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Can humans think without language? Try it.

tymtravler 6 May 24

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Define 'think'


Language codifies thought. Not the other way around

But I do think language expands thought


Humans must have at some point in our history, if language had to come before the ability to think no species would ever achieve sentience.

and babies think

@btroje -- Yeah.


Imagine a computer. It processes information. However, that information then has to be communicated, for which it is translated into a language, whether it is a pattern of lights, a screen read-out or speech generation.
The human brain thinks, without a language in the accepted sense. Then it is communicated, usually in stages, to the consciousness. Hence the illusion of thinking in a language. I personally "think I think" in either English or Swahili, but what I am really receiving is a read-out, and I can choose how it is presented.


Pure music.


I believe so, I think that would be called intuition, where you just have a feeling.


Other animals do it all the time.


Most of this type of thinking is instinctual. For instance, technically, movement is a way of thought. Our brain sends messages without words that trigger our neurons and muscles. A lot of movement can be done without conscious effort. It's pretty amazing. Emotion is another good example. You don't really "think" sadness, anger, etc. in words. You feel it through wordless thoughts and chemical processes. Considering that everything we do is processed by the brain, it could be said that most actual thought is not language-based. That being said, we CAN consciously think in pictures, music (without words, of course), etc. Someone who is deaf and blind can still think. Animals can definitely still think, in their own way.


That’s why I wonder what animals think!


When your dog has nightmares it's thinking without words unless you are the reason for the nightmare.

How do you know your dog has nightmares? Are you perhaps giving them human qualities? Animals have instincts, think Pavlov's dog. Interpreting a dog's behavior as dreams is your intrpretation.

Scientific studies have been conducted on dogs in the dream state of sleep. He is correct! Unless the data has changed I believe the studies came out in late 90's but not positive when they came out. Maybe I will try to find them.


Of course humans can think without language, because we think in pictures, not words. If we thought in words, every one of us would be a tallented writer and orator. We would all be exemplary communicaters and the world would be a much better place, devoid of misunderstanding. Thanks for the visual. I would love to live in a world like that.

pretty sure we think in both images and words. sometimes images of words. sometimes my thoughts are silently verbal. Ie I 'hear' them. sometimes they are simply a series of pictures, much like a how to manual, and other times they appear as text in my minds eyes. I assume its much the same for all of us.

What...? Listen to yourself. No words, only pictures?

@tymtravler Your right. I can't believe I forgot about the inner running monologue. There definately must be an element of both.


I do it every day.


Yes they can! If you would like to get into a long conversation about linguistics. I will leave you with this thought,... the human voice box did not evolve until 2 million years or so ago as taught by a 1st generation chompsky. Now if you wish to talk about non verbal communication and social cognitive inference then we should continue. I would love to finish this conversation.

Etre Level 7 May 24, 2018

Yes. Let's continue, please!
This fascinates me.

@Donotbelieve will do, must play piano for a while, get back to conversation soon. Fascinates me as well ! Thank You.

This is actually a very good and somewhat deep question. Most could care the less over the matter. To understand the aquisition of language and it's relationship with consciousness, we need to look at language and what exactly language is. A communicative format that uses symbols, sounds, inflected tones, harmony, melody, ect.. ect... Perhaps... A comunicative format does not have to use any of the afore metioned concepts. Sign language. No sound at all. However even in the most deafness of emotion, I remember a fellow student who so moved in his communication of sign, would try to vocalize his emotion when signing. How could this be? This human had been deaf since birth. How is it that when trying to symbolize his thoughts through sign, he would express often with a vocal tone? Using sound for communicating thoughts and Ideas extends to the far reaches of our past. Using sound for communication exists within nature itself.

The symbiotic relationship between humans and environment is an exponential equation. How did humans learn language? How did humans create language? Maybe the latter is more fitting. How is that humans have a capacity for thought? What is Consciousness? How do humans communicate consciousness? Do animals not communicate emotion to their offspring?

Dictionaries define words, words define language, language defines Spirit, or better yet Consciousness.

The Great Philosopher and Mathemation Rene Decarte stated, "cogito ergo sum", I think therefore I exist.

The lingustic record holds that the voice box did not evolve till some 2 million years ago. Modern Humans begin around 130k years ago. However recent evidence pushes that number back a couple hundred thousand years. So how did humans communicate and what symbols did they use?

How do children learn? How do puppies learn?

Social Inference or Social Cognitive Inference is a term that refers to how a conscious beings learn or aquire a capacity for language and communication through the given environment. Children do not speak a language with a verbal syntax and grammer. However they do have a means of communicating their thoughts and feelings. Is this stating that enfants do not have a language? I truly do not know. Who does?

What we do know is that even the most basic forms of life communicate. Are these simple life forms using a language and better yet are they thinking without using said language?

What is a language?

Their are some 7 thousand languages on the planet right now. We lose about 250 languages a year. I learned this in 2010. So we are probably closer to 6 thousand.

The act of thought does not require a language. The act of communicating emotion does not require a language. These concepts only exist because we have given symbols(letters), to define the vocal tones that communicate the conscious thought. Just as hand signals and shapes were assigned meaning to communicate emotion, syntax, and grammer.

Do humans not communicate nonverbally?

Are we thinking about and how to use a language when we communicate non verbally?

