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Different Languages and Clear Thinking 
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Post Different Languages and Clear Thinking
I've always been fascinated by "Gulf" and its discussion of constructed languages and whether a well-designed language might lead to better, or at least more efficient, thinking. Not exactly the same thing, but related:

Oprima dos for better cognition
Quote:
But a new study seems to show that people really do think differently in a foreign language—any foreign language. Namely, people are less likely to fall into common cognitive traps when tested in a language other than their mother tongue. The study is “The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases” by Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa and Sun Gyu An in Psychological Science...

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Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:56 pm
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
An excellent discussion of "Gulf". Too bad this guy quit blogging -- he often had something interesting to say.


Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:43 pm
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
I can see quite a few potential methodology problems with this line of investigation. Right off the bat, someone intelligent and motivated enough to learn a second language with reasonable fluency is a select individual, intellectually speaking. Then a lack of natal fluency means they will consider the exact meaning and context of each word much more carefully than in their true natal language, which is layered by a lifetime of nuance, subtlety and illogical use.

I was in grade school when I had a chuckling Japanese man tell the class the national flower of the US should be the carnation. (Work it out and see if you would have ever thought that as a native speaker of English.)

I don't think any of this necessarily supports the idea of a superior language; all other things being equal, being forced to strain your thoughts through the tight filter of a language acquired as an adult will produce some added clarity of thought.

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Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:09 am
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
BillMullins wrote:
An excellent discussion of "Gulf". Too bad this guy quit blogging -- he often had something interesting to say.


There is an extensive discussion related to this at the following link.
http://www.heinleinsociety.org/thsnexus/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1377


Tue Oct 22, 2013 8:59 am
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
Jim--that's basically what the researchers think is happening; when you thinnk in a second language you think more slowly and carefully. Also references Kahneman's "Systems 1 and 2."

Bill--that's a very nice article/post. I had seen it some years back when I was web searching for Heinlein references. Forum readers may also enjoy his discussion of The Lensman

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Tue Oct 22, 2013 9:09 am
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
The extensive earlier discussion - and I live for this kind of stuff - was about the efficiency of spoken language as related to communication speed, whereas here we are talking about the impact of language on speed of thinking. We're deep into Sapir-Whorf territory here.

I posit that thought takes place outside of language, but is almost inevitably rendered instantly into language by reflex, because without that rendition there is no communication. People without language experience thoughts - presumably - but how would ever know what they were, because how would they tell us what they were? This as far as I am concerned likely explains the phenomenon of infant amnesia, because how can children tell us about thoughts that were formed before they had language to express them with?

But nevertheless, I think that all thoughts have languageless precursors that inevitably flow at a much faster rate, and I believe that if one could train oneself to skip the rendition phase, much like reading without moving one's lips, only harder, then one could think much much faster. I used to try practising this when I was a teenager (probably not long after I read Gulf). I think this would eclipse any acceleration that might be realized through rendering thoughts into a different language.

I think that the pre-language thoughts occur in a form that is naturally unambiguous and completely precise, whereas the best vocabulary is not going to achieve a total match to those thoughts. This does suggest that the wider someone's vocabulary, the faster they could think in the conventional form, because they would spend less time hurting for the right words in the rendition phase. And it also suggests that someone with another language under their belt would be thinking faster, for the same reason - they have a wider lexicon to find le mot juste from. But the brass ring would be to execute chains of thought without engaging in the rendition phase at all. This is where I suspect a lot of creative acts are happening.


Tue Oct 22, 2013 4:37 pm
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
PeterScott wrote:
The extensive earlier discussion - and I live for this kind of stuff - was about the efficiency of spoken language as related to communication speed, whereas here we are talking about the impact of language on speed of thinking. We're deep into Sapir-Whorf territory here.

I posit that thought takes place outside of language, but is almost inevitably rendered instantly into language by reflex, because without that rendition there is no communication. People without language experience thoughts - presumably - but how would ever know what they were, because how would they tell us what they were? This as far as I am concerned likely explains the phenomenon of infant amnesia, because how can children tell us about thoughts that were formed before they had language to express them with?

