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Consciousness as a function of mental word use


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#1 charles brough

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Posted 13 December 2008 - 03:33 PM

I've noticed that I cannot think as long as I repeat a single word over and over again. This is because thinking is the use of language itself. When we think, we form the very words themselves in our minds. We cannot think without doing that!

That is why mystics meditate. For example, by repeating some mundane or made-up word repeatedly, we prevent the forming of other words in the brain and, hence, prevent thinking. If you are not thinking, then the flow of adrenalin and other hormones falls off. You become relaxed and, in time, other sensations appear.

When we are being driven by someone else, we look out the window and observe. We can notice sights sweep path without ever forming words. This is observing and requires no thinking. Isn't this what we do in front of the TV . . ?. :weather_snowing:

#2 sigh.ko.blah.grr

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 07:34 PM

I hate to disabuse anyone, but while this may be true for the originator of the thread here in particular, it appears to be a myth in general. This was the notion behind "thought-stopping" a pseudo-psychotherapeutic technique used 30 and more years ago in early cognitive psychotherapy.

Research demonstrated, however, that while thinking of "something else" blocked conscious awareness of whatever it was one was attempting to block very briefly, the processing of the original material actually continued in the background. Today, we use "thought-questioning" rather than thought-stopping to break up the (il)logical feedback looping that fuels obsessional thinking.

#3 charles brough

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Posted 20 January 2009 - 02:48 PM

I hate to disabuse anyone, but while this may be true for the originator of the thread here in particular, it appears to be a myth in general. This was the notion behind "thought-stopping" a pseudo-psychotherapeutic technique used 30 and more years ago in early cognitive psychotherapy.

Research demonstrated, however, that while thinking of "something else" blocked conscious awareness of whatever it was one was attempting to block very briefly, the processing of the original material actually continued in the background. Today, we use "thought-questioning" rather than thought-stopping to break up the (il)logical feedback looping that fuels obsessional thinking.


You are probably correct. I have never used tantras and have a rather low opinion of Hindu/yoga thinking and teachings. In my own case, when trying to get off a subject at night and go to sleep, I create an imaginary drama which I people with no one I actually know and involving scenarios that are rewarding without being sensual. Often, I go to sleep immediately and have to carry on the plot from night to night with very little progress going on in it each time.

#4 sigh.ko.blah.grr

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 04:39 PM

In working with various meditation techniques for the sake of anger management, impulse control, anxiety management and what-have-you, I discovered that simple attentiveness to body sensations would reliably speed up the process of autonomic nervous system function (in the parasympathetic side of the sympathetic-parasympathetic equation).

I think the guy who originally either discovered or just wrote about this was Kabat-Zinn, and he called it "mindfulness meditation." I call it the "drop drill" (probably because I had to do -that- in school when I was a kid).

In any event, MM or DD appears to displace affective (emotional and body sensation) "white noise" so sufficiently that it also reduces the impulse to think in symbolic language to mask off the uncomfortable emotions.

There's an excellent description of the 30-second (or so) process on page 280 in Paine-Gernee & Hunt's Emotional Healing: A Program for Emotional Sobriety, but essentially, I'm just talking about a very quick, focus of consciousness on a body inventory that can easily be done by nonpathological and neurotic-level people. One does not need to learn a bunch of "Eastern religious hocus-pocus" to do this.

Borderline-level patients can be taught to do it, usually via repeated experience with Benson's "relaxation response" or Perls' "guided meditation." Psychotic-level patients have a very hard time with it, unless they are effectively brought up to the borderline level with medications.

#5 sallynewell

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Posted 26 April 2009 - 10:02 AM

I find that I can relax with repeated interior mental stimuli, ie creating abstract images in my head. Another technique is to revisit a the memory of a special place - beach or forest loved from my childhood, that has become part of my interior consciouness, as if it is a room in itself...

#6 Miranda

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Posted 08 June 2009 - 12:27 PM

This is because thinking is the use of language itself. When we think, we form the very words themselves in our minds. We cannot think without doing that!

