thumbnail of Where minds meet; Thinking
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Well there are three boxes and one of the miners true black. Now when I asked to lead it has one white label. I trade one my of a lot and I can tell with all of our food and. Little by I'm a little too black I get a wide smile a lot of it. Now there's a man with a problem money. On the contrary John there's a man going at a problem and he'll solve it too by thinking why our minds meet and a series of explorations and human communication conducted by professors John Prine Diane Arnold else another department of English Western Michigan University where minds meet is produced and recorded by WMU K. under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. In a shrinking world where minds meet in wards or
not at all man speech is his most decisive act. These discussions explore this world of speech topic or today is the silent action thinking. Here are professors frind and Nelson. This is John freind and this is Donald Nelson. And today John we're going to try to throw some light on a complex activity that human beings engage in thinking. I think we should start by stating our main thesis that thinking is a form of communication internal silent communication. And because it's a silent activity it's hard to examine it but later on we'll play some recorded experiments that can lead us to a better understanding of the process we've already played a sample of one of these experiments what our audience first heard was the verbalizing of a person trying to solve a problem. Yes and in this case it was a colleague of ours John McNally and we asked him to verbalize as much of his thinking as he could and to help him. We put earphones on him into which we fed white noise because talking while we
think is usually a distraction. But white noise hissing noise composed of sounds of all frequencies muffles our self hearing. Well John before we describe these experiments in any greater detail I'm like to return to the matter of thinking as a form of internal communication. How else might it be defined. Well almost everyone agrees that thinking involves the manipulation of symbols of some kind words pictures mathematical signs of what have you but simply moving symbols around is not communication. You know shuffling a pack of cards is manipulating symbols but it certainly isn't communication. Communication requires that a message be sent from one place to another that something send it and something else receive it right. Since thinking goes on inside one person's head who is the sender and who is the receiver. Well here John we would say that different segments of our personality take over these roles. All of us after all as Shakespeare said in our lives play
many parts. We shift from one role to another at different times and in different circumstances. I'm thinking for example of the difference in a man's behavior at work and at home with his family. And since we're capable of shifting from one role to another with relative ease it would seem that these in other roles we assume are highly developed and well permanent segments of our personality. Well to put it briefly on what we're going to try to show is that these individual parts of ourselves these latent roles are in communication with each other when we think that the exchange of messages between different roles constitutes what we call thinking to put a few more things briefly John we would say that these roles are acquired from our society. Right. Actual communication situations beginning in infancy when children imitate the behavior or speech of others. They're beginning to internalize these roles they're developing facets of their total personality.
And how I need to these roles as we will call all of these facets. How do they actually communicate. Well in all of the complex ways that people ordinarily do gestures and words I suppose most of the time probably a kind of shorthand speech in an adult but other symbols are possible even pictures. OK one further question. What prompts a role. One role to communicate with another. Where does the motivation come from. Well the simplest situation is when the motivation comes from the outside. We gave John McNally a problem for example. You remember that he began by restating the problem to himself. One part of him substituted for us as a motivator. This rolled out of problem poser gave the problem to another role which tried to satisfy the first role. But now let me ask you a question. How would you explain the process by which the solution is reached. Well here I'd like to employ two concepts developed by Claude Shannon
of the Bell Telephone laboratories. Information and redundancy. We've spoken of communication as the sending of messages from one point to another. Well Shannon divides every message into these two parts the information being that part that is surprising or unpredictable to the receiver. Right and redundancy The reverse the part that's already known before it's actually sent. For example if a message begins Once upon a word time will probably follow the expression is quite redundant. If I said though once upon a space the listener would be startled. That expression is much more informative even though it may not be meaningful information in the special sense that we're using it has nothing to do with meaning. No it's entirely a matter of predicting or failing to predict correctly on the basis of some customary pattern pattern. Redundancy allows us to predict and that's a necessary aspect of any communication. After all if we have
