Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

What did you say? And what did you mean by it?

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creativesoul
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by creativesoul » Sat Nov 03, 2018 4:04 am

Walker wrote:
Fri Nov 02, 2018 12:45 pm
Here’s a good example of knowing without language.

First the knowing which doesn't require language.
Then, the thinking about the knowing, which does require language.

You just know that something here is fishy.
Body language, the eyes, the chutzpah, the intellectual vacuity …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1HdDywCi6k
I do not think that this is relevant here. Some 'knowing' is nothing more than innate ability to do something or other. Therefore, some 'knowing' does not include nor require thinking...

The thread asks if it is possible to think without language.

Averroes
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by Averroes » Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am

TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
Not sure where you study, but in my field (real-world problem solving) step 1 is conceptualising the problem. Step 2 is asking why it is a problem. And MAYBE step 3 is defining the problem. Definitions/language are not important until you start the collaborative process.
Much before that! I meant the beginning for all of us! So, I had said the following:
Averroes wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 9:49 am
However, there is no problem in stating tautological propositions as they are always true. For example, all definitions are tautologies, and we all have to start with these in whatever field of study we might be in!
Before any of us learn how to read and write, we first learn how to speak. We come to know of the meaning of the names of objects (called nouns in language) through the ostensive definition.

Prof. Noam Chomsky has said something very interesting on that in an interview in 1989, which is available on YouTube. I have transcribed the important part that concern the subject I am addressing:

Excerpt of interview of Noam Chomsky interviewed by Al Page in 1989.
Prof. Noam Chomsky wrote:(...) But there is something about human children that gets them to grow the language that’s roughly that of their peers. It is a very rich system. (…) They [the children] don’t try, they cannot prevent themselves from doing it, and they cannot make it happen. The parents can enrich [that]. Anyone who has a two year old, knows that the kid is running around all over the place and trying to find out what the name of everything is. [The child asking:] what’s that, what’s that, what’s that! Then you [the parents] can help them and you can read to the children and show them pictures, and they are all fascinated with it.

There are periods of very rapid language growth [in children], where you just cannot satiate the curiosity fast enough. (Al page interjects: “it’s amazing” and Noam responds and continues) It is unbelievable in fact. What actually happens is really astonishing. Forget the structure of language which is complicated enough, but just take vocabulary acquisition, the simplest part. At peak periods of acquisition of vocabulary, i.e. learning new words, children are picking them up at may be the rate of 1 an hour or something. Which means that they are essentially learning a new word on one exposure!

(...)

But if you think what it means to learn a word on one exposure…! The way to understand how amazing an achievement this is, is to try to define a word. Suppose you have an organism that was not equipped to learn the words of human language and you really had to teach it those words by training. First you will have to define a word. What is the meaning of table, for instance? Nobody can do that.

(...)

But you see, what we call a definition are not definitions; they are just hints. If you take the Oxford English dictionary, the one you read with a magnifying glass. And they give you a long detail thing which they call a definition of a word. In fact, it is very far from the definition of a word. It is a few hints that a person who already knows the concept can use to understand what is going on. But remember that the child is picking that up, not from the Oxford dictionary with its whole array of hints. But the child is picking that up from seeing it used once or twice. Now that can only mean one thing, it can only mean that the concept itself, in all of its richness and complexities, is somehow sitting there, waiting to have a sound associated with it. Now it cannot be quite true but something very much like that is probably true. That’s why, you and I, will have essentially the same concept of table, and the same concept of person, and nation, and all sorts of things; and not complicated things, I mean really simple things like person for instance, or thing. We all have that, even though we all have very limited experience, because basically we started with those concepts.(End of interview)

Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdUbIlwHRkY#t=23m00s

__________________________
TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
You are getting hung up on metaphysics.
This is just semantics and linguistics.
TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
Averroes wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 9:49 am
Essentially, both Kant and Wittgenstein were saying the same thing as quoted above even though they were speaking from different logical frameworks separated by about a century. Wittgenstein was speaking from the Fregean-Russellian logical framework and Kant was speaking from the Aristotelian logical framework. There are important differences between these logical frameworks. The Frege system is more powerful than the Aristotelian system. Modern logic is the logic developed by Frege and Russell. However, despite their differences, non of these logical frameworks made a thought a non-thought!
They were both trying to narrate metaphysics.
Was Kant and Wittgenstein trying to narrate metaphysics? I do not think so. They were openly against metaphysics. Moreover, for Wittgenstein, metaphysics was just sheer nonsense. And the aim of the Tractatus itself was an attempt to overcome by the analysis of language what he perceived as the nonsense of metaphysics. For Kant, below is an excerpt from an entry from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy wrote:A large part of Kant’s work addresses the question “What can we know?” The answer, if it can be stated simply, is that our knowledge is constrained to mathematics and the science of the natural, empirical world. It is impossible, Kant argues, to extend knowledge to the supersensible realm of speculative metaphysics. The reason that knowledge has these constraints, Kant argues, is that the mind plays an active role in constituting the features of experience and limiting the mind’s access only to the empirical realm of space and time. https://www.iep.utm.edu/kantmeta/
Of all the philosophers, these two (along with Hume) are perhaps the most well-known anti-metaphysics! But anyway, I am not talking about metaphysics here, my aim on this thread was solely semantics and linguistics.

______________________________
TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
There are things that go on in my head which I cannot communicate to another human being.
Now, notice how you have phrased the quotation above itself. You said, “...things that go on in my head...”. You said “things” and not thoughts! And that is correct!

Not everything that goes on in our heads are necessarily thoughts! Thoughts are to be distinguished from word salads in that thoughts are articulate and meaningful. There is an analogy which I find quite insightful in that one can think of the word salad as the raw materials out of which the thought is carved! For me, when I experience such "things" in my head, it is a sign that I have to get to work and think hard to get those “things” sorted out so that they can become thoughts. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes it turns out to be just word salads or codings/algorithms that do not work. Thinking is hard work and thoughts are precious. For example, consider the Viterbi algorithm which made Andrew Viterbi into a billionaire. You must already know how important the Viterbi algorithm is nowadays. But if Andrew had just left it as a thing in his head and not worked it out, it would not have blossomed into such a beautiful thought which succeeded in reducing computational complexity for the task from O(T.N^T) to O(T.N^2). A great achievement, you may agree! And there are lots of examples like this which you must already know, and perhaps from your experience in computer science you may have your own examples.

____________________________
TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
And so what I am saying is that if everything that you want to say can be expressed - none of these ideas are yours.
I do not think that the above quotation is a wise statement. For again, if not a single thought that is expressed in language can be original, then that would imply that there would be no original thought that has been expressed throughout known human history! And among the consequences, that would make the laws on plagiarism absurd! I don’t think many people will agree with that either. But, anyway, I respect your opinion even though I do not share it.

__________________________
TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
Averroes wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 9:49 am
Can we think about something without having had direct experience of it?
Here is a simple example. Do you know how to count? Does the word/process of "counting" mean the same thing to both of us?
Apparently not: https://youtu.be/Cj4y0EUlU-Y
Interesting video. Dr Feynman says something very interesting in that video:
Dr Feynman wrote:You asked me if an ordinary person by studying hard, would get to be able to imagine these things like I imagine them? Of course. I was an ordinary person who studied hard. There is no miracle people. It just happened they got interested in these things, and they learned all this stuff. They are just people. There is no talent or special miracle or ability to understand quantum mechanics or miracle ability to imagine electromagnetic fields that comes without practice and reading and learning and study. So, if you say...you take an ordinary person who is willing to devote a great deal of time and study and work and thinking and mathematics and time then he’s become a scientist.
This is a beautiful speech. Thoughts, for ordinary people (like myself and Dr Feynman, according to himself), do not come out of our heads just like that! We have to work hard, think and study hard, and practice a lot to acquire knowledge in our fields. We do not become a scientist, an engineer, a mathematician or a philosopher by being lazy. That’s it! There is nothing more to add to that!

This is a great video. Thanks for sharing.
_______________________
TimeSeeker wrote:
Thu Nov 01, 2018 10:07 am
To demonstratee: try and Imagine a grobmunf. I saw one just 10 minutes ago.
So you wrote: “grobmunf,” and you could just as well have written some Chinese and it would not have made any difference to me! The interesting question now is: Is “grobmunf” a meaningful proposition for you? If yes, then you have expressed a thought which, however, I do not understand as I do not speak that language! If not, then it is just gibberish for both of us! Either way, you have not demonstrated the possibility of a thought that cannot be expressed in language! And, as I already demonstrated, a thought that cannot be expressed in language is a contradiction. And certainly you cannot show it’s possibility by writing something, gibberish or not!

