Word Based Consciousness

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jewish_scientist
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Word Based Consciousness

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:23 am UTC

Here's the thing; I am asking for help understanding a concept, but I do not understand the concept enough to explain what it is. This means that I want you to give me information and sources about a topic without knowing what the topic is, which will inevitably end in frustration all around. I want to make that clear right now, right at the beginning.

Spoiler:
The best way I can phrase this concept is that at a fundamental level human consciousness is based on words. Here is evidence that this is true.

Imagine you are driving to work and suddenly remember you forgot to do the dishes last night. What pops into your head is not a picture of you doing the dishes or of the dirty dishes themselves, but rather the words 'I forgot to do the dishes'.

Orwell theorized that a state could limit its citizens' thoughts by limiting their vocabulary.

All humans should have words. This predicts that a child who grew up without any contact with humans would assign basic vocalizations to things. This does not predict that this same child would have a language, which is words and syntax.

The easiest way to transmit a meme is using words.

Hellen Keller developed a sigh language to communicate with her parents (e.g. pretending to shiver to indicate she wanted ice cream) before receiving any help form a tutor.

Picturing things in your mind may be a trick used to remember information, but the pictured things you must already how words to describe.

Untranslatable words correspond to aspects of cultures that are not shared (e.g. I have never seen a good translation of mikvah).

Thinking to yourself usually takes the form of an inner monologue.

The majority of cartoons are physical comedy; the most famous bits from cartoons are dialogs.
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby Sizik » Tue Aug 28, 2018 3:03 am UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
Spoiler:
Imagine you are driving to work and suddenly remember you forgot to do the dishes last night. What pops into your head is not a picture of you doing the dishes or of the dirty dishes themselves, but rather the words 'I forgot to do the dishes'.


I'm pretty sure this is not true for everybody.
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Aug 28, 2018 3:20 am UTC

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which I've just learned is also called "linguistic relativity") sounds awfully similar to what you're supposing (and was the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of this thread).

It's widely considered discredited today. Which is not to downplay the tight connection between language and thought, but just to reject to complete reducibility of the latter to the former. People can think thoughts that aren't in words, and use words that don't correspond to any thoughts. It's just very useful to have words to represent your thoughts, and pretty useless to have words that don't represent any thoughts, so they sort of gravitate toward each other, figuratively speaking.

ETA: actually reading that article I just linked, I see that what I was familiar with is only the "strong" version of it, linguistic determinism, which is what I was saying is widely rejected above. The "weak" version is basically my caveat at the end of the previous paragraph.
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby ucim » Tue Aug 28, 2018 4:01 am UTC

Consciousness involves thoughts - ideas. Perhaps it requires ideas; I don't know. But thoughts and ideas are probably a big part of consciousness. Even simple ideas like the desire to go in one direction (it's tastier there), or the idea of pain, are ideas. I'd be willing to go along with the (um) idea that it's necessary to have ideas in order to be conscious.

Words are vocalizations that express ideas. If a vocalization does not express an idea, then it's not very useful for communication. However, one can have ideas without having vocalizations for them. Words are not necessary for ideas to exist, although they may make it easy to express them, and to learn that a particular idea that one has is common (or not common). Words help build society, and society is important to people. But society is not necessary for consciousness.

Now, because words are so useful, especially words that are especially good at encapsulating ideas (some words express their underlying idea better than others), they get called up in the brain as the ideas are thought of, ready in case this idea that was just thought of is intended to be communicated. But one can certainly have ideas without calling up words. When I'm alone and I cook for myself, I do all the tasks required, but I don't vocalize (or imagine vocalizing) a cookbook as I do it. I'm quite capable of having the idea of looking in the cupboard without saying to myself "let's look in the cupboard", and pulling out a blue plate without saying to myself "I need a plate. Let's get one. A blue one. It's in the cupboard. So, let's open the door...."
Spoiler:
Actually, a good exercise for you to do to demonstrate to yourself that this does not happen is to add two five-digit numbers on paper. Then try to write a step-by-step manual or a computer program that does this. I bet you get it wrong the first time, and the second, and still leave stuff out after you think you got it. Nonetheless, you probably actually did the sum correctly, using and enacting all your ideas without verbalizing them. (Otherwise you could just write down your mental monologue).
So, I am not at all convinced that words are the fundamental unit here. Rather, ideas are, and ideas don't need words in order to exist. Consider the first time you saw a {whatever}, and didn't have a word for it. You could still picture it, interact with it, decide what it might be good for... and you could still even talk about it (albeit in a roundabout way). If you end up talking about it enough, you'll give it a word, but that's just for convenience. You don't become "more conscious" by doing so.

