Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Mechanism for Finding the Right Word #Science

Various things separate us from apes and the opposing thumb is helpful since the Galaxy Guitar would have lived a forlorn existence if I did not have such a thumb, despite the fact I broke it a long time back.  That's fine and even spectacular from the physical standpoint but the really mystical part comes with our ability in language.  We aren't just satisfied with language since we want just the right language and the research goes into how we find the right word for the right moment.

Most adults can quickly and effortlessly recall as many as 100,000 regularly used words when prompted, but how the brain accomplishes this has long boggled scientists.

Credit: © BillionPhotos.com / Fotolia

How does the brain nearly always find the needle in the haystack? Previous work has revealed that the brain organizes ideas and words into semantically related clusters. When trying to recall a specific word, the brain activates its cluster, significantly reducing the size of the haystack.

- Science Daily: Mapping how words leap from brain to tongue

We see the same process does not work for cliche since I'm quite sure there are no haystacks in my brain ... a few weevils, perhaps, but no haystacks.

For some of you, that last was nitpicking and of no value but with others it's a fair point toward more picturesque speech.  There's variance between us on that but apparently we go through the same general hierarchical approach to identifying something; perhaps the number of levels we pursue is where it varies.  It's the notion of clustering which leads to a view of a hierarchy and, sure it's esoteric, but it's the way we store what things are in our minds.  Surely that's worthy, mates.

The interested student may be interested to read the source article for the methodology by which they concluded the following but we're going straight for the punchline.

They measured the separate neuronal processes involved with first activating the item's conceptual cluster, then selecting the proper word. Surprisingly, they discovered the two processes actually happen at the same time and activate a much wider network of brain regions than previously suspected. As expected, two regions known to be involved in language processing lit up, the left inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior temporal cortex. But so did several other regions not traditionally linked to language, including the medial and middle frontal gyri, the researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

- SD

That type of parallel processing is something computers didn't acquire until well into their physical evolution and teaching them at this level is yet another step.  We don't need a segue to Age of Robos but you can easily infer one.

Possibly such an article seems only applicable to writers or poets but that identifying the correct word for something is foremost identification in whichever language we speak and that has a lovely segue to Noam Chomsky with the ways our thinking will be limited by our capability to identify things.  The example we hear a lot is Eskimos have thirty (?) words for different kinds of snow but most who live to their South simply see snow.

That's esoteric too but the parts do fit.

If you're familiar with the injury from stroke then you're likely aware of the situation when someone tries to find a word but it isn't there or the person has trouble finding it.

"Word retrieval is usually effortless in most people, but it is routinely compromised in patients who suffer from anomia, or word retrieval difficulty," Ries said. "Anomia is the most common complaint in patients with stroke-induced aphasia, but is also common in neurodegenerative diseases and normal aging. So it is critical to understand how this process works to understand how to help make it better."

- SD

While the research did not go into it, there's another aspect since we don't know the process which takes place when the word doesn't exist although that may come from the research into the impact of aphasia.

Were we to see a clown standing on his head on a unicycle, we would search for a word but fail so instead we string together sufficient identifications to make an image of that which we see.  We probably don't need a word for a clown standing on his head on a unicycle but there's never any telling for sure what the future will bring.

For the sake of the example, there's a twisted study of the blinding flash of light which left an alien spacecraft on the White House lawn.  Quick ... what just happened.

We can search all we like for a word to describe that but we don't have one.  Whether we ever need one depends on how crazy whichever resident gets so we shall see.

It's that last process which is the fascination.  We need a word but one doesn't exist so then maybe we decide the language needs that word.  Through some process that word spreads since people hear the word and relate to something they now know.  If it feels like a good fit for them then likely they will use it.

Thereafter, people will know when they see a flash of light and then an alien spacecraft, oh, sure, that's a quozzmork and that word will come about through the hierarchical search we reviewed at the top.  We will get the hit this time since now the word is known and the mindset within that language is that much larger.

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