Thoughts: Pictures or Words?

Think of an Elephant. What comes in your mind? An elephant, or the word “Elephant”?

elephant-drawing-005What comes in my mind is the picture of an elephant, because that’s how I think. Pictures, not words. Visualisations, images and seeing through space, rather than words or language.

Elephant might have been easy enough, but what if I ask you to remember somebody’s address?  Do you see the written address or do you see Googlemaps type graphics zooming in to that address or you remembering the streets to reach there? I generally see the landmarks, the turns rather than seeing the address as a text.

Let’s take something a bit more complex. An equation of a circle. When I read out the equation of a circle as x² + y² = 1, what comes in your mind? The equation as I mentioned, or the picture of a circle passing?

I try to visualise the circle on the infinite black canvas allowed by my brain. I think words and languages come in the way of thoughts. Thoughts should not be limited by the vocabulary, but should be beyond that. If we can imagine and visualise 3 Dimensional space in our minds, we can further any understanding we currently have. It’s said Mozart could compose a whole symphony in his head while dreaming. Sir Roger Penrose believed in topology, thinking in terms of pictures, not equations or words. Richard Feynman could not understand anything if he couldn’t visualise it in his brain. Most of Einstein’s ideas originated from his thought experiments. Stephen Hawking, who has ALS, is stuck in his body, whilst he has pushed the boundaries of his brain into topology (shapes not equations).

This, is Genie. She is a feral child. She was kept in social isolation by her father, when she was just about 1.5 years old, until 13.5 years old. He kept her in a single room, mostly tied down to a toilet seat. Because of the isolation lasting about 12 years, Genie developed no or very little speech, and did not acquire any language.

Is it fair to say that Genie did not have thoughts and memories because she did not learn a language? Well, turns out the other way. When Genie was actually found, she was treated, taught a language, however little she could learn. Genie could, and did speak her mind on the abuse and negligence she had been through. She would tell the doctors about the constant abuse her father made her go through. She had memories registered even without language, and now with language she could communicate it to others, but this doesn’t mean that language is needed to think. Language might be one way in which people might think, not necessarily the most primitive, or the best. I believe language is only needed for communication ideas from one’s brain to others. The moment you start thinking in words, you limit your brain’s capacity, and if you can’t explain your idea’s to someone, it’s the defeat of language, not the idea.

But even if you do, which language do you think in? French? English? German?

Well it turns out, people mostly think in their native language. Think of writing an essay, and the words you are about to put in it. Which language is it in? What if you thought in terms of pictures and visualisations, and then used language to convert them to words? You are then only limited by your vocabulary, not imagination.

I’ll end this post in a pretentious tone, I am a stern believer of thinking with pictures, until somebody argues and proves otherwise. I just can’t seem to understand something, if I can’t visualise it. This is the same reason I include pictures and animations in my posts. It helps!

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