Daily Archives: 20 February 2005

Disconnecting Thought and Language

BBC News recently reported results from a new study that seems to show that certain mathematical operations in the human mind can continue despite loss of verbal syntax.

The study undermines the assumption that language is the key quality that makes our thought processes more advanced than those of other animals.

“We are kicking against the claim that it is language that allows you to do other high order intellectual functions,” lead research Rosemary Varley, from the University of Sheffield, told the BBC News website.

Severe aphasia

The researchers made the discovery by studying three patients who were suffering from severe aphasia – they had lost the ability to understand, or produce, grammatically correct language.

For example, although they understood the words “lion”, “hunted” and “man”, they could not tell the difference between the sentences “The lion hunted the man” and “The man hunted the lion”.

But when they were presented with sums like 52 minus 11 and 11 minus 52, which were structured in a similar way, they had no problem.

“Our patients can clearly do those problems which show the same reversibility,” said Dr Varley. “So that shows they have a good insight into these very abstract principles.

“Despite profound language deficits these guys showed advanced cognitive abilities, which indicates considerable autonomy between language and thinking.”

The new findings contradict previous studies which used brain imaging techniques to work out how people process mathematics.

Leave a comment

Filed under language