Thought without language

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    Aug 13, 2013 5:13 AM GMT
    I have been having an ongoing discussion with my friend on this topic and wanted some more perspectives on the issue.

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.. I know language is not required to think but complex and abstract concepts require the use of words.
  • Generaleclect...

    Posts: 504

    Aug 13, 2013 5:29 AM GMT
    Superior in what way?

    I guess we're superior in that we have no natural predators, but other animals developed unique traits to ensure their own survival, just like we developed abstract thought (for the same reason).

  • heyom

    Posts: 389

    Aug 13, 2013 6:34 AM GMT
    LOL

    So you claim abstract thought entails superiority?

    Since most scientists (especially neuro-scientists) have already agreed animals to be conscious and have abstract morals and reasoning, that in itself is wrong, but let us take a closer look at the sentence indicating superiority, for whatever reason.


    Some claim that straights are superior over gays because they fall in love with people they procreate with and thus have evolutionary advantage.

    Some claim that men are superior over women because they have more rational and un-emotional ways of thinking...

    Some claim that some races are superior over others because of intelligence, or even physical prowess...

    All this happened (and happens) in slavery, misogeny, the holocaust and all other genocides, etc. etc. etc.



    Claim any type of superiority, for any reason, and bad things happen.


    "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"

    -Orwell

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    Aug 13, 2013 6:39 AM GMT
    The brain is actually not built to learn language, or atleast theres a big theory around it. Im in the field of Speech Pathology (or in school for it) and many researchers believe that the brain just makes room to learn language and learns how to control the necessary muscles to form words from other human beings. So, in order for any species to do such a thing is pretty amazing. Creating phonemes requires more muscles than you can imagine but all humans are extremely good at it even though our mouths main purpose is suppose to be for eating and disposing of waste in some ways.

    My whole point is, yes the brain must have the ability to think in order to teach itself how to speak. therefore, even though thinking is hard to imagine without language, they are indeed separate.

    As for superiority over animals, I must admit, You guys make a good argument that each animal has its own ways of surviving but humans are by far superior to animals. If it wasnt so, humans would not rule the earth. We have power over every single other animal on this earth. Thats a definite fact.
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    Aug 13, 2013 7:27 AM GMT
    That's an absurd theory then. Our throat clearance has reduced at an obvious cost to safety in order to enable a greater range of speech. There are brain regions specifically reserved for processing speech, and our motor cortex has an astounding amount of area dedicated to producing speech patterns. That would be quite the impressive degree of adaptivity - a level not shown by other lower functions. Also, that theory leads to a chicken-and-the-egg problem. If the human brain isn't made for it, where in Hell's bells did it come from?

    And higher order primates can synthesize new words from combinations of others or from mixing hand gestures that are equivalent to phonemes. So we aren't particularly special in this regard. However they clearly don't do it as often, and one would imagine the differential in ability would arise largely from brain structure. Unless you're positing the human brain is inherently more flexible than other primates, and neuronal physiology doesn't really support that idea.
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    Aug 13, 2013 7:54 AM GMT
    Wow, it's some smart people here. Great comments. I'm loving the different perspectives!!

    I say we are 'ultimately' superior to animals because as k10malau pointed out "we have power over every animal on this earth." Yes, there are animals stronger than us, faster than us, etc. etc. but at the end of the day we, humans, rule over every animal. If you don't agree then lets agree to disagree. That's your interpretation of superiority. Lets not get sidetracked… I think we all agree humans possess greater intelligence over other animals which brings me to my point… WHY? Why do humans posses a greater level of intelligence over other animals?

    I think it's our mastery of words and speech. It's pretty much scientific fact that other animals can reason, think, use tools, and of course communicate, but not on our level. Animals do have their own forms of language, I agree, but 'animal language' is not as expressive or complex as ours.

    "Man is the only animal that can communicate by means of abstract symbols." -Charles F. Hockett 'The Origin of Speech'

    Is this the reason why we are capable of more complex thought?

    What is the correlation between speech/words to level of thinking?
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    Aug 13, 2013 8:22 AM GMT
    Ivy and moss are two of the world's most successful species, if you consider their adaptability and prevalence on the planet.

    Humans are on their way to causing their own destruction, and ultimately extinction. We're a parasite on the planet.

