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A Dream of Language

August 4, 2012

I had a peculiar dream the other night.  It was all complete and made perfect sense.  When I awoke, I could only remember fragments of it.  Instead of making perfect sense, my memories raised some questions.

In the dream, I worked in a laboratory at the university with a couple of graduate students.  A professor appeared.  He asked if we knew of any equipment that convert data into lines of text.  He also described the source of the data, but I don’t recall that part in detail.

One graduate student replied “my mixmaster will do that”.  At least, the word the student used was something like that.  The professor worked with the student, and returned some time later to show us the results.  In the dream, he returned in an instant.  He showed us thoughts from the minds of his patients displayed as lines of text on the screen.  They were in characters that were all unknown to me.  The professor pointed out the meaning of some of them.  One I’m sure meant apple pie I don’t recall the meaning of the others, but I’m sure they did have them.

When I thought about this dream afterwards, I remembered Steven Pinker‘s book “The Language Instinct”.  He stated that a person’s internal thoughts can’t be in english, but they may be in an internal language composed of images.  He also stated that they likely have their own grammar.  This concept means that speaking and listening involves a translation in both directions, both for words and grammar.  Was part of this what I had dreamed?

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