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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 06-Aug-10


Friday 06-August-10

Logic <> language

When you solve a problem you talk to yourself in logical language, such as 'if I do this then that will not happen'. So is language necessary for logic? And what about language itself? Are the laws of grammar not just a set of logical rules? So are logic and language so intertwined to be virtually the same thing? What if language didn't exist? Could you still have logic? Perhaps so - after all, many animals exhibit some form of logical behaviour. So is language about more complex logic?

In fact the answer to the question is 'partly'. Logic is not equal to language (or, as a computer programmer might write, 'logic <> language'). A recent brain-scanning research has found that parts of the brain that are used for logical thinking overlap with language areas. Subjects were given two types of argument to think about. One was a pure form of logic, such as "If both X and Z then not Y", whilst the other was based on grammatical rules, such as "It was X that Y saw Z take" that needed interpretation of language-related elements such as "object" and "subject".

What has this to do with changing minds? Well persuasive arguments can have many logical arguments embedded in language, so combining them is good. But what about the non-overlap? What is the persuasive logic that is outside language? How can you persuade logically but non-linguistically?

Monti, M.M., Parsons, L.M. and Osherson, D.N. (2009). The boundaries of language and thought in deductive inference. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Your comments

Regarding your paragraphs on language and logic: Surely it?s all more fundamental than this. Language is based on symbolic reference. Symbols evolved from our perceptions. Perception has evolved out of the physical necessity to understand and manipulate our environment for our survival. All animals have evolved different apparatus to perceive their environment according to their bodily needs, hence various species perceive their environment in radically different ways. This perceptual apparatus is literally making the world logical for us according to our needs as a particular species. Therefore logic is a fundamental constituent mechanism for survival. Language is a particular representation of logic; language is predicated on defining things, and we can only define that which we perceive to be. To follow on from this, and answer your question ?how can you persuade logically but non-linguistically? in art, perspective or depth of field perfectly exemplifies a logical representation of the environment non-linguistically. There is evidence that even some cave drawing demonstrates this knowledge. Similarly photographic imagery by Muybridge accurately demonstrated the motion of a galloping horse without language and logically settled a very long standing argument.

-- Peg

Dave replies:
Hi Peg. Yes, it's all a construct, really. It's also relative.

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