Thought Codes.

Let us start then by looking at the various forms of thought. Using codes is how all organisms interact with reality. Thus the biological processes including thought are dependent on codes. Our whole body is coded in long molecules called DNA. If words are clearly a code, why can we not then have other codes, using different sensory input other than sound? This is exactly what we are conjecturing about here. We are speculating that thought may be encoded in several different types of codes not just the internal monologue in silent sounds of language.

Types of Thought. 

There are many mental functions that could be called thought.

  1. The Building of a Personal Map of Reality. This involves the formation of conjectures, the testing of those conjectures and the detection of errors and the elimination of those errors through revision of those conjectures. These processes are most essential to problem solving. Forming conjectures, testing conjectures, and revision of conjectures also underlie the formation of concepts and the symbols that represent those concepts. This is simply a special way of abbreviating conjectures.

  2. The Play Back of Unedited Experiences. This involves what seems to be a complete record of all our experiences since birth and perhaps even prenatal, which presumably are recorded somewhere in the brain. This is envisaged as a full sensory recall including the past emotions we experienced at the time. Such experiences overlay and presumably interfere with the current sensory intake and the current emotions. This kind of experience seems to be of dubious validity and rare in long term memory, but it has been reported to be brought out under hypnosis in therapy sessions or by the implantation of electrodes in the brain. Total sensory recall would have many problems deriving from its tendency to interfere with current reality. Even partial re-experiencing of former sensory intake would be highly disruptive of current reality. To use such recall people would need to pay attention to what is currently happening while also paying close attention to the recalled sensory experience.

  3. Dreaming and Day Dreaming. This involves what seems to be random playback of incomplete experiences and reconstruction of them into play like vignettes, usually not involving full sensory recall. These involve only partial recall of past experience and are often held together by a thread from recent experience. These experiences are somehow edited together by the mind and have some function in building our personal maps of reality. Dreams while asleep tend to be more vivid and probably have greater sensory detail, while day dreams tend to be more consciously controlled by the dreamer, such as fictitious fantasies.

  4. Recall by Reconstruction. This involves what seems to be the building up of conscious memories in the mind from clues in the unconscious. While this kind of recall is more prone to error, it is the type of recall most used by our brains. This kind of recall allows for bits of memory to be lost or unavailable and yet for a complete memory to come to mind. This kind of recall also allows for the building of new pathways to the memory every time the memory is recalled. Every recalling creates links which can be used as mental pathways to the memory, it both ads further data to be retrieved and makes it more likely to be found. Its weakness is that, the more it is retrieved, the more likely it is to stray from the original meaning and accuracy of the memory.

  5. Recognition and Discrimination. This involves the matching of patterns. It tends to be instantaneous. We see an object and we know what it is. We hear something and we recognize the sound. We taste something and it is familiar. Such processes are going on all the time and we hardly notice them. In fact we probably only notice it when it is difficult to discern where one object resembles another or one sound is like another. For skilled and knowledgeable people this process can be quite complex as in hunches, insight and intuition.

  6. Understanding. This involves an explanation of current experience or perception. Some of our perceptions are interpreted by our map of reality by slotting it into our preconceived views. But when we reach a new understanding, our personal map of reality interprets what has happened in a new way, causing the map to be changed. Mostly this is instantaneous. But sometimes it takes a little while in coming which again can appear like a hunch an intuition or insight.

  7. Creative Thought. This involves elements of all the above processes especially daydreaming, conjecture formation and, of course, logical conscious analysis. This process can also occur in the unconscious mind and again can be seen as hunches, insight and intuition, but comes mostly to those who have a motivation, are immersed in their discipline, or even possessed by what can seem to be an obsession. Some very creative people seem to visualize objects and actions in their minds, which seems likely to be a conscious and controllable form of the same processes.

