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AtSeDaEsEpPoAoSnA's avatar

If you had the ability to read minds, would you be able to read the mind of someone that spoke a different language?

Asked by AtSeDaEsEpPoAoSnA (1499points) August 1st, 2009

If you didn’t speak anyother language except your own (which ever it is) do you think you could comprehend foreign thought?

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24 Answers

allansmithee's avatar

This is purely hypothetical so without an real explanation to how we are reading people’s minds it’s not possible to give a definitive answer, though I don’t understand why not.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

well, according to the many fiction stories I’ve read over the years, the answer is YES. In reality, the question is a non sequitor.

chyna's avatar

If it were possible, I think you would be able to read their mind in their language and only if you understand their language, would you understand them. Exactly as if you were talking to someone that speaks french and you either speak/understand french or you don’t.

tirithalui's avatar

Depends how the mind reading would work. I’m leaning towards no, because they’d be thinking in their own language, but you’d probably understand emotions they were feeling.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Lo es difícil decir. A lo mejor?

marinelife's avatar

What a fascinating question.

Quagmire's avatar

Well, if you believe those people who claim they can mentally communicate with animals, then I guess you CAN.

But don’t believe them. Ever.

allansmithee's avatar

@Quagmire
I seen one of them shows before, the cat said you will meet someone new in the coming weeks. So not only could this person speak to animals but the cat can tell the future.

ragingloli's avatar

yes, but you probably would not understand it. that of course assumes that the human brain processes data in words, and not pictures and images.

allansmithee's avatar

@ragingloli
Don’t you think we remember things in feelings or in words.
So if I though I love you, would that be in feelings or words?

DrBill's avatar

IMHO you could to a point. when someone is thinking words, you would read them as the words, and therefore not understand. However, if they were thinking about a process (how to fix or build something) using mental images, you could see them, and you would be able to relate to emotions they were feeling.

In short, I think it would be like watching a foreign film without subtitles.

tramnineteen's avatar

So the brain stores memory and thoughts both in words, and in sensory forms. So you could understand ALLOT but not everything. For example the left side of the brain has language, the right side of the brain has relative relationships, it gives us our understanding of our place in the world for example and what flavors go well together etc.

If you only could read their most conscious thoughts, it would be more limited, and language would be an issue.

If you can read their brain like a book, you could get feelings, processes, sights, and almost anything else as long as they had a memory of it aside from the verbal and written instructions.

That said, we still don’t know exactly how the brain stores info or how the reading would work so I’m just guessing.

I think DrBill’s point about foreign film without subtitles is great, you would still understand most of what is going on, but it would vary on the movie/thought/person.

Quagmire's avatar

I suspect that even if you DID speak the same language, that’s no guarantee that you would comprehend what the other person is thinking. Suppose he was thinking rocket science or brain surgery?

cyn's avatar

what language do you think in?

dpworkin's avatar

If you could read a person’s mind wouldn’t the association of his or her language and objects, feelings, etc. be transparent to you also? In fact, you would have access to the whole process by which he or she first learned language.

allansmithee's avatar

@pdworkin
This purely hyperthetical so when I say this next sentence I want you to remember I know this and this is why I put in my first response “without an real explanation to how we are reading people’s minds it’s not possible to give a definitive answer.”
When you read their mind can you only read what they’re thinking about now, or can you recall memoires?
Even if you can recall memories how fast would this be? Could you read a whole event that took years to unfold in seconds? This is referring to the other person learning a language.

as this is purely hypothetical it would be silly to assume any of these to be true, we can only speculate.

Zendo's avatar

I have only heard the thoughts of English speaking people. it would be interesting to see if you could actually understand the thoughts of non-English speaking people.

nikipedia's avatar

I think in order to answer this question we need to figure out what exactly it means to “read minds.”

Arguably, we can already do that with fMRI and EEG. (An fMRI estimates what parts of your brain are active based on changes in blood flow. An EEG measures electrical activity in the brain.)

I could use an fMRI to tell you which image out of a set of stimuli you’re looking at with pretty good accuracy. (This study found that you could do this with about 90% accuracy using a set of 120 images, and 80% accuracy using a set of 1,000 images.)

So that kind of mind-reading would (and does) transcend language. But it sounds to me like what you’re really interested in is reading something like the engram, which is a hypothetical memory unit in the brain. We don’t really understand what these might look like, or if they even exist. Most neuroscientists believe that a memory is an emergent property of the activation of neural networks. It seems to me that some of these engrams or neural networks use language, and some don’t.

I would hypothesize that most engrams, to the extent they exist, are probably the summation of activating connected, recorded perceptions. Most of our perceptions are independent of language but could be recorded as language if we chose to articulate them. (This is my speculation, not real science.)

I don’t think anyone could argue that our brains require language to record memories—otherwise most animals would be out of luck, and I’m pretty sure I can give you evidence that every organism with a nervous system has at least some kind of memory.

I don’t know if this really answers your question, but I think it may be unanswerable by science (for now).

marinelife's avatar

Yay, nikipedia! I knew you could bring some rigor to this discussion. You are in such an exciting field with so much left to explore!

Corey_D's avatar

I wouldn’t be able to understand them.

gailcalled's avatar

I can read blondsjon’s mind when he is thinking in Finnish.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Absolutely. The language of nonverbal communication would not be the same as a verbal or written communication, but more intrinsic.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’d switch on the universal translator as well or ask Data.

wundayatta's avatar

Of course you could. Only a small portion of our thoughts take place with language. It just seems like a lot since those are the thoughts we become aware of thinking. We aren’t terribly conscious of things we can’t talk about.

However, we think in all kinds of other ways: in sound, touch, feelings, smells, visions, and tastes. You could fairly easily understand all the non-linguistic thinking, although it would be somewhat unfamiliar because it was felt by a different physical entity that is built differently and has different experiences.

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