April 26th, 2008

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Visual Thinking, Internal Interfaces

One of the things that has always fascinated me is the idea that people don't all perceive their world the same way. Not in the "Everybody has a different POV way," but in terms of brain psychology, consciousness, basic thinking.

Anyway, without going on a tangent explaining that particular fascination, I want to write a bit about a few of the examples of "visual thinking" my brains uses every day. These are cases where I have created spacial structures and patterns in my head to sort out concepts, memories, etc.

Elementary School

When I think about elementary school and remember an incident or a person, I actually have the memories sorted in the layout of the school. kindergarten, readiness and first grade are all set in the halls of West Elementary, while second through sixth, plus all general school memories, are set in South Elementary. When I think of second grade, my brain goes to the two classrooms at the end of the building. For sixth grade, it's the three classrooms diagonally opposite. I actually see the layout of the building in my head. Further, I have assigned "tabs" to this layout so I can immediately give the year -- second grade is 1982-83, fifth grade is 1985-86, etc.


When I think of a week, backwards or forward, in the past or in the future, I picture it kind of like a board game, with seven hollowed out holes and the day you're talking about is a bean or gamepiece. There are five holes together, Mon.-Fri., and then the two weekend days, which are bigger holes. When it's Tuesday I picture it as being on the second of five holes and see Saturday as a big hole at the end. As the days change, my brain does this metaphor of moving a game piece, going from slot to slot.

I picture a year as being a set of 12 blocks, arranged left to right, Jan.-Dec. Then each prior year stretches to the left, each future one in a line to the right. When I think backwards, I move along the line. So from now back to December 2007, I know it's four blocks of 2008 and then over to the prior year block. When I think forward to June I see a slide moving from four to six.

When I think of time on an even larger scale, I see the years in a horizontal line like a timeline, with markers at centuries. For the 70s, I see the slider go back three decades.

Further Thoughts

I don't know if I'm explaining this in a way that makes sense, because this isn't something I've think much about, it's just part of how my brain works. My brain actually uses these visualizations and metaphors as a means of interfaces to memories and information related to the time period. It's like I've created a kind of rack in my head and I've got pegs on it, which I've tied memories and stuff to.

I don't if this is what everybody does but I'd be fascinated to know. I recently read a book written by a savant with Asperger's who described his thinking patterns and the thing that I thought most cool was his description of his own thought patterns, stuff inside his head. Like how he would sort words, see numbers as colors, see words as shapes, etc. Brains do amazing things in terms of building internal interfaces.
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