Mentalese – the internal symbols we use for thought and thinking. My development diverges from Steven Pinker’s position that mentalese is a species-wide, innate function that is unaffected by the process of learning a language.
Mentalese has two distinct modes. The mind thinks with two parallel and simultaneous streams. One is with abbreviated language worked on with logic. The other is patterns arranged by similarities. The pop culture meme of the right brain operating through intuition and the left brain with words and logic ignored the periodic comparison of the two streams as perceptions rise from sensory experience through amalgamation with memory, which is discussed in Dual Process Theory. Also, intuition is given a better definition here as pattern similarity arising through the Almost Gate.
Similarity Thought Stream
Since language (linguistic symbols) has been the default approach to mentalese, let me start with similarity.
Initial sensory perception, whether visual, aural, tactile, taste, or odor, does not use words. It is a number of steps into the visual recognition path before words can be attached to a clump of visual points. As is well-known, though it can be easily overlooked, there do not exist words for every physical feature. A classic example if that no one, but a rare physician, would know the name for the two lines with a downward curve between them that rests under the nose of most every person.
So what you might ask? The importance is that, in a person’s decision-making about any comment or behavioral response involving that feature, it is not a word that is being used for consideration. It is the pattern of the physical feature that is used.
Two patterns, perhaps one from immediate sensation and the other from memory, that both surmount the Almost Gate, fire the same neurons downstream. They cause similar neural activity. They are treated as the same.
Language Thought Stream
Our language has a name for many, many important categories, not that anyone of us knows all of them to think with them. Language is a given categorization of phenomena. Think of it. We are given categories to arrange our experiences by. It’s a gift of our language’s progenitors which relieves us of the burden of discovering relationships and differences between phenomena, and thereupon work our logic on them.
When we think without need to communicate to others, we do not need to bother with much of the mechanism of language that is for interpersonal communication. For example, the point of view is ours without need for statement or consumption of mental capacity. Another difference is additional verbiage, that would be necessary to make our idea clear and not misleading to others, does not need to exist in our personal ruminations. That frees more working memory for additional content, broadening our perspective.
Logic is not independent of language. Sure, one can take logic courses in college, but we all have access to folk logic, the logic built into our language. We have if, then, no, never, and always. And for the more sophisticated thinker, language gives us gradations of likely and chance to use in our ratiocination, However, most logic occurs as automatic, although we can verbalize it after-the-fact, it happens without our conscious calculation.
Interaction at the Concept Elevator
The Concept Elevator is my term for the numerous transitions that both verbal depictions and patterns go through with increasing abstraction (loss of detail) in their journey from sensory reception to decision-making. With the corpus callosum allowing both cortical hemispheres to compare its result with the other side, there are many times when one stream can affect the other. Since there are about 100 steps from perception to reaction, there are that many stops for the concept elevator.
Why Do We Have Two Streams of Thought
Why do humans have two streams of thought?
The first reason is that all animals use the neural threshold and the almost gate. So similarity is the base mode, but it has flaws. Treating similar patterns as if they are identical, can give rise to errors in decision-making. A great but terrible example is what we call jumping to conclusions.
So, somehow, an evolutionary process developed the use of words for commonplace objects and then onto actions and consequences, and abstractions. Our intellectual debt to the caveman Einsteins and savanna Curies of language is often overlooked, since it is the same humongous amount for every single person. However, for all of language’s power, there are two problems with relying on it exclusively.
First, language allows paradoxical statements – a man states, “I am lying.” If he is lying, then he’s telling the truth that he’s lying. Self-referential statements are rife with illogical statements like the liar paradox. Any consequence can be concluded when there are paradoxes in the starting premises.
As debilitating as that could be despite our best efforts, an even worse problem is that logic is sterile. One can only deduce truths that are embedded in the starting premises. Thus we are limited to conclusions ensconced in language that we can shake out.
Before you make up your mind on a that last statement, let me describe the solution proposed by the hypo-deductive method of science. A scientist posits the hypothesis, arrived at most mysteriously (I label it the similarity process). That hypothesis becomes a premise added to existing knowledge. The hypothesis and those from existing knowledge are logically examined for new consequences. An experiment is performed to see if the new conclusion is borne out.
In this fashion, scientists are able to grow existing knowledge and discard erroneous hypotheses.
Although scientists and philosophers of science often lament that they don’t understand where hypotheses come from, they advance knowledge by logically melding new hypotheses to it.
Lest you think on scientists do this, let me just point to financial gurus. They use an analogous method. There is a body of knowledge about factors affecting stock prices. To that, stock market players add their personal hypotheses additional ideas. Consider the different ways people viewed the 2007-2008 stock market meltdown, a replay of 1929 or not, and how that belief affected their actions.