Okay, perhaps I have too much time on my hands. But this issue has been bugging me for a couple of years at least, and I have never had an answer from anyone. And I’m not particularly sure where to look anyway to find an answer, other than plowing through obvious tracts on brain physiology and evolution.
You see I got the idea from watching something or other on dogs and cats and how they think. And it occurred to me, that at some point in human evolution, hominids must have faced the same issue.
The question is exactly how do you think when you have no language? Ha! bet I caught you on that one. Have you ever thought of that? Do you have time in your normal lives to even contemplate such issues? Well, for whatever it means, I seem to. I fear this disease is catching. On the road today, the Contrarian in the midst of driving on the freeway with cars and trailer trucks zooming willy nilly left and right, he pointed to the glove box and said, “why did they call it a ‘glove box’ do you think? Why not the flashlight or tool box or map box or registration box?”
Well, that set me back a step or two. Like a gnat buzzing around my ear, interfering in my life, he drops this lovely little notion into my unprotected and not prepared for combat, ears, and I have to start contemplating that instead of the fine look of the passing cornfields. But we aren’t going to discuss glove boxes so just stop thinking about it if you were.
We are discussing thinking, in general, and thinking without language in particular. Now, I am firmly aware that all of us, at least those considered sane, and those not proficient in the meditative arts, are engaged in a general conversation with self all our waking hours. We chatter about the past, rerunning any number of old films about what could have been, what should have been, what didn’t happen, what did, and what we should have said, not said, and so on. We wander around the future in the same way, playing out plans and scenarios that we hope, want, plan, expect, are afraid, will happen to us or others we care about, love, dislike, hate, wish were dead in the near, middle or far future.
We chat along, as if there were indeed two of us, all the time explaining to self what the self is drudging up in memory. It’s all quite strange and odd when you come to think about it, but we all do it, and we don’t often talk about doing it. I don’t know if we are mildly embarrassed or what. We are somewhat curious about others doing it, since on occasion, we inquire, “penny for your thoughts,” or just the mundane, “whatcha thinkin’ about?”
Anyway, we spend a lot of time, and goodness knows how many words we might utter in this silent talk, if they were all written down. I’m rather surprised no one has done a dissertation on that, but of course, maybe they have. Given the output of the planet in terms of written material, I can hardly be expected to keep up with it all. It’s hard enough to keep track of the grocery list most weeks as it is.
So, there was a time before language. That seems obvious. Chimps don’t have a verbal language, and neither do the apes. We have a common ancestor, and we once were even more like them than we still are, so language developed from grunts and pointing, to grunts that had lilts and drops and became at some point multi-syllabic I assume. I assume, since I’m way too lazy to look all this stuff up. That’s what blogs are about, I trust somebody out there knows and can save me the trouble!
Anyway, when Oscar, (the hominid) had put the kid to bed in the cave, and the wife was tidying up the campfire, and Oscar was burping from a fine meal of mastodon, or cave lion, picking his teeth with a stick, and looking up into the night sky, he starts to wonder what that big old pock-marked grey thing is up there. How exactly does he contemplate it? How does he wonder? How does that conversation go with no words?
This drives me nuts to think of actually, since I spend some time every day, doing my darnedness to stop the yackety-yack of my head so I can ummmm, reach a higher plane of “being.” Inquiring minds want to know!
The best answer I’ve come up with is what I came up with for dogs and other less intellectually stellar creatures, namely that their heads are filled with pictures, that flash one after the other. Now with animals it may function crudely enough that they can’t string them together in long “movies” if you will. Which is why animals seem easily distracted into new pursuits so readily. Perhaps we can string pictures together in our mind that tells a story of sorts, and is akin to “thinking.”
How else do we “figure” out how to shape a cutting tool, or a spear or throwing spear? We must be able to control the sequence of pictures in some coherent manner than allows us to progress in “thinking” through a difficult problem with some degree of sophistication. Anyway, the more I think of it, the more my head hurts. If you have an answer, why I’d be happy to hear it.
By the by, in closing lets go to something completely different: I’m wondering what you like, dislike, would like more of, less of on this blog. I write first for me, but also because I think some of you enjoy reading. Too much churchy stuff, not enough? More politics? More humorous nonsense like this post? More reviews of the news today? Something else you’d like to see? Can’t say as I’ll comply, because of course this is a personal thing first and foremost, but I’ll consider ideas certainly with great interest. Let me know!