Thinking in the Absence of Language

Do our thoughts require expression in the form of language? Is it possible to think in the absence of language, and if so, how are our thoughts represented?

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Thought can operate outside the realm of language. A more important observation though is that language cannot operate outside the realm of thought. So language has no sustainable meaning outside the constructs and schemas that we apply to them. Words on a page mean nothing if we don’t understand the objects, feelings, etc… that the words represent. So in a way, words are a visual representation of those things which do not have shape. We can also think in the form of images and representations. We can visualize mentally the most beautiful person we know without ever thinking a word. That is how we think without words. Although I will say that I have to concentrate pretty hard to keep my mind from producing words to describe that person while I am thinking about her. It would seem that our minds are particularly geared towards verbal representation. On a more personal note, it has been my experience that those things which cannot be communicated with words are those things that transcend words: seeing God in a beautiful sunset, the look in a lover’s eyes, the admiration in a father’s eyes when his daughter takes her first step. I would never try to reduce these great things of life to mere words, although I have tried from time to time.

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Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2005). Psychology (4 th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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