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Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

To: "'Pat Hayes'" <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "'[ontolog-forum]'" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Rich Cooper" <rich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2013 16:33:47 -0800
Message-id: <D8DB45B2497A4067BCA109AED4E99812@Gateway>

Dear Pat,


Good question.  My response is below,




Rich Cooper


Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com

9 4 9 \ 5 2 5 - 5 7 1 2


-----Original Message-----
From: Pat Hayes [mailto:phayes@xxxxxxx]
Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2013 4:01 PM
To: Rich Cooper
Cc: [ontolog-forum]
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis



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) total aphasia.


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 time. 


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”.


Pat Hayes


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. 




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