It was nice philosophizing with you. Thanks for the exchange.

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creativesoul
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by creativesoul » Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:54 am

Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am

...And, as I already demonstrated, a thought that cannot be expressed in language is a contradiction. And certainly you cannot show it’s possibility by writing something, gibberish or not!
Expressed - in language - by whom, the thinking/believing creature or someone else taking account of the thinking/believing creature's thought/belief?

:roll:

TimeSeeker
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:19 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:55 am
That's not true. I've drawn no such lines. There is a distinction to be drawn and maintained between meaning and language. The latter is always existentially dependent upon the former, but not the other way around. I've already been clearly arguing for exactly how that's the case.
So we can agree that meaning is subjective? I am good with that. It further means you are necessarily adopting the 1st person perspective. Which leaves us with the final problem. WHOSE 1st person perspective? Yours or mine?

You said this:

Inventing language allows expression.
All language is meaningful

Which necessarily leaves us with these questions:
1. Is 'grobmunf' language? By YOUR criterion of "shared meaning" the answer is No. Nobody else BUT me knows what it means!
2. If 'grobmunf' is not language, then I have failed to invent language? If I have failed to invent language then have I failed in expressing myself?


creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:55 am
TimeSeeker wrote:
Fri Nov 02, 2018 7:58 am
It needs to satisfy ALL those criteria! It needs to be communicable for it to be meaningful, for it to be language for it to be expression.
I reject this. In fact, you yourself have said that you've expressed "grobmunf" despite the fact that only you know what it means. So... you've reached incoherency. How do you reconcile this apparent self-contradiction?
It's not contradictory from my perspective. It's contradictory from your perspective. So I think the onus is on you to explain why you think it's a contradiction? ;)

I have invented, and then uttered the word 'grobmunf' yes. Does that mean I have expressed myself? If being understood is not a pre-requisite of expression then sure. But then I think that proves my case for "thought being independent from language".

For I am thinking of a grobmunf. And 'grobmunf' is not language.
Last edited by TimeSeeker on Sat Nov 03, 2018 4:15 pm, edited 3 times in total.

TimeSeeker
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:30 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:40 am
The question is ill-formed. On my view, one does not correlate meaning. Meaningful thought/belief is the product of drawing correlation(s) between different things.
So you draw a distinction between meaningful and meaningless thought? Unless you provide a procedure for empirically differentiating the two then this is a distinction without a difference.

Correlation exists in a continuum. One can draw strong correlations; or one can draw weak correlations.

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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:34 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:35 am
What exactly is the difference between what you say meaning is, and how you say it works and your account thereof?

:mrgreen:
The problem - as always is interpretation (perspective). Not definition.In fact - I hate positive definitions/claims about reality. I prefer starting with the general (Platonic form) then removing things. Via Negativa. Apophatic theology. And its ties to epistemology - negative pragmatism.

With that caveat here goes me being wrong: All experiences are meaningful to the person experiencing them. And if they manifest as actions (consequences) that you can experience too then my experiences become meaningful to you also.

TimeSeeker
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:50 pm

Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Much before that! I meant the beginning for all of us!
In the beginning we had experience, but no language. We had to invent language. It's a tool. With a purpose.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Before any of us learn how to read and write, we first learn how to speak. We come to know of the meaning of the names of objects (called nouns in language) through the ostensive definition.
This perspective ignores The First. Who was the First Person who spoke and called that thing a "cat" or this thing a "food" or that thing "happiness" or this thing "pain"? Your position takes language and its evolution for granted.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
This is just semantics and linguistics.
It is. And yet - we need communication. So given the CHOICE of languages we have chosen English instead of Mathematics or Python. Why? Because we need a shared point of departure. Otherwise we will get nowhere in agreeing with each other.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Was Kant and Wittgenstein trying to narrate metaphysics? I do not think so. They were openly against metaphysics.
Only in words. Yet they spent so much of their time speaking about the metaphysical mind ;) To a scientist actions speak louder than words. This is the distinction between revealed vs stated preferences in economics. I know what a brain is. Not quite sure what a mind is - so I don't have much to say about it.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Of all the philosophers, these two (along with Hume) are perhaps the most well-known anti-metaphysics! But anyway, I am not talking about metaphysics here, my aim on this thread was solely semantics and linguistics.
Much like language and how we have chosen English instead of Python as a common point of departure - we need a shared point of departure on metaphysics so that we can put it behind us. My metaphysical grounding is this: My mind is a computer. I process information.

