Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How do we think?

Askville by Amazon states that "there are three different types of specialized thinking:
  1. Visual thinking - Thinking in Pictures, like mine
  2. Music and Math thinking
  3. Verbal logic thinking
Some people think in pictures, some in words. Some people have a "mind's eye"; some a "mind's ear."

I believe that we are not always conscious of the brain's thinking. I can consciously change my breathing, becoming aware of breathing when I choose to change its rate or depth, but usually not being conscious of the brain's thinking about breathing. I note when a sound "attracts my attention" but I assume that my brain is receiving input from my ears about sounds, only raising one to my consciousness when it passes some threshold (which depends on my concentration on the primary object of my attention).  It seems to me that my intuition also depends on unconscious thinking when the brain alerts my stream of consciousness to something to which I might attend.

The brain is of course operating at an electrochemical level. It is at the conscious level that that one perceives that one is thinking in pictures or in words. Which brings me to the question:
Why does one person's brain work in such a way that his/her conscious thought is perceived as pictorial, while another prerson/s brain works in such a way that his/her conscious thought is perceived as words?
I recall the composer, Ingolf Dahl, hated the sound of the Good Humor truck passing through the neighborhood. I think it was because he heard the music he was composing in his head as he was composing it, and the sound of the tinkling melody from the street interfered with that music in his head. I remember that as a child in bed, I used to listen to the music in my head when the lights went out until I went to sleep. Supposedly Mozart somehow "heard" a complete composition in his mind in a single gestalt -- something I can not imagine.

I remember the sculptor Juan de la Cruz Saavedra telling me that he saw the sculpture in the raw material, and simply carved away the material that obscured it so that others could also see what he saw. When I commissioned a piece, on delivery he asked if I could see the sculpture or whether he should clear away even more of the original material to make it more visible to me. Michelangelo is supposed to have said something similar.

I also remember talking to an artist who described his method of work. He would take a blank canvas and look at it. As he looked at it, a painting would come into existence on the canvas. If he liked it, he would apply the paint, much as one might paint by the numbers. If he didn't like the virtual painting, he would have to put the canvas away for a while since he could not "unsee" the virtual picture his brain had constructed. The French artist Delacroix is supposed to have been able to start painting a large canvas from an point such at the hand of its major subject and in a single effort complete the total picture without preliminary sketches -- the whole appearing in appropriate proportion and with a strong composition. Apparently some artists can externalize the virtual image that their brain creates, projecting it on a canvas.

I think that I do algebra and calculus on paper. I see an equation and then know the next equation that follows it without putting it into either images or words.

I suppose that everyone has a stream of consciousness. It is that stream of consciousness that occurs in words or pictures or some other format. The stream of consciousness must be an aspect of the behavior of the brain, and it must be the result of the evolution of structures and processes of the brain. How could evolution produce a structure and process resulting in a stream of consciousness that is perceived in such different ways by different people?

Askville by Amazon also describes several "Different Types of Thinking"
  1. Critical thinking - This is convergent thinking. It assesses the worth and validity of something existent. It involves precise, persistent, objective analysis. When teachers try to get several learners to think convergently, they try to help them develop common understanding.
  2. Creative thinking - This is divergent thinking. It generates something new or different. It involves having a different idea that works as well or better than previous ideas.
  3. Convergent thinking - This type of thinking is cognitive processing of information around a common point, an attempt to bring thoughts from different directions into a union or common conclusion.
  4. Divergent thinking - This type of thinking starts from a common point and moves outward into a variety of perspectives. 
  5. Inductive thinking - This is the process of reasoning from parts to the whole, from examples to generalizations.
The brain provides the mind with flexibility in thought. Culture evolves taking advantage of that flexibility so that people can learn to think in these ways.

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