nonlinguistic actions like riding a bike?
Again, I can often
time-share thinking and language use, for example following a chain of thought
while listening to spoken instructions or even holding a conversation.
Psychologists say we
have at least two brains, as shown by the surprising results of split corpus
callosum patients show in their experiments. It seems normal to have one part
of your linguistic brain listening, while another part talks. Which task is “thinking”?
The listening part, or the talking part? Clearly we need both to participate
in a two way conversation, whether spoken or, like this one, typed and read.
And, it is known that
linguistic functionality is localized to comparatively small areas of the
cortex (the left temporal and prefronal lobes), so if our minds *are* the
linguistic system in our minds, what is the rest of this (biologically very
expensive) neural tissue for?
Broca’s area and that
other guy’s area are known to participate in linguistic actions, but that doesn’t
mean that the rest of the brain isn’t also participating – the cochleae are
hearing simultaneously, though we think not symbolically. Other parts have
their dedicated functionalities, but they also are part of the thought
process. There are people who can talk and talk about some mundane story, but
the story isn’t true, didn’t happen, and has no meaning other than the jabber
produced in valid English.
Does Spero give any
evidence for this very strong, and I think extremely implausible, claim that it
is our mental linguistic system which provides the categories for thought?
It would be better to ask
Simon Spero than to ask me. But I agree with him in a fuzzy way (very little
is known about our language and brain) until more detailed explanations are
available in some future day.
In my opinion, we call “thought”
the communicable description of experience from observer to observer, and we
each identify with the other through our memories, both action memories and
language memories. So in finale, I think language is the symbolic and
communicable portion of what we call “thought”.
I hear its 84 degrees in Florida. I grew up
there, and I miss it, but I love California
better even with the crazies in political office here.