no idea of what's going to happen we're simply confused when it does. If we notice that all information must be embedded in redundancy to be effective. Well just suppose we demonstrate these two components of a message through the medium of music here for instance is a sample of highly predictable music and consequently it's informative though some of our listeners may not enjoy it or find it meaningful. Well I'm sure that only a few of our listeners were able to predict what was likely to come next at any point in that selection. From David Lewin study one that was from the album Music from
mathematics produced by the Bell Telephone laboratories. Yes but we mustn't leave our audience now with the notion that mathematics implies high information content no. After all a mathematical formula may generate music that is rigidly patterned highly redundant here for example is part of another selection from the same album. JR Pierce is staccato after the first few notes I'm sure our listeners will find themselves almost unconsciously guessing correctly what will come next. Well in the same way that we unconsciously predict what notes will come next in music we predict what words and phrases will come next when we read or listen to language. I think I can illustrate
this for our audience in this recording of a college student guessing every fifth word in a paragraph I read to her. Now she guesses some of the words exactly and on others she comes fairly close. Some of course she misses completely but I think of our audience guesses along with the girl. They will quickly sense which parts of the message are most redundant and which most informative. When a boy graduates from high school he thinks about. Going on to college. Perhaps you visit a great many colleges before he makes up his mind. How does college look to the person
for the very first time. See the stately old ivy covered buildings and a pretty young coed. Or does he see the industrious students in the library poring over the dusty books. Is he more impressed by the new football stadium or by the laboratories and. The way he sees
college at this time may determine what kind of student he will be. 11 out of 20 correct. That's pretty good. Or else the message was pretty redundant. Well I think I'm ready to answer that question you asked me about how problems get solved by roles and I'd like to use these concepts of information and redundancy in the first place. Any particular role is an organized segment of our personality uniquely and rather rigidly patterned. Now when roles communicate with each other they encounter messages reflecting quite different patterns. So a message from one role would be difficult and for another role to predict right would be informative rather than redundant. Yes so much so that in some cases the message would simply be confusing. The rolls would dry Consequently as people do to find or create a larger pattern that they had in common. A sufficiently redundant context so that information from one
could be assimilated by the other. At this point if a solution to the problem lay within the capacity it could be achieved. Well John now I'd like to play an example of two people trying to solve a problem together. These are two students trying to find a way that a man can grasp two strings hanging from the ceiling of a room to grasp at the same time he has to pull on both strings at the same time to open a trapdoor in the ceiling. The problem is that if he takes hold of one of the strings it isn't long enough so that he can walk over to the other to take hold of it. Now the man has four other things in the room with him a box a pair of scissors a jar of glue and five matches Yes. Well we gave the students a diagram of the situation and asked them to try to figure out a solution while we recorded their conversation. In the excerpt that we'll hear now we can see the efforts that two students go through to find common ground for discussion. One student Incidentally a student who had taken a course for me assumes a role he interprets what he thinks we want for the other student.
And those folks are trying and I say to their hook say oh yeah I'll tell you what I don't I just drank out of it you get on this train and I talk about a strange and strange time but look what you ended by all the hook I didn't want you to I sure don't. It is a threat in this country. Perception is not. An idea. If they don't hear me when I want to know right. Obviously any one of the students the one who knew you was quite sure of what we expected. His idea of us ruled out certain possibilities. He was sure that this was a problem in perception and he was certainly wouldn't want him swinging from hooks. But the other student incidentally had met us for the first time was much freer in his thinking
well than the image that we have of the designer of the question is of immense importance and problem solving. Are you feeling as about the possibility of a solution often stem from this image alone. If we suspect a trap we often fall into one. According to Norbert Wiener a pioneer in modern communication theory the knowledge that a solution exists is the most important bit of information a person can possess about a problem. Yes but with these two students though this this was never doubted but the image your student had of us caused him to play a particular role to look for a solution say from a particular point of view. Now the following passage shows both students making their different points of view explicit. I cared for thank you. Our point of view you have to back off. And now they're going to hold a longer attack and I'm not British. Like when you look directly at the same thing here if you get down here find out the treasure going to mean