Now whether this idea we're discussing has a name, I don't know. But I'm not convinced it's true, and I highly suspect it is false.

Jose
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Aug 28, 2018 4:50 am UTC

It occurs to me that the OP itself is a counterexample to the kind of thing it's about. JS has this idea about a thing that he can circumloquatiously describe for us but doesn't have a word for. But he has the idea, even though he doesn't have a word for it.
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jewish_scientist
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Aug 28, 2018 5:33 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:It occurs to me that the OP itself is a counterexample to the kind of thing it's about. JS has this idea about a thing that he can circumloquatiously describe for us but doesn't have a word for. But he has the idea, even though he doesn't have a word for it.

:lol: Yeah, I noticed that too. I did not bring it up because I thought it would make things more confusing. It actually supports my idea.

I have an idea, I am unable to develop this idea, and am unable to express this idea as words. The first of those facts says that the second happens because of the third.
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby ijuin » Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:31 am UTC

That speaks only of your ability to communicate the idea, not your ability to think of it.

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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby doogly » Tue Aug 28, 2018 1:55 pm UTC

Yeah, there is a certain appeal to this line of theorizing, but as Phorrest has said, very discredited.
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby ucim » Tue Aug 28, 2018 3:02 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:I have an idea, I am unable to develop this idea, and am unable to express this idea as words. The first of those facts says that the second happens because of the third.
Perhaps you don't actually have an idea. Or, the idea you have isn't expressible by the words you know.

Now, your inability to express this idea to others may inhibit your ability to use the feedback from others to develop this idea, but to the extent that what you actually have is an idea, you can still act on it. However, none of this says anything about consciousness, which is the ultimate point you seem to be aiming towards.

Now, let me ask you this: What does it mean to "develop" an idea? Answering this may give you some insight as to whether what you have really qualifies as an idea in the first place, and/or what the link is between ideas and words.

Now, apart from that, a deaf and blind person is likely not to have much facility with words. Are they not conscious though?

Jose
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby elasto » Tue Aug 28, 2018 9:25 pm UTC

ucim wrote:Now, apart from that, a deaf and blind person is likely not to have much facility with words. Are they not conscious though?

Or, consider a newborn baby. They probably have very little in the way of ideas - they are probably just a giant ball of naked emotions - sleepiness, hunger, anxiety and so on. Are they really not conscious? Do they really 'think' in terms of the various gurgles and wails they vocalise...? On the contrary, I'd suspect very strongly that it takes them a while to even twig the correlation between the noises they notice themselves emitting and their internal emotional states...

JS wrote:Imagine you are driving to work and suddenly remember you forgot to do the dishes last night. What pops into your head is not a picture of you doing the dishes or of the dirty dishes themselves, but rather the words 'I forgot to do the dishes'.

But there's probably no internal monologue on the actual driving itself, right? You aren't saying to yourself 'ok, so press down on the accelerator now, and turn the wheel a bit to the right'. Yet you remain conscious during the driving experience, right?

And, as Sizik implies, I'm not sure your example holds anyway. Earlier today my daughter asked where a battery was, and at first I didn't remember, but then it flashed into my mind where I'd left it. And the thought didn't appear as the words 'it's in front of my printer just on the edge of the desk', it appeared as a pure visual of exactly where I had left it in terms of position and orientation, which I then had to translate into words in order to describe to her where to find it.
Picturing things in your mind may be a trick used to remember information, but the pictured things you must already how words to describe.

This seems an odd claim to me. All you need to picture something in your mind is the matter of having seen it. Yes, it'd be odd if as an adult you lacked the words to describe it, but that seems entirely orthogonal to the ability to recall itself.

Do you think animals lack consciousness or only think in terms of their verbalisations too..?

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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby jewish_scientist » Wed Aug 29, 2018 5:11 pm UTC

I have been thinking about it more and realized that the idea does not hold up. Thanks for the help anyway.
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Re: Word Based Consciousness

Postby Xanthir » Fri Aug 31, 2018 6:06 pm UTC

Dont' worry, you've just plumbing a deep well of philosophers thinking "well, my brain works like this, so clearly everyone else's does too, so here are some Deep Truths".
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