When Helen Keller, a born dumb, deaf and blind, first discovered the connection
between 'WATER' spelled out on her finger and 'That cool wonderful thing
gushing over my hand', her long journey of learning language began.
This story is a very symbolic one, often quoted for explaining what language
is. Similarly, some time in its infancy, a child 'suddenly' realizes what
words exists for. This finding is a very inspirational one, but inherent
in every child. It is evident that every child has a latent capacity to
learn a language, and this is genetically equipped in his brain.
No matter how hard you try to instruct a chimpanzee to learn words, he
will learn not more than 50 words, though he is, to be sure, aware of the
connection between words and the substances. This means that man can learn
a language, of course, but apes are also capable of learning words at very,
very rudimentary stage.
The very connection I have just referred to here is indispensable to understanding
the complicated process of thinking; man can manipulate symbols in reference
to the reality of outer world. He can distinguish what he perceives through
his sensory organs from what he produces in his mind, thus he tries to
mentally relate to each other.
What is impenetrable to us is something that links between substances outside
and symbols. I will name this BLACK BOX. It is something like a cloud,
a sensation Helen Keller once felt when she put her hand in the gushing
water. The black box process is thought to be common to all animals, even
to amoebas in the most primitive form. Since they don't have any effective
way to symbolize their sensation, they end up with shouting or cooing or
else, according to the anatomical characteristics of their vocal or some
other demonstrative organs.
Only when Home sapiens evolved could they establish effective ways to put
their sensation into some definite symbols, thanks to their elaborate structure
of larynx, which enabled them to make various vocal distinction. In this
way, we can trace back to the beginning of language. The very appearance
of language, with its strict grammatical structure, seems in turn to have
stimulated, or in other words, to have created thinking ;process through
the black box. This interplay of language and thinking has caused enlargement
of brain size, and more reliable means of communication among them.
The black box process, which has been rapidly unveiled by neuro- physiology,
is the one that enabled him to sense MEANING. When someone says, 'Oh, I've
got it' or I can make out what she is saying', he has sensed some meaning,
but has not yet put them into words appropriately. Meaning is readily waiting
for him to pick up and to be changed into words any time. For example,
a seasoned speaker, filled with what he is eager to say in his mind, which
may be picked out as a few key words, will stand on the pulpit; he never
has an elaborate manuscript learned by heart in advance.
Meaning is like a cloud and condensed into drops of water any time. It
doesn't have to be arranged systematically. It is not until it is translated
into words that it has a definite form. Otherwise, his brain would burst
into pieces for too much burden. The room for vocabulary storage is not
so spacious. Meaning is different from sensation in complexity and logic,
which means they are at different evolutionary stage. It may be said that
black box process has evolved out of sensation into meaning.
We can see this relation between meaning and language in learning a foreign
language. A beginner will translate his mother tongue into another language
word by word. But in due course, he will directly speak the language out
of what he means to say. At this stage, he is called a fluent speaker.
Meaning is universal, because all the languages in the world can be possibly
translated. This means, even if people speak different languages, 'what
they mean' stands on the essentially common ground. In this way, language
is connected with thinking process through meaning.
Then, what is the characteristics of human thinking? There are two trends.
Needless to say, thinking is a kind of behavioral adaptation without actual
trial and error. Put into a maze, a mouse will bump against the wall, be
lost, run about again and again, and finally reach its goal. Human beings
(and some bright apes and dogs, too) can solve some problems without so
much as bothering to stand up.
A chimpanzee, given a long stick, will reach the bananas hanging from the
ceiling, along with a stool. He can grasp the situation as a whole and
the SIMPLIFY the process by discarding unnecessary steps. This may be the
beginning of induction. On the other hand, picking up a stool and a stick,
which are no more than ordinary objects, represents constructive behavior
towards an end, thus COMPLICATEs the situation. In it deduction is burgeoning.
These two capacities, simplifying and complicating, seem to work hand in
hand in the process of thinking. Then let's see the language side of these
two. Man, in his black box, picks up only the useful words in the cloud
of meaning through imaginary trial and error. This corresponds to simplification
process. What a chess player is doing is a typical example of this. And
'He struck on an idea' shows the moment of picking up something important
or 'cue'. This may be said to be a process of making a principle.
Once he hits upon it, he begins to add something around it, or in other
words, change the combination; words are imaginary sticks and stools. Materials
are floating in the sea of meaning. He will pick some up, discard others
and finally build up a definite form in a sentence according to grammatical
rules. This may be said to be a process of creative thinking.
In a human brain, the function of thinking and language is inseparable.
In the near future, the role language plays must be completely unveiled
physiologically. Only then will it become clear that this miraculous relationship
between language and thinking is a product of evolution which dates back
to the beginning of life. And above all, all the languages on the earth
has a single, universal feature that all human beings have in common. So
far it remains a black box.
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