This post is a follow up of the previous post - I Know That I Know Nothing - which I encourage you to read before diving into this one.
But I believe it holds value on its own if you don’t want to do that.
Through all the mental faculties with which the humans were blessed, be it by chance or some other unknown sources, lies the faculty of language. This faculty gives expression to various languages that we have. The act of speaking is the objective manifestation of our faculty. Language enables us to communicate. But was is language to thinking? Is it a result of thinking or is thinking a result of language?
Platon characterized thinking as the inner conversation of soul with itself. From which we can’t help but wonder if this internal conversation can be possible without language. From this arises the next question. Is language employed only in the act of communication with others, or does It really have deeper implications?
To speak is to articulate words which express certain thoughts. Thoughts are the expression of our thinking. But wat is thinking without language? Here I believe the saying I think what I say, and I say what I think is quite fitting, helping us to direct our attention to the place & purpose of language not just for communication, but for thinking as well.
The faculty of language is like a mental set of instruments. Language is the product of those instruments. A Romanian historian named Mehedinti said in a theory of his that the human creates himself through the creation of instruments. No other animal used the bat as an extension of his hands.
I believe not every tool we have is necessarily physical. Sure, the conventional tools are essential for our well being and survival, but the most important ones I do believe are hidden in the depths of our being. These instruments are the ones that allow us to create the physical ones.
Creation takes place in our thinking, which brings us back to language.
Thus, what is human thinking without language? For this, try to imagine yourself as a being that does not possess any language. How would your life be? How would you make sense of your experiences? What would you be to yourself? What would your thinking be like?
I would love to hear your response to this.
I personally can’t imagine my life without language just as I can’t imagine it without thinking. The best I can picture it is as a nothingness, a darkness where everything that comes my way is without substance and meaning. A darkness in which the light that comes my way would become more darkness as soon as it would touch me. I would see myself drowning in an ocean of noise, falling in a bottomless abyss for eternity, not being able to know about the fall, condemned to solitude, stranger to myself and the rest of the world.
But all this is just a figment of my imagination. We need something more palpable.
For this, imagine yourself being in the company of a 5 year old girl in Pormpuraaw, an aboriginal community isolated in the eastern part of the Cape York region, North Australia. You ask her in which direction is the north. She answers you with precision and no hesitation in a matter of seconds. Now imagine yourself to be a Stanford professor, and you give the same question to your students. What would be their answer? Some wouldn’t know, others would refuse to give an answer, some would take a lot of time to give an answer, some would guesstimate. This little imaginary trip is a small part from the life of the researcher Lera Boroditsky. She repeated the same experiment at Harvard and Princeton, and got the same results.
So how come a 5 year old girl in a certain culture can do with lightness what is challenging for the brightest minds in our culture?
The author of this experiment tells us that language is at the root of this phenomenon. Different languages can influence in different ways our cognitive abilities, and she presents a series of empiric findings to support her hypothesis.
I encourage you to read her work if you are interested.
What Lera is saying is very similar to the theory called Linguistic Relativity. In its weak version, it states that linguistic categories and their utilization influence our thinking and our various non-linguistic behaviors.
So we can see that there is evidence that language can have a say in our thinking and behavior.
From what we’ve discussed so far, we can conclude that language and thinking are connected in such an intimate way, that it’s impossible to separate one from another.
They are like 2 parts of the same coin, a coin with which we buy our knowledge. Knowledge that we use to rise above our animalic nature and call ourselves humans.
But how much knowledge can humanity attain?
This will be the focus of our next entry, where we will look at what lies beyond thinking and language to have a better understanding of what is encompassed by them.
I will include a link as soon as I'll write it.
Update: Beyond Thinking and Language
Follow me for future posts @kaizencrrr