View Full Version : What do people think in if they don't know words

01-13-2000, 08:58 PM
Pictures? I was thinking about this the other day while watching TV with a friend of mine, and she didn't have an answer either. Something about the voice of the conscience. How would it communicate?

If someone has never learned a language, I don't want to say "how" do they think, because obviously they do, but what do they think?


01-13-2000, 09:20 PM
There are certainly times when my thoughts aren't verbal. And my dog (who's not very bright, even by dog standards) can reason some things out.

My non-verbal thoughts tend to be, well, indescribable. Forced to name them, I guess I would call them concepts. If I really focus on them, though, they get put into words.

I certainly think in images sometimes. Fairly often, in fact, but I'm not really reasoning, just daydreaming. I have also experienced musical thoughts, if I've been listening to or wondering about music.

My guess is that for infants images and ideas are present. Probably things are a little less focused for them -- I suppose that's what words do for us. "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." Putting your thoughts into words may be the mental equivalent of writing.

"To do her justice, I can't see that she could have found anything nastier to say if she'd thought it out with both hands for a fortnight."
Dorothy L. Sayers
Busman's Honeymoon

01-14-2000, 02:09 AM
Only airheads think in language. Other people think subverbally and express such in various ways, including language.

Ray (If you don't like that, take this: @$(*#^$(#*$*@^$*&#$^)

01-14-2000, 06:38 AM
Relevant, but not really the answer you want:

A blind person (blind from birth) I know told me he thinks (dreams?) in 'textures'. He imagines what things feel like (and sound like too, I guess) as that's one of his most important senses.

I suppose animals always think in concepts, using images. It's not like a dog thinks in barks or anything odd like that.

Communication comes down to utilising primary senses. So someone without a language would think in 'gestures' and concepts.

Returning Soon!

The Legend Of PigeonMan (http://www.hotkey.net.au/~guanolad/pigeonman/) - Watch this space...! Great things are afoot!

01-14-2000, 08:53 AM
I don't think with words. Sometimes I'll talk to myself, especially when I'm doing math, because it helps me to remember things. When you hear something, even if you're only talking inside your head, you can remember it pretty well for 30 seconds or so. When you're trying to solve a problem without a pen and paper it's useful to have those couple extra bytes of storage space. It's like like using your processor's built-in cache when you don't want to access the hard drive.

01-14-2000, 09:27 AM
You are talking about concepts thta have been researched by Tony Buzan. He created a method of note taking that maximizes the brains potential for retention and memory called "Mind Mapping". Essentially, it takes advantage of the brains tendancey to remember things by association.
The following page has numerous links that contain much info about the Mind Mapping technique, but I think it will give you a better idea about how the brain works and thinks.

"If God had meant for man to eat waffles,
he would have given him lips like snowshoes"
-Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

01-15-2000, 02:53 PM
Try mainipulating some computer graphic images in your head..... create a red circle, surround it with a blue square. Do this after you have read this, with your eyes closed. You are thinking in symbols.

For animals, these "models" may be prey running away, a flowing river they have to cross, etc.

01-15-2000, 03:32 PM
People think it whatever informationary terms their sensory organs gave them.

01-15-2000, 03:38 PM
You are thinking in symbols.

No, you do not think in symbols or in words or in pictures. Even the blind and deaf can think. The brain is not a computer, it does not need a programming language.

01-15-2000, 06:12 PM
Some people learn best by what hear, some by what they see, or touch, or maybe ore or two other means, but most learn best by what they hear: auditory learners.

I know I'm a visual learner and learn best by what I see and read. I do visualize things before I put them into words, might draw a report before writing it. I can tell another person may have visual learning tendencies, too.

These are people who say, "Oh, yes, I see" after you have given them verbal directions, for example, as opposed to, "Oh, I hear you" or "Yes, I understand."

Why wouldn't it be like this for animals without language? Didn't some scientists communicate with a ape or chimp with pictographs?

Oh, I'm gonna keep using these #%@&* codes 'til I get 'em right.

01-16-2000, 05:05 PM
I personally am a very visual person, very right-side-of-the-brain....I don't know, I think in actions, or pictures....

actually, you know what?? literally, my thoughts are completely black for a visual backround, and mostly my voice and thought just bounce off the walls (not in a literall sense, like you can't see them or anything.)

I mean, unless I'm trying to spell a word, in which case I would see the word in my mind.

I'm not weird, I'm just Gifted...okay, so I'm weird too...
~I'm 15, people, but don't doubt my intelligence~
*fLoWeR cHiLd, 2nd generation...
"Im not opinionated, Im just always right." (c)Me

mr john
01-21-2000, 05:16 PM
Sorry folks but I think you are wrong.If you are "normal" you think in words. "Subverbally",not the same as talking to yourself at all.You are not really aware you are doing it. Words ARE symbols. I too have a very visual mind. I can think in images. ( I told me if you're "normal"). But most imaging is visualizing not thinking. My "daydreams" are especially visually vivid.It used to be thought that language developed so we could communicate,but now it is "widely held that language originated so... man could think more effectivly." ( Panti's Book of Beginnings pg50 ISBN 0-395-56238-4)Words and language are needed to string together complex human thought in a meangful and logical order. Just last night I was watching a PBS series about the workings of the animal mind, where I picked up these tidbits;
The things we do know about how the brain works and an electronic computer are very similar, we just don't know much about the brain,how it makes various connections, "mechanically" and between unrelated concepts. The biggest diff is that computers aren't creative in the true sense of the word. The brain can make "logical" connections that seem illogical.
If an injury or disease impairs the word processing center of a persons brain,he becomes an "airhead" thinking becomes dificult ,if not impossible.
It used to be "accepted" that animals don't think because they have no language. (Lot's of scenes with the signing gorillas.)
There was a biologist who suffers from a form of autism that prevents her from thinking in words. She thinks in "pictures".She explained that she has a hard time processing new information,and making predictions from it.She has to access her entire store of visual images seeking similarities.She compared her thinking to a computer search function.With words we can jump from concept to concept,"that reminds me", computers aren't really 'reminded' of any thing.They have no imagination,they can't make vast leaps in logic. She explained that while she may not make a great leap through in knowledge by logic,and it may take her longer to think about something, the condition makes her an excellant observer and she can make connections that might escape a logical thinker.( She was talking about cows thinking,she figures they think in pictures too) That's my thoughts, I've talked it over with me and we imagine that's the last word. Untill my brain sees something else for me to think about saying.


