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Ian Egland

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Thinking in Thought, Not in Language

Each additional language someone speaks becomes another world of knowledge that person can draw upon.
This is because each language (or at least each class of related languages) has unique nuances that make it particularly good for describing certain ideas, while remaining dissatisfyingly vague for others. Then there are the ideas that language, as a middle man between the true idea, simply cannot convey.

Both students of language and native speakers have encountered this limitation at some time or another. What is not thought about is how limiting language can be on the mind, not in terms of being able to convey ideas, but in being able to develop them at all.

When presented with a problem, I tend to think through it in English, my native tongue. By being so immersed in it, I catch myself shaping my ideas around the language, thinking in the structure of English rather than in the true state of my mind.

What would happen if we could free ourselves of this limitation and solve problems only in thought? What would that take? What is a pure thought, and who is most qualified to define that? Can it be defined at all?
Even if we could think purely in thought, would it be worthwhile, since we will probably come upon solutions that cannot be communicated?

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    Jun 13 2011: Hi Ian,
    What is a thought?
    I am not sure. Many things go on inside. (If you ever tried meditating zen style,you would know.) Body sensations, emotions, inner images and inner sounds. And some of those sounds are words. If you are a mathematician some of your images might be mathematical symbols. Numbers and math are also a kind of language. If you are a musician, you might hear inner music = a kind of language. Etc..
    Our brains many times take input it gets from outside and creates something new by reshaping it. I do not know if it ever creates something out of nothing. If it does, maybe the existence itself is a something, created out of nothing...

    Maybe every conscious process in the brain, that is not a pure sensory reaction, is a thought? And maybe language (verbal, body language, signs, music, math etc) is that process expressed and shared?

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