you're taking a perspective that I take. Yeah OK thank you. These clear cut points of view. The mechanical and the perspective as they call them imply two different roles that each is assuming and these roles prescribe particular kinds of solutions. Yes now the solution we had in mind the standard one so to speak was to hang the scissors from one of the strings and then set it swinging and then go to the other string take hold of it and walk back to the midpoint again and catch hold of that other string as it swings near the students arrived at several solutions but they didn't get this one. I suspect that the roles they assumed ruled out this possibility. Well in a further experiment in which we asked another colleague of ours to participate Edward Callan he himself commented on this restrictive effect of the role. His solution was a very neat one and had been the glue one of the strings to the
midpoint of the back wall which in your picture appeared near enough. Then he'd gone get the other string in return to the first. When we told him of the standard solution by swinging one of the strings this is what he said the reason why I. Would give any of these swinging solutions of the free swinging and then taking a chance on swinging the other one because I'm a trainer countering them. Now firing a gun at an object when you fire your first shot when you're close. The tendency to try to create a body to try to not want to get a bit closer another bit closer but no training or training and whatever to that he will always bracket it with the largest possible bracket first say 2000 yards drop a shot a doctor shot 2000 yards then he will have his bracket if it falls short. He will have his bracket again and a lot of practice has proved that you waste far more a shot attempting to
keep up on something than you ever do like going Lee apparently a long way around and having your bracket come first. What not. Oh I want to thank one and go on the other. And again this clearly shows how a favorite a preferred role in this case that of the skilled artillerymen dictates a certain kind of solution and closes the door on others even though the problem had nothing to do with guns or projectiles of any kind. We can see that certain deep habits of thinking a carried into the problem and what not to many men might consider a sloppy approach just wasn't considered. Well I'm sure our audience can think of other instances of the kind of influence exerted by a favored role. We all have one undoubtedly your son David when he attacked this problem demonstrated that he was playing his normal role. That is a participant in physical activity. When he put on the earphones and began
verbalizing his very first words projected him into the center of the situation. I take the scissors in and try and left your right role in the Kenyan for just one. Roll the strings around going the whole night out. Drenched the scissors as far as I could and try to see if I can strip just drain so that it would Kyra around the yellow hold the scissors and then I get the box and stand down and I'd jump with all my might to try to grab hold and pull. If that didn't work. I'd probably get a max length wise and stand on it and grab one string and then I'd get.
Some of that you know I wouldn't get them back sometimes why I let go astray. I take the blue and I move the Manchus lengthwise and Sylvia would be in my arm while I was sort of one man should now. Then I tie the string on to what I think was strange and tie them onto that one. One of the holes in the scissors again and then I'd try just going on to that match. Did you know right. Yeah yeah then I can either drink.
Thank you. Well with all those eyes and the jumping and the reaching I can see David All right. I don't suppose though that his verbalizing there shows the degree to which he would play this participant role if he were really in that room with the strings. Nor does it show the back and forth exchanges between two roles very clearly. There is a shadowing of this though in remarks like wait a minute. And yes now these remarks are addressed to someone. Well on to another feature of our experiments sheds more light on this particular facet. We played his initial verbalizing back to him after he had finished and asked him to describe as much as possible of what had been passing through his mind. The playback was through earphones so that he could talk right over it starting and stopping that tape by foot pedal at will. He gave a fuller account there than others that we've done this with what was going on in his mind. Apparently a good deal of his thinking was pictorial with himself in the center of each picture. But he saw himself from a detached point of view.
Here's a typical instance when I was here I saw a picture of you. Thank you. Well just thank you nice guy I'm sure I think I can feel my mind could see your mind thinking. Well that's fascinating and it would have been nice to have had more details though his mind saw the figures my thinking I wish you'd waited a little longer before pushing the foot pedal. Well later passages equally interesting it adds an emotional dimension. Well when you when you use one marriage and you go you know Danny not sure I ever holding him up and then I get going again. Yes. This isn't just a cold computer at work. There's room for human triumph and
despair but I need a later passage shows why emotion is involved this is a drama being played out and it isn't all prearranged either. You remember the point in his thinking where you hesitated where he said no wait a minute. And so forth. Yes his comments afterwards show that there was conflict in his thinking at that point and this conflict was personified in a conversation between the two picture rolls by word and gesture. Listen I can't bring angry reaction. I said No I don't hate you. Can you screen your marriage. Thank you Dan mediately can clear it out because I think you know. But then I thought I was about trying your screen to show you what I said you know I can't really do any good behavior I said I think you can do your hair yet.