I beg to differ. Of course we can think without creating 'words in our minds'. Words are not necessary for thought, but vice versa. Take riding a bike for example. Mental words are not required to know how to balance on a bike when riding one. I know it surely feels like we think in a sort of "mentalese", but thought is surely not dependent on words.

#7 enorbet2

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 08:22 AM

I'm a bit reticent to be overly mechanical on this subject but it becomes easier if I settle on what's being discussed rather than the title of the thread. There seems considerable difference between consciousness and thinking. Since the posts so far have dealt with thinking I have to state that thinking by no means requires words. If anyone flatly disagrees I'll seek links to back this up but surely everyone knows that we have at least 5 definable senses and that our brains are capable of processing all of those types of incoming data and even interpreting somewhat non-specific forms such as music and we can all agree that a specific song (or even a chord!) is happy or sad even absent any lyrical content.

Given that the human brain has substantially more "real estate" tied up in the sensory area of vision a case can be made that more of thinking is processed and/or translated into visual scenarios or played out in mini-dramas than in speech or words. If we were so totally word oriented I would expect that dreams would be more like radio than movies and often, if not altogether silent, then certainly in my case lacking in a high degree of dialogue and I rather enjoy words.

Consciousness and especially self-consciousness is a much more mysterious subject since IIRC, how there is evolutionary advantage to awaking with the same sense of self every morning, that disappeared during sleep, is yet to be well understood and a subject of considerable "heat".

At the risk of some monotony, I contend that asserting that thinking, let alone consciousness, being proposed as defined by words is yet another common construct to divorce ourselves from our animal natures and create distance (with humans occupying the "higher ground" of course :hihi:) to "lower" life forms, some of whom have measurably superior numbers of neural connections and/or brain mass to body mass ratio. We seem most provincial within our own bodies.

#8 lemit

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 09:10 AM

I've noticed that I cannot think as long as I repeat a single word over and over again. This is because thinking is the use of language itself. When we think, we form the very words themselves in our minds. We cannot think without doing that!


When I try the endless repetition of a single word to block thoughts from my brain, the opposite happens. Sometimes I will review schedules, reminisce about various homes I've had, wonder about people I haven't heard from lately, or go through a check of the current condition of my health, sometimes pretty much all at the same time.

I do not, no matter how many times I repeat a word, assume that other people have the same mental result I have. I rather enjoy having my own mental processes and facilities, and wish people would stop trying to tell me what I think or how I think.

I hereby promise not to tell you how to think or how you already do think if you will recognize my individuality and extend the same courtesy and simple human decency to me. Is that possible?

--lemit

#9 HydrogenBond

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 09:34 AM

If you look at dreams, they are often based on the internal visual connections of symbols that can be irrationally connected. If one is aware of a dream, they are conscious without words and or the requirement of language structure. The labeling comes later. This sensory connection far more fundamental to consciousness than words. For example, if I put an apple on the table, one can use any of dozens of words, but everyone will have the same visual. One does not need a word to be conscious of it.

Language is important to help us transfer the visual image to another person, but is not essential for individual consciousness. For example, I can show you something you never saw before. You can be consciously aware of it, even if you are not be able to put it too words. That effort will come secondary, as you try to give it verbal structure to you can describe it to another You will need language to transfer this image, so they can get a second hard experience of it. If I was the one who was first to be conscious of this thing, I could call it anything I want. I can pick any of a thousand word, or even make up a clever sounding label. But it existed first in consciousness before the word. The word is for everyone else.

The fable of Rumpelstiltskin tells about the mythology connection between words and consciousness. If you can guess his name, he will spin straw into gold. The labeling of language, gives a sense of control over an object. Without a name, that mischievous Rumpelstiltskin (awareness) seems to have an autonomy and can't be controlled to do your bidding. But once you know his name, he becomes your servant with increased subjective value. The name makes gold from straw.

#10 Larv

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 12:31 PM

If you look at dreams, they are often based on the internal visual connections of symbols that can be irrationally connected. If one is aware of a dream, they are conscious without words and or the requirement of language structure. The labeling comes later. This sensory connection far more fundamental to consciousness than words. For example, if I put an apple on the table, one can use any of dozens of words, but everyone will have the same visual. One does not need a word to be conscious of it.

