CH1 L21: Why language has enabled us to think

  1. In the last post, I stated that thinking is self-communication [1]. We can’t possibly think without language. Let’s try to falsify the statement.
  2. Carl Gustav Jung [2], in “Man and his symbols” [3], has divided the process of experiencing a thing [4] into 4 steps:
  1. Sensation or sense perception tells us whether the thing exists or not. [5]
  2. Feeling evaluates it based on desirability which is again related to the duality of life and death [6]. In several posts, we talked about feelings and how they affect our judgments. [7]
  3. Thinking examines the thing to find what it is. [8]
  4. Finally, intuition extrapolates its origin and destination. [9]
  1. I should add a supplementary statement that we don’t need language to feel. Imagine that fire burnt your finger. you wouldn’t need any words to feel it, though you might express your pain with a language. However, afterward, you’d think about the experience. You’d ask yourself what it was. You’d describe it “Fire burnt my finger.” To form this thought you needed to use four concepts: fire, burnt, my, and finger.
  2. If you’re following the story from the beginning, you’d remember the discussion about concepts [10]. Concepts group experiences based on at least one similarity and enable us to think about the groups rather than isolated experiences. We also discussed that to understand abstract concepts, we need language [11]. Therefore, without language, we can’t think about concepts without which we can’t think.
  3. At this point, you might say that I jumped to the conclusion and my example wasn’t exhaustive. Yes, you’re right. Let’s see what’s missing in the process. After you burn the finger, you’d recall the experience several times. The pain would trigger fear which would warn you to remember the experience in order to avoid making the same mistake. Do you call it thinking?
  4. First of all, I don’t call it thinking; it’s simply memorizing. You had an experience which you holistically stored in your brain. You can say that you’re thinking about it if you’re able to identify the elements of the experience. That’s where most students turn the wrong direction and try to memorize their lesson rather than analyze it. They receive information, memorize them like unopened parcels. So, would it be surprising if, during an exam where they’re expected to use the tools in each package, they don’t know which box to open or how to use each tool? [12]
  5. Secondly, even if you call it thinking, your brain is using an iconic language to ruminate the experience. When you remember the moment, you’re using the iconic sign of what happened; so, it can be still categorized as a language [13].
  6. To answer the question: “what is it?”, we inevitably need concepts, thus language. I challenge you to find something you can define without using any concepts. If you look up any word, you’ll see that it’s been categorized even before its definition. For example, if you look up “leaf”, you see that it’s been categorized as a noun. It’s also countable and its plural is leaves. We yet don’t know what it is but we know how it’s categorized.
  7. Even if you try to define yourself, as a unique individual, you’d use gender, nationality, age, profession, and other components. Thus, you’re defined by concepts.
  8. Categorizing is the first step of thinking which means the ability to distinguish nuances between things.
  1. If you ask me what’s the difference between the ants above, I could naively say that one is bigger than the other. But to an entomologist, they’re totally different. Because the entomologist has gained the knowledge to categorize them.
  2. Studying concepts has opened some other discussions that we will explore in the coming posts. To wrap up this part which was about language and thinking, I would still leave the discussion open and challenge you to find any situation in which we can think without using any languages.

Exercise 21:

  1. As I mentioned, think about a situation in which you can think without language. Does it really exist?

Footnotes:

[1] Link to the previous post.

[2] For more information, you can check out the link about C. G. Jung.

[3] Link to “Man and his symbols” which is again highly recommended.

[4] We started the journey from experiencing a thing and what’s going on in our head and why we called it a thing. If you’re really interested to follow the story, I’d recommend you to start from the beginning.

[5] We briefly talked about the perception in the second post. Link

[6] As I mentioned the story starts from Death which defines life. Link

[7] We discussed feelings in many posts and how they help us survive and affect the hierarchy of meanings.

[8] Unlike Jung who put thinking before feeling, I’d prefer this order which is sequential. First we perceive a thing, then we form some kind of emotional judgment and if we’re given some time, we start to think about it.

[9] We will definitely discuss the role of intuition in many different areas without which science and math would be meaningless.

[10] Here’s the link to the post about concepts.

[11] The link to the post about meaning and language.

[12] That’s also how I distinguish the brilliant students from the average and the weak. I analogize their brain to a very organized room, so they know where they placed every piece of information and how they’re connected; whereas the brain of a weak student is a total mess; so finding a piece of information, especially in a stressful situation is a nightmare. Besides, since they don’t practise working with the tools and they just dumped them, they will fail using them in exams. That’s also how I define intelligence: the skill to keep your brain neat, tidy and organized.

[13] Link to the post about signs and its types: icons, indexes and symbols.

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