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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Visual-Spatial Author and Other Weirdness

One of the interesting things about giftedness is that, for many of the gifted, knowing how one’s own brain works and how the brains of people around us work is somewhat of an obsession. Many people would consider this some kind of elitist fantasy. To that negative emotion, I respond like this: If you had gotten a new power washer (pump powered high pressure water sprayer), you might be pretty fascinated with it. It’s not like a space probe, but not everyone has one—a few people in the neighborhood do. Perhaps maybe 5% of the people in the neighborhood burned their hard earned money on it. 

Not everyone’s power washer is exactly the same. Everyone’s power washer has the nozzle to clean cement and masonry siding. It is just an imperative to have those accessories. But if you have the right nozzle, you can strip paint off your wooden fence. And perhaps you learned to adjust to pump speed and modified one of your nozzles to accomplish the feat that very few people do, namely being able to strip the oxidized rubber off your tires without cutting a hole in them. It’s something you can do that’s kind of cool in that suddenly, your tires look like new. And perhaps you put on your thinking cap and realize that you could modify one of those inline feeders for plants so that you can input diluted chemicals through your power spray, which could have all kinds of applications—fertilizing your yard in minutes, lifting all the rust off those old garden tools—you begin to get quite creative in your explorations—admit it, you wouldn’t be able to help yourself.

I think for most gifted people, their mind is their tool—they were born with their own private power washer built right into their skull. Unfortunately, the owner’s manual wouldn’t fit in there and different brands come with different nozzle sets. It’s quite confusing, even inconvenient at times. For example, I could never imagine that if I put that funny colored nozzle onto the power washer I rented, I could actually cut through the fence. I bet the neighbor still wonders how those wood fibers got embedded into the stucco on their house. I just love power tools, they are so much fun—so many surprising things can happen.

It took half a century for me to know there was such a thing as a “pictorial processor” or visual-spatial thought. For the few years I had access as a kid to what was called “advanced track” (I don’t know if they had the word “gifted” as it is used today), I was the clown in the room doing his math problems on his fingers and toes because sequential and I just don’t get along. In the beginning it was kind of insulting to have this moron in the classroom but as time progressed, the fingers and toes were accepted as a sign that a curve in the latest exam grade was a possibility.

I didn’t really understand at all what was going on until a tutoring service identified my daughter as having a very parallel mind. It was a wake-up call when we found out that losing sleep actually increased her math entrance exam scores tremendously. I hadn’t realized it, but probably that’s one reason that I felt more comfortable wandering through the highly sequential educational world in a sleepless state. Sleep deprivation shuts down the parallel pathways, forcing the sequential pathways to dominate. I suppose if I had wanted to throw away half of who I was to fit into traditional public education, I could have been a Ritalin junky since I think that probably serializes the mind in much the same way. I think sleep deprivation was a better method, since that just decreased the percentage of the conscious day I was in school.

So after a half a century I learned that I was very pictorial and that this was probably responsible for much of my angst in school. It really hit home when I read a visual-spatial questionnaire that asked, “Do you think in words?” “People think in words?” I hear streams of words like I hear streams of music. It’s not where thoughts come from. Sometimes I’m not sure where thoughts come from, but it’s not from there. I can’t imagine thinking in words.

The alarm bells are certainly going off in your head at this point, “How can this guy claim to be a writer?” Well words have interrelationships to me. Words are an equation where, if the proper terms are applied and the proper verbal operation binds them, they communicate a feeling. They put the reader into a certain state. In my dyslexic perception of words, words can mean something different to me than what most people understand them to mean. So I have to perceive language in a somewhat abstract way. I have to learn explicitly what words mean to people, how to express them in the way they like as opposed to the way that is natural for me. I find writing requires conscious effort in order to construct valid sentences. It is difficult to construct things by gut feel.

Words also are a conveyance for the pictures I see. It’s the only way to get the pictures outside to the real world. This leads me to an interesting discovery that was the motivation for this post. At this moment, I am working with an artist to create the pictures I visualize from my forthcoming novel for gifted students. During this process, I learned a fascinating fact about the “tool”. For one of the illustrations, although the illustration matches the one in my head, it didn’t come out correctly in the beginning and I couldn’t figure out why. In finding out why, I learned another way in which the pictorial mind works.

I can see an object in 3D with color in my mind and I can tell what colors will set the mood and achieve the impact that I want. Much in the way a computer aided design program represents pieces of a picture as “objects”, so my mind does also—objects in color. But what it cannot do is find and show objects that have so similar a color that their details are washed out. Color on color effects do not occur in my pictorial mind. 

This leads to an interesting discovery: there is another part of the mind that sits between the eye and the 3D pictorial mind that reads the color boundaries, decides where the boundaries of the objects are, and then creates the collection of objects that comprise the scene. So when I conceptualize an image that I create in my pictorial mind, a blue object on a blue background is distinct. Yet, when it appears in artwork, the foreground object disappears into the same colored background. There is no way for my pictorial mind to discover that this will happen. 

Relative color considerations are processed at the part of my mind that creates the objects in the pictorial memory from visual input. There is no data path from the pictorial mind back to that processing. To use the color processing, the picture literally has to be put down in a physical form and rescanned by my eyes. The eyes are the only path to the color processing. This is one of those aspects of the “tool” that I wish an owner’s manual explained to me. Now that I know things work this way, I can compensate for them. But without the instructions, this process with the artist was the only thing that showed me this kind of processing exists at all. 

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