Friday, January 28, 2011

am i dead?

graduate school's homework requirements is outrageously time-consuming.
however, class discussions make it all come together & create some interesting facts.
for example, think about a dream that you've had. any dream since you've been alive.
have you ever realized that we dream in our native language?

language seems to be a huge buzzword in our classrooms lately.

our discussions of language in the multicultural art education class (regarding that little nugget on dreams up there^) made me think of the artwork of Wenda Gu.

in Dr. Siegesmund's class (arts and literacy), we discussed symbols, images, and language. here's a hot topic of discussion: can we have thought without language? (the answer is yes, though Dr. Siegesmund says that philosophy says that it's impossible)

think of it this way: if you were unable to read this post that i am typing, and only looked at the pictures of Wenda Gu's artwork, would you be able to think at all? you couldn't say "the colors look dirty, earthy, neutral tones." you could only look at the image, but be unable to describe it or thoroughly analyze it. you could, however, recognize that there are patterns- the waves in the fabric, dangling from the ceiling. you couldn't read the characters because it's not your native language... well, surprise. it's nobody's native language. Wenda Gu creates work that looks like it's in an Asian language, or even English, but it's not. It's not a language at all. It's just a series of fictitious characters (this can also be related to a lesson on stereotyping, but for the sake of this post on language, i won't go there. just think about it.)

So, can infants, who have not yet learned language or symbols (I'm talking a few months old) think? Elizabeth Spelke, a cognitive psychologist, says yes. Again, this goes against philosophy.
She does studies with infants 6 years and under, by giving them visual prompts. Her results? infants can think without a symbol system. John Dewey calls this "thinking in the relationships of qualities" & it is something that many claim does not exist.

This discussion (almost all of this information came from Dr. Siegesmund) reminded me of yet another Radiolab episode, titled, When Am I Dead? You can download the podcast on Itunes or listen to it here (or on the little thingy at the bottom of this post) The middle-ish of the episode focuses on neuroscientist Adrian Owen, who took people who were in a vegetative state, put them in a brain scanner, and asked them to think about playing tennis. They turned out to still be able to think, despite being unable to communicate using language.

So, what do you think? Can people still think without using language?

Think about it.

Radiolab: When Am I Dead?

1 comment:

  1. Katie, that is a really interesting subject to think about. It's funny b/c my boyfriend and I were just having this conversation a few days ago... What philosophers were ya'll looking at that were arguing that you cannot have thought without language?
    I believe it kinda has to depend on how you define "language". Infants and people who may never learn a verbal language can communicate in many different ways...