Finding The Thought With The Words

I just heard Radiolab’s show on words (you can listen here).   The show explores just how much of our experience is born of language.  It begins with experiments which seem to reveal that until we can bridge islands of our experience with phrases, we can’t actually think.  This may be a difficult argument to make since what we mean by ‘thinking’ may just be bridging experiences with words.  But the difficulty one might have articulating exactly what experiments are showing us, just highlights how fascinating the topic really is.

In usual radiolab fashion, we hear about rats that don’t think, then about a 27 year old deaf man who was without language until Susan Schaller found a way to teach him, followed by some talk from a Shakespeare scholar who has unexpected information about words invented by Shakespeare.  We also hear Jill Bolte Taylor talk about her own stroke (the subject of her book My Stroke of Insight).  And we hear the story of 50 deaf children who, when brought into community, developed their own language.

A central idea in the broadcast is that words themselves, brought together in different combinations (infinite in number), actually create new vision – even something as fundamental as the perception of one’s self.  For me, this touches on the development and effectiveness of mathematics, as it names perceived objects (even if they are perceived internally) and brings them into relations with each other, extending what we see yet again.

What do you think?

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