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Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

To: Steven Ericsson-Zenith <steven@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, Rich Cooper <rich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 19:45:59 -0600
Message-id: <216EF9AC-4A37-434F-8A78-28C561163FC8@xxxxxxx>

On Feb 25, 2013, at 2:57 PM, Steven Ericsson-Zenith wrote:    (01)

> Dear Pat,
> This is a fascinating personal account. When you say "language is irrelevant 
>to (your) thinking" this is not the same as saying that language is irrelevant 
>to your behavior, even if it is suppressed at times by the disorder you 
>experienced.    (02)

True. One could probably argue that the access, provided by my native language, 
to the entire corpus of cultural knowledge expressed in English has been 
significant in my mental processes in various ways, and would have been 
different if I had happened to have been born in, say, China. But all this does 
not imply that my thought processes would have been different, only that I 
would have been exposed to different influences during my more formative years.     (03)

> Much that is thinking clearly does not involve deliberate use of language.     (04)

I think the total aphasia goes rather beyond simply being unable to use 
language 'deliberately'. The aphasia is merely the symptom of the neurologial 
fact that the relevant brain areas are not functioning at that time. (The 
condition is usually the result of actual physical damage to the brain, either 
through trauma or resulting from a stroke, and those cases are of course 
permanent and irreversible.) So my thinking brain, during these episodes, 
really cannot be using language at all, either deliberately or unconsciously. 
Its linguistic machinery is unplugged, as it were, rather than suppressed.  And 
the most singular fact that I have to report (and which surprised me) is not 
merely that I can still think, but that the thinking and the experience of 
thinking (and the later recollection of this experience) are not affected *at 
all* by this absence of the linguistic neural machinery.     (05)

> For example, I often attempt to clear my mind of all thought in order to 
>solve problems and many individuals report solutions after rest or sleep. Most 
>common, for me, is that I think of a problem (typically a mathematical 
>problem) unrelated to the first that appears much harder, often 
>insurmountable, in order to distract myself.     (06)

I often use music in this way, but yes, I beleive such strategies are widely 
used.     (07)

> Consider the vast variety of experiments involving brain damage (Roger 
>Sperry's for example) that show we are not always able to report. I am 
>thinking of cases where a witness cannot report, or misreports, verbally but 
>the hand still reports correctly using language, a fact that the individual 
>appears unaware of.    (08)

Those arose from bisecting the corpus callossum, which is a rather drastic (and 
now prohibited) rearrangement of the global neural architecture. One hemisphere 
has no access to spoken language, but apparently still has views it wants to 
express. But in these cases, still the no-spoken-language hemisphere has a 
prefrontal lobe. I don't believe it is possible to imagine what it is like to 
be such an individual, in fact, nor how the subjective multi-experiences of the 
brain-bisected patient can be related to those of an intact brain.     (09)

> My point being that the habit continues even if language use is disabled 
>temporarily or "hidden." You may think it irrelevant but it is not.    (010)

Well, I believe the proponderance of evidence is on my side here :-)     (011)

Pat    (012)

> Best regards,
> Steven
> --
> Steven Ericsson-Zenith
> Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering
> http://iase.info
> On Feb 25, 2013, at 9:16 AM, Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx> wrote:
>> 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.
>     (013)

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