On the existence of multiple fundamental “languages” in the brain that use discrete symbols and a few basic structures

Stanislas Dehaene, Fosca Al Roumi, Yair Lakretz, Samuel Planton, Mathias Sabl�-Meyer, Symbols and mental programs: a hypothesis about human singularity, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 26, Issue 9, 2022, Pages 751-766 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2022.06.010.

Natural language is often seen as the single factor that explains the cognitive singularity of the human species. Instead, we propose that humans possess multiple internal languages of thought, akin to computer languages, which encode and compress structures in various domains (mathematics, music, shape\u2026). These languages rely on cortical circuits distinct from classical language areas. Each is characterized by: (i) the discretization of a domain using a small set of symbols, and (ii) their recursive composition into mental programs that encode nested repetitions with variations. In various tasks of elementary shape or sequence perception, minimum description length in the proposed languages captures human behavior and brain activity, whereas non-human primate data are captured by simpler nonsymbolic models. Our research argues in favor of discrete symbolic models of human thought.

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