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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 thats a great question ! i dont know the answer too but i think its hard to separate language and a thoughts cuz when you are thinking about abstract ideas ,you are actually using words to consrtuct these ideas in head. what i experenced is that a thought can be of multiple meanings all i need to do is to sort out what these meanings are and convey them thru different symbols(not just language ).
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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?
  • Jun 13 2011: Not living in my native country, I pondered about this question a lot as well. Truly, different languages can describe phenomena and concepts more aptly, if not exclusively. For example the concept of a 'burrito' does not exist in Hungarian, and the concept of 'fozelek' does not exist in English or American.
    But expose a hungarian to a burrito during a week long vacation, and ask him what is it called a year later. He will remember the concept, but perhaps forgotten the name.
    A difference in describing colors in different languages reveals some insight to these question. Most languages describe the color spectrum using dominant colors, plus sprinkling in some intermittent colors.
    Between red and yellow is orange. Between orange and red is ? Brick? The auto industry sure found out a name for this color, or perhaps the word exist in French, which actually may bias the color preferences of the French.
    But even without the exact word, or symbol, you get the idea.
    You probably know the name for a polygon with 5 sides, a polygon with 6 sides, and a polygon with 8 sides, but I do not know the name of the 7 sided one - does it matter? I get the concept.

    What would happen if we could free ourselves of this limitation and solve problems only in thought? What would that take?

    IMHO you already do this, and already do this well. In pitch black darkness you can probably find your way to the bathroom - your hand knows where the doorknob or handle is. You can not talk about its relative or absolute location from where you were lying in bed.
    I think a pure thought is when neurons in a nervous system fire in synchrony, certain percepts and concepts are associated with each other. A small percentage of these include neurons which belong to sub-networks which encode chains of phonetic symbols, so the group has a 'name'. But most do not.
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    Jun 12 2011: I don't know the answers to your questions, but I agree with what you are saying. I think this is the reason we have so much trouble with concepts that transcend language (God, love, appreciation, etc.). Language is very good with articulation but the more precise you get the more you lose the large shape of the meaning. I think metaphorical thinking would be the next step up because it involves experiencing rather than recognizing the word.

    I have wondered what others have thought on this subject so please respond.