Two things here:

1. I'm not at all clear how one can be aware of a dream and be conscious at the same time. Isn't a dream a subconscious thing? As such, how can one be conscious of a dream?

2. The apple on the table would also be "the same visual" for a fly or an ant. So, in that regard, how do you differentiate human consciousness from that of an ant?

Language is important to help us transfer the visual image to another person, but is not essential for individual consciousness.

Do you mean individual animal consciousness of individual humans consciousness? The only thing I know of that differentiates the two is a symbolic language.

For example, I can show you something you never saw before. You can be consciously aware of it, even if you are not be able to put it too words...

Then you must be talking about a consciousness that is not unique to humans. So far as I can tell, human consciousness emerged on the back of a symbolic language. Prior to that our ancestors were no more conscious than another animals, and perhaps much less so.

#11 lemit

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 11:03 PM

Larv,

It sounds like you might be close to an acceptance of the concept of evolution, that our brains may be animal rather than spontaneous productions of the hand of God.

Congratulations!

--lemit

#12 Larv

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 10:08 AM

Larv,

It sounds like you might be close to an acceptance of the concept of evolution, that our brains may be animal rather than spontaneous productions of the hand of God.

Congratulations!

--lemit

Oh, and it gets even better. There is Biblical proof for what I claim; it's in John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was God." This proves, to me at least, that "the Word," or our symbolic language, was what made us human and gave us the need to invent a literal master. John 1:1 does not differentiate "the Word" from "God." They are one in the same, according one author of the Scriptures.

I submit this as Exhibit A that modern humans didn't show up until their predecessors evolved a symbolic language. Not only that, but it was a digital language: "the Word" is a byte and each letter is a bit. As such, God is digital, too, literally lording himself over his analog subjects.

If it were otherwise then why would John equate a byte of our digital symbolic language with the omnipotent Lord of the Sky?

#13 Jway

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 01:24 PM

Two things here:

1. I'm not at all clear how one can be aware of a dream and be conscious at the same time. Isn't a dream a subconscious thing? As such, how can one be conscious of a dream?


Are you familiar with the concept of "lucid dreaming?"

Have you ever had experience of being in half dream state, half wake state (say upon first waking up) and continuing "plot" of dream in a conscious way?

How about day dreaming and fantasy? Are these not images and events that are not grounded in "this reality" while being directed by consciousness?

2. The apple on the table would also be "the same visual" for a fly or an ant. So, in that regard, how do you differentiate human consciousness from that of an ant?


(Just speaking to the general topic, not necessarily the specific quote above.)
> While the visual is (arguably) the same for all eyes in the room, it is the interpretation and meaning that matters. IMO, it literally matters.
> And I don't believe it can be overstated how much it matters that the same eyes look upon "own self" interpreting that within context.
> I think conceiving of a distinction in consciousness is subconscious processing. That these distinctions may surface to level of consciousness, and be held with conviction (that there are individual, separate consciousness around me), is I believe subtle example of consciously being aware while (day) dreaming.

#14 Jway

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 01:42 PM

Oh, and it gets even better. There is Biblical proof for what I claim; it's in John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was God." This proves, to me at least, that "the Word," or our symbolic language, was what made us human and gave us the need to invent a literal master. John 1:1 does not differentiate "the Word" from "God." They are one in the same, according one author of the Scriptures.

I submit this as Exhibit A that modern humans didn't show up until their predecessors evolved a symbolic language. Not only that, but it was a digital language: "the Word" is a byte and each letter is a bit. As such, God is digital, too, literally lording himself over his analog subjects.

If it were otherwise then why would John equate a byte of our digital symbolic language with the omnipotent Lord of the Sky?


Interesting.

I interpret (Divine) Word as Voice. That can be understood in human constructs, though I think it plausible to understand Voice of God as with and without Sound. Hard to conceive of human voice without sound, yes?

