Thinking Without Language

On Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel has a very interesting post about the relation between rationality or consciousness and language. He cites an example given in a paper by Andre Roch Lecours and Yves Joanette. It is very interesting story, please go to Eric’s place and read it first if you haven’t already.

Eric is very careful not to read too much from the “single anecdote transmitted second-hand”, but to me the conclusion from the anecdote seems pretty straightforward, and sensible.

First, wouldn’t it be hard to give a new name to a phenomenon, if we can’t think about the phenomenon without actually having words for it?

Think of the IQ tests (if you have solved one), and some of those problems with figures. When one thinks of which figure doesn’t fit, or something like that, what we do are things like rotating the figure in our minds (excuse my French), or imagining the mirror figure, or something like that. That is surely thinking and conscious act, and it doesn’t seem that it is done in language.

Take also playing of chess. A good chess player, might simply see that some move is wrong, without actually being able to explain or put into words why the move is wrong. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t aware that the move is wrong, he is fully conscious that the move is wrong, just it shows that his thinking is not done on linguistic level. Even simple tracking in the mind of the moves which are on the table doesn’t have to be correlated with words. I can be aware of the possibility of moves as such, without having words for them.

But why those “voices in our heads” then? What is their function, if we don’t think in terms of language?

Here is my thought on this…

The language is practice in the community, it is so very present that we are probably unaware just how much of our practices are related to language. Every informing, asking, expressing opinion, promising, threating, joking, and so on as social practices are related to language.  It is no wonder then, that we think of our experience in the world in terms of those practices, or to use the ‘language game’ metaphor, because we play language games so much, when we encounter different things, we tend to think  in terms of the possibilities that they relate to this playing a language games.

I want to relate this with the known phenomenon of how playing other games affect us.

Here are some examples Wired’s article Real World Doesn’t Use a Joystick:

Here is just one example, check the posts for more…

Taylor also said that after reviewing Quake III he had trouble getting his mind out of the game. “I’d play it, then walk out into the office corridor and realize I was looking at my co-workers as potential targets,” said Taylor. “I was so used to killing anything that moved.”

I think this is particularly interesting example related to the issue at hand:

Any addictive game can have a similar effect: The more someone plays, the more likely they are to stay mentally inside even afterward. And immersive games like Electronic Arts’ The Sims are frequently to blame, given the countless hours players put into them.  “When I played (it) a lot,” said Laura Martin, a devotee of the game, “I remember thinking, ‘What percent of my bladder is full?’ to decide if it was time to head to the bathroom.”

As I read this it says that Laura started to think in terms of the game which she was playing a lot. It is true that she used language to express what she thought, but I think that is just a consequence of necessity to express her thinking some way. Of course, without type of experiments done by Eric (and even with them) it is hard to solve this.

For what is worth, I know the feeling, as after long playing of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, when I was moving through the world I was thinking of the possibilities to grind on most ‘grindable’ things I was seeing. (For the record, in real life, I haven’t even try to skate. Also haven’t kill people.)
So, I guess you get the general idea, that the playing of the games affects what kind of possibilities we think of when we look at the world, and that because of playing the language game A LOT, we are inclined to think in terms of this (something like ‘what I would say to describe this situation’. Again, I use language here, but you get the point).

And, while at this, here is another way that things from the games can spill to our ‘real life’… Daily Bits has a post about Top 6 Bizarre Online Gaming Incidents.