Thinking in pictures
Yesterday I listened to the fascinating Temple Grandin talking about how she ‘thinks in pictures’ on The TED Radio Hour she described how in a conversation or when thinking her mind constantly conjurers up a constant stream of images. These images are not random, the are specific images from her past that she associates with objects or ideas. Previously I’ve heard her describe how she can visualise objects in 3D and manipulate them in her mind, and she’s described how it was only quite late in life that she discovered that this was a fairly rare ability.
This got me thinking for the first time in my life about how I think, because it’s certainly nothing like Temple! In fact I find it incredibly difficult to recall any images clearly in my mind. I can’t visualise my children’s faces (so I have their pictures with me everywhere I go), my house, or car. In fact I find it very difficult recall anything specific, telephone numbers, names etc. When I’m listening to someone talk, or thinking on my own I think in concepts and relationships.
For example if I’m having a conversation or reading a book I’m always trying to identify some underlying structure, fit new information into an existing conceptual framework or create a new one, critically identify things that don’t fit, and see the relationships and connections between what I’m hearing and things I already know. So generally what pops into my mind are a constant stream of connections and things slotting into a structure.
Having discussed this with my wife and a couple of my kids my eyes have been opened to the fact that they also think mostly in pictures and have no trouble constructing detailed images in their minds.
It’s given me an intriguing insight into why I’m so good at ‘reading people’, reviewing documents and spotting the things that are wrong or don’t fit, creating structure out of chaos and predicting the future. It’s a shame I can’t remember my children’s birthdays and more than a handful of names though 🙁