    Being the most destructive and aggressive species does not make you the most "superior".
  • Drift

    Posts: 217

    Aug 13, 2013 10:32 AM GMT
    +1 gayinterest

    The idea that we 'rule' over other beings and over the world...I find it repulsive.
    We have great influence. And that influence carries consequences, in all shades.
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    Aug 13, 2013 11:19 AM GMT
    In doing what we are doing now (ie. talking and discussing ideas in great abstraction) thousands or millions of miles from each other and have wonderful ideas, to create and alter our environments makes us as an organism indeed superior. The meaning of superior is to be advanced and to be more adept than others or animals, vegetables or minerals for that matter. We are not the parasites some people think to seem we are. We choose to create beauty and expression. There are some humans that exploit the nature of the human environment to their selfish ends but does not translate to all of us being parasites. Nature too can be very harsh if there is limited means available. Evolution has made us the most adaptable of the natural world and that makes us more advanced. We can solve challenges and be capable of immense joy and understanding. We are merely custodians of the natural realm having evolved to the top of the food chain - we may be bumped off by a furry foe in millions of years but we are definitely not going to destroy ourselves. We have the ability to tackle the next hurdle life throws at us. Like a Patek Philippe owner, we are me passing it on, paying it forward.
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    Aug 13, 2013 11:25 AM GMT
    To move back towards "thought without language" - Temple Grandin has an awesome book called "Thinking in Pictures". She is an amazing woman who is an incredibly functional autistic woman (PhD - changed the entire meat processing world) who articulates that all of her memories and thoughts are image driven, not language driven. It is a very interesting perspective.
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    Aug 13, 2013 3:56 PM GMT
    jakenoh saidTo move back towards "thought without language" - Temple Grandin has an awesome book called "Thinking in Pictures". She is an amazing woman who is an incredibly functional autistic woman (PhD - changed the entire meat processing world) who articulates that all of her memories and thoughts are image driven, not language driven. It is a very interesting perspective.


    That's interesting I will have to check it out. I did do a quick google search and found the 1st chapter of the book posted. I admit I only scanned over it. The first lines of the chapter say...
    "I THINK IN PICTURES. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures. Language-based thinkers often find this phenomenon difficult to understand, but in my job as an equipment designer for the livestock industry, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage."

    So... she thinks with pictures yet fully comprehends human language of words. She is using a visual form of word association that allows her specifically to think more efficiently. But.. If she didn't have a full comprehension of the human language would she still be able to think at the same capacity?
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    Aug 13, 2013 4:05 PM GMT
    Drift said+1 gayinterest

    The idea that we 'rule' over other beings and over the world...I find it repulsive.
    We have great influence. And that influence carries consequences, in all shades.


    This is not what this post is about, but I'll take the bait.
    You, heyom, Generaleclect... and gayinterest are associating a negative connotation to the words 'superiority' and 'rule'. Because of this, you are incorporating emotion into your reasoning..
    There is no way, logically, that you can honestly believe that we do not have rule, dominance, or whatever else you want to call it over every other species known to man on this planet.

    Yes ivy is a successful species. Cool. But guess what.. I have ivy plants in my house that solely depend on how I care for them that determines whether they live or die.
  • LJay

    Posts: 11612

    Aug 13, 2013 4:09 PM GMT
    Try a good dose of Bach or Messiaen and get back to me.
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    Aug 13, 2013 4:11 PM GMT
    The_Perfect_Ashlar saidI have been having an ongoing discussion with my friend on this topic and wanted some more perspectives on the issue.

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.. I know language is not required to think but complex and abstract concepts require the use of words.


    Read about Helen Keller.
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    Aug 13, 2013 4:13 PM GMT
    LJay saidTry a good dose of Bach or Messiaen and get back to me.


    Can you elaborate?
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    Aug 13, 2013 4:29 PM GMT
    I sent you a PM
  • LJay

    Posts: 11612

    Aug 13, 2013 4:40 PM GMT
    The_Perfect_Ashlar said
    LJay saidTry a good dose of Bach or Messiaen and get back to me.


    Can you elaborate?


    Music says things that words cannot. Bach is eloquent with the use of harmony, form, and highly devoped musical syntax.

    Messiaen, who was synesthetic, is more abstract and highly expressive.

