Friday, 23 May 2008

Pictures of the Mind

There’s a subject I’ve been trying to write about for days now but ironically I’m finding it hard to put into words – that subject is visual thinking. I once read some of the greatest minds in history were visual thinkers. It’s a hard point to argue against when one considers the evidence.

Autistic savant Daniel Tammet is a math genius like the world has never known. Tammet can perform the most complex mathematical equations in his head faster than an accountant with a calculator. He can also recall pi to 22,514 decimal places (it might interest the group that Tammet’s obsession with numbers began after suffering an epileptic seizure at age 3). Not surprisingly, Daniel doesn’t calculate numbers like the rest of us:

"When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think."

Of course there are countless other examples of extraordinary people who could be defined as visual thinkers. And given the apparent strength of visual thinking, I wonder if it's a hardwired function of the brain or is it a skill which can be learned?

Sometime ago I came up with a mental exercise designed to improve my meditation skills. The exercise consists of eliminating words from my thought process and performing everyday tasks using only mental images. At first I experienced a great deal of difficulty and not an insignificant amount of physical pain. It felt as if my head had turned into a construction site as my brain learned to function under the new conditions. Eventually the task became easier but I have yet to master what I would consider true visual thinking. On a positive note though, I did sense an improvement in my ability to focus during meditation.

So I have to ask if anyone here is a visual thinker, or possibly knows someone who is. Given the amazing minds assembled I would venture to guess there are more than a few here. I for one would be most interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences on this subject.

References: A genius explains: The Daniel Tammet Story

30 comments:

woodsprite said...

In my work I frequently come across children on the autistic spectrum. Often the way to help them understand the complex world of social communication has to be through visual means. It's as if a verbal language is too ambiguous to convey what is expected. I find it challenging to think in a concrete visual way to enable true communication. As a result it expands my own understanding.

In a similar way, I have a very close friend who is partially sighted. We have visited art galleries together and I find myself trying to explain visual pieces of art using language. This forces me to describe the visual world in as vivid a way as I possibly can to try to bring the experience to life. It is only too obvious (sadly) how inadequate words are to express the emotional, "gestalt" experience of a work of art which has meaning for the observer.

susan marie said...

This is a very important post: I have given much thought to visual thinking, and having also worked with autistic children I agree that visualization provides a means for those as well as others to form concepts (while working within a limited context of theory of mind). i think that Ken as a Jungian scholar might have much to add in the way of expanding on the importance of visualization as a tool in Jungian analysis and in the process of individuation. Thank you for having set this down in ways which can serve to further discussion.

johar said...

Oh my goodness, This an excellent question. I'ts made me remember something I have been doing for so long that it has become almost unconscious. I can visualize colours very easily. At school I started seeing auras around the teachers when white boards replaced blackboards. I assumed at the time everyone could 'see' what I was seeing. From those colours, I knew their moods and even got personality impressions, all without verbal communication.
I've been nursing for quite a few years now and when a patient arrives, I unconsciously 'body scan' them. I see colours of different shapes and sizes which tell me there's something wrong with certain areas. I partly thought it was because I already knew the problem they had presented with. Now I realise I was visualizing their ailments in colour which told me what was going on internally.

Thank you for this question, it has made me sit up and take notice of a skill I was so used to using I had almost forgotten I was using it.

It's raised my awareness and will certainly make me more aware with everyday things, not just at work.This will certainly improve my colour intuition, I believe, it is something I can build on.

Awareness raising at it's best!

Jesamyn said...

Very interesting post and accompanying story too.It certainly makes you realise that our brains are pretty much compartmentalised with a place for everything and everything in its place... until an accident or seizure alters these around a little.I have bored many on here before talking of lucid Dreams and also Creative Visualisation, but having practiced both with some success, I often wonder whether the next big step on our Earth is bringing things into being by these methods. As one would have to devote a lot of the day to the exercises pertaining to these two *skills* Life usually intervenes and we let it drop. But as with any study, some is always better than none, and actually EVERYTHING works when you apply it...!!!
Regards Jesamyn.

ric larson said...

