AI: How Do You Think – Redux

Back in February of 2010, Elyse from Skepchick posted an Afternoon Inquisition on my behalf. It came about because I had wondered in the comments of a previous post (along with commenter Danarra) about how people think, how they interpret sensory information in their brains.

For instance, when I picture the days of the week in my head, Sunday through Saturday, I picture the days flowing in the opposite direction that they do on a calendar; from right to left. When I picture the order of songs on a music album, sometimes they ‘look’ (feel?) vertical, sometimes horizontal. Sometimes the order of the songs starts out under some kind of low ‘shelf’, from left to right, and the shelf rises up the further into the album I listen. I know. It’s weird. And really difficult to describe. Also, I always picture the same album in the same way (the weird ‘shelf’ thing is how I picture Nevermind by Nirvana).

I had also wondered about how we experience thoughts. Are they visual, like a movie playing out? Do you think in words? Shapes? Colors? And speaking of colors, I had wondered if what I call Green is exactly what someone else calls Green? And now I have learned that some women may be able to see more subtle distinctions between colors than the general population.

The comments were great and I really enjoyed trying to understand the processes through which different people think and ‘see’ in their minds. And now that I can ask the readers directly, I will!

How do you think? Do you have what you consider a peculiar way of visualizing things in your mind? Do your thoughts appear as words, images or something else entirely?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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  1. I find that I tend to represent abstract concepts visually — but even though I have the very strong notion that it’s a concrete form I’m seeing, if I try to focus on or describe just what I’m visualizing, I can’t do it.

    The colour question is always a very cool one. I had a friend in high school who didn’t discover that he was colour blind until one day in Biology when we were all checking out the colourblindedness tests in our textbooks. Really shook him up!

    And I love the idea that blue and violet aren’t anywhere near one another on the colour spectrum even though it looks like one bleeds into the other.

    Or (my favourite) that primary colours are entirely relative — and if we had cones that peaked at different wavelengths, we’d be teaching kids an entirely different set of primary colours in art class.

    A lot of people seemed to misunderstand that tetrachromacy thing. Women with tetrachromacy don’t see colours outside of the normal human range (the genes for the cones they posses are already present in the general population) — it’s just that the wavelengths that each type of cone peaks at is sufficiently different that the brain will interpret them as different colours. So they may not have ultraviolet vision, but I’ll bet they’re much better at telling certain hues apart.

  2. I’m a crap speller, when I was at school and had trouble spelling, my mother would tell me to just picture the word in my head and write down what I see. One day my dad over heard this and said “what the hell are you talking about? I can’t picture words in my head.” I was the same. If I knew how to spell a word then I could make it “in my head” with great effort but not a word that I could not spell.

    When I think about things, it is a running conversation I am having with myself. Once in a while there will be images like a slide show but mostly nothing. I can see block colours and large vague shapes and know what detail is there but not actually visualize it.
    whereas my girlfriend can remember a reference to a scientific paper picture where it is on a page and then read some of the surrounding information. She can call up details where as I grasp large concepts and the main points and forget all the details.

    It is a very interesting topic due to the hugely different ways people think.

  3. @Quarksparrow: That is my understanding of Tetrachromacy as well. I’ve fixed the wording of my statement to (hopefully) better reflect that. Thanks 🙂
    In high school, our art teacher helped a color blind student create a special color chart to help him to make distinctions between colors he had trouble perceiving. Wish I could remember how they did it.

    @dpeabody: “When I think about things, it is a running conversation I am having with myself.”
    That is exactly my experience as well. As I am typing this, I hear my own voice in my head. It even gets ahead of me because I’m a slow typist.

  4. One thing that’s weird (as far as I know) about me is that I’m a great speller, but have a pretty tough time of it when people spell things out loud. Like, say the word “corpuscle” and bam, I can see it and can spell it back to you. But if you say “c-o-r-p-u-s-c-l-e”, it’ll take me several seconds to replay the audio in my head and visually place the letters next to each other and read it.

  5. I too think in words and have a running conversation with myself. I barely visualise things at all. When meeting up with someone I’ve only seen in pictures* I’ll worry that I won’t recognise them, as I can’t visualise their appearance, but when they actually show up recognition is easy.

    When thinking about spatial problems I’ll be aware of objects’ dimensions and forms and be able to manipulate them in my thoughts, but I don’t “see” them. I just _know_ how they relate to each other.

    *(I occasionally meet women from net dating sites.)

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