I hardly believe that Divine Word within traditional theology refers to our (human) symbolic language. Though there is correlation. I can understand the connection being made. And I find interesting the hypothesis that the rise of symbolic language (verbal and textual) is what makes us human. Though it almost seems disadvantageous from an evolutionary perspective. As a tool for communication, advantageous. As a construct that pulls a veil (of interpretation) over physical reality, it seems not very well thought through. Introducing and allow for idea that the Word is "out there" rather than within, where the Voice is actually heard.

#15 Larv

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 10:10 AM

Are you familiar with the concept of "lucid dreaming?"

Have you ever had experience of being in half dream state, half wake state (say upon first waking up) and continuing "plot" of dream in a conscious way?

How about day dreaming and fantasy? Are these not images and events that are not grounded in "this reality" while being directed by consciousness?

I'm not sure how these dreams you speak of are any different than a dog's dream or any other dream state you might want to infer. These dream states are not what human consciousness is all about. Human consciousness has to do with one's ability to reflect symbolically on one's existence and experiences. It takes a symbolic language to do that. And dogs can't do that; only humans can.

(Just speaking to the general topic, not necessarily the specific quote above.)
> While the visual is (arguably) the same for all eyes in the room, it is the interpretation and meaning that matters. IMO, it literally matters.

Yes, of course. Then we must agree that human consciousness is a language sort of thing,
literally.

> And I don't believe it can be overstated how much it matters that the same eyes look upon "own self" interpreting that within context.
> I think conceiving of a distinction in consciousness is subconscious processing. That these distinctions may surface to level of consciousness, and be held with conviction (that there are individual, separate consciousness around me), is I believe subtle example of consciously being aware while (day) dreaming.

Again, these dream states are not unique to humans. If we are to understand human consciousness we have to examine how syntax evolved on the backs of symbols (i.e., words). Just a personal guess on my part, but I could see how "God" or "gods" was the first abstraction that necessitated a symbolic language. Perhaps the basic fear of death, as evidenced anthropologically by "grave goods" left behind for the deceased, was the kicker that brought on symbolic expression.

#16 Larv

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 10:27 AM

Interesting.

I interpret (Divine) Word as Voice.

For any voice to have meaning there must be a symbolic language with syntax to communicate said meaning.

That can be understood in human constructs, though I think it plausible to understand Voice of God as with and without Sound. Hard to conceive of human voice without sound, yes?

If God ever spoke without words or sound how could we ever know what he said? Even if one hears voices that aren't there one needs to hear them via a symbolic language. Otherwise it would just be noise.

I hardly believe that Divine Word within traditional theology refers to our (human) symbolic language. Though there is correlation. I can understand the connection being made. And I find interesting the hypothesis that the rise of symbolic language (verbal and textual) is what makes us human. Though it almost seems disadvantageous from an evolutionary perspective. As a tool for communication, advantageous. As a construct that pulls a veil (of interpretation) over physical reality, it seems not very well thought through. Introducing and allow for idea that the Word is "out there" rather than within, where the Voice is actually heard.

It's my private theory, I''l admit, and I haven't seen too many others approach the definition of human consciousness this way. Julian Jaynes and Noam Chomski come closest to my way of thinking, and they both have been refuted by conservative thinkers on the subject. I am not a conservative thinker on the subject, and I don't believe human consciousness is matter of brain parts or nervous tubules. Human consciousness is not analog, but digital. We even have evidence of human consciousness being taught to apes when Koko learned how to communicate with her trainer using a symbolic language with syntax.

#17 riper

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 10:30 AM

I beg to differ. Of course we can think without creating 'words in our minds'. Words are not necessary for thought, but vice versa. Take riding a bike for example. Mental words are not required to know how to balance on a bike when riding one. I know it surely feels like we think in a sort of "mentalese", but thought is surely not dependent on words.


when i think i dont form words in my head. i rather imaging things. for example, when i am reading books for my examination ( what ever book it is, say physics ) i memorise what i read by forming images of what i am reading in my head. and then when writing the exam i reviw this images. is it normal ?