I work in the mental health field. i had a client that if he were to ask your date of birth, he can tell you the day you were born on from as far back as 1oo years. Prior to 1oo years he can not calculate. Ric

Anonymous said...

I use to work with a client that if your were to give him your date of birth, he could with in a second tell you the day (M,T,W,Th,F,S,or Su) from up to 100 years ago. Prior to 100 years, he could not calculate? Ric Dee Lars

RAC said...

Wow, certainly some incredible discussion going on here. I had no idea this would strike such a cord. It’s amazing how you all have been able to relate it to your personal experiences and do so with such a wonderful passion.

Johar: Your idea of seeing people’s auras as a function of visual thinking took me by surprise. I had never thought about it in that context before, but now that you’ve pointed it out it makes perfect sense. Very clever and intuitive on your part indeed.

Hurlyburly said...

My ex could apparenly see Aura's. I apparently have a yellow aura and she did indeed confirm ths straight away saying "How did you know that?!!"

Daniel Tammet is indeed fascinating, he has synthesesia which blend his senses, allowing these incredible feats to happen for him. Here is a post i wrote about 6 months or so ago, Anthony posted a new topic immediately after me if you want o see his aswell.

Daniel Tammet

johar said...

RAC, Thanks for your comments. I realise that what I experience isn't visual thinking as you described but as soon as I read your post the light bulb when off in my head. It made me realise just how innovative and creative our brains can be. I wonder if our brains adapt to the kind of work we do as well in some ways? Hence as a caregiver I seem to be 'tuned' into a patients physical state.

Jesamyn - Your comments about how accidents and seizures can alter the brains balance has also woken me up! I was in an bad car smash when I was 18 and suffered a head injury. I was out of it for nearly 24 hours so I'm wondering now if it's 'shifted' my grey matter about a bit!. Also, you could NEVER bore us with your creative talents and skills. Your ability for creative visualization and lucid dreaming is fascinating to me and I would gladly like to hear more about your practice as it is something I would like to pursue.

Karl L Le Marcs said...

Hi guys, sorry, I've been away for a day or so (on partially ITLADic business, obviously) and have just casually ambled out of the sunshine into the Chester Wetherspoons pub (purely for the purpose of using their free Wi-Fi service in order to communicate with you all, and not for any ale purposes!! No way, uh-huh!!)

Now, Robert, good original question BUT the answer depends on one specific observation.

It COMPLETELY depends on how your Neuro Linguistics are functioning!

Putting it more simply; there are generally three (although when you go much deeper into it there are many more) "types" of cognitive reasoning and thinking within people.

1. Visual: Where you are correct Robert, the individual is a visualiser and visual thinker, characrerised by people who use phraseology such as "I see what you mean" or "I can see where you are coming from"

2. Auditory: Where the thoughts and responses are activated more readily by hearing inputs by people who use terms such as "I hear what you are saying" or "That sounds interesting"

3. Kinaesthetic: Where the mind of the individual works on thoughts pertaining to feelings within someone who would say things like "I feel you may be right", or "I sense some truth in what you say"

As I said earlier, this is an over-generalisation as there are many other subsets PLUS you can have a combination of individual make-ups thus leading to a multitude of personal characteristics but the trick is to establish which "type" of person someone is via subtle questioning, which require the person to answer whilst thinking of visual construction and remembrance, auditory awareness, personal feelings and inner communication. This can initially be done via “eye-accessing clues” and body language which I have rambled on about on here previously so shall avoid going over my own old ground again.

So if you are NOT a Visually Neuro Linguistic person then trying to visually think will NOT be effect to you unless you re-programme your cognisance to quite a degree.

This is why, in my humble opinion, the method of schooling that is adopted in Education even up to degree level is WRONG for a large part of the students.

In my own lectures and teaching I spend time pinpointing the individual learning and thinking characteristics of everyone so I can direct the learning to their method of thinking. This makes the teaching and the learning MUCH easier, but is of course more difficult the larger the number within the lesson.

