How do you think? (Or: "what do you think *in*?")

Discussion in 'Braaaaiiiinnnns...' started by Alexand, Nov 1, 2017.

  1. Alexand

    Alexand Rhymes with &

    This is an idle conversation-starter I like to offer people, to the point where I was fully planning to put this in General Chatter, and only after I had written most of it up did I realize that no, the Brains Forum about Brains Talk is probably a bit more specifically suited for this kind of...Brain...Talk. But it can be a hard question to ask right, sometimes, because you get a lot of people who don't realize that multiple answers exist. Here are a few I've gotten before:
    • Person A told me they think in words, as many people do. Their thoughts are generally in the second-person, addressed to themselves: "Start your homework." "Oh, you dropped your pencil, pick that up." Like a series of orders made by their thought-self and directed at their physical-self.
    • Person B, who is bilingual, told me that they think in neither their first language nor their second, nor in words at all. They form words in their head when they need to communicate something to someone else, sure, but when they're alone with their thoughts, those thoughts are more like...flowcharts, diagrams, systems of some sort that connect one thought to the next... (See, I've seen other people online who say they "think in systems", so that's why I understood Person B as being the same, but it's also possible that I totally misunderstood...)
    • Person C's answer to this question also put them in "thinking in systems" category, except that, as they had only recently realized, they also had a certain form of synesthesia - one poorly-categorized enough that I can't find it when Googling now. But the basics as I understood them were that non-physical concepts have certain physical properties in their mind, like "size" and "weight" and "spatiality"...and so, their thoughts, too, had these properties...
    (And this is far from a comprehensive list of Different Possible Answers. I've seen someone online in passing who explained themselves as "thinking in music", which has stuck with me ever since...)

    And the thing about all of these people is that, generally, they didn't realize that there were "ways to think" besides their own until someone asked them about it. I had a really hard time convincing Person B that anyone thought in words; since they only "thought in words" when "translating their thoughts into language to communicate with others", they were sure that was what other people meant when they said they "thought in words, too." But I can vouch for myself as someone who "thinks in words" all the time, not just when trying to communicate. Sometimes, when I'm tired, the words that make up my thoughts start coming slower, or else start repeating themselves, like a sort of repetitive "screensaver" of text my brain goes into when too low-energy to generate new thoughts...but the words are always there. If I can't "hear" myself think in words, then I can't "hear" myself thinking anything at all.

    I don't do that "second person order" thing that Person A does, though. My thoughts are all in first person, and structured as if I was speaking those thoughts at someone else. So I always have this pretense of some "third party" to whom my thoughts are being communicated...usually they're whoever I talk to most often, or else they're the faceless mass of Twitter or Tumblr or wherever else I could potentially imagine myself communicating something...

    Anyway, I was wondering: how do you think? In words, images, structures...or something else entirely? In fully-formed sentences or images, or snippets of word or size or color, or multiple threads of the above running in parallel? What do your thoughts look like when you're exceptionally tired, or exceptionally energetic, or trying to speak a foreign language, or trying to listen to music? How does your brain translate your percepts to your concepts, your concepts to your memory?

    What is the experience of "being inside your head" like?

    None of this is relevant for any health-related or otherwise productive reason. I just think it's neat. Thus: a thread for sharing Thinking Anecdata.

    (Also, sorry if I'm stealing the thunder of another thread that already exists; I couldn't find any that covered this topic, but then, I might not have looked hard enough...)
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  2. seebs' mom

    seebs' mom Yes, really!

    I think in words, though unless I am quite consciously trying to "think through" something that puzzles me, the form the words take is more like abbreviated notes than full sentences.

    But I'll throw in a related topic; I dream (sometimes) in three columns of justified type. Not always, I don't *read* dreams; but if the narrative requires the dreamer's role to include reading a document, that's how it looks.

    I had the privilege, once, of interviewing Temple Grandin, an autistic who titled her autobiography "Thinking in Pictures." She explained that she can recall visual scenes, and go through them, as it were, frame-by-frame. I mentioned reading in dreams, and she said, "Oh, that's funny!"
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  3. unknownanonymous

    unknownanonymous i am inimitable, i am an original|18+

    i think in words, which are both verbalized and spelled out. like, when i think a word, i usually instantly see how it's spelled, though there are a few words that function is broken for. i have multiple mental voice actors for the verbalizing part of it: a me voice (feminine, kid-like) for my own thoughts, a lecture/book-reading/professional voice (neutral leaning towards masculine, adult, flat) for stuff of that sort, and a few flattened down character voices (they don't totally sound like the characters they come from but are close enough to work), and echolalia voices for when i'm repeating lines from things and lyrics from songs in my head.
  4. Lazarae

    Lazarae The tide pod of art

    Oh this is a fun one.

