Re: Reading and Editing--thinking in pictures

Subject: Re: Reading and Editing--thinking in pictures
From: "Geneve Gil" <geneve -dot- gil -at- interwoven -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2001 18:05:38 -0500

Hi there,

Actually, the assumption that thought is language-based is prevalent
throughout our entire educational system (some links below). I wasn't
suggesting that the folks on this list were expressing this assumption; I
was pointing to a portrait of intelligence that lies far beyond what
normally consititutes our *collective* understanding of what human thought
is. I was amazed to discover that, for Temple, "There is no generic,
generalized Great Dane." She does not have a concept of "dog". For her,
"dog" signifies every single, individual, distinct dog she has ever
encountered. Literally.

And since we're talking about what we experience when we read, Temple's
experience is worth offering:

"When I read, I translate written words into color movies or I simply store
a photo of the written page to be read later. When I retrieve the material,
I see a photocopy of the page in my imagination. I can then read it like a

Wow, huh?!

Some academics have theorized that being able to construct and use
linguistic concepts is what separates humans from animals--or that it is, at
least, one significant differentiator. But Temple makes clear that it is
entirely possible to be both human and intelligent--indeed, brilliant within
a profession--without ever drawing upon conceptual categories.

===== Temple writes:

It wasn't until I went to college that I realized some people are completely
verbal and think only in words. I first suspected this when I read an
article in a science magazine about the development of tool use in
prehistoric humans. Some renowned scientist speculated that humans had to
develop language before they could develop tools. I thought this was
ridiculous, and this article gave me the first inkling that my thought
processes were truly different from those of many other people. When I
invent things, I do not use language.

...many people see a generalized generic church rather than specific
churches and steeples when they read or hear the word "steeple." Their
thought patterns move from a general concept to specific examples...

Unlike those of most people, my thoughts move from video like, specific
images to generalization and concepts. For example, my concept of dogs is
inextricably linked to every dog I've ever known. It's as if I have a card
catalog of dogs I have seen, complete with pictures, which continually grows
as I add more examples to my video library. If I think about Great Danes,
the first memory that pops into my head is Dansk, the Great Dane owned by
the headmaster at my high school. The next Great Dane I visualize is Helga,
who was Dansk's replacement. The next is my aunt's dog in Arizona, and my
final image comes from an advertisement for Fitwell seat covers that
featured that kind of dog. My memories usually appear in my imagination in
strict chronological order, and the images I visualize are always specific.
There is no generic, generalized Great Dane...
Spatial words such as "over" and "under" had no meaning for me until I had a
visual image to fix them in my memory. Even now, when I hear the word
"under" by itself, I automatically picture myself getting under the
cafeteria tables at school during an air-raid drill...

I also visualize verbs. The word "jumping" triggers a memory of jumping
hurdles at the mock Olympics held at my elementary school. Adverbs often
trigger inappropriate images -- "quickly" reminds me of Nestle's Quik --
unless they are paired with a verb, which modifies my visual image. For
example, "he ran quickly" triggers an animated image of Dick from the
first-grade reading book running fast, and "he walked slowly" slows the
image down. As a child, I left out words such as "is," "the," and "it,"
because they had no meaning by themselves. Similarly, words like "of," and
"an" made no sense...

To this day certain verb conjugations, such as "to be," are absolutely
meaningless to me.

For more on the relationship between language and thought, see:

Does thought depend crucially on language?
To what extent, if at all, is language involved in thinking?
The Landscape of Language
The Language of Thought Hypothesis
The Evolution of Language
Chimp Talk Debate: Is It Really Language?

Dick Margulis <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net> wrote:
> Geneve,
> Thanks for that contribution to the discussion. What I understood most of
the posters to be saying was along the lines of, "_I_ process reading _this_
way, and maybe a lot of other tech writers do that also," rather than,
"everyone must do it this way." I think all of us understand that there are
different ways people process information. By recognizing our own
preferences and learning about others, we should improve our abilities to
communicate with diverse audiences. Examining our premises, as you note, is
always a good thing.
> Dick

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Re: Reading and Editing--thinking in pictures: From: Dick Margulis

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