For myself, I am a Kinaesthetic-Visual-Epistemologist thinker (the latter part being one who thinks from a prior knowledge base of an extensive variety), so I respond most quickly to thoughts within my own feelings, considering how something makes me feel and react etc, then Visual whereby if someone says something to me then I create a picture of it (which is often hard to erase for a while so bear that in mind!!!), and then I apply these thoughts to my inner library of knowledge.

Basically, everyone is different to a degree (some massively), so expecting everyone to “Visually” think is impossible.

Last examples would be if I said to you “DON’T think of an Elephant”, then in order to NOT think of one, your mind would have to think of one in order to process the instruction NOT to do it. Pscyhologists argue that there is an element of “priming” in the sentence as it does contain the instruction “think of an Elephant” but I think that having the negative instruction “DON’T” at the beginning means our minds have already begun the cognitive programming before the rest of the sentence is heard. BUT, in the statement “DON’T think of an Elephant”, did you a) Visualise an Elephant, b) Hear yourself reading the instruction or c) Ask yourself why NOT to think of an Elephant.

The same principle applies when you are talking to someone up a ladder where you SHOULD say “DON’T Look UP”, and NOT “DON’T Look DOWN”, many subtle psychology tricks are known such as these and if you loll around in pubs with me for long enough I will probably use them on you!!

*smile*

Karl L Le Marcs said...

RAC: By the way Robert, I think you are certainly more Kinaesthetic than Visual.
"See" if you can "sense" why I "say" that in my comment!
*giggles to self*

johar said...

Karl, You've made the excellent point that we are all sensory beings and when it comes to thinking, we are much better equipped to think in sensory terms rather than words.

Learning to develop our NLP systems, from our strongest to our weakest is a great way of developing awareness and I believe enhances our interaction with others and thus our universal oneness.

My primary system is visual, closely followed by kinaesthetic, often neck and neck. My auditory system is definitely my weakest system. I try to be aware of this, especially in my work environment as it can greatly enhance communication.

Funnily enough, I've just been wedding dress shopping and as soon as I saw a certain dress, I visualized it on and got the excited 'feeling' that it was right! It was a completely sensory experience.

RAC, I've been trying that mental image replacing words exercise you did and it's quite difficult isn't it, even though I am a very visual gal!

Shiva said...

This reminds me of a thought I had a while ago concerning different ways to interprete the Bible.
In this case the story of the tower of babel and the confusion of tongues. It occurred to me that a possible explanation could be as follows:
In short, the building of the tower was mans attempt to connect with Higher Self - the Daemon. The confusion of tongues perhaps tells us that it is the lower mind, the realm of internal dialogue that prevents us from succeeding. Thus meditation - the stopping of " the modifications of the mind" as Patanjali eloquently describes it in his " Yoga Sutras" is a key to connecting with the Daemon.
The connection with this article? Left-brain thinking is mental, right-brain is experiencial- visual thinking.

susan marie said...

Shiva: What an interesting and astute interpretation! It hits the mark, and casts a new light on that biblical illustration.

RAC said...

Thanks again for the great feedback. I see in the article Mr. Tammet is an avid reader. I wonder if he has a copy of ITLAD? Sure would be interesting to “hear” his insight into it. ;-)

johar said...

RAC, You gave yourself away by saying hear his 'insight' - very kinaesthetic!

RAC said...

Johar:
a) Drats, you caught me
b) Very cool that you tried the exercise
c) Congratulations on the pending nuptials

johar said...

RAC - it's my sister's wedding, sorry for the confusion.

johar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Gilchrist said...

Hi,
Just returning to the original post and the words, "It's mental imagery".

Some years ago I gave some thought to what it is that enables some folks to just visualise mathematcal answers and apparently with no calculation at all. I came up with the answer that is consistent (as I now have learnt) with the ITLADIAN hypothesis.

Anyway, it goes like this.

The answers to mathematical questions, and indeed to any question, are not coming in 'real time'... they are simply being presented by the Daemon either from memories stored away from a previous 'encounter' (a la Groundhog Day) or by 'manipulating' time, stepping forwards and then back again, to get the answer - a bit like a precognition or, dare I say, 'deja vu'!

You know the TV show where the contestant says, "Can I make a call?" But this time, they are calling on their Daemon without really knowing it.

