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Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Patrick Cassidy" <pat@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 17:13:00 -0500
Message-id: <1f9701ce13a5$468165e0$d38431a0$@com>
   That is one truly fascinating (unique?) story, for which many thanks.
   I am curious as to whether, in such a condition, one could still use
(interpret or produce) formal meaningful symbols, as in an ontology or
semantic model of some kind.  If you have not yet had occasion to test that
possibility, and if that condition should recur, I hope you will be able to
test that question in some way.  Although I have read that sign language
(ASL, anyway) uses the same parts of the brain as spoken language, I do not
recall whether more formal logical representations of meanings also use the
same paths.  It will be at least interesting, and perhaps useful to  get
some data on that.
   In any case, as to whether one's language use *influences* the way one
thinks, I would imagine it would, as would just about everything else one
does with the brain and the body. But count me among the skeptics as to
whether one is actually *constrained* by language.  At least for languages
as expressive as English or other European languages, one should be able to
express any idea.  Perhaps in environments (e.g., primitive cultures lacking
detailed numbers, and instruments that extend the senses, as well as devices
that clarify the difference between animate and inanimate) lacking in
certain kinds of sensual stimuli there may in fact be a few primitive
concepts lacking that exist in English; in such a case there may be
difficulty expressing ideas dependent on those particular semantic
primitives.  But I suspect that English has all of the semantic primitives
represented in any other language.  There is a certain catch-22 in saying
that there are ideas that cannot be expressed in English; if one wants to
describe that idea, how can one do it in English, if one can't do it in
English?  If one can't describe the idea in English, how can one convey the
intended meaning to us monoglots, to convince us there is such an idea?    (01)

PatC    (02)

Patrick Cassidy
908-561-3416    (03)

-----Original Message-----
From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Pat Hayes
Sent: Monday, February 25, 2013 12:17 PM
To: Rich Cooper
Cc: '[ontolog-forum]'
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis    (04)

On Feb 23, 2013, at 6:33 PM, Rich Cooper wrote:    (05)

> 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?     (06)

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.     (07)

> 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.     (08)

Interesting experience, but not like mine.     (09)

> 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?    (010)

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 :-)     (011)

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.    (012)

> 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.    (013)

He answered. He doesn't have any evidence. .    (014)

>  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    (015)

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.     (016)

> , 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.      (017)

My dear fellow, Florida has the lock on crazies, in or out of political
office.     (018)

Pat    (019)

> -Rich
>      (020)

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