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I'm a physicist, but I do like philosophy, so I was arguing with a friend about what comes first: Ideas or the language/symbolism?

More Precisely:

If we define thinking process as: a kind of abstract process that enables some object to deduct results or solve problems, but not as specific usual biological/machine process, anyway we assuming this object has the ability to understand or has concessions.

Language of thought hypothesis supposes that there should be kind of syntax, but I was arguing that it's not required, because some times even we are humans (this is just example of thinking process) getting some splash of ideas/solution without really "thinking" about it (in the seance that defined above) and without using symbolism (I we can't say that unconscious using symbolism anyway because the splash happens mush faster than our brain ability to interpretate or manipulate symbols .

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I found a similar question What came first, language or consciousness? anyway here I assume that we are concessions , I'm more interested on if we can build constructive Ideas without language/symbolism. –  TMS Oct 28 '12 at 19:36
This is probably (non-obviously) a cognitive science question. All sorts of thinking appears to happen subconsciously and non-linguistically. But I assume you know this...so...maybe I misunderstand your point. Are you sure it's not a cogsci question? –  Rex Kerr Oct 28 '12 at 20:13
@RexKerr: I'd think what the OP is trying to ask is the question whether there is a "language of thought" (or whether this hypothesis is necessary in some way). @ TMS: Could you take a look at plato.stanford.edu/entries/language-thought or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_of_thought_hypothesis and tell us whether your question concerns this subject? This is definitely on-topic! –  DBK Oct 29 '12 at 13:09
@DBK: Yes that exactly! thx now I know how to name it right! most interesting thing there is : "These problems are those that show that machines with a LOT syntactical framework very often are much better at solving problems and storing data than human minds, yet much worse at things that the human mind is quite adept at such as recognizing facial expressions" –  TMS Oct 29 '12 at 20:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There is current research on the topic, which so far indicates that language is just one module of thought, and many others can operate independently. But it's an active area of research in cognitive science now, and if you doubt that experiments yield insight into it, first review some of the research. (In particular the PNAS paper.)

Anyway, I think it's CogSci's turn to work on this problem for a bit--it's really quite a new area, and we've yet to find out whether it fundamentally upends our intuitive understanding that informed philosophical approaches (as has been the case for the nature of perception), or whether it's a morass of messy facts and data that can be cut through with principled reasoning (i.e. philosophy). Right now my bet's on the former.

Edit: more nails in the coffin of the conscious-language-first hypothesis. Turns out you subconsciously do arithmetic and parse short sentences. Whatever is going on in there is pretty complex and nonobvious.

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I thinks it the most reasonable answer till now. –  TMS Nov 2 '12 at 11:46
I think all my tries to take this out of CogSci get failed :( –  TMS Nov 3 '12 at 9:38

Working purely introspectively, it seems clear we think first then make language. In my own case I stare at problems and intuit solutions, and the cast about with pencil and paper to elucidate why I think the thing that I think. Sometimes working on paper causes me to abandon an idea, it doesn't stand up to symbolic manipulation. More usually, working with paper causes me to become conscious of plenty of good and interesting reasons for thinking the thing I was thinking.

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Introspection is dangerous, and may not be consistent from person to person. I've asked people whether they think without language, and some answer that there's always an internal monologue (making it seem like the answer is "no, it's always in language") while others (fewer, but with myself as one of them) say that the translation to language is a separate step. Which all leads me to believe that we can't introspect our way anywhere--either feeling for how it happens could be incorrect. –  Rex Kerr Nov 1 '12 at 22:29

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