New research suggests that language can both enhance and diminish the sensitivity of of vision
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said that, "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world," meaning that we can only understand the world through the language we use, and that if our language does not include words for some particular idea or concept, then that concept cannot exist for us. The relationship between language and thought is complex, which researchers continue to debate. Some, like Wittgenstein, argue that thought is dependent on language. Others point out that thought can occur in the absence of language, deaf people being an important case in point.
These arguments focus on the relationship between language and so-called "higher order" thought processes – our ability to evaluate and analyze, to conceptualize and understand. What about lower-order brain mechanisms, such as perception? New research provides evidence that language can influence these processes, so that hearing the name of an otherwise invisible object can enhance visual perception, boosting that object into our conscious awareness.