I think there are two types of thinking: with and without language.

For my entire life, in my opinion, I have always thought without language. Some people say it's impossible and that we think with language without knowing it. But the fact is that I can distinguish them pretty well.

Reading the answers on https://cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/5462/is-it-possible-to-think-without-language I see that the answers focus on other "senses thinking". By this I mean, the answers focus on other forms of communication that we have, turned into thinking, such as, thinking based on images, sounds, etc. But in my opinion those are just "tools for thinking", they are just something like super rapid accesses on memory to rationalize things and not the real source of "thinking".

So here I am, stuck on "What is this thinking process? How does it happen? It just looks like magic."

If you ask me to describe it, I would say it is a weird mix of--well, I can't even explain it. I just have some perception of the mix of things received from memory like something operating on memory really, really fast.

I am very slow and bad at thinking with language which results in big difficulties in explaining anything. I feel language is like putting what we have in so many dimensions into a single one like taking a colorful picture with a sense of depth and turning it into a flat black and white image.

Does anyone know any studies done on this? What is this weird form of thinking? It's hard in terms of communications, but it's awesome to feel things intensely.

Please remember I am really talking about this "weird thinking" and not confusing it with feelings.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Are you referring to something like this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_thinking#Non-verbal_thought $\endgroup$
    – Justas
    Aug 25, 2014 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ well, it is true that i "see" images, sounds, i feel emotions, etc, but that alone from my point of view, doesnt do the rationalization ( the logical part ),,,, so, what does the logic? what operate those images, sounds, feelings,,,, hard to explain for me but,,, if u have A, B, and C,, to mix them together you need the operator +, then u have, A+B+C = X,,, so who is that operator (+) if not the language ? $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2014 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Well, obviously it's called non-verbal thought, and its most researched sub-topic appears to be visual thinking.

In general, questions like are there papers about X are frowned upon when the choice of answers is large, as it happens to be in this case, but I'll still point out one recent paper, Amit et al. (2017), using neroimmaging which has an interesting (even if somewhat obvious) hypothesis at the end of its abstract:

Humans rely on at least two modes of thought: verbal (inner speech) and visual (imagery). Are these modes independent, or does engaging in one entail engaging in the other? [...] An asymmetry was observed between inner speech and visual imagery. In particular, inner speech was engaged to a greater extent during verbal than visual thought, but visual imagery was engaged to a similar extent during both modes of thought. Thus, it appears that people generate more robust verbal representations during deliberate inner speech compared to when their intent is to visualize. However, they generate visual images regardless of whether their intent is to visualize or to think verbally. One possible interpretation of these results is that visual thinking is somehow primary, given the relatively late emergence of verbal abilities during human development and in the evolution of our species.

Some linguists, particulary those who support the strong Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (which posists that language determines thought) will probably be livid after reading this paper... I for one am a little skeptical of the generalizability of Amit's findings because of the limited set of experiments his group performed. I'm quite curious what neuroimaging has to say about the brain activation of mathematicians who work in really abstract areas of mathematics; do they also have visual aids popping in their head all the time during their work? And what about the congenitally blind? It's known they have a capacity for mental imagery, but that it is more limited than that of the non-blind. What's the brain activation pattern when the congenitally blind think?

And if the above sounds too abstract, Laura Otis has a blog entry with some vignettes of how some people self-describe their visual thinking process. She also cites some published studies supporting the idea that there is not just one mode of visual thinking, i.e. there is heterogeneity in "visual thinking styles"; this claim is mostly based on the work of Maria Kozhevnikov and her colleagues e.g. 2005, 2010a, 2010b.

And I'm not sure to what extent producing music counts as thought, but a neuroimaging study of musicians who improvise interactively as form of musical dialogue (Donnay et al. 2104) found activation in syntactic but not in semantic areas of the brain regions responsible for processing language.


I think you can definately think of a concept without having the words to explain it, I do it all the time and it sucks, because I cant remember well, or explain to others what the thought was, but I do know it didn't have words because It would have said so much in such a succinct manner that it would be impossible to describe.

Obviously you can think without language, that shouldn't even be a question, i mean we had to think to invent language in the first place.

as for thinking in images and sounds:

I do think its possible that we think based on sensory input and simply can't recognize it as such by the time it is in our consciousness, but I think the answer that you are looking for is " what is the origin of thought?" and that I do not know.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed ! thanks for the clarifications,, thats right the question im looking for xD ,, " what is the origin of thought?" and not just the origin, but how is it processed !, because as brain is a net, maybe "origin" doesnt make that total sense xD $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2014 at 15:39

There is a lotta good stuff out there, I'll give you one that outlines one line of thought (no pun...) on your general question: Tomasello's "A Natural History of Human Thinking".

It's a book, so even though it isn't exactly beach reading, it provides a unique view of the development of both thought and language (not that it is going to fill in all of the gaps of this rather large story).


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