But nevertheless, I think that all thoughts have languageless precursors that inevitably flow at a much faster rate, and I believe that if one could train oneself to skip the rendition phase, much like reading without moving one's lips, only harder, then one could think much much faster. I used to try practising this when I was a teenager (probably not long after I read Gulf). I think this would eclipse any acceleration that might be realized through rendering thoughts into a different language.

I think that the pre-language thoughts occur in a form that is naturally unambiguous and completely precise, whereas the best vocabulary is not going to achieve a total match to those thoughts. This does suggest that the wider someone's vocabulary, the faster they could think in the conventional form, because they would spend less time hurting for the right words in the rendition phase. And it also suggests that someone with another language under their belt would be thinking faster, for the same reason - they have a wider lexicon to find le mot juste from. But the brass ring would be to execute chains of thought without engaging in the rendition phase at all. This is where I suspect a lot of creative acts are happening.

Peter, that's fascinating stuff. There is obviously a massive amount of "thought" going on unconsciously that pops up when needed. Moreover, even conscious thoughts in words flow in a constant torrent, and a lot of them seem random and unconnected to present events.

One of the most profound phrases I ever read was "watch your thoughts." Just watch 'em, don't judge them or try to do anything about them. This is functionally equivalent to "meditation" as the word is ususally construed.

Finally, isn't it quite delicious that Heinlein wrote in the same story that, 1) "Thought is speech," and, 2) "[T]he verb "to be" in English has twenty-one distinct meanings, every single one of which is false to fact."?

More food for thought on this topic--General Semantics as source material in the works of Robert A. Heinlein

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Thu Oct 24, 2013 10:44 am
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking


Thanks Robert. This is the first time that I have heard that my article was online.

David


Thu Oct 24, 2013 10:56 am
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
David--about halfway through I began to suspect it was yours, however the IGS put your name at the very bottom of the page and not in larger print. IGS claims the copyright as well...seems they could have made the author who did the work a bit more prominent!

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Thu Oct 24, 2013 11:12 am
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Post Re: Different Languages and Clear Thinking
Not their fault. I wrote the bio and its placement. As far as I know, I still maintain the copyright. I have looked through the volume and found nothing saying that it was theirs.

I wrote another Heinlein related article for them which was reprinted from THJ "Rebutting Joseph T. Major's View of General Semantics in his Heinlein's Children" Vol 64, number 4, October 2007. I hadn't thought to look before, but I found it online also.
http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/ETC-Review-General-Semantics/170284615.html

However, the online version omits a very important quote from the book. It' from the
discussion between Matt's instructor Lt. Wong and Matt where he says:

Updated 10/25/2013
Quote:
You’ll be studying the day you retire. But even these subjects are not your
education; they are simply raw materials. Your real job is to learn how to think
and that means you must study other subjects; epistemology, scientific
methodology, semantics, structures of languages, patterns of ethics and morals,
varieties of logics, motivational psychology, and so on. This school is based on
the idea that a man who can think correctly will automatically behave morally or
what we call “morally.” (72)


And then the article leaves out Major's comments
Quote:
Immediately following this quote, Major comments:
Provided, of course, that the “semantics” is the field of study of the meanings
of words and not the jumble of half-digested, random readings organized by
a contrived jargon and symbology unique to itself (a hallmark of a pseudoscience)
that was publicized under the nomenclature (“nomenclature1948” to
use a bit of that unique symbology) of “General Semantics.” Heinlein was a
great believer in continued study over a broad range of knowledge. In the
context of this book, one might also list this vast burden of studies as another
“sickener,” an intellectual one as opposed to a physical one. The choice of
topics touches on one of Heinlein’s crotchets. In fiction and fact alike
Heinlein derided the concept of studying philosophy (see Expanded Universe
p. 531, for example). Yet here Matt is studying the stuffs of philosophy. It
might be how you package it. (31-32)


Thu Oct 24, 2013 11:23 am
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