as some of you already know, and many of you may have guessed from my atrocious writing style, i have some language difficulties — me and words don’t really get on.
i mentioned before in a comment that i don’t think in words — at least i don’t experience my thinking as happening in words. i think in pictures. well, that’s what i tell people in order to keep it simple. it’s more complicated than that. what i really think in is sort of amorphous blobby things which sometimes seem almost solid enough that i could reach out and touch them, but most of the time they are just blobby things in my mind’s eye.
the best description of this experience that i’ve ever seen is from galton who was describing how he thought. from his “Thought without Words” [opens pdf]:
“Prof. Max Muller says that no one can think of a dog without mentally using the word dog, or its equivalent in some other language, and he offers this as a crucial test of the truth of his theory. It utterly fails with me. On thinking of a dog, the name at once disappears, and I find myself mentally in that same expectant attitude in which I should be if I were told that a dog was in an obscure part of the room or just coming round the corner. I have no clear visual image of a dog, but the sense of an ill-defined spot that might shape itself into any specified form of dog, and that might jump, fawn, snarl, bark, or do anything else that a dog might do, but nothing else….
“It is a serious drawback to me in writing, and still more in explaining myself, that I do not so easliy think in words as otherwise. It often happens that after being hard at work, and having arrived at results that are perfectly clear and satisfactory to myself, when I try to express them in language I feel that I must begin by putting myself upon quite another intellectual plane. I have to translate my thoughts into a language that does not run very evenly with them. I therefore waste a vast deal of time in seeking for appropriate words and phrases, and am conscious, when required to speak on a sudden, of being often very obscure through mere verbal maladroitness, and not through want of clearness or perception.”
me and galton. i don’t feel so bad. (^_^)
yes, so, most of the time when i think, it’s in these amorphous shapes — “ill-defined spot[s] that might shape [themselves] into any specified form[s]” of whatever i happen to be thinking about. and, yes — i spend all day, every day translating my thoughts into words! when i need to commicate to someone else, that is. exhausting, lemme tell you.
however, when i get tired, especially really tired, then i do start to think in actual pictures. if i were to think of a dog when i was tired, i would definitely see a clear image of a dog in my mind’s eye. the more tired i get, the more “real” the image becomes — i.e. the more i see it in my visual field rather than just in my mind’s eye. another way of putting it would be that the image becomes sharper — more in focus. the pictures never completely take over my visual field, though. the images are always semitransparent. but, when i’m really, really exhausted, and then lie down to sleep, then i experience an uncontrollable, usually rapid fire, slide show in my head (visual field if i open my eyes). which is pretty cool! i enjoy those! (^_^)
the well known high-functioning autist temple grandin has said that she experiences thinking as a sort of video stream. my experience is not that extreme — most of the day i have galton’s “ill-defined” shapes, which then become more clearly defined pictures in my mind’s eye the more tired i get, until eventually they start to invade my vision (always in a semi-transparent way).
i should mention here that speech also becomes much more of a challenge as the day goes on. and, again, once i’m exhausted, i start to sound like i’ve had one too many gin and tonics. (~_^) i don’t slur my words, it just becomes next to impossible to fetch the words out of wherever they normally hide in my skull. (~_^)
oftentimes, more abstract concepts — like “freedom” or “democracy” or “corruption” — appear in my mind’s eye when i start to get tired (i.e. past whatever point it is that the “ill-defined” shapes start to be replaced by pictures) as printed words. presumably it’s hard for my brain to come up with an image for “freedom,” so i just see “freedom” written out like the words in one of those fridge magnet poem sets. and, yes, now that i think of it, the words are always in lowercase! the font is something plain, like arial. just black font. no colors. again, these are words that i see in my mind’s eye which are representing thoughts that i am having, normally when i start to be a bit tired — toward the end of the day.
so far none of this is synesthesia (afaik). the synesthesia that i think i might have — and it’s a mild form, if it’s synesthesia at all — is something called ticker tape synesthesia. i’d never heard of it before the other day until kevin mitchell tweeted about it. from this abstract:
“Ticker tape is the automatic visualization of spoken words or thoughts, such as a teleprompter. For example, when spoken to, a ticker taper might see mentally the spoken words displayed in front of his face or as coming out of the speaker’s mouth.”
just like i don’t experience temple grandin-style videos when thinking, i don’t have full ticker tapes. BUT i do have either blobs or pictures or words pop up when i listen to other people speaking — again, it moves from blobs to pictures/”printed” words the more tired i get. when i’m quite tired, then i start to see the occasional word (maybe one or two per sentence?) that the other person is speaking pop up in my visual field (although like the pictures, the words are also semitransparent). they don’t ticker tape out of the person’s mouth, though, and it’s not like subtitles either. i just see the words appear and then disappear right in front of wherever i happen to be looking — so it could be in front of the person’s face if i’m looking right at them, but it could be anywhere i happen to be looking. on the other hand, i might just as easily see a picture instead of “printed” word.
i have, i think, another form of synesthesia, too! — spatial sequence synesthesia:
“With spatial sequence synesthesia (SSS), people tend to see numerical sequences as points in space. For instance, the number 1 might be farther away and the number 2 might be closer. People with SSS may have superior memories; in one study they were able to recall past events and memories far better, and in far greater detail than those without the condition. They also see months, or dates in the space around them. Some people even see time like a clock above and around them.”
i have a terrible memory as far as recalling events goes, but, yes, the days of the week and the months all have a “place” — they’re arranged in a semi-circle just above and in front of my head. i “look” at them when i want to remember if wednesday is before or after tuesday. (yeah, i know — weird.) and it feels like i could reach out and grab hold of them. (don’t worry — i don’t! i know they’re not really there.) a lot of concepts or ideas that i have also have locations — i don’t know if this is synesthesia or not. my favorite topics of inbreeding and outbreeding and manorialism, for instance: inbreeding is over here on the left (above my head, again, and a bit in front), outbreeding is on the right (above and in front), and manorialism is right above me. don’t ask me why!
so, my brain is definitely wired funny!
some other conditions that i’ve got that (strongly!) hint at faulty wiring in my brain:
– visual snow: have always had, even as a kid. it’s stationary (thank, goodness!), so it’s not distracting. only notice it if i look at a plain colored background, like a clear blue sky.
– tinnitus: again have always had, even as a kid. i’ve got a rather high pitched ringing that i don’t pay attention to unless it’s really quiet (like going to bed at night).
– prosopagnosia: face blindness. have a mild version of it. i recognize people that i know well that i see all the time (including myself!), but someone who is only an acquaintance, if i meet them “out of context” (like not at work where maybe i know them from), then…heh…hilarity usually ensues. i won’t bore you with stories, but i’ve got some funny (embarassing!) ones. (*^_^*)
– asperger’s: not officially diagnosed, but i pass simon baron-cohen’s tests with flying colors. if i don’t have asperger’s, then there’s something really wrong with me! (~_^)
so, i seem to have mild forms of all these things: autism (asperger’s), visual snow (stationary), tinnitus (background ringing that’s easy to ignore), prosopagnosia (mild face blindness), thinking in “pictures” (but the actual pictures only happen when i’m tired), ticker tape synesthesia (not full ticker tape, just some words here and there when i’m tired), and spatial sequence synesthesia (days of the week, some concepts).
but enough about me. (*^_^*)
(note: comments do not require an email. rawr!)