I can define/explain all of those terms in English, or in Mathematics. Both will be merely Platonistic forms - models.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Now, notice how you have phrased the quotation above itself. You said, “...things that go on in my head...”. You said “things” and not thoughts! And that is correct!
Now notice how you have turned your attention on the word I chose (be it "things" or "thoughts" - merely a distinction between the general and the particular) and not on the fact that I chose to speak. I could have used either word and would have meant the same thing.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Not everything that goes on in our heads are necessarily thoughts!
If you are a dualist and draw a body-mind distinction then fine. Chemical processes go on in my head. But so long as head == mind, then everything that goes on in my head is a thought. Thinking (computation - whether right or wrong) is what my brain (mind) does.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Thoughts are to be distinguished from word salads in that thoughts are articulate and meaningful.
One man's word salad is another man's meaningful thoughts. It simply means that the interlocutors lack shared knowledge/experience to communicate effectively. This happens to scientists all the time!
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
I do not think that the above quotation is a wise statement. For again, if not a single thought that is expressed in language can be original, then that would imply that there would be no original thought that has been expressed throughout known human history! And among the consequences, that would make the laws on plagiarism absurd! I don’t think many people will agree with that either. But, anyway, I respect your opinion even though I do not share it.
Semantics and linguistics. Right? Is 'grobmunf' an original thought or not?
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
So you wrote: “grobmunf,” and you could just as well have written some Chinese and it would not have made any difference to me! The interesting question now is: Is “grobmunf” a meaningful proposition for you? If yes, then you have expressed a thought which, however, I do not understand as I do not speak that language! If not, then it is just gibberish for both of us!
If you accept my premise that language is an expression of experience then every word I say is meaningful to me. Even if I am experiencing 'gibberish' and calling it 'blah blah fishpaste'. I do not know how to express non-experience.
Averroes wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:41 am
Either way, you have not demonstrated the possibility of a thought that cannot be expressed in language!
You have set yourself up for disappointment. You have contrived an impossible challenge. A game that cannot be won given the rules you seem to be playing by. You are asking me to prove a negative while at the same time it appears you are holding me accountable to the laws of Aristotelian/Classical logic.

The only way I know how to prove a negative is to abandon Aristotelian logic and embrace constructive/intuitionistic logic. Which necessarily means abandoning the laws of excluded middle AND the laws of non-contradiction!

It is only in that framework where proof-by-contradiction becomes a viable strategy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_by_contradiction

So, lets embrace constructive logic and ASSUME that all thought can be expressed in language and see what absurdities/paradoxes this leads to.

Of course, now the game is rigged in my favour because I KNOW you have no empirical/ontological/scientific grounding for what a 'thought' is and isn't ;)
Last edited by TimeSeeker on Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:22 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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QuantumT
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by QuantumT » Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:46 pm

When I think scientific thoughts, like understanding complex natural laws and interactions, or finding alternative theories, I do not think in words at all. I think in active images, which I then translate to words to share them with others.

So yes, you can definitely think without language!

creativesoul
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by creativesoul » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:36 pm

TimeSeeker wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:19 pm
creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:55 am
That's not true. I've drawn no such lines. There is a distinction to be drawn and maintained between meaning and language. The latter is always existentially dependent upon the former, but not the other way around. I've already been clearly arguing for exactly how that's the case.
So we can agree that meaning is subjective?
No. I reject the objective/subjective dichotomy for it is inherently inadequate for taking account of that which is existentially dependent upon both, and is thus... neither. Meaning is one such thing.

