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can't really relate to that.

I often have thoughts that can't be phrased in language

The claim isn't that it's impossible to have a thought unless you have language for it, but rather that having language for something makes it easier. It's a close relative of Kolmogorov Complexity and a variety of theorems from machine learning regarding hypothesis classes - different languages have more or less effective ways to express the same concept, and choosing a language with better notation for a given topic can make that topic easier to handle. In many cases (especially technical topics) this change makes the difference between the topic being completely intractable and being a two-week unit in eighth grade.

As a concrete example, consider mathematics. I can mostly handle the theory behind integration by eyeballing it and using spatial intuition, but I can't get any farther than that without introducing language that allows me to precisely circumscribe concepts and relate them precisely.

edit: also note that "the thoughts that I'm having don't use words" doesn't mean that those thoughts aren't using language. It's just not a language that you could serialize to something that could come out of your mouth - it's some private, unique internal representation that your brain has constructed for it to work with concepts on its own. Still a language, for the purposes of this discussion, since that internal representation will have all the same properties as above - some people have better internal representations for particular topics.

> I often have thoughts that can't be phrased in language

Is it that they can't be phrased or that you can't phrase them? I often have thoughts that I can't express through drawing, but that doesn't mean it is an impossibility. I think that we often ignore that the act of putting ideas or thoughts to words is a skill that can be made easier through training.

That does not mean that all human experience is communicable. In fact, internal mental states are only communicable to the extent that they are universal. Suppose I am eating cake and you ask me what it tastes like. I say strawberry.

Ok, but now supposed that you never tasted strawberrys. How do I describe in language the flavor of strawberry to someone who never tasted them? I can make an approximation based on flavors you know, but once you taste strawberrys you realize that, although what I said is true, it does not convey the sensation of eating strawberrys at all.

Even more: the less types of fruit you have tasted, the harder it is to convey an approximation of the flavor of strawberrys through language. So a lot hinges on culture and shared experiences.

Languages come from different cultures and sets of shared experiences, so it is natural that they develop more conceptual density in some things than others, and it is also natural that the grammar more naturally fits a certain way of thinking and seeing the world. You can discuss German philosophy in English, but it is a bit clunky. If you ever had the experience of learning a foreign language, you probably felt that you achieved proficiency when you were finally able to "bend" your thought process like the locals do.

Aldous huxley describes the idea that our own minds are "island universes" and that the way those we call "geniuses" think is an experience that can be described but never fully communicated, "that there is little or no common ground of memory to serve as a basis for understanding or fellow feeling. Words are uttered, but fail to enlighten"


> flavor

I can't turn senses into words. I can't stare at a scene and capture the equivalent of a photograph by talking. But any thoughts I have about the strawberries or the scene, I can put into words.

Really? I don't, at least not that I've noticed. Can you give a rough description or something of one of those?

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