Natural Language

as Language of Thought

More Proof?
BRENT SILBY Unlimited (UPT)

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought The nature of thought requires language Remember in the first week we talked about our thoughts as being productive and systematic Systematic means that if I can understand the sentence a loves b then I’ll be able to understand b loves a

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought Fodor thinks this requires mentalese because language is required to form productive, systematic thoughts Yes, language is required, but it is not mentalese. Why? Because our thoughts only become productive and systematic after we acquire a natural language If Fodor was right, we would see productive, systematic thoughts in non-linguistic humans and animals

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought Experimental evidence shows that animal and pre-linguistic infant thoughts are not productive and systematic This is not to say that they do not think—it is simply to say that their thoughts are different Language provides a new way of thinking once people reach a certain stage in development

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought This stage seems to coincide with children acquiring a symbolic system of representation

The first stage of development Sensory Motor Stage – birth to 2 years Simple motor reflexes. Thoughts limited to co-ordination of sensory information with simple body movements The child eventually makes the first big cognitive jump in acquiring “object permanence”

This is the beginning of symbolic thought – concepts can be held in mind and represented by specific words

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought The lack of symbolic representation in infants gives support to the idea that their thought processes lack the productive and systematic features of a fully developed mind Does this show that assimilation of a natural language is required for human thoughts to be structured in that way?

Mentalese supporters could claim that mentalese doesn’t come on-line until that stage of development. Maybe object permanence stage is reached because mentalese systems have fired up.

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought

Remember, we should favor economy and simplicity in our explanation, so lets not go down the mentalese line if natural language can explain thought.

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought Further evidence comes from connectionist models of language An artificial neural network that has been designed to acquire language, but has no built in linguistic abilities has none of the systematic, productive features of language. But, it has been observed that as such a network acquires language through training, these properties emerge. (Garfield 1997: pg 429; see also Clark 1993 and Dennett 1991b)

Evidence from infant development leads us to think the same is true of the brain

Evidence for Natural Language as Language of Thought Natural language is an external technology that is productive and systematic After the mind acquires the concept of object permanence, it is ready to assimilate natural language It is at this time that the brain starts to produce thoughts that are productive and systematic

In the next exciting episode… The Last Stand! The Fight for Mentalese

I will consider arguments that deny the role natural language plays in thinking.

Powerpoint by BRENT SILBY Produced at UPT Christchurch, New Zealand www.unlimited.school.nz

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