Why do we think using Words?

I find it intriguing that all humans have the ability to think at all (well, I guess that might not be true for everyone!”). But when it comes to thinking, why is it that we sometimes think in words, sometimes we think in bodily movements, sometimes we think in pictures & other times we think using a combination of these methods?

For example, as I write this blog post I am using a mixture of thinking in words and also using physical movement . In this situation, we can see that I am using a combination of both thinking in words and using my fingers to type on the keyboard.

However, in another situation, if I am waving “goodbye” to a friend while leaving their house, what happens in my thought process here? In this situation, my waving gesture stays consistent, however my thoughts can vary between “goodbye”, “see you later”, “it was nice seeing you” and many others. Based on this assessment, it seems like our brain can somehow connect different gestures to an overall “similar meaning” and then we can interchangeably use these different meanings with a specific gesture.

If we think using bodily movement, let’s assume a person is going for a run outside or on a treadmill to stay in shape. For every stride that person takes, they’re not constantly thinking the word “run”. It’s almost like the body goes into a kind of autopilot mode where they are automatically moving rather than thinking words as they’re moving.

If we look at this from the perspective of communication, having the ability to speak language does seem advantageous as we are able to quickly propagate our message across a wide audience quickly. Also, written language also seems like a benefit as it allows us to codify thoughts allowing for an effective method of storing our ideas and sharing our ideas with people. However, if we developed language as an effective method of storing & transferring ideas to other people, how did it become ingrained in our way of thinking using words rather than just staying as a tool of communication?

Also, as humans also have the ability to visualize thoughts, why do we sometimes think in images and sometimes we think in words? Is there a specific situation where either of these modes of thought is better suited or is our thinking inconsistent between pictures & words? Also, as we view pictures, how can we explain what we’re seeing in the picture? For example, in the famous saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, how would we explain that the picture is actually worth a thousand words without using words to explain the picture?

When it comes to memorization & remembering, we’re generally completing these two tasks using words. Just think about this – every time you study for an exam, you’re likely studying words for the most part. When you’re getting your shopping list ready, you’re probably writing words down to remember what you need to purchase from the store. Is our ability to remember ideas tied to closely remembering words? If this is the case, then why do animals such as dogs remember where they’ve hidden their favourite toy or where the water bowl is located without the use of words?

My intent in writing this was to present several open ended questions that I’ve been thinking about to see how other people view these ideas. Along with these questions, I’ve also given several examples to really help people think about what these ideas actually mean. Personally, I’m still trying to answer these questions about words & thinking, but I don’t believe that these questions will have a firm answer as they’re fundamentally tied to the secrets of the mind & internal workings of the brain.



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