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Old 09-30-2005, 05:40 AM   #1
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Thought and Language and other Miscellaneous Philosophical Discussion

Hell, I was hoping for a sub forum on non issue driven philosophical discussion, but that won't be happening any time soon. So I figured I'd start this thread

A little while ago, Angela Harlem and I got into a discussion on what comes first--thought vs. language. With the added interest of For Honor, we wanted to renew this discussion.

Also, this is an invitation to discuss other philosophical issues (perhaps, except religion, which seems to have ample opportunity elsewhere) that might not generate enough general FYM participation to warrant its own thread.

OK, here goes.

I think that thought precedes the desire and necessity to communicate and therefore language. However, once the method of communication has taken hold, then language can be a determining factor in influencing and sometimes controlling thought.

I read an interesting piece somewhere (Here? I don't think so, but I could be wrong) about how birds communicate. By the different sounds, they could communicate to other birds whether another predator bird was a large bird (less dangerous) or a smaller bird (more dangerous) and the other birds would react accordingly. Therefore the thought of the observing bird (or instinctive observation if you prefer) preceded the communication to the others. However, then the communication influenced the thoughts and subsequent behavior of the other birds.

I was always particularly interested in the use of language to influence how other people thought. For example, propogandists are usually pretty good at this, on the negative side. Rush Limbaugh started or at least perpetrated a new lexicon of FemiNazis and Environmental Wackos that apparently influenced his listeners (since I hear them repeating the words often enough). His use of language (sigh) had the effect of either demonizing or neutralizing with ridicule whole bodies of people to his fans in crisp little soundbites. With just these words, he encouraged his listeners to disregard any input by feminists or environmentalists without actually having to put forward a cohesive argument. (I'm not saying he didn't ever put forward a cohesive argument; I don't listen to him that closely) This is not the strongest case for my argument as in general, he preaches to the choir, but just a starting point.

It is interesting to watch how language evolves sometimes for the better, sometimes in the interests of political correctness or other more dangerous purposes. But each of those evolutions has an effect on thought and how people perceive.

Okay, it's 5:30 am my time. So I need some coffee now.
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Old 10-01-2005, 02:32 AM   #2
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Why are you up at 5.30??? You need an IV of coffee, by the sounds of it! I almost missed this thread, but remembered mine just before it fell off the page

When you asked this, I was considering historically which came first. I didn't even contemplate this angle you've started on, thinking moreso which evolved first with early man. I'd take a stab here and say thought came before language because you can still think somewhat without language. I wondered after this just how developed thought can get without the boundaries of language to help it along. Were primitive humans rather stupid, overall, or did a lack of vessel (or words) to carry thought hold people back?

I agree especially with what you say about thought "I think that thought precedes the desire and necessity to communicate and therefore language. However, once the method of communication has taken hold, then language can be a determining factor in influencing and sometimes controlling thought." I should have quoted you, lol. In recent history, the enlightenment philosophers showed exactly how this happened to break hundreds upon hundreds of years of people not taking initiative to develop ideas which could help their lives. Since their efforts, it has been exactly like you say further on, where it has been used for manipulation and propoganda. You could possibly go so far as to say advertising does a mild version of the same thing. Mild, when compared to the damage it can sometimes do but not so when you then consider how ingrained and widespread it is nowadays. I'm going to get lost in a thousand different tangents here, especially if I keep going on advertising, lol.
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Old 10-01-2005, 03:18 AM   #3
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Oh, this discussion could take a hundred turns and I'm hoping it does. (PS, I know the feeling about having threads drop off the face of the earth. Sometimes I look at the threads where I was the last poster. Apparently I'm a threadkiller. lol) I'm fascinated (English major that I was) with all the positive and dangerous uses of language and its evolution. I'm fascinated with the influence of advertising and other methods of thought influence.

Back to primitive times. I guess they had to have at least rudimentary thought capability for survival. But I doubt there were too many rocket scientists--so to speak. Life was probably uncomplicated enough that you could get by on grunts. The more sophisticated life becomes, the more you need more nuances to communicate. I wonder who the first person was who created a word and why he/she felt the need for it. (When I was very young, I thought the person who wrote the dictionary was the person who created all the words. Stupid child.) Maybe that was the real first venture into humanity, the creation of language. Or did tools come first? I'm woefully ignorant on primitive mankind.
But I am always fascinated by the first person who did (or thought) anything. How did they get that idea?