    Bach is often spoken of in architectural terms and that is yet another mixture of art and form to communicate.
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    Aug 13, 2013 4:54 PM GMT
    The_Perfect_Ashlar said

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.


    After reading most RJ forums I doubt any superiority we might presume over goldfish, moss or ivy.

    But ALL OF YOU GUYS ABOVE ME are restoring my faith.

    THANK YOU.
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    Aug 13, 2013 5:01 PM GMT
    I'll assume you mean things like technical or artistic superiority, which of course we possess, but you have to make that clear.
    As stated in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the dolphins thought they were superior because they enjoyed life more.
    We're superior in many ways. We have a much clearer understanding of what goes on around us than the animals and a much greater capacity to do good or evil.
    All thanks to language and opposable thumbs!




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    Aug 13, 2013 5:03 PM GMT
    TerraFirma said
    The_Perfect_Ashlar saidI have been having an ongoing discussion with my friend on this topic and wanted some more perspectives on the issue.

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.. I know language is not required to think but complex and abstract concepts require the use of words.


    Read about Helen Keller.

    I think you're making his point there.
    Helen Keller was pretty useless (I don't know what the nice word is) until she learned language.
  • HottJoe

    Posts: 21366

    Aug 13, 2013 5:15 PM GMT
    JohnSpotter said
    TerraFirma said
    The_Perfect_Ashlar saidI have been having an ongoing discussion with my friend on this topic and wanted some more perspectives on the issue.

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.. I know language is not required to think but complex and abstract concepts require the use of words.


    Read about Helen Keller.

    I think you're making his point there.
    Helen Keller was pretty useless (I don't know what the nice word is) until she learned language.

    Maybe helpless would be a better word...
    At any rate, it's not true that humans are the only animals with language and other ways of communicating. We just lack the "Rosetta stone" that would allow us to decipher their meaning. Interestingly, domesticated dogs have evolved specific barks for communicating with humans that wolves don't use. In fact, wolves only bark as a warning and most of their communication comes in different forms, whereas dogs have several unique and distinct barks they can use to communicate with humans.
  • MikeW

    Posts: 6061

    Aug 13, 2013 5:54 PM GMT
    I'm not sure what the point of the discussion with your friend is, OP. What is it, exactly, you're trying to ascertain? As others have suggested, I'm also skeptical of your use of the word "superior" and its potential consequences.

    I'll offer you a quote from Gregory Bateson to ponder:
    What do I mean by "my" mind?

    I suggest that the delimitation of an individual mind must always depend upon what phenomena we wish to understand or explain. Obviously there are lots of message pathways outside the skin, and these and the messages which they carry must be included as part of the mental system whenever they are relevant.

    ...

    The elementary cybernetic system with its messages in circuit is, in fact, the simplest unit of mind; and the transform of a difference traveling in a circuit is the elementary idea. More complicated systems are perhaps more worthy to be called mental systems but essentially this is what we are talking about. The unit which shows the characteristic of trial and error will be legitimately called a mental system.

    ...

    In considering units of evolution, I argued that you have at each step to include the completed pathways outside the protoplasmic aggregate, be it DNA-in-the-cell, or cell-in-the-body, or body-in-the-environment. The hierarchic structure is not new. Formerly we talked about the breeding individual or the family line or the taxon, and so on. Now each step of the hierarchy is to be thought of as a system, instead of a chunk cut off and visualized as against the surrounding matrix.

    This identity between the unit of mind and the unit of evolutionary survival is of very great importance, not only theoretical, but also ethical.

    It means, you see, that I now localize something which I am calling "Mind" immanent in the large biological system—the ecosystem. Or, if I draw the system boundaries at a different level, then mind is immanent in the total evolutionary structure. If this identity between mental and evolutionary units is broadly right, then we face a number of shifts in our thinking.

    ...

    ...the very meaning of "survival" becomes different when we stop talking about the survival of something bounded by the skin and start to think of the survival of the system of ideas in a circuit. The contents of the skin are randomized at death and the pathways within the skin are randomized. But the ideas, under further transformation, may go on out in the world in books or works of art. Socrates as a bioenergetic individual is dead. But much of him still lives in the contemporary ecology of ideas.

    ...

    The cybernetic epistemology which I have offered you would suggest a new approach. The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger Mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by "God," but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology.