  8. Internal Dialogue. This involves the process of speaking internally to ourselves. To do this we use a code or language that we have gradually learned from birth. If we are bilingual we may use elements from both languages and sometimes our internal dialogue may occur in either one or both or both our languages. We use this code for many things and it is not restricted just to language at all but rather language holds it together even as it does our psyche. The code includes a rhythm of intonation, the emphasis and stress given various sounds, tones, pauses without sound and of course music. It is also the medium in which we perform logical analysis to interact with the world. This internal dialogue seems all very normal until we start to think about how people who are deaf from birth might think or how Hellen Kellar could have thought at all.   

Thought modes and codes.

We are all aware that we think, and further we tend to believe that we think only in words, yet we are aware that the content of our thought often includes various impressions from our other senses especially images. And sometimes these are difficult to verbalize. It is thus true that the language of words cannot be uniquely essential to thought. People who have been deaf from birth would have no way of understanding or creating a verbal language, yet we know they communicate very well with sign language. It is therefore inevitable that we must assume they do not think in sounds but rather in a code derived from their sign language (in pictorial images). There is also another way in which people can communicate made up of touch and the feeling of muscles as they are activated in action and movement. This can be further developed to provide a highly complex communication code as has been made clear by people like Helen Keller who was both blind and deaf. Such people probably do not think in sounds or pictures unless they were born like Keller able to see or hear.

A personal map of reality clearly records and organizes all sensory input not only sight and sound but including information from the balance organ, the various taste receptors and from the sense of smell. It seems likely however, that the principle glue that holds all these impressions together is the formal code that each human group uses for communication which in most cases is a verbal language. Indeed once formal language is formed, it is used for the necessary and important formulation of conjecture, the testing of it, and the revision of it. This implies that the development of a personal map of reality may be impossible without language of some sort developing. Likewise, understanding also becomes dependent on language. And of course human language is the most common form for human internal dialogue with ourselves. All these activities require a code because it is a shorthand way of creating concepts and thus a shorthand for knowledge itself. We can use words to symbolize concepts rather than needing to fully recall the whole concept. Thus we can manipulate concepts quickly and easily. However this site will try to show that two other modes in which a comprehensive thought code must not only exist but that are each an important integral part of the of whatever the final code developed for communication and thought. Thus there must be at least three modes or mediums in which such codes can be formed or take place. 

Three thought codes. 

There seems to be three main thought codes humans use. 

Although there are many more senses than these three, none of these others seem likely to be viable as a sensory experience in which a code for the purposes of communication could be formed and be used. Of the usually accepted five human senses only three seem to have been observed being used by humans for communication. These are sight, hearing and a combination of action and touch. These are not exactly thought codes but rather are sensory mediums in which  in which such a thought code can be formed and take place. As stated above observation of people who are deaf and those who are deaf and blind lead us to believe there is not just a single verbal code that can be used to organize the mind but rather three separate possible types of codes.

The manipulation of concepts can only be performed by means of a code formed primarily in a single sensory mode. It can be used for thinking, for solving problems, for recalling or for communicating with others. These seem to take place in only one of three possible sensory modes or mediums: 

Memory codes. 

Memory is a part of thought as has been indicated above and so if there are three sensory mediums in which thought is constructed then there must similarly be three sensory mediums in which memory is constructed. I have chosen three words, therefor, that were used in past time to describe memory codes. It seems that although we have memories of taste and smell, in humans these seem to be too restricted for forming a code which can interact with itself to build maps or a model of external reality. Such models must be necessary part of any medium in which true thought can operate.  That leaves the following possibilities which are:

  1. "Enactive Code" which is based on symbolic actions or touches which also stand for concepts.
  2. "Iconic Code" which is based on symbolic pictures which stand for concepts.
  3. "Echoic Code" which is based on symbolic auditory words which stand for concepts.

Enactive Code.  

This is the mode made up of touch and the feeling of muscles as they are activated in action and movement derived from the Middle English word enacten meaning to do. This mode or medium may make make possible the building of a code that is the code in which infants are able to make their initial thoughts.