You probably didn't need language for basic physical needs. However, you definitely began to need it for more abstract concepts that didn't translate well with grunts and gestures.
So I would gather the more abstract thoughts created the need for language. But I think you are right. Without language of some sort, thought development is likely going to be limited. You need an exchange of information and ideas to grow further than your own perception of things and you need language for that exchange.
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Old 10-01-2005, 03:32 AM   #4
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I used to look at my mum's massive Macquarie dictionary and think one person had written it all, and wonder how they could possibly do so. 'It must have been one very long piece of paper, with years of words in convseration written on it!' Simpleton, I was

Back on the primitives for a post more, how would the language have technically developed anyway? Grunts and so on would have been verbal communication but did one person one day with visual thought, decide to give a particular noise (to become a word) to say...a rock? Agreement from another and then everyone on which sound denoted rock to follow? If we pretend English was the first language for ease of argument, then what happened? Did thought further develop that sound was not the only wy of communicating? Primitive people were creative as well, as we know. Did they then think it might be handy to form what we call letters? How did this get thought if letters weren't already known? I'm trying to imagine just how someone can develop an idea of something from absolute scratch. When we want to think of something, we rely entirely on language allowing us to think. How do you think when the language is still forming?
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Old 10-01-2005, 03:57 AM   #5
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Wow, I am definitely subscribing to this thread.

I too agree with
Quote:
"I think that thought precedes the desire and necessity to communicate and therefore language. However, once the method of communication has taken hold, then language can be a determining factor in influencing and sometimes controlling thought."

I belive thought came way before language, or anything close to it. It had to. Creating words, or sounds representing something, I don't think that's so mysterious. Just like any animal, having a consistent action or reaction can lead into familirizing something. My cat knows just from the tone of my voice if I approve or disprove of his actions. Or if I shake his food bag, he knows it's food time. Heck, he even prompts me for food at times.


Languages still forming..........
Well, I know Hinduism (right?) was completely oral in how it was passsed down. So I think oral languages, even without words, are powerful enough. And I think man, either by design , or evoloution, was MADE to be ingrecible social.

So I'm sure we've got a lot of built in goodies

I mean, look at us. I without words, languages, etc... we're crap, we're tiger food. Strength in society is what we've got. I bet it was hard back in the early days, though.

heh, I wonder how the first person said

" I love you"



(hah, and what's more........ if the other person knew what they were talking about!)

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Old 10-01-2005, 04:09 AM   #6
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I disagree a little bit on relying entirely on language to think. I think it is one of the most important tools we have, but language is expression of thought, not thought itself. Thought, I think, is made up of a mixture of observation, perception, linkage of details, memory, sensation. For example, a hunter back in primitive times. He observes tracks (big ones, I guess), his memory and previous observation that this particular animal makes this particular track allows him to make the decision to follow the tracks. At this point, he is probably forwarding his thought to the potential kill. He is planning the kill. Thought and logic. No need for language here.

I think a lot of thought involves mind's eye vision. I'm probably more imagining something than I am thinking in words and then I translate that vision into words.

But I think you are probably dead on that that first person finally pointed to a rock and said "rock" (and all the others nodded at his wisdom and began to call rock "rock"). Then it probably took off from there.

I get curious too with children learning. Are we now hardwired for language? Is there an instinctive need to name something now? Or is it a process of just picking it up from the parents? Okay, I understand the utter absurdity of the following scenario, survival capabilities aside--but if 10 newborn infants were deposited on a desert island alone, how long would it take them to develop language?
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Old 10-01-2005, 04:17 AM   #7
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I guess it depends on what a "language" is. I'm sure we have some ingrained mechanisms, like pitch sensitivity. Like how if a crying baby comes in contact with another crying baby, they will often cry together. There could be an infinite list of reasons why, yeah, I know.

how long would it take them to develope a language?

All growing up together would be a factor. If they, theoretically, were without a previous generation to influnece their language developement, I'd say a few years.

it's more a question of how fast could one person develope a language, because working as a team, one person could share, especially if "they were all in the same boat" as far as knowledge of language goes.

you can communicate a lot without language, so I wonder how much it is neccesary. Though I belive a language would always be developing, as memory and relation continued... But still... I think language is a luxory at times, and not abslutley neccesary for sheer survival.

