There have been some thoughtful posts on visual thinking lately which (according to Wikipedia) is the dominant form of thought for 60-70% of the population. I am somewhat skeptical of that unsupported figure because many people report thinking in a combination of words, images and other nonverbal prompts but I can accept that the percentage, whatever it may be precisely, is significant. Here are the posts:
Austin Kleon – VISUAL THINKING FOR WRITERS: NOTES AND SLIDES
Gerald Grow – The writing problems of visual thinkers
On a related note, a while back, Dave Schuler and I, along with Dave Davison, had some exchanges on “visualcy” that are also worth consideration:
Visual imagery is exceedingly powerful on a neurocognitive level, even with populations that are highly educated and predisposed to think in words and therefore, lends itself well to disinformation, propaganda, IO, advertising and mundane distraction and wastage of time. “Surfing the web” is a visual activity, albeit one that can involve a good deal of reading but ultimately sites like youtube have a definite advantage in attracting and holding attention. Usually to no productive purpose.
On the other hand, I would like to suggest that visual imagery or thinking in pictures is a critical component of insight. We like to use the term “visionary” to describe a trailblazing genius in some field and it is an apt description. Many an empire or artistic acheivement or intellectual discovery was crystalized as a hazy image that served as a template within which many future problems, known and unknown, could be addressed successfully. Or be refined and extrapolated in a tinkering, tweaking manner by trial and error by individuals or groups over time. Imagery can also be a useful starting point for strategic thinking in the form of brainstorming conceptual outcomes.
….For readers, 60% of 5th graders report naturally using some imagery during ‘think aloud’ breaks in reading stories. It appears to be a natural reaction, even for children, to try and ‘see’ the scenes that words are trying to convey in order to develop memories of a story that we, ourselves, are not part of in reality. Humans are more visual creatures, as I like to tell my own students, and it is important to remind and also teach students how to visualize physical events and experiences. In fact, in problem solving in physics, I try and teach as an essential part of every single problem to draw a picture and mentally ‘see’ what is happening in the problem. We use a technique that requires making pictures and labeling all forces on the picture, and then use the picture to actually set up the math (for F = ma problems). So science and imagery are naturally connected, just as reading, writing and imagery are connected. Memory improves when visualization and imagery are used for stories or for how physical events play out in reality. The experimental finding that a good majority of the brain used for the physical activity is used in imagery, too, begins to explain why this process works.
This is a great example of using imagery as a tool toward a calculated end rather than having imagery overrule or hijack the rational faculties ( which may be the majority of the time when imagery is involved). We should respect the power of visual imagery in cognition when considering the impact on our own thinking but we should not fail to exploit the opportunities the use of imagery can provide.