2. Naming

Naming is the process of denoting a concept by a percept: the percept, in virtue of this denotation, is called a symbol.

Symbols are names for concepts. The process of creating concepts requires percepts for them to reference, from which they are created or abstracted. That concept can be given a name, which is the creation of a symbol. This name (or symbol) is a perceptual representation of the concept: it is in turn capable of further linguistic manipulations. Again, just as a concept becomes a reference for a collection of percepts, that concept can in turn be referenced by a percept: that percept is a name for the concept. The recurrent references which are thus enabled by the introduction of naming, when unfolded, become hierarchies of reference. In this way, it is possible to construct concepts based on previously learned concepts, as opposed to constructing concepts based on objects (although in both cases concepts are immediately based on percepts).

The operation of naming is used to define a thing. However, it does not always introduce that name; a thing which already has a name can, by being associated with some additional concept, be redefined or have its definition augmented. So, although this operation is one of naming, it should also be viewed as an operation of definition (or redefinition).

Animal cognition is a part of human cognition.

Talking about the experience of animal cognition is inherently difficult for at least two reasons. First, animals are reticent to talk, so it is not possible to hear about their experience. Second, although humans do talk about experience, they are not merely animals, so it is difficult to isolate the experience of animal cognition from other human characteristics. From a subjective point of view, it is difficult to say which aspects of our cognition are crucially human and which are not. Hence, some amount of speculation is therefore necessary.

What might explain the difference between animal and human cognition, especially when the neuroanatomical differences between these closely related species often do not appear significantly different? Functionally, one relatively uncontroversial and essential difference between animals and humans is the human capacity to learn words. This distinction, which we identify with the operation of naming, is regarded here as a predominantly human characteristic that is responsible for symbolic thought.

The operation of naming is related to the distinction between signs and symbols. Non-human animals are capable of emitting or responding to dozens of words or phrases (e.g. ‘sit’ , ‘stay’ , ‘play dead’ , etc), but their understanding of these words may differ significantly. In particular, most animals understand words as signs, as opposed to symbols. Symbols are or stand for something: symbols ultimately stand for sets of experience. In opposition to symbols, signs indicate that something else is impending; they are always embedded in a causal context. As an example of a symbol, the written word apple may be chosen to stand for the concept “apple” , which in turn is created from percepts of apple objects. The word is a terrifically condensed representation: a short series of phonemes, sufficient to distinguish it from other words, which represents an immense collection of experience. To say that animals cannot form symbols in this sense amounts to the claim that the use of perception for the purposes of representing conception is the essential advance of human cognition.[95]

Animals have both percepts and concepts. In terms of percepts, animals may perceive (at least in the bottom-up sense) in a manner almost identical to humans. In terms of concepts, however, the ability of animals is restricted: animals lack the ability to represent concepts with percepts. Hence, they can only form or understand concepts which are directly based on percepts, as opposed to concepts which (indirectly, via percepts) reference other concepts. This distinction between first-order and higher-order concepts is explored further in the next chapter.

As a concrete example of the difference between first and higher order concepts, “Bill hit tree” is a statement about the (temporal) world, while “Bill is human” is a statement about language (or perhaps, the atemporal world). The first type of sentence can be directly abstracted from events. In other words, there may be any number of concrete events in which Bill is hitting a tree, and the sentence may be seen as a generalization of those events. In the second case, though, we are dealing with an abstraction, “human” , and further saying that Bill has this characteristic (or that Bill is included in the set of humans). This sentence is not an abstraction based on a number of percepts in which we observe that Bill is human (or at least, the meaning of the sentence must change dramatically if we do interpret the sentence in this way). As a result, the cognitive lives of animals are more closely tied to their perceptual lives as opposed to humans.

The conceptual difference between animals and humans may also be quantified in terms of the abstractness (or dimensionality) of the concepts which are able to be formed. Specifically, the conceptual mind of non-human primates cannot understand concepts of a sufficiently high dimensionality to be able to speak most human languages.[96] While animals may generate and understand certain sentences, the syntax of this language is significantly different because the concepts which they can form are of a more limited dimensionality.[97]

One interesting speculation about animal cognition is that it cannot comprehend the notion of time. In other words, perhaps the concept of time is the result of the distinctive features of human cognition: perhaps the high-dimensional concept of time is the result of an abstraction over lower-dimensional concepts. This does not entail that time does not exist in the physical universe, but it does mean that it may not be able to be directly abstracted from our perceptions (and hence, cannot be present in the cognition of animals). So although certain concepts are abstract things that do not correlate well with our (relatively more concrete) percepts, they may correlate better to the way objects exist in the world.

Thinking can occur in any modality.

How does naming, the representation of experience in symbolic form, occur? In what modality does it occur?

First of all, let us define a name as a symbol or percept which indirectly designates an object. Using this definition, names may occur in any modality: for example, an object may be named by a printed word (or picture, or ideogram) or an audible word. The use of one modality for a name as opposed to another is potentially an individual choice: there are probably people who are biased toward visual thinking (thinking in pictures) as opposed to auditory thinking (thinking in sounds): members of the first group are prone to think visually , while members of the latter group think sonically .

It seems likely that most people think in words : pictures tend to be more perceptual than conceptual. As evidence for this, consider the fact that thought is initially accompanied by vocalization, and subsequently accompanied by subvocalization. This process of increasingly less explicit vocalization evolves to the point at which the actual production of sound and mouth movement ceases, even though thought continues.[98] However, if symbols are truly arbitrary in modality as well as form, there is no reason why symbolic representation could not occur in any modality. One requirement for representation is that, in whatever form it occurs, it can be selectively elicited by that which it represents. Of course, that representation must also be able to elicit what it represents: if we could not retrieve the meaning of a symbol, that symbol could not be used for communication.

Thinking in pictures is indicated by the term visualization: this type of thought is sub-symbolic (as opposed to rational thought). Visualization is not irrational, but neither does it (inherently) possess a subject and an object (as would a word-based form of thought). Although thinking in printed words (i.e. typeface) would possess this quality, it is not clear that anyone does this (although perhaps this is related to the phenomenon of speed-reading).

Finally, thinking of some sort takes place within the body. Perhaps this is so different from rational thought that it does not merit the word thought. However, the neurons of the body store information just as those of the brain. The body has a nervous system which can operate to some degree independently of the brain (i.e. the enteric nervous system). It adopts postures and defense mechanisms which tend to be both precognitive (i.e. formed early in our development) and which often remain below the level of our awareness. For example, are you aware of your posture right now? If you shift it, does it have some effect on your mental state? Although it may be a stretch to say that the body has concepts, the body is certainly capable of resonating with certain conceptual attitudes. Regardless of where thought itself takes place, the effect of thinking certainly has an influence on the body, just as the body has an influence on thought.

[95] It is a dramatic change because it enables the ability to form concepts recursively. By allowing language itself to define new linguistic terms, linguistic structures of arbitrary depth can be created.

[96] Noun phrases tend to be three dimensional (spatial), and verb phrases one-dimensional (temporal). Although abstract nouns and other phrases may require higher dimensionality, these higher-dimensional references are lowered through the use of articles and other quantifiers.

[97] It may be possible to construct low-dimensional languages which animals are capable of speaking, although it is not clear that these would be what we usually think of as languages. For example, such a language might consist of only noun phrases connected sequentially.

[98] Interestingly, the usage of the auditory complex remains necessary for thought: neurological evidence links thought with the language areas of the brain (Wernicke's and Broca's areas).