Thinking without Words

Do we think with words? Noam Chomsky opines that our thoughts happen with the words. If that is the case, a language less person would be severely constrained in his thinking. But recent studies find that there is something called unsymbolic thinking. Words are just a discrete representations of our otherwise continuous mental landscape. A language based mind access can only touch upon certain conscious areas we are aware of. And that too in a discretized step manner. The granularity of the discretized access is not sufficient to touch upon the smaller strands of thought which we can consciously be aware of. Then there is this area in our mental landscape which we are not consciously aware of till a stimulating thing like music, beauty, etc pokes us. One experience music without any words. Likewise beauty is to be experienced, unsymbolically. Beauty appeals to that part of mind, that cannot be symbolically expressed.

Recent advancement is language models enables the computers to generate answers to questions, write an essay, with such a quality that can literally fool a human. A language model OpenAI GPT3 contains parameters of the range 276 billion, which is astonishingly huge, but still finite. Whatever neural level mechanisms our brain is doing to produce a language comprehensible to us, it can be replicated with a mathematical model of 276 billion parameters. At the lowest level, these parameters must represent symbols or words. A human can have may be some arsenal of some 5000 words in the working memory and may recognize some 20000 additional words. Yet to model this modest amount of discrete symbol that abstracts out some contiguous area in out mental landscape, it requires such a huge model.

Solving puzzles like Sudoku doesn’t involve words. Granted the thought actually may not need words. But generally it is found that the more verbally gifted a person is, the more intelligent he is. It may be a confirmation bias. I genuinely believe that there might be more to what symbolic language brings to the table. Without the ability to map to a nearest symbol, some thoughts may not be possible at all. I have this gut feeling that some language may be superior to others. I just cannot fathom the idea that everybody could be equally intelligent irrespective of their mother tongue. Although no evidence is there to support this extra ordinary claim. There might be word sounds, word patterns, sentence structure that triggers divergent thinking that could ultimately lead to better measurable intelligence. Now that the number of languages are limited, it is difficult to test this hypothesis. Number of languages possible from the same set of alphabets is theoretically unlimited.


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Punnoose A K

Having faced many failures in life, I prefer writing about failing(literally) to the point, with no pretensions. | voracious reader. | I run