Structuralism & Cognition

So I have expressed it here before, and Thursday’s discussion reminded me of it again. Language seems to structure our cognition. Can we ever have a thought that is not language based? If we did have such a thought could it have any meaning?

What I’m saying here is that the unit of analysis of thought is the morpheme.

Imagine thinking without meaning, or without words.

Here’s my counterexample though (maybe): You FEEL something. Many of you know my experiences of this last summer, and the AMAZING response of the HCI/D program. When I had visits in the hospital and received the things that people generously gave us, I felt something that I guess I’m going to call gratitude. That word though just doesn’t seem adequate to express what I felt at that time, and I’m starting to feel know upon reflection of those events. So what’s the deal? Was that feeling some kind of cognition that I isn’t based in language, or did I just make it part of language by attempting to give it a name? Are feelings something other than language, something outside of language? It would seem not since we name and use them regularly.

It’s also interesting that we’re using the philosophy of language, something that is NOT iconic, totally arbitrary to then talk about visual culture in Barnard, and interaction culture in this class. That says to me that language is not about writing, but about thought.

I would love some counterexamples here.

Some people say that language is logical, and I’m sure some people would love to agree with this and say that thought is logical. I would say that inasmuch as one can make statements that are grammatical and meaningful, but not logical that disproves that theory.

Wittgenstein says in his Philosophical Investigations #318 & 329 (That book is broken into paragraphs or snippets that are numbered)

Suppose we think while we talk or write–I mean, as we normally do–we shall not in general say that we think quicker than we talk; the thought seems not to be separate from the expression. ON the other hand, however, one does speak of the speak of though; of how a thought goes through one’s head like lightning; how problems become clear to us in a flash, and so on.

When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought.

Lest you think I’m appealing to authority here to prove my point, I’m still not sure, I’m not 100% convinced, but it seems right.So how does this apply to design: Choose your words carefully for they structure thinking. Isn’t this what we’ve been saying about pretty much everything? You better freakin’ watch what you do because you’re shaping and changing people’s attitudes with the things you design? So maybe this isn’t a ground breaking principle in design, at least in this course.

If I accept this account of thought and language as true, then I am led to believe that the thesis of this course is also true: that we need both the structuralist and the hermeneutic/phenomenological mode of understanding meaning to make sense of this world.  I’m not sure that Wittgenstein would agree, but I guess I’ll have to go back sometime in 2012 and reread him.

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