Thursday, June 28, 2012

Different Minds VIII (Surprise!)

So I've mentioned my new theory about different sorts of minds and how that explains how different people find that different things interfere with their ability to think.

And a lot of people seem to think it's plausible, and some people say that they think mainly in images, and some people seem to think that they think mainly in words.

And it appears that I myself do mathematical thinking in pictures, never in symbols (which is the opposite of how most mathmos work), but computer thinking in symbols, rarely in pictures (I often draw data-flow diagrams, or diagrams of data structures, or state machines or graphs on paper, but I can't do that sort of thinking without a piece of paper, because my working memory isn't good enough/large enough to hold the picture).

But the real shocker came when my friend Neil said "So you have a sort of inner narrator talking to you all the time?", and I said yes.

And Neil was quite surprised by this, because apparently he thinks entirely in pictures, and although he knows what the 'talking to yourself internally' voice sounds like he doesn't use it often.

And a bit later I was talking to my friend Gytha, who is a playwright, and she says that she doesn't have an inner voice either. She works out her plays in pictures, and she doesn't like the laborious process of turning them into words. She thinks that I'm the weird one, and she claims that that explains why I'm so articulate (because I'm always practising).

I hadn't realised that I was particularly articulate. But when a playwright who lives in Cambridge tells you that you are the second most articulate person that she knows, then you have to take that as evidence in favour, and come to think of it most other people seem to have trouble with easy things like 'giving speeches about something you care about with five minutes notice', which I've done a few times and which seems mainly to involve 'working out what you want to communicate and then just doing it'.

So am I the weird one? How often do you hear your inner voice? Does it speak in your native language, or is it speaking something else that needs translated into words?

And isn't it odd that we live in a world where other people have completely alien thought processes and yet we rarely notice.

If someone had written a science fiction story about an alien race that thought by forming and transforming pictures, I would have found it entertainingly weird, and probably dismissed it as an unlikely way of building a mind. But it appears that there are quite a lot of people whose brains work in just that way. And they think that the thing which to me is 'experience of being', is an alien concept.

There really are philosophical zombies. And I'm one of them.



  1. I don't think I really believe the "different people think in different ways" theory; our brains are all too similar for that. I could believe us perceiving our thinking process differently.

    Just for myself, I can't really say if I think in pictures or words. I've been asked this in interview, and the question didn't really make sense to me.

    1. William, you're a programmer aren't you? Which is more annoying when you're trying to think? Music or visual clutter?