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Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

To: "Rich Cooper" <rich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "'[ontolog-forum]'" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 11:16:30 -0600
Message-id: <27034E75-1237-4119-9D62-DD34F8FE4696@xxxxxxx>

On Feb 23, 2013, at 6:33 PM, Rich Cooper wrote:    (01)

> Dear Pat,
> Good question.  My response is below,
> -Rich
> Sincerely,
> Rich Cooper
> EnglishLogicKernel.com
> 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?     (02)

Not exactly. For about 25 years I had chronic seizures (largely controlled by 
medications) arising from a head injury in childhood. Their focus was my left 
temporal lobe, and their result was that I was totally aphasic - "word-blind", 
no language abilties at all, either speech or comprehension - for periods 
varying from a few seconds to about half an hour, while fully conscious and 
functional in every other way (as far as I and anyone else could tell.) So I 
know what total aphasia feels like and, more unusually, can tell others about 
it. And guess what, it feels like nothing, until you try to speak (or read - my 
own test to see how well I was recovering was to see if I could read a 
newspaper. The only way to find out was to try it, and see how well it worked.) 
It feels perfectly normal. Until you hear other people speaking gibberish, or 
try to say something and realize you have no idea what to do with your mouth to 
make those extraordinary noises, you would not know you had the condition. I 
could think without language in exactly the same way, and just as effectively, 
as I can with language. Language is irrelevant to (my) thinking. Even without 
the seizures, most of my thinking is best described using diagrams or 
mathematics, rather than verbally. All my academic life I have had a sharp 
distinciton between having the ideas, which is the thinking part, and writing 
them down in language, which is a tedious chore almost entirely unrelated to 
the thinking, and one that requires completely different kinds of effort. To 
write English prose does require thought, of course, but it requires thought 
*about English prose*, not about the topic being described. I have to worry 
about repetition and assonance and paragraph structure and keeping to the topic 
and all that English composition stuff that I had to learn in grammar school. I 
couldn't be doing all that crap while I was trying to prove a theorem or trying 
to figure out where the bugs are in my code. Expressing myself in language is 
serious extra work, and increasingly, with age, I find it not worth the effort.     (03)

> 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.     (04)

Interesting experience, but not like mine.     (05)

> 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?    (06)

I was talking more about mental effort such as planning a complicated 
construction task (recently, in my case, a kitchen remodel), doing mathematics, 
or writing programs. None of these seem to me, subjectively, to be even 
slightly connected with language. If asked what I am doing when doing this kind 
of thing, or asked to describe my thoughts, I am completely unable to do so. It 
feels more like drawing elaborate internal pictures than anything linguistic 
(but even that is only a metaphor, as I couldnt draw it either :-)     (07)

While apahasic, one task I figured out was how to convince my wife that I was 
OK (and not have her call the paramedics), which I did by standing up and 
dancing for her.    (08)

> 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.    (09)

He answered. He doesn't have any evidence. .    (010)

>  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    (011)

If that's the definition, then whatever it is that I do with my brain must be 
something else. I would define thought as the process that figures out how to 
solve problems and achieve goals in the face of difficulties. It is how we 
decide what to do.  Communication is very important, but is not the defining 
characteristic of thought. Robinson Crusoe wasnt communicating anything, but he 
was doing a lot of thinking.     (012)

> , 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.      (013)

My dear fellow, Florida has the lock on crazies, in or out of political office.     (014)

Pat    (015)

> -Rich
>      (016)

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