Deutsch: Zentrale Heterochromie: Grüne Iris, u...

Deutsch: Zentrale Heterochromie: Grüne Iris, um die Pupille herum jedoch ein braun-gelber Ring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, this is a copy/paste of a FB Note I wrote a couple years ago, but the direction of my ‘How I Write’ posts brought be back to thinking about this—more so since the writing exercises I’m trying to come up with, as far as I can figure out from my perspective, revolve greatly around visual thinking—I think—I can’t really tell, because of the simple fact that I really don’t understand how non-visual thinkers actually think at all.

Ok, this is a question that I have for all authors and pretty much everyone else as well (I only say authors at all because the question pretty much started there, but I really want thoughts from all the other brand and breed of people I have residing in my FB Land).

Ok, while reading a chapter from the book ‘How to Write Magical Words: a Writer’s Companion’ (which falls under being the only how-to book on writing that I would pass along to others—as opposed to others which normally make great paper-weights… not because they’re useless, so much, but because they tend to be written with so much info overload that by the time you actually finish processing it all, you’re on your deathbed and completely missed your chance to write a book–basically, this is written in a way that’s easier to process and still have time write with its advice). Under the chapter ‘Visualizing the Story,’ written by CE Murphy, she reveals that she does not see pictures in her head when reading, listening to music, etc. and that it baffles her that others do. Now, this baffled me close to my brain exploding.

A similar confusion came to me while watching the HBO movie ‘Temple Grandin’—about the title character who is a high functioning autistic—basically a doctor asks her about the way she remembers things, asking if she actually sees everything in her head, and her response was pretty much quoting what was going through my head at the time, “don’t you?”

I’ve always been able to see absolutely everything in my head. When I do math, I see it in my head, when I type, I can see where my fingers are without looking, etc. I say I have photographic memory because I actually see all my memories photographically… all of them. Now, over the years, I’ve come to believe that the level that I do this at is simply higher than other people, but at no point has it ever fully occurred to me that some people actually can’t visualize like this at all.

In this chapter, author Faith Hunter also confesses to being among the metal-visually impaired, and Murphy even mentions that her father, who was apparently a teacher, knew nothing of this visualizing thing and wished he did (as he would have completely changed the way he taught–and mentioning this also made me suddenly understand some of my teachers that I usually ended up ignoring and going off on my own instead, and why none of them seemed to understand how I did things like math). Further, Murphy throws in a statistic that says 2/3 of people see pictures… so the question I have for you all is, which of you are the 2/3, and which are the remaining 1/3? And for you 1/3, I really, really need to know, how do you function? I mean, how to you read, do math, listen to music, get into a movie, how do you remember what happened two seconds ago, etc?

Oh, and I also need to know because when I get done with Ravenblood, you 1/3 can’t be beta-readers, the whole magic system wont make sense to you at all, apparently.

So, my entry with the exercises may be delayed depending on speed of responses, because I really would like to find one of you 1/3 to try to get an idea of what the world looks like to you (as much as possible, anyway).

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  1. The way I “see” it is that language is metaphoric. We communicate in symbol whether that is images of what you are calling pictures or images of what others call words. The pictures link together like words do and become a kinetic message. Pictures per se have a limited maneuverability because they carry so much meaning within the metaphor whereas words tend to have fewer associative connections and so can be mixed and matched on a smaller scale thus permitting a “writer” to tell a story or express an image in poetry. The imagists of art are sometimes storytellers but they care less about the audience getting the same story the artist sees. More often than not, image and pictures are about expression or impression of feelings. Feelings as a subject is a tall climb in word metaphors. The writer most often explores feeling through plot, conflict, etc. or through the written images of poetry. Goddamn metaphors.

    • see, that’s the thing though, i’m trying to figure out how people who don’t see anything in their minds work. I mean, the way CE Murphy and Faith Hunter describe, basically, if i tell you about a blue lake that sparkles under the morning sun like a field of diamonds… you will start seeing that lake, even start filling in the images with what’s around the lake even though i didn’t say what it was, i didn’t say that the coast had a pine forest, but now that i did, you see it, replacing what you saw before–but, they don’t see this at all… as far as i can tell, their movie theater is just a blank screen… i don’t get how that works. you say tthat 1/3 is a complete puzzle to me…

      • That is the instability in language. The Tower of Babel effect if you will. If I am being mugged and shout “Police!” I am really shouting “Help!” with no required image. The mugger may envision a cop he particularly despises or one he knows is on the beat. A bystander hears my word and flees as if I had shouted “Watch out!” and no image is required. The policeman hears my shout and thinks “Move toward sound and release holster” or “Shit. My shift is almost over” but he has no way of actually envisioning me or the crime scene until he arrives. I teach my creative writing students that the concrete language and descriptive detail is all they have to control the reader’s mental images. As you so wisely point out, lacking the detail of, say, the pine forest, a writer can not expect the reader to “see” that image. The trick is to choose to describe enough for the impact of the telling and not too much to lose focus on what is important or to slow the pace of the telling through excessive details. Instability is what we have come to… It reflects our fluctuating understanding of reality whatever the hell that is.

