Monday, February 25, 2008

Visualizing Thoughts

One of Wittgenstein's logic movements in the Tractatus is from picture to thought. As someone who almost never uses visualization unconsciously (but almost always with an intent to visualize) I had to ask a friend who is more visually-inclined whether her thoughts are visual. She confirmed that her thoughts are visual and that she could not imagine how it is to think without the visual component. For me, the majority of my thoughts are either language or mood based.

It also recalls an interesting conversation I had with a couple of friends at a bar where among the three of us I was the only one who did not visualize scenes while reading. Even when I am reading a description of a setting, I do not visualize but aim to understand the function of the setting within the scene. In the same way, if someone talks about a red dress, I won't even visualize the color red. I cognitively understand what is being said but there is no visual component unless I consciously decide to think about the dress as red visually.

It would be interesting to find out if there are different brain pathways in the way people think based on what their thought associations are, whether it's visual, aural, language, smell, taste, etc. For me, my thoughts are mostly a combination of language, mood and the not yet articulated. As such, the most frustrating part of this is the limits of language and seeking out the exact words that express what I am thinking. I wonder if this is part of the reason why words and books have such primary importance in my life as it is the vehicle of thought and communication. I wonder whether for those who have a sensory component to their thoughts if language is the dressing of thought rather than the thought itself.


Sean said...

Interesting post. My thoughts are mostly visual, and to be frank it can be quite annoying sometimes. It's like having a TV on in your head at all times.

Imagine someone standing in front of you trying to explain how to accomplish a difficult task, and at the same time there is a very large TV behind them. Can you imagine how distracting that would be?

Postillion said...

Hey, Sean,

Thanks for your comment. Your explanation of visualizing thoughts is...very visual. I get it.

I think completely in language, to the point that if I want to relax (or as almost all my friends demand: "Could you stop overthinking it?), I have to switch off language altogether. In order to do that, I have to focus on one of the senses, most often visual. However, unless I tell myself consciously to look around me, there's nothing visual going on in my thought.

Sean said...

"Your explanation of visualizing thoughts is...very visual."

I had a feeling you were going to say that. It didn't cross my mind until I was writing the comment, that people who think differently (verbal vs. visual) would express concepts and ideas in a way that's relative to their thinking style.

Now I'm wondering how often miscommunications between two parties are the result of different thinking patterns.

Postillion said...

Now I'm wondering how often miscommunications between two parties are the result of different thinking patterns.

I hope that different ways of thinking will be something that scientists will study (if they haven't done so already).

One of the things that I've been thinking about since I first had this conversation with my friends a year ago (it had never entered my mind before that anyone would visualize as a way of thinking) is whether the ability to visualize is related to understanding certain categories of science. For me, articles on topology and physics are extremely difficult to understand, even the ones that are specifically written to be accessible to the general public. It always helps if the article is accompanied by a visual representation as I can't seem to construct a visual representation if I hadn't seen it previously. I wonder if people who are innovative in such fields, including physical engineering and architecture, are more visually inclined in their thinking.

Perhaps the way we think is a large factor in the careers we choose as well as the passions we develop.