Language Processing and the Mind

Chris, modified 4 Years ago at 12/28/17 7:18 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/28/17 7:10 PM

Language Processing and the Mind

Post: 1 Join Date: 12/28/17 Recent Posts
This is not directly related to meditation; it’s related to how the mind works. You guys seem to be some of the only people who might have some insight (no pun intended) on some of the questions I have been wondering about.

I have been trying to come up with a mental model of how exactly language acquisition happens in the mind, and to do that, I need to have a model of how the mind processes language. In “The Mind Illuminated”, Culadasa explains a model that says that the mind in comprised of different unconscious sub-minds which function independent from each other (parallel processing). These sub-minds project content into consciousness, where it can be accessed by all of the other sub-minds. In this model, “conciseness” is nothing but a “place” where information can be exchanged between different parts of the mind, and nothing actually “happens” there. He also breaks the unconscious sub-minds up into “sensory sub minds” and “discriminating” sub minds. The sensory sub-minds receive unprocessed information directly from the physical sensory organs, and run low-level processing on it and create “sense-precepts”, which is then projected into consciousness. Then discrimination sub-minds access these sense-precepts through consciousness, and does much more processing to turn them into “perceptions”, and then shoots them back out to consciousness. So as far as I understand, in this model, most of what is experienced in day to day life is perceptions created by the discriminating mind.

I am wondering how the phenomenon of understanding spoken language in real time would be explained in this model. How much of a role do the “sensory sub-minds” play, and how much of a role do “discriminating sub-minds” play? When language is first projected into consciousness by the sensory sub-mind, how processed is it? Is it already broken down into words? When you listen to a language you do not understand, it appears to be one continuous string of sounds; the beginning and endings of words are not clear. But when you listen to your native language, is actually sounds like there are clear boundaries between words. This leads me to think that by the time language reaches consciousness, it has already been broken down into words by the sensory sub-mind. But then again, perhaps the discrimination sub-mind is just working so fast that I cannot perceive it, and this is actually not the case. On the other hand, it would seem that words being assigned syntactic and semantic meaning is done by the discriminating sub-mind, because we can’t comprehend the specific syntactic and semantic meaning of a bundles of words until an entire bundle of words has already been said, and we can consciously perceive the first section of a bundle of words before the next section is said.

This is where I thought that people advanced in vipassana might be able to help me out based on their own experience. What do you think? Thanks a ton in advance
JP, modified 4 Years ago at 12/29/17 10:25 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/29/17 10:25 AM

RE: Language Processing and the Mind

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts
When looking at language processing, there's a very important class of sensations that you'll want to keep in mind -- the "felt sense" sensations that correspond to the internal meanings/concepts that you associate with words.  When you're writing and there's a subtle point that you want to convey but you're not sure how to phrase it, that subtle point feeling is a felt sense sensation.  Likewise, when you've got a word at the tip of your tongue and you're looking for it somewhere, that somewhere is in the space of felt sense sensations.  When MCTB talks about how each physical sensation is followed by a mental afterimage sensation that seems both more stable and less detailed, that mental afterimage sensation is also a felt sense sensation.

Those examples are really just scratching the surface on it, so I'd recommend reading Folding by Mark Lippmann if you're interested.  He's a former DhO commenter and he's drawn on both MCTB and The Mind Illuminated in his writing.
Ward Law, modified 4 Years ago at 12/29/17 12:41 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/29/17 12:35 PM

RE: Language Processing and the Mind

Posts: 123 Join Date: 9/7/15 Recent Posts
Re: "the phenomenon of understanding spoken language," I suggest that it happens mostly in a hiearchy of subminds (perhaps auditory and discriminating), but also partially in consciousness. Conscious processing, for example, seems to be required in order to resolve ambiguities,  mispronounciations, unconventional grammar, etc. But the mind prefers to delegate as much of the processing as possible to language subminds, which are innate in humans and trained (or "populated") mostly in childhood.

If I am correct about the role of conscious processing here, it would seem that a truly "elegant" spoken language (unlike English, which is plagued with ambiguities) would require less conscious processing and would thereby seem more like an instantaneous "thought dump" to the hearer. That is, subconscious binding would already contain larger amounts of meaning before anything is projected into consciousness.

Edit: As an experiment, observe what happens when you read various words, phrases, and sentences of varying lengths and complexity. Notice how much of the understood meaning just pops into consciousness instantly, while some of it requires a moment or two of attention.
Dom Stone, modified 4 Years ago at 12/30/17 6:58 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/30/17 6:58 PM

RE: Language Processing and the Mind

Posts: 118 Join Date: 3/21/17 Recent Posts
When in the car today, I meditated for 2 hours. During this time, there was lots of noise. Notably, there was an advert playing where I was able to clearly discern the words, but no meaning was gleaned from them. I tried to listen with more bare awareness but this wasn't possible at the current level of concentration. This was interesting though as it makes clear Culadasas teachings with regards to binding moments. There was familiarity as if I was listening normally and under the right conditions, I could potentially recall such information, but it was as meaningful as a foreign language.

On another instance in the past, during ñana of fear, I have had an instance where people talking sounded unintelligible and garbled. It was a frightening experience for some reason, but it is interesting due to the fact it makes clear that it does indeed happen on many different levels. It probably depends how much of a buffer the mental echo takes up. (How "in the moment" we are).