TimeSeeker wrote:
Fri Nov 02, 2018 7:58 am
creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:55 am
TimeSeeker wrote:
Fri Nov 02, 2018 7:58 am
It needs to satisfy ALL those criteria! It needs to be communicable for it to be meaningful, for it to be language for it to be expression.
I reject this. In fact, you yourself have said that you've expressed "grobmunf" despite the fact that only you know what it means. So... you've reached incoherency. How do you reconcile this apparent self-contradiction?
It's not contradictory from my perspective. It's contradictory from your perspective. So I think the onus is on you to explain why you think it's a contradiction? ;)
Explain? Who needs an explanation? It's right there! In one breath you say "X" is not language. In another you say that you expressed "X". And in still yet another you claim that in order for "X" to be expression it must be language. Not all of those claims can be true.

creativesoul
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by creativesoul » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:40 pm

TimeSeeker wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:30 pm
creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:40 am
The question is ill-formed. On my view, one does not correlate meaning. Meaningful thought/belief is the product of drawing correlation(s) between different things.
So you draw a distinction between meaningful and meaningless thought?
No.

All thought/belief is meaningful to the thinking/believing creature.

TimeSeeker
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:41 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:36 pm
Explain? Who needs an explanation? It's right there! In one breath you say "X" is not language. In another you say that you expressed "X". And in still yet another you claim that in order for "X" to be expression it must be language. Not all of those claims can be true.
I said "grobmunf".

You are the one trying to classify that word as "self-expression", or "language" or "meaning" or whatever else.
I imagine (since you admitted that you don't understand what that word means) that YOU need an explanation?

creativesoul
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by creativesoul » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:43 pm

TimeSeeker wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:34 pm
creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:35 am
What exactly is the difference between what you say meaning is, and how you say it works and your account thereof?

:mrgreen:
The problem - as always is interpretation (perspective). Not definition.In fact - I hate positive definitions/claims about reality. I prefer starting with the general (Platonic form) then removing things. Via Negativa. Apophatic theology. And its ties to epistemology - negative pragmatism.

With that caveat here goes me being wrong: All experiences are meaningful to the person experiencing them. And if they manifest as actions (consequences) that you can experience too then my experiences become meaningful to you also.
The better question from me to you would have been...

Can you be wrong in your account of meaning, and if so... how?

TimeSeeker
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:43 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:40 pm
TimeSeeker wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:30 pm
creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:40 am
The question is ill-formed. On my view, one does not correlate meaning. Meaningful thought/belief is the product of drawing correlation(s) between different things.
So you draw a distinction between meaningful and meaningless thought?
No.

All thought/belief is meaningful to the thinking/believing creature.
Then why did you qualify the phrase "thought/belief" with the adjective "meaningful"? If all "thought/belief" is meaningful then that is a vacuous use of the word 'meaningful'.

creativesoul
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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by creativesoul » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:47 pm

TimeSeeker wrote:
Fri Nov 02, 2018 7:54 am

I have expressed the word "grobmunf". Nobody understands it - but I have expressed it.

The fact that I am the only one who can understand the meaning/expression doesn't seem to bother you at all? It's a very solopsistic world-view...
TimeSeeker wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:41 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:36 pm
Explain? Who needs an explanation? It's right there! In one breath you say "X" is not language. In another you say that you expressed "X". And in still yet another you claim that in order for "X" to be expression it must be language. Not all of those claims can be true.
I said "grobmunf".

You are the one trying to classify that word as "self-expression", or "language" or "meaning" or whatever else.
I imagine (since you admitted that you don't understand what that word means) that YOU need an explanation?
:roll:

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Re: Is It Possible To Think Without Language?

Post by TimeSeeker » Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:50 pm

creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 7:43 pm
TimeSeeker wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 1:34 pm
creativesoul wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:35 am
What exactly is the difference between what you say meaning is, and how you say it works and your account thereof?

:mrgreen:
The problem - as always is interpretation (perspective). Not definition.In fact - I hate positive definitions/claims about reality. I prefer starting with the general (Platonic form) then removing things. Via Negativa. Apophatic theology. And its ties to epistemology - negative pragmatism.

With that caveat here goes me being wrong: All experiences are meaningful to the person experiencing them. And if they manifest as actions (consequences) that you can experience too then my experiences become meaningful to you also.
The better question from me to you would have been...

Can you be wrong in your account of meaning, and if so... how?
You just said that all thought is meaningful? Everything that goes on in my head is a thought. Furthermore all thoughts are experiences.
Experiences are meaningful too.

So in set formal logic (thoughts ∧ experiences) ∈ Meaning ?

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