I wanted to chime in here, because my experiences have driven me to a state
of similar fascination.
First, I am a 100% proponent of the idea of modular intelligence.
My family seems to display high variance along a spectrum of strengths and
weaknesses, in which I observe loose patterns that could suggest, at least
partly, some genetic contribution. I haven't discovered any robust methods
thus far to further characterize them, or to separate nature from nurture,
in the interest of an experiment.
Introspection, in various mental states (I'll get back to this later), leads
me to conclude that I am a 'visual' learner to a high degree, relative to
the accounts of the strategies of others. I have proceeded through a few
advanced mathematics courses, without too much difficulty (other than,
perhaps, a situational lack of discipline to practice the methodology), and
I would like to share the following observation: I found mathematics,
especially multidimensional calculus, incredibly difficult, until learned to
adapt visualization strategies to the learning process. Looking at the
equations on paper engaged weaker parts of my brain - it was only after I
imagined the functions in a 3d space in front of me, and set the image in
motion if called for, that I achieved what I would call true understanding
of the techniques. I found myself drawing pictures almost everywhere in my
studies - mathematics, physics, and biosciences. My professors, on many
occasions, asked to meet with me about this habit. Sometimes, there were
problems due to a failure to communicate the meanings of my symbolism (I
imagined this was most severe when my professors weren't themselves visual
learners), other times my professors loved this, found it efficient, and
encouraged it. When it came to mathematics, I saw this as a gift, UNTIL I
started dealing with systems with more than four dimensions (x,y,z,t). ;)
My difficulty visualizing four dimensional space (or fractional dimensional
space) forced me to suffer the far-more-difficult symbolic mode(s) of
learning. It was incredibly frustrating. How does one exercise the ability
to visualize dimensional spaces outside our normal realm of experience?
I know exactly what you mean by synesthesia. I know enough to conclude that
in normal modes of consciousness, I observe no significant blurring of the
lines between sensory modalities. But, I will report to you in earnest that
I have induced these experiences, in replicated experiments, with
psychoactive chemicals. My first experiences were with LSD. I noticed
this to a greater degree with psilocibin. I later discovered these
experiences were not constrained to hallucinogens, when I discovered
ketamine, which produced the most profound synesthetic experiences I have
had. Usually, I scribbled my experiences madly on a notepad. Mostly, I saw
colors and felt textures in music and other auditory experience. Patterns
of motion and pressure across my skin induced similar visual experiences. I
don't remember any accounts of 'tasting' images, sounds, or tactile events.
Hearing sounds in coincidence with other sensory modalities falls into a
special category, because I found it difficult to differentiate synesthesia
from auditory hallucination by other external causes. These events, though
difficult if not impossible for me to re-experience from memory in (more)
normal modes of thought, I can confirm through the honest scribblings in my
notebooks. The vocabulary I used to describe events, both internal and
external, are strongly suggestive of it. Dare I say more? One last thing.
About my writing. I have gone back to read what was written under the
influence of chemicals thus conducive, in normal consciousness, and thought
on some occasions: 'I was insane. This is madness - it makes no sense.'
Then, on a later date, appropriately 'modified,' I could go back, read over
the thoughts as written, and experience nearly total recall, and total
understanding of how and what I was thinking, where I left off... This is
strongly suggestive of modes of thought, different patterns of
'mind-modules' activated, that can be revisited reliably by ingesting the
same substance at a later time. I am intensely curious about the nature of
synesthetic experiences as reported by others. I hypothesize that some
modalities are more strongly correlated than others, with respect to the
coincidence of perception. I believe this data has the potential to
elucidate some interesting facts about how the brain associates and stores
these sorts of experiences.
From: altamira [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, July 06, 2000 11:10 AM
Subject: human/world interfaces
In going through the list archives I came upon a thread which began as a
discussion of "multiple intelligences" and evolved through mathematical
ability and on to the ability to form visual images from memory. Later,
after I'd subscribed to the list, I rambled on about my weird way of
interfacing with the world and some people commented on my apparent
synethesia (eg. I see leaves swirling from a tree in the fall, and the sight
of the leaves falling is translated in my mind into music and often touch as
well, as though I'm feeling the swirl of the leaves against my skin). At
the time, I hadn't read the earlier thread, so I didn't know if other people
would be interested in this sort of stuff; so I didn't say anything more at
the time. Now that I know there's an interest, I'd like to open the
discussion up again.
My original reason for being interested in the human/world interface is
self-curiosity. I realized from an early age that my mind didn't work like
other people's, and that as a result it was hard for me to communicate with
them, and I've often felt lonely. When I was a kid I thought I'd been put on
the wrong planet by mistake, and when I heard stories of UFO's, I hoped one
would come and get me and take me to my proper home.
Later, I expanded my selfish motivations to include the possibility of
improving my communications skills. If I could figure out how most people
interfaced with the world, I'd be able to imagine how it felt to be them,
and then I'd stand a better chance of saying the right things to them. I
don't mean right as in politically correct but rather, right as in "not
crazy." (people used to say of me that I was off in my own little
god-knows-where world)(my brother once suggested that I might be a
"high-functioning" autistic, but I don't think I quite fit that category
I can see now that there are other uses for this interface question, such as
in the development of AI.
I will continue with this idea in another message, because otherwise this
one is going to end up being too long.
Here is a summary of the previous thread (the posts are severely clipped,
but they're available in their entirety in the archives):
Sat, 26 Feb 2000 11:08:37 EST
I have a very uneven distribution of mental talents. I've always scored off
the scale (on the good side :-) in visualization and verbal skills, but am
basically a mathematical moron.
Amara Graps (Amara.Graps@mpi-hd.mpg.de)
Mon, 28 Feb 2000 15:43:10 +0100 (MET)
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>From: EvMick@aol.com Sun, 27 Feb 2000 17:54:08 EST
>I'm a mathematical moron as well. I've taken calculus two or three times.
I took calculus, ordinary differential equations, partial differential
equations, all, at least twice.
(good teachers and hitting your head against the wall enough times
eventually makes a difference)
>Like you I'm basically visual.
I made it through my physics, astronomy, and math courses drawing alot of
Damien Broderick (email@example.com)
Wed, 01 Mar 2000 14:28:28 +1100
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.
[the following from message sent to extropian list by altamira 6/17/00]
for example, looking at clouds and seeing hundreds of different shades of
white and at the same time hearing (in one's mind) all these shades of white
translated into corresponding frequencies of sound; or listening to the
rumbling of a machine and suddenly hearing intensely beautiful music in the
combination of sounds and seeing (in the mind) the sounds translated into
something like graphs of mathematical functions, weaving in and out of each
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