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View Full Version : Is language the brain's hypertext?



ColoradoGuy
01-16-2007, 07:50 AM
This is one I know little of, but I've heard so many off-hand cliché comments about the notion. The great strength of the brain is that, at least among cortical neurons, pathways are diffuse -- there are many different ways to get from place to place, as with the internet. I know next to nothing about AI, but I wonder if hypertext is to the internet as language is to the human brain. All you techno-geeks, any thoughts about that (so to speak)?

Medievalist
01-16-2007, 08:26 AM
Hypertext predates the Internet. No, really, stop laughing.

Medieval mss. are loaded with hypertext (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~slavman/hypertexts/); the Web and software (I produced my first commercial hypertext e-book in 1989) just offer a different user interface.

Canon tables (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Canon_Tables), which listed the equivalent passages across the four Gospels of the NT are hypertexts. The Talmud (http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html) is hypertext too.

And, yes, I think hypertext is very like a neural network.

ColoradoGuy
01-16-2007, 09:28 AM
Amazing. You ain't kidding about that digital medievalist handle you've got.

jsh
01-17-2007, 11:08 PM
The great strength of the brain is that, at least among cortical neurons, pathways are diffuse -- there are many different ways to get from place to place, as with the internet. I know next to nothing about AI, but I wonder if hypertext is to the internet as language is to the human brain. All you techno-geeks, any thoughts about that (so to speak)?
Do you mean that just as hyperlinks connect varied spots on the internet, language connects varied spots in the brain? I wouldn't agree that language does that, since varied bits can be connected without any real language component. For example, putting middle-aged rats in a high-stimulation environment will foster more synapse creation in those rats than in rats in a low-stimulaiton environment. They're making more interconnections, but there's not necessarily a language component that's driving the process.

Bartholomew
01-18-2007, 01:08 AM
I don't think in words; I think in sounds and images, which I then attempt to associate with words.

ColoradoGuy
01-18-2007, 01:14 AM
Do you mean that just as hyperlinks connect varied spots on the internet, language connects varied spots in the brain? I wouldn't agree that language does that, since varied bits can be connected without any real language component. For example, putting middle-aged rats in a high-stimulation environment will foster more synapse creation in those rats than in rats in a low-stimulaiton environment. They're making more interconnections, but there's not necessarily a language component that's driving the process.
Yeah, but rats don't have language. We do. And my basic argument is, to the extent we use language to think, then the brain is essentially using hypertext linkages. This brings us back to that question: how much of thought is driven by language?

ColoradoGuy
01-18-2007, 01:15 AM
I don't think in words; I think in sounds and images, which I then attempt to associate with words.
How do you know that?

arrowqueen
01-18-2007, 02:24 AM
Because it's his head.

I actually did a kind of informal survey on this (ie, I mugged everyone I knew and asked them.) Most people seem to have a combination of sounds, images and words - in varying proportions, depending on the person's natural bent.

For example, after we'd been on holiday in Amsterdam, my husband, who's an artist, sat and did a couple of pen and ink drawings, so accurate that a couple who saw them went 'Oh. We've been there, too.' - and he did this by looking at the pictures inside his head.

I could never do that in a month of Sundays because any pictures I get are so fleeting. Same with sounds. Even the 1812 Overture is just me going 'Da da da dum.' All I get is my own voice doing a constant running commentary on the world.

So what's inside your head? (And do you think I could get a grant to find out? Hmm?)

Medievalist
01-18-2007, 02:28 AM
So what's inside your head?

A peatbog. No really, I've got the scans to prove it . . .

ColoradoGuy
01-18-2007, 02:45 AM
A peatbog. No really, I've got the scans to prove it . . .
I love the peaty smell of Laphroig, but I think I used language to recall that fact.

ColoradoGuy
01-18-2007, 03:17 AM
But when I smell Laphroig Scotch, my instant mental transportation to all things peaty does not seem to use language. Which is why smells are like poetry -- a special kind of mental language.

jsh
01-18-2007, 08:05 AM
Yeah, but rats don't have language. We do.
We can't clearly demarcate humans from animals in this regard. We may be a cosmic leap ahead, but we're not a quantum leap ahead.

ColoradoGuy
01-18-2007, 08:11 AM
Yeah, but rats don't have language. We do.
We can't clearly demarcate humans from animals in this regard. We may be a cosmic leap ahead, but we're not a quantum leap ahead.
You mean animals speak with language? You serious there?

Medievalist
01-18-2007, 08:17 AM
But when I smell Laphroig Scotch, my instant mental transportation to all things peaty does not seem to use language. Which is why smells are like poetry -- a special kind of mental language.

Yeah, and smells are processed awfully close to the hind-brain . . .

jsh
01-18-2007, 05:49 PM
You mean animals speak with language? You serious there?
I'm most definitely serious when I say there's no quantum leap (www.amazon.com/Shadows-Forgotten-Ancestors-Carl-Sagan/dp/0345384725) between human and animal intelligence. There are similar organs in the brain that perform similar or identical functions (www.amazon.com/Principles-Neural-Science-Eric-Kandel/dp/0838577016/sr=1-1/qid=1169127351/ref=pd_bbs_1/105-4928530-9110063?ie=UTF8&s=books) in humans and animals. True, the absence of mamilian brains structures speaks against much thought going on in a gila monster's head, but the similarities speak in favor of thought going on in a dog's head or a rat's head. The number of synaptic connections is considered important for the quality of work the brain does, and those connections aren't created or necessarily stimulated by language. A smell brings to mind a rose without any language being needed in the process.

kdnxdr
01-19-2007, 09:31 AM
Koko is an excellent example of the capabilites of animals to communicate with language and symbols.

ColoradoGuy
01-20-2007, 12:31 AM
Here is a link (http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/EPS/PES-Yearbook/97_docs/burbules.html)to a fascinating essay about how the web and hyperlinks model the human learning process. It compares the ancients to the moderns: the notion of aporia, the idea of mental "lostness" explained in Plato's dialogue Meno, contrasted to Wittgenstein's complaint about the limitations of rules.

It's quite readable. Really. The author compares the concept of aporia to that feeling or disorientation we all have had, after clicking on a whole series of web links, when we find ourselves on a page and wonder how in the world we got there. Check it out.

kdnxdr
01-21-2007, 10:05 PM
Aruna posted something interesting in another thread that I thought might be of interest in this one:

http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/050907_schizotype_creative.html

If you look in the left hand corner of the first page of the article, you will find some other interesting links, as well.

Bartholomew
01-22-2007, 12:50 AM
How do you know that?

What ArrowQueen said--and because I associate the same series of images and sounds with words that mean the same thing in English, Español, and Duetsch. The exact same image in my mind applies for "River" as does "Rio." I decidely do not think with language.

MacAllister
01-22-2007, 05:40 PM
I can sort of understand that, Bart--I very much think in words, but the words and letters in my brain seem like I should be able to pick them up. They have shape and form and color and weight.

robeiae
01-22-2007, 06:17 PM
Here is a link (http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/EPS/PES-Yearbook/97_docs/burbules.html)to a fascinating essay about how the web and hyperlinks model the human learning process.Skynet. Great...