Thinking in Pictures

Many years ago, I read a book about psychology of mathematical discovery.  I don’t remember its title.  I read it in Polish translation and have already forgotten most of it.  I think it was through that book that I was introduced to the concept of thinking in pictures or visual thinking.  According to my memory, it was Poincaré who talked about thinking in pictures.  Those were not classical pictures, however, but hard to  describe, vague shapes/spots.  And yet, those hazy smudges led the mathematician to the discovery of a new rule/theorem. The author stated that the hardest part of that process was to find words that would precisely translate those images into theorems.

A couple of days ago, I attended a presentation on modes of learning.  According to the presenter there are four of them: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and mixed.  The presentation did not have anything with Poincaré and his way of thinking.  If anything it vaguely related to the way people learn new facts and skills.

But it occurred to me, that it might be quite possible that Robert not just learns new things with all kinds of visual support but that he might indeed THINK in images and that those images are impossible to be  translated into concise sentences.

Those images are not depicting new concepts and high level mental operations, but they are dealing with Robert’s environment and his day-to-day observations and experiences. But they are as difficult to express in words as the images that led Poincaré to new discoveries.

Sometimes in the evenings, when he is in the bathtub or his bed, Robert “sings” softly and desolately inarticulate sounds.  Their lonesome melancholy penetrates my conscience and breaks my heart.  

 

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