"Pardon me while I have a strange interlude."-Marx

01-21-2000, 07:03 PM
Words are just things we use to describe our thoughts, experiences and things we see so others have a fucking idea what we're trying to impart to them.

I'm thinking of something right now. It is what we call a doorknob. But am I picturing in my head letters streaming across my brain like that lame screen saver "D-O-O-R-K-N-O-B"?

No. I am picturing a brassy round object attatched to a wooden rectangle which permits (or denies) me access to whatever is on the other side of said wooden rectangle.

Thoughts are fluid. But we need words to communicate those thoughts.

Yer pal,

01-21-2000, 09:09 PM
I disagree. I don't believe many people can think without language - and the language you think in shapes your thinking to a degree. This becomes obvious when you learn a foreign language well enough to think in it (which is a pretty neat experience). It seems pretty obvious that our brains have adopted to be efficient language users - it only makes sense that they would require language to operate efficiently. There are few records of people who never learned a language - in all cases once they reached a certain age (12-14 I believe) they were pretty well a lost cause. They never learned to interact with humans or speak a language, though you cannot blame this completely on language because invariably the conditions of their early life are nothing short of horific...

01-21-2000, 09:17 PM
Grr 'our brains have adopted' should be 'adapted, or evolved'.

Happy Fun Ball
01-21-2000, 09:35 PM
I don't think language is necessary for thought, nor do I think that symbols are the medium of thought, rather I believe that people think in relationships.

This is hard to explain, but when a person thinks of a doorknob (to use Satan's example), they don't just think of a brass round thing on a door, they think of the items function and how it effects the world. They also think in terms of doorknobs they have experienced and stories (either read or spoken) of doorknobs. The thought process is much more than a string of words or pictures.

When people reach the age of 12-14 or whatever without experiencing language, they become a lost cause because language and its structure can enable a complexity in the relationships described above. Without language, complex thought is pretty much impossible.

01-22-2000, 09:58 AM
Men are generally what is called 'active (or action)' listeners, they just listen to 'action' spoken things like football. A wifey might not be able to get their attention to do the dishes unless she knows this. Otherwise they just tune her out.

'Honey, could you come assist me with the dishes?' no response.

'Honey, let's do the ten-four play with the plates & the defensive dry with the cups'
gets response?

01-22-2000, 11:05 AM
More on this subject can be found in: http://www.straightdope.com/ubb/Forum3/HTML/002286.html
Starting about 3 responses down...

From now on, I think I'm only answering questions in links ;)

"I guess one person can make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn't."

01-22-2000, 10:21 PM
Language - both in the mind and between speakers allows for "encryption" of ideas that may be more complex and carry more information than let's say, drawing pictures. This allows us to communicate faster and more richly than those without language. We can think without language, but when it comes time to communicate, the use of language is an efficient conventional (pre-agreed on) medium.

In "The User Illusion" a recent book about the brain, they surmise that the human brain can process very little consciously, anywhere from 10-40 bits per second. The entire brain (the part that actually digs up the information or word that mysteriously 'pops' into your consciousness when you are trying to remeber, for example) processes as much as 40 million bits per second. THis 40 million also includes breathing, walking, digesting, calculating the vectors needed to avoid a pie in the face etc..

The upper figure of the 40 bits per second was calculated from a concert painist who was using considerable routinized physical coordination to convey so much information (the score). Like speaking a language you aren't fluent in, musical site reading (where you read the score and play it for the first time) would go slower too, closer to 10 bits per second.

In trying to understand spoken Spanish, I am quite slow. I can tell I am consciously analyzing each word in a very different way than I do English. Interestingly, reading Spanish, where I can use my knowledge of Latin roots (which I studied) almost intuitively feels different and is a lot easier. I read in Spanish faster and more accurately than many native Spanish speakers I know. No doubt I am in a state that allows non-conscious analysis to occur, because it has been routinized with practice.

Animals are estimated to have (I forget how they did this) lower bits per second. I remeber the figure for a snail is about 1 bit per second. Perhaps animal intelligence is a matter of decreased speed relative to humans.

01-22-2000, 10:28 PM
To clarify, this does not mean that snails are only one tenth as smart as people, remeber the bits are multiplicative, and each bit represents 2 possible choices so 10 bits per second indicates a complexity of 2 to the 10th fold increase for a human over a snail, with less supporting non-conscious thought occurring simultaneously in the snail.

What may be intersting about humans is the incredible disparity between the conscious and non-conscious thought process - 1 million fold. For lower animals this may not be as great.

This also explains why some people seem "slow" - they really are, just one bit less per second can be the difference between processing 2 to the 9th and 2 to the 10th bits. Half as slow and about 500 bits less, significant, thus the incredible disparity in human intelligence on a higher level, yet nearly all humans have the capacity for basic survival - thanks to all that unconscious thought.