And then I'd be just the way I started out the first time and I said you know I saw your start time in Manchester. The screen can match red shows clearly under magically the way in which two rolls inside one person's mind can communicate efficiently with only a slight shadowing of the full communication appearing in the verbal. But John I suspect that in many instances the exchange of ideas between roles is much much faster and more revealing. Yes and David's age may be a factor here. He's 12 only. Plus the fact the pictorial dramatization doesn't make for speed as he grows older I suppose he'll develop more and more shortcuts. Well in this last excerpt we'll play we can see that he's already developing some. He said at one point that he pretended that the glue was instant drying. When he talks about it here you'll note that he can't recall where it was for sure. The glue is becoming a symbol for him and he's able to move it around in his mind much more rapidly. When I said I after I tried to manage your
screen I am right and got that through and I saw figure going to get to kill me and picking it up and then I put it I put it between my legs and I you know I don't know where I put it. Well anyway I just feel despair get so out of your craft I ran away to be good when I. It popped out of nowhere like that. Yes this is the beginning of abstract thinking I would say. Adults must replace many more concrete images with symbols most of the time. Well in order to demonstrate this as well as the greater versatility of the adult I'd like to close by playing John McNally's recorded thinking on this question. Now John found many of the factors in this problem distracting and he tried a number of different approaches. Here are two different selections in which will see him first. Play while your
as he tries to deal with the box. And then in quite a different manner turn to the matches which bothered him much more. If this man were on and on a Nelson what he do is take the box apart take the strain. One of the hooks you couldn't get up there could take the box apart. And the box looks as though it's probably at least a couple of feet by a couple of feet. Two feet one foot or two by a foot and a half. Take the pieces of them and glue them together. Make a kind of board out of them. Or maybe even make two boards out of them. Then glue the boards to the strain. One of the human half boards to the strain and pull the thing
down this way. What the devil are those masses doing while they don't make any sense at all they don't know how. But they probably do make it could be simply a kind of distraction on the problem something it doesn't help it out. Now if they could be is how the devil could they be us. Matches Well here again John I think we can detect their conversational framework especially in the Internet. He's talking to himself. Well that is one Raul is talking to another. Well Arnie in one final selection I'd like to try to give some notion of the range of roles that a person may employ to think with. Here are three different ones in John's thinking. First the irresponsible child to loosen up then the geometer And finally the play director as he tries like David to act out the difficulty. I will start again. You've got these two strains attached to the ceiling in a
trapdoor up there. He can reach them but for us the most absurd thing you could do. You take the matches and burn one of the strings or burn both of them or use of the mashers. And he wouldn't and he couldn't possibly worry about getting up there because of being our chances of the problem in one way. If you cut one string out you have the same high partners. I should have a different angle. You never possibly are writing go. But they recertify know they were and. Sure the more acute the angles running off their partners the short of the strain this
is going to be that way. Well then the thing to do is to have them stand on the box. No he can't stand on the bikes in the middle and rather strange to him. He's got a good one a strainer in his hand and come over to the middle puddle by underneath and stand there with one astray in his hand then he realizes that it doesn't work so he's got to cut the strings. Arsonist mathematician played director John McNally like most of us in his thinking plays many parts. You have been listening to where our minds meet in a discussion of human communication by professors John drawing down Arnold Nelson. Wow mine's meat is produced and recorded by
WMU K. under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end of a radio network.
Where minds meet
Producing Organization
Western Michigan University
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-8p5vbt31).
Episode Description
The Silent Action: Thinking
Series Description
Discussions explore world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
Social Issues
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:27
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Where minds meet; Thinking,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 26, 2024,
MLA: “Where minds meet; Thinking.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 26, 2024. <>.
APA: Where minds meet; Thinking. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from