Are we spelling out terms nonverbally?

If humans learn by means of infering, then I venture to say that it is more reactionary. And it is from this reaction, that humans begin to form a symbiotic relationship with environment. And from this symbiotic relationship, humans formed a language of audible and inflected tones to communicate and or express emotion and or noun verbage syntax grammer, from which mean old ladies with degrees in a language art demand complience unto the properness of speaking that language format.

So to truly answer the question, we must have a complete definition and meaning from the question, of the concept or verb "to think".

Can humans think without language?

Shall we go deeper, or has the question been answered?

For the record I studied classical voice, French, and linguistics. I just read your latest post, nice. It appears we have come to similar conculsions. I have read most of the posts here. My conclusions are formed from my studies and knowledge base. I have been accused of copy pasting from enternet sources, however i only do this when showing the definition of a term. And if I am citing a source, then I show the source.



My brain thinks in various screams

Ahaha! Good grief.


If I start to sit down on a rattle snake, I just think to move! I don't think, "I should move." 😉


I am largely aware of my thought processes and a great deal of my thinking is done in images. Because of that, I would say that we can, but probably don't very much. We have grown accustomed to language based communication. What about the other primates in our line? Elephants? The cetacean family? We now know they are all capable of abstract thought, but what language they have is perhaps too primitive to be of much use in their thinking. I can't be certain of this, but I would have to say, yes.


I am sure they can, but it is very hard to find humans that have never been exposed to language for testing.


I cannot. I do not think in images at all. Words, music, and emotions. And I cannot truly think in emotion and music alone...only feel.


I had previously said no. I was thinking that in order to transfer information to another I would have to use a form of language. That's really not the question. I may see a tree and remember a tree without having a name for it. So that would be yes. Reviewing the question ....YES!


yes i can


To some extent it depends on how you define language. Some people think music, some think pictures, some think math, and some think aromas and tastes.


I cannot remember whether it was when I was getting a BA or an MA, but one of my profs lectured on this. I cannot remember the person who proposed the theory, but it said that without speech, there are no "thoughts" and no reasoning. I asked if infants think, and he said that they do not, nor do animals. If so, why do chimpanzees look behind mirrors to see whose images they behold?

But back to infants and toddlers--my 14 month old granddaughter is learning to talk. Today, she saw toys at my house and asked, "Whatsit?" She understands what is said to her in simple terms even though she cannot speak the words. She also dropped something from her highchair yesterday and asked, "Wheresit?" looking down for the object. This shows reason, which supports thoughts, but what goes on in her head when she "reasons"?

We cannot think without words because as adults, we have been verbal too long--even children who have learned to speak have been verbal for too long.

Do whales speak? Do they reason? Do porpoises? Ravens? Parrots?


Do it all the time. In fact, most of the time. Just what kind of conversation are you having as you drive a car?

"Oh! don't get too close!" "A little to the left, now take your foot off the gas"

Sure, there is the occasional "You moron!" But, like when you are catching a ball, you don't think "A little to the left, a little to the right...." while you are doing it. All of your overt, conscious actions involve thinking. And MOST of it is non-verbal.

Exactly! That's exactly what you're thinking when your driving or catching a ball. It may be shorthand but your thoughts are words.

No it's not. You move your arms by a certain amount. You don't think "Two degrees to the left."

@novoxguy I can't move my arms 2 degrees to the left nor can you without some way to measure. It could be 3 degrees or it could be 5 degrees. We normally don't think in those terms. Also reflexes aren't thoughts.

@tymtravler if you can't move your arms to specific angles, then how can you reach out and pick something up?


Yup..language limits what people can comprehend.

That's why English is commonly used in science since many languages lack essential concept words. I.e., in Haitian Creole, almost any animal is a "bete," so not a good language for studying entomology, for instance.

I have to disagree with that. Not having a word for something doesn't mean you can't comprehend it. Language limits your ability to communicate with someone else, but that is different from comprehension. There are plenty of people, who I don't know their name, but recognize their face and know facts about them. Their name is a label, just like the name of an animal in Haitian Creole. I'm sure that if you showed them a picture of an animal they don't have a unique name for it, they could tell you things about it that is unique to it, all the same.

@novoxguy It's something I read about while at the university..our particular learned languages limit our perceptions of the world. For instance, Thai people have several times the number of colors they commonly name.

Not just blue, but "sky blue," or some other shade. I'll point at what I think of as "red" and the children will call it the Thai word for the color orange-red.

Even Europeans didn't "see" the color blue until fairly recently, thinking of the blue ocean and sky as "clear," instead of the color blue.

Also, just learning to read and write can rewire an adult brain. The rural Haitians couldn't even understand a them, it was a blob of color dots, although they tried to humor by pretending to "see" what I told them was there.

Learning to read and write rewires adult brain in six months []

@birdingnut I've read such an article before, and it's nonsense. You know that some scientists once reasoned the Aboriginal children were not as smart as their western counterparts. They gave the same IQ test to both. Problem was, the test involved recognizing household items, like thimbles and buttons. Things which the Aboriginal children were not familiar. But, later the test was repeated, where the items were rocks, seeds and leaves. Give the same test, the Western children would be the ones to do poorly. Haitians don't recognize a photograph? I bet that's an outright lie.

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