Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Science Museum - Turing along with # 45 Language and Thought

Apollo Module
On Monday I took myself  to the Science Museum.
Although it's the Science Museum I suppose it's really more a partial Museum of the history of science, having said that it has a lot of interest to the enquiring and curious mind.
The Apollo 10 module is not as I expected it to be, now more than 40 years since it returned to earth is looks more Jules Verne than a technological  artefact, closer to the James Watt era than the Apple iPod.
At the Natural History Museum I had seen a sample of moon-dust and to see a space capsule nearby was a further reminder of the exciting space voyages made in the 60's
On which subject the for me true heroes of the museum are  the engineers and scientists who have very directly  impacted our lives like James Watt and Alan Turing.
It is difficult to over emphasise the effect the industrialisation of Britain has had on us and the modern world and James Watt was a major figure inventing and developing steam engines.
The Turing story is one that also evokes a bygone age (just over 100 years since his birth) now he's credited with having paid a pivotal role in the allies victory over the Nazis in the second World War. Turing was during his short life prosecuted (and persecuted) for his homosexuality and is thought to have taken his own life in 1954.
Turing is viewed by many as the father of the modern computer as well as a leading code breaker working out of Bletchley.

Big Idea number 45 is  Language and Thought

Question do we need language to be able to think?
Answer no.
Let me extemporise a little are we able to think without the use of language, well the simple answer is no but in fact as with so many things this is a multi- layered question as it does (of course) depend on what we mean by thought.
If I want to think about a mathematical equation (fairly unlikely I'll admit) then I will need the necessary language to allow me to do this as if I'm thinking about music I will need some reference to allow me to do this - but are infants able to think yes they can but perhaps at a limited level.
There's a hypothesis that covers some of this stuff called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Also a rather timely radio programme Technicolour  (today) considers the effect of language on the perception of colour.