Referrimg loosely to Karls' NLP comments, the way the Daemon presents it to these gifted people depends on how they 'see' the answer in their "mind's eye". Some would see pictures, others may 'hear' the answer and maybe some would even 'feel' it.

I also see a link to Autism (much like others on this post). My view of autism is that some are much closer to their Daemon. I have long believed that my son actually spends most of his life living in his 'right brain' (conversing with his Daemon quite a lot).

And so it would not be surprising that those with autism appear to figure well among those who display remarkable 'savant' qualities.

Bottom line is that people who do this stuff are actually cheating - and probably without realising it!

Now, let me see, where did I put my slide rule?

Cheers
Ed

Karl L Le Marcs said...

I feel that I see what you wanted me to hear in that!
*smile*

Ed said...

Hi,
Just returning to the original post and the words, "It's mental imagery".

Some years ago I gave some thought to what it is that enables some folks to just visualise mathematical answers and apparently with no calculation at all. I came up with the answer that is consistent (as I now have learnt) with the ITLADIAN hypothesis.

Anyway, it goes like this.

The answers to mathematical questions, and indeed to any question, are not coming in 'real time'... they are simply being presented by the Daemon either from memories stored away from a previous 'encounter' (a la Groundhog Day) or by 'manipulating' time, stepping forwards and then back again, to get the answer - a bit like a precognition or, dare I say, 'deja vu'!

You know the TV show where the contestant says, "Can I make a call?" But this time, they are calling on their Daemon without really knowing it.

Referring loosely to Karl's NLP comments, the way the Daemon presents it to these gifted people depends on how they 'see' the answer in their "mind's eye". Some would see pictures, others may 'hear' the answer and maybe some would even 'feel' it.

I also see a link to Autism (much like others on this post). My view of autism is that some are much closer to their Daemon. I have long believed that my son actually spends most of his life living in his 'right brain' (conversing with his Daemon quite a lot).

And so it would not be surprising that those with autism appear to figure well among those who display remarkable 'savant' qualities.

Bottom line is that people who do this stuff are actually cheating - and probably without realising it!

Now, let me see, where did I put my slide rule?

Cheers
Ed

Karl L Le Marcs said...

Ed: Interesting comments mate, now my mind is a deeply mathematical one and I can calculate in my head multiplication of two and three and even four digit numbers and to me asking me how I do it is similar to asking how do I scratch my nose.
I just do it!
Cheating indeed!!!!!
*flounces off*

*smile*

RAC said...

If our brains operated as an analog computer then math functions would be as simple as combining two or more seperate frequencies(heterodyning). Might this account for the visualized shapes Mr. Tammet refers to in the article?

Karl L Le Marcs said...

I thought heterodyning was what you do when you take a lady out for a meal!!!

*ah the fun of it all*

Surely the brain operates as a basic circuit with the synaptic gaps acting as open or closed gates to the flow of current. The signals sent by one is fired across the synapses and modulated by neurotransmiters. Input may well be analog (US spelling) but storage, retrieval and speed of processing would suggest a different method of functionality. Indeed at Quantum Level the whole analog/binary/digital simply becomes probability density function.
Well, I say simply!!!!

RAC said...

"Indeed at Quantum Level the whole analog/binary/digital simply becomes probability density function."

A point well taken... and well beyond my scope of expertise.

Karl L Le Marcs said...

We all learn from each other and collectively grow the egregore towards our ultimate goal.........
A Unifying Theory of Consciousness.

Or one major ITLADic party!!!

*smile*

Jesamyn said...

Johar... your comment touched me as I sometimes think I bore all on here with my (un)!! knowledge of Quantam physics etc!! I could not find your e mail address here.. mine is crystal_tabby@yahoo .com if you further want to discuss lucid dreams or Creative Visualisation etc... hope to hear from you!!! Jesamyn.

johar said...

Thanks Jesamyn, I'll certainly be in touch. X

Karl L Le Marcs said...

Jesamyn: Now, you know FULL WELL that you certainly don't Bohr me don't you!
*knowing smile and quantum giggle*