The Evaluation Of The Relationship Between Language And Thought Hypothesis

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This is true even though water is H20 in the glass. This introduces us to a distinction between sense and reference, different senses related to the same referent. In the case of language this is often referred to in terms of extension and intension. The extension of a concept is the set of things it picks out in the world, the intension of a concept is often thought of as the meaning of the word. The concept WATER has H20 as its extension, and something akin to “a clear, odourless substance that fills lakes and falls from the sky” as its intension.

That we can recombine our thoughts to make an infinite number of new thoughts, not only systematically but also creatively is preserving the productivity of thought. “For example, it has probably never occurred to you before that no grass grows on kangaroos. But once your attention is drawn to the point, it’s an idea that you are quite capable of entertaining; one which, in fact, you are probably inclined to endorse” (Fodor, 1987). It encompasses the fact that although there is a finite amount of thoughts we can think in a lifetime, there are an infinite number of thoughts we have the competence to entertain. An example of this would be:

Frank shouts at Simon

Frank shouts at Simon’s Son

Frank shouts at Simon’s son’s, son

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Frank shouts at Simon’s son’s, son’s, son etc.

We can also entertain thoughts about non-existent states of affairs, things such as Unicorns, flying Whales or the present King of France (who may be bald), this is preserving the intentional inexistence of thought. These need to be taken into consideration and are the last desiderata of thought that serve as a motivation for the LOTH.

In the 1980s an alternative to the LOTH was introduced known as connectionism. This theory suggests that memory is stored throughout the brain in connections between neurons. There is a semantic network involved whereby related concepts are linked by pathways and memories are envisioned as a complex network of nodes that stand for labels or concepts. These nodes, or units of memory, are connected and one thought about one node will, in tangent, trigger a thought about another node and so on, and so on. There is a conceptual hierarchy, a multilevel classification based on common properties where sub-concepts are organised under broader concepts which are, in turn, organised under meta-concepts, wherein related units are clustered together making similar items easier to recall.

The functionalist account of representation in the connectionist theory is that elements in the brain, such as neurons, when behaving in a certain way may be symbols themselves and that the processing of these symbols is like the computation of computers. These representations are multi-realisable so if symbols have the same properties as language there is a comparison that can be drawn here between mentalese and computer machine code. The thought that mental properties will reduce to mental properties, like neurons firing, is known as reductive materialism.

The LOTH suggests that mental language (mentalese) is analogous to spoken language in several aspects – that there are words and sentences that have meaning, that words can be joined and manipulated into sentences and that each sentence’s meaning depends in a systematic way upon the meanings of its component words and the way those words are combined. Consider the mentalese word GUITAR that picks out or denotes guitar and the mentalese word INSTRUMENT that denotes instrument. Once combined these words can form the mentalese sentence GUITARS ARE INSTRUMENTS, this sentence has the direct meaning of guitars are instruments, and the belief in this would mean that you stand in an appropriate psychological relation to the sentence, psychological relations are things such as belief, doubt, hope, desire etc – these beliefs and desires are about things and are what make things happen. Now consider the mentalese sentence JIMI HENDRIX PLAYS GUITAR, using deductive inference we can morph this sentence into JIMI HENDRIX PLAYS AN INSTRUMENT. A succession of mental states is then entered into that express those sentences. Therefore, it would appear that the motivations behind the LOTH seem to point to a theory of cognition that is representational and one that is structured in a language like fashion. An alternative approach, connectionism, can also be viewed as a representational theory, with nodes that behave in a certain way acting as symbols for this language.

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