It can, however, increase likely hood of survival. No arguement there.
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Old 10-01-2005, 05:20 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by For Honor



heh, I wonder how the first person said

" I love you"



(hah, and what's more........ if the other person knew what they were talking about!)

And the first "I love you" was immediately followed by "Will you still love me tomorrow?"

Actually, I think language is the least effective way of expressing person to person love. But a necessary tool to express the concept of love.

Back to the desert island and the 10 infants: This was the closest scenario I could think of this time of the morning for recreating primitive man. Since language and the recognition of a need for it took a long time, as time passed, how long would it take the infants to develop the concept of language? Agreed, once there was the concept, the language itself wouldn't take long to develop. For purposes of discussion, let's call language words that have meaning and when strung together have greater meaning. Linguistics. And let's assume gesture, expression, grunts, etc. are forms of communication, but not language.

I agree with you, Honor, that language is probably not necessary for basic survival, basic thought, basic logic and analysis. But the more complex the analysis and the more complex the idea, there is growing need for language.

(For example, a lot of mathematical information is expressed in formulas, etc. However, language was necessary to define the meaning of the symbols and the extension of the formula. PS, I am mathematically challenged, so do not understand the meanings of most of these symbols. So they might as well be speaking Greek to me, which I think they are.)

I wonder how the first profanity developed.
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Old 10-01-2005, 05:47 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonosSaint


And the first "I love you" was immediately followed by "Will you still love me tomorrow?"

Actually, I think language is the least effective way of expressing person to person love. But a necessary tool to express the concept of love.

Whoo!

WEll, when the time comes, love is something I will enjoy discussing

Heh, so you suppose a man said "I love you" first, then?
"will you still love me tomorrow......" what a fine question.

Andas far as what you say about love and language... I agree 100%
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Old 10-01-2005, 05:52 AM   #10
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Quote:
I wonder how the first profanity developed

$@#! if I know!

hahaha

I can agree with what you wrote there, BonosSaint.
(I'm not so much into math myself. But I like people who are I've nothing against them... )

Well, for something to be "profained", I believe religion would need to come in........ oh boy......

sidestepping that, I'm sure there was a lot of profanity........ but it may not have been considered such


and then... well.......

for a real tangent........


there is the subject of "dirty talk". Apparently...... some people really get off on that.

(no pun intended, seriously)
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Old 10-01-2005, 08:38 AM   #11
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Agreed. Technically, profanity has to profane. (Now scrupulously avoiding discussion of religion!)

Yes, I believe that a man said "I love you" first followed by thousands and thousands of years of regret of having revealed his feelings (covered in current Machisma thread--which in a lot of ways I agree with--forcing someone to express their feelings or having strangers descending in time of grief) And I'm sure someone will (or has) start a thread on dirty talk that will enjoy rampant participation until the moderators close it down.
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Old 10-01-2005, 10:47 AM   #12
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Despite my signature's possible first impression, I have nothing wrong with expressing love. I enjoy the thought of being in a romantic relationship, and loving, and reciprocation and etc. I can even see myself enjoying marriage someday But when I do say the word "love", I mean it. I think people overuse words like that, and then they become meaningless and empty.


I suppose that is a rather latent manifestation of language.... the loss of meaning, or, change of meanings in words.....

eh, but the discussion doesn't have to go down this road. Not yet, at least.
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Old 10-01-2005, 11:26 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonosSaint
I get curious too with children learning. Are we now hardwired for language? Is there an instinctive need to name something now? Or is it a process of just picking it up from the parents? Okay, I understand the utter absurdity of the following scenario, survival capabilities aside--but if 10 newborn infants were deposited on a desert island alone, how long would it take them to develop language?
i haven't yet had my morning coffee, so i won't venture a coherent response just yet. i did want to point to an excellent book that deals with many of the questions raised in this thread: steven pinker's "the language instinct: how the mind creates language." he covers so much ground in this book--what language itself is, how it works, where it came from and theories on how it developed, how children learn language... fascinating book.
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Old 10-01-2005, 01:24 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by For Honor
ingrecible
Did you just make up a word?
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Old 10-01-2005, 02:03 PM   #15
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Everyone for one second....try to think of something without using language to think it.





that's mind blowing!!!!!! Great thread. I still don't know how I feel about it yet.
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