Jean Piaget, developed the idea that infants begin to think i.e. form theories and then test them in a kind of abbreviated motor code. Piaget noticed that babies would often perform an abbreviated set of movements before actually making a proper attempt to do something. His idea was that this motor code would eventually be internalized to the point that the child would solve problems in his/her head before attempting anything. There would be no external movement but the movement would be experienced in the child's head. Thus the child could deduce, practice and anticipate before actual performance of an action. In other words the child is thinking not in words but in an enactive code. 

Piaget gives an example of infants in solving their early problems using actions of an abbreviated form that he believed become symbolic action concepts. Here is the following illustration from an experiment conducted with his daughter Lucienne.

At the time Lucienne is just a baby. she has almost no words and probably very few concepts of any sort. He gives his daughter a small box that has been opened slightly leaving a slit though which a pretty gold chain can be seen. Lucienne makes many attempt to get her fingers into the box and get the chain but the slit is too small. For an adult the solution to Lucenne's problem is obvious. In order to get the chain she must slide the box open. She however has no words, how can she think about opening the box? In fact what she does is mime the action of opening with her mouth. Now she knows what has to be done she has worked it out in mime. The rest is easy she does not hesitate.

"She looks at the slit with great attention; then several times in succession, she opens and shuts her mouth, at first slightly, then wider and wider!

[Then]...Lucienne unhesitatingly puts her finger in the slit, and instead of trying as before to reach the chain, she pulls so as to enlarge the opening. She succeeds and grasps the chain."

These actions are external abbreviated and symbolic actions which relate to the solving of a problem in a symbolic way. We can assume that this symbolic ability is eventually internalized much as speech will be later. After all it is a proven fact that adults can improve their skill in doing things simply by imagining doing it. They practice in their heads or in their imagination. This ability to mentally practice is no doubt a left over from enactive thought. From this we might suppose that the first kinds of concepts that infants form are of this enactive sort. Also many of the actions we perform, we manage without considering performing them in words. This is because much of what we do does not require thought in the form that we understand in language but is seemingly automatic or as the behaviorist like to call it a reflexive.

Of course this behaviorist view of looking at motor activity as reflexes is far too simple. It seems more likely that we follow implied, or motor, or enactive conjectures and that these are mostly rehearsed mental programs (what Piaget calls schemas) or habits. While we often say to people "think about what you are doing" the fact is, that performing actions without internal dialogue with ourselves can be vastly more efficient. This however does not preclude the idea of conjuring up several possible scenarios before choosing a particular action which could be viewed as a kind of enacive thinking. On the other hand thinking in words about an action, say in ballet for instance, may interfere with the performance of that action decreasing its precision, grace and timeliness. 

When we act without thinking in words we may or may not be taping into this primitive enactive code. However, it may well be that with effort we can tap into using this enactive code and in doing so we can greatly extend our memory, our understanding and our ability to learn generally. That this code can be further developed to provide a highly complex communication code as has been mentioned before and made undeniable by people like Helen Keller who were blind and deaf yet managed to perform at a high intellectual level of expertise and intelligence.

Iconic Code.

This is another mode or medium in which a code can be and is built which may be an intermediary means of internal communication and concept building before a child has developed any competence with a language. It is derived from the Greek word eikon meaning image. It is essential for recognition when we recognize something visually. What we are seeing is matched against a visual symbolic entity. When we see a familiar object we mentally identify it without having to think. We have built up through our childhood by process of elimination and addition a general symbolic visual representation which can be used in matching for recognition. It is suggested that these visual symbols make up a code very similar in nature to a verbal code and that it may generally be referred to as iconic code. The main difference is that iconic code is not normally based on a language used for communication with others. Instead it appears to be a much better medium for building object concepts and internal self communication than enactive code. 

Jerome Brunner believed that many of the properties of images and visual code (iconic code) arise out of and are attributable to motor code or as it is often called enactive code. This, of course, is entirely in keeping with the idea that each thing learned is built on what was learned before. This connection between actions and images has been verified to some extent by the discovery of mirror neurons in the brain. The study of mirror neurons has shown that images are inextricably linked to motor plans for actions in our brains. For instance, on observing an object, such as a cup, the same mirror neurons become active as those involved in the action of picking up the cup. Of course the observation of someone picking up a cup directly stimulate these neurons preparing us to also pick up a cup.