  2. Joshua Day says:

    I was in my twenties before I even noticed that this “imagery” and “visualization” stuff was anything but a turn of speech. My mental world, except when I use tricks I’ve practiced since, doesn’t involve a visual component one way or another. When you focus your vision on a single word on a page, do you really see all the other words, or do you just know they’re there? It is, of course, the latter. Now imagine just that knowledge — just the knowledge that it’s there, with no sense of location or image about it — in its rawest form. You just know things, and you think by just knowing their consequences. No rotations, no manipulations; even words are optional.

    (I also think in flavors, but only about flavors. It’s easy to take three or four foods and mix them in my head, even to be satisfied and not need to eat a dessert at all, just by “knowing” the flavor. Interesting stuff, I think.)

    • I can actually think in flavors in a way too. I’ve only posted a few recipes so far, but for all of them, i designed them myself by a combination of researching the basic concepts of them and reformulating them myself (in my head, it’s pretty much the equivalent of the Iron Man scene where Tony Stark is rebuilding the suit–spinning it around, adding and removing bits and pieces, etc). with each change, i can actually “picture” in detail what that change will taste like.

      Now, i can kinda grasp the idea of simply being aware of something without seeing the image of it, i guess. basically, if you close your eyes and hold your hand out in front of you, you are aware of where it is–although, if i personally do this, i can actually see the image of it too, but if I purposely made myself remove the image and just focus on the “feeling,” i guess i can understand that (it really is a physical force to remove the image for even just that scenario, but i can sort’of do it).
      Out of curiosity, have you ever done any form of engineering or repair of any kind at all (computers, cars, architecture, etc)? Even if just in perhaps high-school? If so, how well do you do with that?
      And, do you remember your dreams at all? If so, can you describe what those look like?
      I ask that part largely because a lot of my writing methods rely on what i consider to be not much different than dreaming, i just happen to be awake at the time. This leads me to wonder how closely visualizing and dreaming actually are, in the sense, if you are without visualizing, does it change dreaming also…?

  3. Sheeva Weil says:

    I don’t see things in my head… I honestly have trouble making my mind conjure up an image- it’s usually a blank slate in there.
    Then again, it’s not really a blank slate because it’s crowded with feelings. I feel thoughts, if that makes sense (probably doesn’t).

    This doesn’t mean that sentences go buzzing through my mind all the time (some of my friends have described this as being how their brains work- and they’re the ones who tend to get stressed out a lot of the time. One of them said “it’s like I can never shut my brain off, it’s always thinking, always working on some problem or other, or several things at a time, trying to figure stuff out”).

    It’s not at all like that for me. Actually, when I was younger, I used to try to think about thinking, and freak out at the silence in my mind. Now I sort of embrace it. It’s quiet in there, and the way it works is that I get… Well, the only way I can explain it is “feelings”. I sort of feel what I should say. It doesn’t come to me in the form of a sentence, and then I see myself saying it- no. It’s more like the feeling of a scenario. I don’t “see” anything in my mind’s “eye”, I just…

    Wait a minute. I hear things. I can hear what I would say, the intonations, and then I feel the reaction of the person I’d be talking to, and I can imagine their voice. This is probably why, when I read books, I occasionally read bits of dialogue out loud, to sort of get a feel for the situation.

    Kind of an epiphany here.
    But yeah. That’s me.

    (oh, and when it comes to maths and stuff, it’s more like, the answer/knowledge just gets pushed to the front of my conscious mind and I just *know* that’s what I have to do (obviously, this only works if I actually remember the formulae/have practised enough times to know that’s the right method). I actually had a series of nightmares at one point in my childhood where these “blocks” wouldn’t add up, and it felt so wrong I would wake up crying. Weird, I know.)

    • Now, “hearing” i kinda can understand as somewhat of a level of visualizing… sort’of. basically, that’s more or less how i always figured Beethoven was still able to “hear” his music even after he went deaf, that he was basically just so familiar with what note does what, that he could “visualize” the sound instead (at least, that’s how i always assume it was for him… sadly, i’ll never get to ask).
      Math in blocks i definitely get too, that’s close to how math works for me, except my “blocks” are more… dimensional. For me, it kinda looks like the scene in the Matrix when Neo starts seeing everything in the code… where it’s the code rain, but in the full dimensions. Basically, they kinda fly around, and just fall into their place like a weird 3 (sometimes 4) dimensional Tetris.
      and, yes, my mind is always running, especially if there’s a puzzle of any kind, i can stop thinking about it until i solve it. ‘the puzzle of the non-visualizers’ has been in my head for almost 2 years with this now being the most progress i’ve made so far… it will always be running in my head still. if have a computer repair issue that i can’t figure out, i have trouble sleeping until i get it, or i crash from exhaustion (i have determined that i can go a full 3 days without sleep and still function before i pretty much just pass out–even then, my dreams will be flooded with the computer problem, still trying to solve it).
      I have the same questions for you as for Josh up there: have you ever done any form of engineering or repair of any kind at all (computers, cars, architecture, etc)? Even if just in perhaps high-school? If so, how well do you do with that?
      And, do you remember your dreams at all? If so, can you describe what those look like?
      I ask that part largely because a lot of my writing methods rely on what i consider to be not much different than dreaming, i just happen to be awake at the time. This leads me to wonder how closely visualizing and dreaming actually are, in the sense, if you are without visualizing, does it change dreaming also…?

  4. [...] Images in Your Head April 6, 2013 [...]

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