Re: Language/Consciousness/Thinking

Pat Scheib (pscheib@PCT.EDU)
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 15:00:36 -0400

> > At 04:24 PM 7/29/96 +0000, Ronald Kephart wrote:
> Again, this is a question that deserves more time than I have right now.
> Briefly, is Language the root and source of "consciousness,"
> "thinking," etc., or is it as you suggest one component of a larger
> Can you really "think" without language? Or are you really "thinking"
> language even when you "think" you aren't?
> Ron Kephart
> University of North Florida

(Here I am, jumping into a thread while I'm swamped with incoming
freshmen and a syllabus which hasn't been written yet. . .
and I only have more questions to pose, not answers.)

Arthur Baron replied to the above post, mentioning the example of
drawing directions to a location instead of articulating the information in
words, which got me thinking. Language processed in words occurs in
the left hemisphere of the brain (Broca's area for speech production &
Wernicke's for comprehension). Damage to one of these areas renders
a person unable to speak or unable to comprehend words but I've never
read any research findings where loss of either of these abilities
effected the individual's level of consciousness, intellect or thought
processes. (but maybe that's because it would be difficult to measure
any of these if language is inaccessible.)

I think language is crucial to the thinking process for only some kinds of
thought at some levels of consciousness - the left-brain processes, like
logic, writing, analysis, calculation,etc. but there are types of thinking I do
which happen in my right brain, like when I am creating a work of art,
listening to music, meditating or dreaming or spatial relations, like drawing
the directions on a map, which don't require language. In fact, I have
discussed with several writer friends of mine how frustrating it is at
times to have an image or concept in my mind which I don't have the
language for and therefore, have difficulty expressing to anyone else
(which is why I carve wood or macrame wall hangings or draw instead
of writing about it)

If the above is true, how does it differ from one culture to another? I
was raised mostly in the U.S. in a left-brained culture where we value
and rate people (Stanford-Binet IQ tests) by their left-brained abilities. I
think the belief that thinking and intellect stem from language is a cultural
bias we've picked up from living in a left-brained society. What about
right-brained cultures, like traditional Native Americans? Howard
Gardner asserts there are actually 7 types intelligence: Musical,
Bodily-Kinesthetic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Interpersonal,
Intrapersonal, and Linguistic. Our standard IQ tests only measure
Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical (the left-brainers) since that's what
our culture values.

I recently was told by a colleague that someone had done research on
brain hemisphere and language with some Native American peoples and
found that Native Americans who suffered damage to the left
hemisphere of their brain, which would normally damage their language
areas, experienced no such loss of language. The conjecture was that
some Native American cultures may have evolved to process language
in the right hemisphere since they are a "right-brained" society. I find
this very intriguing but my colleague couldn't produce any references for
this information. Does anyone out there know anything about such

Pat Scheib