It may be speculated that this code is very much relied on by children before they develop the ability to speak their native language and probably for a considerable time after. It may be that children can visualize and manipulate these symbols in a way much like adults have learned to manipulate verbal code. They would use it to think, solve problems, to communicate with themselves. 

While young children do not have sufficient vocabulary for them to verbalize such experiences, there are gifted adults who are occasionally able to perform such feats as mental visualization even though they were not born deaf. John Holt describes such an experience in his book "How Children Learn" as follows:-

"One bright summer day some friends took me to the Haystack School of Arts and crafts in Maine. There, for the first time I saw a hand loom,"

"After looking at the machine a while and listening to this informed talk, I felt the faint beginnings of anxiety. A hand loom is a very open machine; all the parts of it can be clearly seen. It seemed to me that after some careful looking and reasoning I ought to be able to figure out how this machine worked. But I couldn't. It looked like nothing but a jumble of and confusion of little parts, wires, and scraps of wood. None of it made any sense at all. nor could I think how to make sense of it."

"And as we drove a most extraordinary thing began to happen. I was not thinking about the loom; as my host was a potter, we were talking mostly about the pottery. But as we talked, a loom began slowly to put itself together in my mind. There is no other way to describe it. Suddenly, for no reason, the image of a particular part would suddenly appear in my consciousness, but in such a way that I understood what the part was for. When I say 'understood', I don't mean that some kind of verbal explanation went along with it. I mean that I could see what the part was for and what it did. I could almost see it doing its work. If I had been building a loom and had had that part in my hand I would have known where to put it."

"This loom-building process was very slow. It would be interesting to have a record of the order in which the parts of the loom appeared and assembled themselves, but I have none. Seeing that something important was happening in the non-verbal non-conscious part of my mind, I did not want to look too hard at the process, lest I bring it to a stop. Also I had no way of knowing, at any time, how much farther it would go. When the first part of the loom appeared in my surprised consciousness, I had no reason to believe that other parts would later appear in the same way. However they did, some during our trip home, others during the rest of the day, some even the following day. By the end of that day, a loom had made itself in my mind. There was a working model of a loom in there. If I had to build a loom, I would have known roughly what parts were needed and where they went."

If children possess this kind of ability, it seems likely that most adults lose the ability to manipulate this code as they become more reliant on a verbal code. What we do not use we lose. We are well aware that good communication makes use of many visual signals such as posture and facial expressions. It seems likely that this is also included in constructing conjecture for our functioning mental models. However a few adults will tell you that they can bring up visual images and rearrange them or manipulate them in their minds. Such people often have very clear visual memories also. Such adults are sometimes said to have eidetic memories. It may well be that this is uncommon and unnecessary and may act in a few adults as a back up or redundancy system. Obviously such a code would be used extensively, by those people born deaf, in thought and memory as well as for communication. In this case the principle glue that would hold it together could be centered around the visual symbols of sign language or written words.

It may well be that with effort we can tap into using this iconic code and in doing so and in doing so we can greatly extend our memory, our understanding and our ability to learn generally, we may make ourselves infinitely more flexible. Likewise this code is clearly further developed to provide a highly complex communication code as has been mentioned before and made clear by people who have been deaf from birth and who perform at a high intellectual level. 

Echoic Code.  

Echoic code is the language in which most normal people who are not deaf, think, and is derived from the Greek word ekho meaning the same as echo. It is the code that we use when we are having an inner conversation with ourselves (perhaps more of an inner monologue than a dialogue). It is words (sounds) used to symbolize concepts which may have developed from any kind of sensory input. It is the code that we mostly use when solving problems. But more importantly, it is the code in which the complex conjectures essential for building a personal model are formulated. It is the main code used in constructing the conjectures from which in turn our personal maps of reality are constructed. Without it no functioning consciousness, as we know it, could be constructed, for it makes possible the verbal mental structure (the usual cognitive structure). It links everything together. However it is not exactly the same as our native language. It is all the sounds we use to communicate, not just the formal ones we call language. It is inflections and it is also this complete range of sounds that we use when we think such things as music. It is consciousness. Without this code everything is locked away as if hidden as behind a closed door.

