imaging the world

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Tue Feb 29 2000 - 20:28:28 MST

Natasha drew

Amara doodled

Greg 5-D'd

Lucky buggers. Here's one of my recurrent obsessions: I believe most people
take it for granted that everyone else in the world uses roughly the same
kind of mental imagery protocols. We all know enough to distinguish
extroverts from shy cerebrotonics, and the jocks from the willowy sensitive
types, and the inarticulate from the freely babbling, but since the early
1960s, when I had an epiphany about all this, I've been informally polling
people about their visual imagery.

Most can form some kind of red triangle in imagination, and rotate it to
the left, then to the right, and go on to make a picture of their dear old
Maman, check the color of her eyes, and so on. Some are exceptionally good
at this stunt, making elaborate flowcharts and tracking through them
without moving a muscle (or maybe they twitch in sympathy). Others can
`see' whole movies as they read a novel.

Me, I've got *zero* visual imagery.

The module's not there, apparently.

This is presumably one reason I was regarded as a cretin in primary and
most of secondary school. I couldn't spell very well, because I couldn't
inwardly *see* the words. Eventually I managed to recognize stuff on the
page, but answering `spelling bee' questions was utterly hopeless. Even
though I soon knew five times as many words as everyone else, and more or
less how to use them, I could not spell them orally because I couldn't *see
them inwardly* (whatever the hell that is).

Same thing with simple arithmetic and algebra, let alone geometry.
Hopeless. Scribble scribble, tongue out the corner of my mouth, maybe by
brute force I could work out what the fuck they were babbling about, but so
much teaching was automatically pitched in the visualization mode that I
was repeatedly stranded.

So I never became a scientist, to my intense regret. I didn't hack it as a
philosopher, either, once the notation started to dance on the blackboard.
I need to turn everything into narrative, run compression algorithms on the
word chunks, then fool around with those. This can be amazingly powerful,
and many poststructuralists do just this, hence sound like posing wankers -
and I suspect many of them must share my cognitive defect. Not all, though,
now that movies and visual art and TV are such a major part of the pomo

This has a very strange effect on my writing. Since I write a fair bit of
fiction, often set in places where the settings are unfamiliar, I need to
provide the cues and codes that switch on my readers' visual imagery
machinery. Since that stuff doesn't work with me, from the inside, I'm in
roughly the position of a deaf person learning to grunt out sounds
painfully associated with meanings, with hardly any immediate feedback.
It's weird, I tell you.

And I reckon a lot of those smart people who never quite `achieved their
potential' might have the same imagery structures as mine, or maybe other
kinds that are equally alien.

I'd like to hear from anyone else here with odd internal-imagery
modalities. (I should add that I seem to use a kind of ancillary
kinesthetic imagery, with bits of my body image *feeling* rotated, etc, in
space; so I can score fairly well on those
rotate-the-gadget-and-say-which-one-is-next tests in IQ trials, by turning
myself into one and dancing. I almost immediately knew the answer to one
famous question about tetrahedra, cited in an A. C. Clarke novel, that only
geniuses are supposed to get. But I'm damned if I can *picture* a
tetrahedron in my head...)

Damien the high verbal

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:04:22 MDT