Tip of the Tongue, Iceberg

In his recent post “Echoes of Inner Speech“, Eric Schwitzgebel reflects on the phenomenological differences between inner speech and the apparently lingering non-speech thoughts that follow episodes of inner speech. As the comments to the post evidence, it’s natural to wonder here to what degree the various relevant mental phenomena - thoughts, etc. - are language like. How “speechy” is so-called inner-speech? How language-like are so-called non-speechy thoughts?

It strikes me as relevant to compare such phenomena to the phenomenon of a name on the tip of one’s tongue. There’s a clear sense in which the name is “there” even though it’s not there in the way it would be if you were silently saying the name to yourself. It’s also clear that what ever is “there” has to be pretty language-like, since what’s on the tip of the tongue is a name, after all.

5 Responses to “Tip of the Tongue, Iceberg”

  1. Thanks for the link and interesting comments, Pete!

    I don’t know if the name really is “there” in the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, though. I’m out of date on the metacognition literature, but I seem to remember in the 1990s, one of the standard views was that you experience the t-o-t phenomenon, roughly, if you have a dense set of associations in the area such that it seems plausible that you *should* know the name. The classic example was, I think, this: Baby Ruth candy bar used to be produced by Curtiss candy company. People would often report t-o-t when asked to name the manufactury of Baby Ruth, but then not show any evidence of knowing that it was Curtiss on multiple-choice recognition tests. So (the story went) it can’t have been that the name was really there and only blocked. (Of course there are counter-arguments and counter-arguments to those counter-arguments, etc.)

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Good points to raise, Eric. Similarly relevant are various experiments about feeling of knowing and the so-called distinction between remembering and knowing.

    My guess is that the expression “tip of the tongue” is likely ambiguous between denoting a feeling of knowing - a feeling not necessarily reliable -and actually knowing. To disambiguate, I had something like the latter in mind when I wrote the post.

    The more I think about it, though, it seems a spurious inference from knowing the name of someone to the conclusion that the knowledge itself is encoded in a linguistic format. The actual knowledge representation may very well just be the trigger for the production of an utterance which need no more resemble the utterance than a literal trigger resemble a literal bullet.

  3. Josh Weisberg says:

    This has got me thinking of a slightly different case, though I’m not sure what quite to make of it. It might just be another case like the one you described, Pete. Anywho:

    Sometimes when I’m writing I’ll realize there is a better word or phrase for what I’m trying to say, but I can’t quite get at it. And I’ll have a strong TOT/FOK (possible the most disturbing acronym in all science…) experience. So I am thinking about the thing I’m describing, and that thinking need not be language-like, but I am considering and rejecting various words, or so it seems. That part sure seems like silent speech, and when I find the “mot just” I then write it out just as I “heard” it. So there’s a sense in which I’m searching my “linguistic data base” to find words, and I often can find the right word, after some effort. So lots of “speechy stuff” seems to be going on.

    This may be a limited (or trivial) case–I’m writing, so all my language-creating systems are “on line.” Or maybe it falls under the explanation Eric gave. Not to sure…

  4. I agree with your reservation, Pete, about the mechanisms producing language not having to be themselves linguistic.

    Josh: All the more reason to avoid ugly acronyms — overused in CogSci and PoM. AUA!

  5. Brendan says:

    I have a vague recollection that Baars talks about the TOT phonomenon somwhere in ‘A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness’ (1988), but I haven’t read it in a couple of years.