Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How I think.

A young cousin is doing research on dyslexia and got me thinking about how I think. As readers of this blog might know, I am interested in thinking anyway. Long in the past I did some neuro-modeling, and read some about brain science.

I think in words. Sometimes. however, I think about location in kind of a proprioceptive way -- imagining how I would reach out for something or point to something. I do not think in pictures. If someone asks me to visualize something I know well -- say the exterior of my house -- nothing happens. I remember the visual appearance of things in words; the door is brown, the siding is white.

I remember reading how a German chemist came about conceiving of the structure of the benzene molecule day dreaming about a snake devouring its own tail; that is difficult for me to even imagine; I just don't think in images, much less in animated images.

I can not spell well. Thank goodness for spell checkers on computers. When my second grade teacher sent home a message that she thought I was dyslexic (because I made letter inversions trying to spell words) my father decided to teach me how to spell. He said spelling was easy; you just visualize the word and write down the order in which the letters appear in your mind's eye. (He had a photographic memory, literally.) I don't have a mind's eye. His guidance was like telling a deaf person to listen to music and just write down the notes.

My wife does crossword puzzles and copy editing for pleasure; her sister used to be a professional editor, and her niece is now one. I think they have a different relationship to written language than I do; I simply don't see misspellings and I am very slow on language arts compared to them.

I am not very good at recognizing faces. If I recognize a face, but the person is met in a different context than usual, I am often at a loss for the name or the original context. Others seem to be better able to recognize a former child actor when that person is playing an adult role. Comparing myself to people I know well, my ability to link name to face seems definitely second rate.

I was trained as an engineer (many years ago) and of course took the basic course in engineering drawing. I did learn to infer the three dimensional form of an object from its two dimensional projections, but I do so by logical inference -- not be visualization.

I have learned to read graphs and like them. So too, I can follow the diagrams that others use to develop and explain their thoughts. However, I don't think I am especially good at dealing with these visual presentations. I have used Power Point in teaching and public speaking, but I don't think I am very good at the use of those aids. (I do think that Gapminder, which uses animated graphs and videos is brilliant.)

I am tone deaf, and have little ability to recognize music, even music I should know well.

I don't want to give the wrong impression. I have had a lot of schooling (BS, MSEE, Ph.D). I have traveled more than most people and read quite a bit. I am competitive and tend to do well on tests. For example, as a senior in high school I took the Iowa Test, used to measure educational accomplishments of the students of the Los Angeles School District; I was told I got the high score in the city. In my late 20s I took the Graduate Record Exam for entrance into grad school. It was then standardized, with a score of 500 for the average college graduate, with a range from 200 to 800. My total for three tests (verbal, quantitative and engineering) was 2430.

I seem to have a good memory for what is said. I can sit through a meeting, not take notes, and write a fairly coherent summary of what went on; people tell me that is rare. As a student I did not really understand why people took notes of lectures; I seemed to remember the salient points, and writing notes often seemed to be a distraction. At age 77 I am beginning to have more problem remembering names than in the past -- thank goodness for Google and I am using associative approaches more often. I sometimes search for a word, typically recalling the first letter.

I seem to be relatively good at logic. I did well on related courses from basic algebra, to deductive logic, to advanced calculus. At one time I was a pretty good bridge and chess player.

My doctorate major was operations research -- mathematical modeling for the solution of practical problems -- and I have worked with professional statisticians and economists. I have taken quite a bit of mathematics at a college and graduate level. I seem to be good at mathematical thinking.

I have a lot of background in computers, and at one time was a pretty good programmer. (The development of the field has pretty much made those skills unnecessary, and I have not used them in a long time.)

English is my native language, but I also speak Spanish (accented) and read French and (less well) Portuguese. Compared to people I know, my ability to learn languages is quite limited; my class actually drove our teacher to tears by mass incompetence in high school Latin.

I am aware that some of my thinking is not done by my conscious mind. I am not here writing only about reflexive actions, or the way subconscious desires may influence ones conscious thoughts and decisions. I have had the experience waking up thinking about something or seeing an answer in the morning to a problem I was mulling over in the evening. When I am pondering how to solve a problem, sometimes I "get a hunch" -- a feeling that if pursue a certain line of reasoning the problem will yield to analysis. Those hunches have led to discovery of new algorithms and new proofs. I assume the hunch comes as a result of stuff going on in my brain of which I am not consciously aware.

I have read that about 6 out of 10 people think primarily in pictures, about 3 out of 10 verbally, and among the remainder are kinesthetic thinkers, and "logical/mathematical thinkers (who learn via systems, categories and links) as well as a handful of other types." I would guess that I am primarily a verbal thinker, with a relatively strong component of logical/mathematical thinking and some kinesthetic thinking tossed in.

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