However this code is not formed independent of other senses and is in fact built on the foundations of concepts that existed long before its formation. As discussed above it seems most likely that infants first form concepts in enactive code then gradually morph them into visual concepts and finally translate them into verbal concepts. 

The connection between images and words or phrases has been verified by the discovery of mirror neurons in the brain. The study of mirror neurons has shown that words are inextricably linked to both visual images and motor plans for actions in our brains. Hearing, speaking or even thinking the word kick, will activate the mirror neurons involved in the action of kicking something. 

It would therefore follow, that the concepts behind words would be composed of, or at least have a visual component, which in turn would have an enactive component. This is easy to understand in terms of objects, where say, the concept ball might have an aggregate or composite visual image component that is derived from the many images of balls we use for recognition and include the many activities in which a ball may be involved. The word flower might contain as part of its concept something like a child's drawing of a flower and the many activities in which flowers are involved. In fact flower is a fairly high level abstraction, as flowers are many and varied in their shapes and color. Such a concept may not be able to contain a visual element and yet it is derived from clearly mostly visual concepts. Other high level abstract concepts clearly do have a visual element. Positional concepts such as between, beside, on top, under, in front, and behind can not be invoked without some brief visual accompaniment or some brief activity. If you examine fast, slow, up, down, running, walking or shouting you will probably find that their activation will produce a brief image of some sort as well as the motor programs used for each action. 

Echoic code is essential for many normal human functions. Yet it can not be the complete content of either thought or conjectural constructs in our maps of reality for many reasons. It is rather a kind of mental glue which is used to hold together and translate various sense impressions into a logical form. The code itself has as its backbone the person's native language which acts as yet another kind of cultural glue to hold it together.

Modes of thought. 

While it seems apparent that thought can and does take place in these three separate modes it is also apparent thought always takes place in all the sensory modes at its disposal. The point is, that every sensory mode or medium plays a part in encoding thought and our models of reality. Language is built on concepts, and the concepts are made up of information from all these other sensory modes.

All this might lead you to believe that these three codes are tightly bound together and do not operate independently. This is not the case. They often operate independently, and there has to be translation between the three codes which in ordinary humans is often grossly inaccurate. Take for instance the idea of knowing where something is. You may be able to describe to somebody else exactly how to get there. This is echoic code. Or you may not be able to tell someone where to go and yet be able to conjure a map up in your mind, which you can then draw for the person, to enable them to get there. This is iconic code. Or you may not be able to tell the person where to go or visualize a map that would show them, yet you may have been there many times and know well how to get there. In this case the only way to help another get there would be to take them there. This is motor or enactive code. This is especially true for a blind person who would have no visual cues. Still, a blind person might be better able to translate it in to words, in terms of say counting steps and thus be able to tell someone where to go.

The fact is, that these three modes of communication and thought exist and individuals may be able to think and communicate in all of them, two of them or one of them. While most of us tend to think in only one of them other possibilities exist. While normal people think in echoic code the other codes are still there and still may operate, but we seem mostly unable to make them conscious. They seem to operate without conscious notice behind locked doors.  

Children & nonverbal coding of their maps of reality.

If these non verbal codes exist, and there is plenty of evidence that they do, from hundreds, perhaps thousands of subjective adult reports, several hypotheses can be formed. It is possible that the codes are a reason why children might perform better at learning than adults. It is assumed that children think, form conjectures and learn in an entirely different code to adults (that of iconic and or enactive codes). As illustrated above, scientists are fairly sure that symbols are formed in the three distinct sensory modes. Piaget suggested that early symbols would be formed using abbreviated actions and touch consensus. These unique symbols would of course be useless for communication with others but could be used as shorthand internal thinking and problem solving through mental rehearsal to make the world familiar.