    Freudian psychology expanded the concept of mind inwards to include the whole communication system within the body—the automatic, the habitual, and the vast range of unconscious process. What I am saying expands mind outwards. And both of these changes reduce the scope of the conscious self. A certain humility becomes appropriate, tempered by the dignity or joy of being part of something much bigger. A part—if you will—of God.

    If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables.

    If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.*




    *Excerpts from "Form, Substance and Difference," found in Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972. This was the Nineteenth Annual Korzybski Memorial Lecture, delivered January 9, 1970, under the auspices of the Institute of General Semantics.
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    Aug 13, 2013 6:48 PM GMT
    Drift said+1 gayinterest

    The idea that we 'rule' over other beings and over the world...I find it repulsive.
    We have great influence. And that influence carries consequences, in all shades.

    I think you've both completely missed the point of the thread in your eagerness to be cynical. Of course human beings are superior. The question is how much language played a part in it.
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    Aug 13, 2013 7:16 PM GMT
    HottJoe said
    JohnSpotter said
    TerraFirma said
    The_Perfect_Ashlar saidI have been having an ongoing discussion with my friend on this topic and wanted some more perspectives on the issue.

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.. I know language is not required to think but complex and abstract concepts require the use of words.


    Read about Helen Keller.

    I think you're making his point there.
    Helen Keller was pretty useless (I don't know what the nice word is) until she learned language.

    Maybe helpless would be a better word...
    At any rate, it's not true that humans are the only animals with language and other ways of communicating. We just lack the "Rosetta stone" that would allow us to decipher their meaning. Interestingly, domesticated dogs have evolved specific barks for communicating with humans that wolves don't use. In fact, wolves only bark as a warning and most of their communication comes in different forms, whereas dogs have several unique and distinct barks they can use to communicate with humans.


    All animals do when they have certain barks are changing the frequencies. Dogs are amazing at hearing and can pick up very subtle changes in that. All animals react to queues. They queue each other about what is happening, but they cant necessarily tell each other as humans do. Say a rhino is going to attack a dog and he cries for help. His bark wouldnt mean 'HOLY FUCK THERES A RHINO COMING FOR ME" it wouldnt really mean anything, its just a queue for help. All animals are common in that sense! Im sure it differs a little, but not much. Monkeys that know how to say some human words or seem to understand human being requests are merely responding to queues in the person's voice and they cant actually comprehend what we are saying. Humans communication is far more superior than any animal on this plant. I dont understand who would try to refute this. Look at what Im doing now, i bet a dolphin could even talk to another dolphin 5000 miles away.
  • aax_aax_aax

    Posts: 80

    Sep 13, 2013 6:23 PM GMT
    HottJoe said
    JohnSpotter said
    TerraFirma said
    The_Perfect_Ashlar saidI have been having an ongoing discussion with my friend on this topic and wanted some more perspectives on the issue.

    I think as humans we are ultimately superior over other animals because of our ability of speech and our use of words.. I know language is not required to think but complex and abstract concepts require the use of words.


    Read about Helen Keller.

    I think you're making his point there.
    Helen Keller was pretty useless (I don't know what the nice word is) until she learned language.

    Maybe helpless would be a better word...
    At any rate, it's not true that humans are the only animals with language and other ways of communicating. We just lack the "Rosetta stone" that would allow us to decipher their meaning. Interestingly, domesticated dogs have evolved specific barks for communicating with humans that wolves don't use. In fact, wolves only bark as a warning and most of their communication comes in different forms, whereas dogs have several unique and distinct barks they can use to communicate with humans.


    agree with you.. it's funny how a lot of people like to think that humans are superior in everything and support that thesis with art (visual or written), or that we have invented tv, internet or whatever.. yet forget that bees (for example) communicate in extraordinary way and they don't really have the need to invent tv or a chair, nor to have a picasso.. plants communicate too..

    it's sad that with this consumerism and western ideology (that conquered the east too) there's not so much diversity within humans as it used to be.. that's a great loss. i'm afraid that the whole planet will live the same way within next 50yrs.

    i'm also sure that half of these people saying we're superior to animals because we have internet also think of themselves as superior to other people (african, aboriginal, chinese or syrian village people), but don't say it out loud because it's not politically correct.