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Well there are three boxes one of the nice trim black that I when I used to live one life label. I trade one might have allowed in town with all of my friends and. Little I'm a little too black. I get a wide mileage out 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 where minds meet and a series of explorations and human communication conducted by professors John freind and I don't Nelson of the 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 words 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 about. 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. No 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 and 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. 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 Arnie what we're going to try to show is that these individual eyes 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. Though 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 are not only 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 Arny. 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 imply 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 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 John suppose we almost rate these two components of a message through the medium of music here for instance is a sample of highly unpredictable music and consequently it's informative tho 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. While 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 getting 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. We're going on to college. Perhaps you visit a great many county colleges before he makes up his mind. How does college life look to the person who
sees it for the very first time. Does he merely 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 press rooms. The way he sees
the 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 all would be difficult and for another roll 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 were 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 for other things in the room with 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 will 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 that's where you're like I don't know if you're just trying to get it you get on this train and I talk about a strange and strange time but look what you ended by all the hook they don't want you to be sure they don't. It is a fact in this country. Perfection is not. An idea. He said I know you 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 here. But the other student incidentally had met us for the first time was much freer in his thinking.
When the image that we have of the designer of the question is of immense importance in problem solving feelings 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 the character perspective that our point of view you have to move back off and not get it home and give the hall a longer effect and I'm not sure it is like when you look I remarked I find it much the same thing here if you don't you're finally going to meet here trying to make
intelligent no when you're taking a perspective that I'm not taking any. They can't be taken back. 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 a 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 nearer. The students arrived at several solutions but they didn't get this one. I suspect that the roles they assume 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 a 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 go and get the other string and 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. Give any of the solution. The free swinging and then taking a chance on swinging the other one because I'm a trained artillery man now in firing a gun at an object when you fire your first shot in your clothes. The tendency is to try to creep up on it to try to not want to get a bit closer and another bit closer but no training or training and whatever do that he'll 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 of a shot attempting to keep
up on something than you ever do by going Lee apparently a long way around and having your bracket consistently. So that the free swinging would not interest me at all I want to thank one and go on friendly to the other and together. 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 remain 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 favorite 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 here. I take the scissors in and try and laughter right role in the Kenyan for destroying the rollkur strings around her and the whole thing and drenched the scissors as far as I could and try to see if I could stretch the strange feeling that it would Kyra round the yellow hold the scissors. Again I get the box and stand down and I'd jump with all my might to try to grab hold and pull. If it didn't work I'd probably get a box lengthwise and stand on it and grab one string and then I'd get.
Some of that you know I wouldn't get them back strength wise. I let go astray. I'd take the blue and I'd leave the Manchester lengthwise and still do it because you know I'm just sort of one mansion now. Then I tied the string on to what I think was strings 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. 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 the 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 when I see you back here I saw a picture of you I shall thank you. Well I just think you are shot down so I really think I can speak my mind could see the figures you mind thinking. Well that's fascinating I mean it would have been nice to have had more details though. His mind saw the figures mind thinking I should wait a little longer before pushing the foot pedal. Well a later passages equally interesting it adds an emotional dimension. Well when they're when they say there was this one me Arch I found myself after just going through you know Danny not to try out for my air holding him up and then I took a step toward God. Yes this isn't just a cold computer at work. There's room for human triumph and despair. But ANI 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 he hesitated when 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 roles by word and gesture. Listen I can't bring angry reaction. I said you know I figure can you screen your national Uganda media make a clearing out because I think you know. But then I thought I was about to turn your brain to when I said you know I can't really do any good behavior for you can you can you share your inanity just the way I started out the first time and I said you know
I saw your start time in Manchester. Your screen career right shows clearly under magically the way in which two roles 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 abbreviated. 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 and 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 try to write after I try to get a reaction to your screen. I
reckon God could do. You know you're going to get to kill me and picking you up in the end. I put it I put it between my legs. You know I don't know where I put it. Anyway I guess so I don't use crack I always get when I take every thank you just get it popped out of nowhere. Might 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 what your role 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 a Nelson what he did was take the box apart take the strain off one of the hooks and he couldn't get up there could he 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 by 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 straying one of the you know they have 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 help.
But they probably do make it could be simply a kind of distraction of the problem something it doesn't have it out. And I say could be is how the devil good abs. It 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 I mean 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. Well 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 opt out the difficulty 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. I'm burned out of them. My use of the mashers and the wooden They couldn't possibly worry about getting up there because of being on the 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. Ever possibly a right angle. They recertify know they were and. Sure the more acute the angles running out I have 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. Now he can stand on the box in the middle and rather strange to him. He's got a good one a stray in his hand. And come over in the middle. Put the bikes underneath and stand there with one astray in his hand then he realizes that it doesn't work. So he got to cut the strings. The 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 and a discussion of human communication by professors John drawing down Arnold Nelson where minds meet is produced and recorded by WMU K. under a grant from the National Association of educational
broadcasters. This is the end I ybe Radio Network.
Where minds meet
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Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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The Silent Action: Thinking
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Discussions explore world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
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Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:18
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Chicago: “Where minds meet; Thinking,” 1963-03-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 22, 2024,
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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