It then also follows that iconic code would provide children with a wide vocabulary of concepts, long before such concepts could be used in communication with others. Piaget was under the impression that children did not understand certain concepts until they could understand the verbal symbols that stand for them, but it may be that these concepts exist much earlier in a code composed entirely of symbols in the form of brief symbolic actions or average symbolic imagery. These symbols and the structural manipulation of them, while also being generally useless for communication, could likewise be used for internal modeling of the external world and perhaps quite complex internal interactions with one's self and problem solving.

It may be speculated that this visual code, is very much relied on by children before they develop the ability to speak their native language and probably for a considerable time after. It may be, that children can form and manipulate these visual symbols, in a way much as we manipulate our sound based or verbal code. While young children do not have sufficient vocabulary for us to inquire into such experiences they might have, we can look at the subjective reports by adults who can perform such activities such as Charles P. Steinmetz and Nikola Tesla and extrapolate how children might think.

If children do indeed build quite complex models of the universe from these abbreviated actions and visual symbols, it may well be that modern socialization and education largely muffle this more primitive type of thinking by forcing subsequent thinking to be done verbally so it can be communicated. As children stop using this mode of thought they would usually and naturally lose it and forget how to use it. In this way very few adults would retain vestiges of it. This could be unfortunate as it might well be a more direct and faster way of processing some types of information. The use of more primitive codes such as enactive and iconic, because we are less conscious of them, may in fact be what Malcolm Gladwell is sometimes talking about in his book "Blink", or at least a part of them, appearing as insights, hunches and intuition.

These early life codes are also often associated with being creative. Creative people not only tend to make use of these primitive codes in some way but find them invaluable in being creative. In fact their use often seems a necessary part of their creativity, especially with those of genius intellect. For more information on creativity click here.

Building blocks of thought. 

Enactive mode morphs into iconic mode which becomes echoic mode.

It should be understood that everything in the brain is built on, and can only be built on, what we have learned before. That is, the foundations come first then the supports, then the walls, then the roof, and gradually the rest of the structure is built. Piaget has endlessly pointed out that certain concepts can only be learned after we have learned the concepts we need to understand those concepts. Indeed, as George Kelly points out we can only perceive the world about us in terms of what we already know. Humans seem to start thinking in a code developed in enactive mode because it is obvious and easy create. They then progress to thinking in a code they develop in iconic mode because it provides greater opportunity to create concepts. Finally they convert all other thought code into a code that the humans around them use to communicate with each other usually a code in ecoic mode. 

The one thought code. 

But the thing is, we actually know far more than the any person can make conscious. The brain takes in information in six or more sensory modes. They are sight, sound, smell, taste, feel and balance or orientation. The fact is, though, we mostly only use only one of these senses to communicate, that being sound. These are the special sounds we call language. True we later developed a visual interpretation of language called writing or printing but that is just a complication. Modern western writing is pure translation of sound and is not pictorial. The Chinese and Japanese, who do use a graphic alphabet, use characters that are so stylized, that unlike hieroglyphics we could not begin to guess at what they might mean by observing their images.

Thought modes (codes) and the likelihood of life long learning.

Life long learning comes from a desire to learn. The desire to learn is probably bought about by an enjoyment of past learning. How well and enjoyable learning is for each person is dependent on many factors but one of those factors is how well each mode of thought builds on the previous one and how well we can still access these previous modes of thought without causing problems in our current mode of thought. As long as our use of codes to construct our reality remains enjoyable life long learning is a greatly increased possibility.

Needs Interest Method Reality Keys How to Help Creative Genius Future What is Wrong Theories Plus
George Kelly Cognitive StructureMyths Adult Development Meaningfulness Iteration
Conjecture Convergence Reality Patterns Correlations Symbolism Reality Tests Multi Causes Gray Area
Standardization Adult Development