    I think in word-concept-groups. With pictures and an overlying narration. Probably because of the adhd as fuck thing, everything happens at once. So if we're talking about cats I'll have a mental image of a cat, and a bunch of cat-associations (soft, toe beans, the cats I've had, the kitty I really miss, ears, meow, cats kind of have two eyelids and that's Cool and you can sometimes see them blink with both and that's gross), plus a running narration, in auditory words (almost never written. I have difficulty holding writing in my brain which makes mental math involving more than two digits a right bitch), of my brain trying to fit those pieces together coherently.
  5. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    I think I think in verbal/"vocal" (but not actually verbalized) word-sentences, with frequent interruptions of pictures/memories/other sensory experiences. I do not see words written down unless I'm actively trying to visualize a word. Visual representations of words don't seem to stick too well for me, which might explain why I have such issues learning kanji. Thought statements are usually in the first person if I'm thinking about myself, unless I'm mentally telling myself to do something. I also have a lot of body-movement-feeling thoughts if I'm remembering certain actions or events or mentally singing along with music. Like, the feeling of facial and jaw muscles and tongue moving to make the words.

    There's probably a lot I'm not aware of, though! I think I create "videos" of things quite a bit too, like if I'm planning something I have a little movie of me doing the thing (first person). There are bodily feelings associated with that too, if I've done the thing before. Like if I'm imagining pipetting something, I have a moving scene of me grabbing the tip box, the pipetter, doing the thing to get the tip on the pipetter, adjusting the volume, drawing up the liquid, etc., etc., along with the physical feelings of doing so, like the muscle movements required, the stiffness in my arm after pipetting for an hour, etc.
  6. ZeroEsper

    ZeroEsper Well-Known Member

    I think in words, pictures, and non-verbal concepts. I don't know how to explain the last one. It usually happens when I'm playing around with computers. The information clicks, but I can't 'see' it or 'hear' it, and I can't verbalize what I'm doing if asked. I just do what I understand to be correct despite not being able to analyze my own thought pattern.

    I can also think in physical sensation if it's either very pleasant or painful. I can call up phantom pain and get horrible sympathy pains easily, and very positive physical things I can recall, but pretty much everything else is a memory of pressure.

    I remember tastes really well too, and I'm good at inferring the tastes of things based on prior experience (ex: this casserole is made with potatoes and beans. Potatoes taste like this, beans taste like that. Add together. Heat. That is the taste of this casserole I have not tasted).
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  7. ZeroEsper

    ZeroEsper Well-Known Member

    I can't do mental math past two digits either. I have to break it down into smaller pieces and work with the small pieces.
  8. KingdomByTheSea

    KingdomByTheSea Well-Known Member

    I think in words, like a first-person narration of my life, pretty much exactly like you do @Alexand. I've got a very poor capacity for visual thought, too--unless I try very hard, I can't picture things in my "mind's eye", and when daydreaming, I have trouble making the visuals do what I want them to rather than just conjuring up static images.

    The only language I'm conversational in is Spanish, and I can switch my mental narration to Spanish when I want to. When I'm listening to music, I usually sing along in my head (and if I get sufficiently engrossed in whatever I'm doing while listening, I stop hearing the music).

    (I love hearing about how other people think, so I'm glad you made this thread!)
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  9. Alexand

    Alexand Rhymes with &

    It's exciting how many things about this topic I hadn't thought (or had totally forgotten) about until all your replies prompted me! Like:
    Oh, the concept of Mental Voices is interesting - I know I have them, and I feel like they're a big part of how I write, and I'm wondering now what writing is like for people who don't.

    Like, just to clarify: when writing professional things (essays, papers, business emails?), do you switch over to your professional voice? When writing dialogue for a character, do you think it up in your Mental Character Voice? Can you write dialogue for characters who don't have a strong Mental Character Voice in your head?

    I've felt for a while like I might personally be overly sensitive to OOC Dialogue in fanfiction and roleplaying and the like, and I've wondered whether that's because I take Mental Character Voices for granted...? Like, I automatically read character dialogue (both when written by myself and when written by someone else) in their Mental Voice in my head, which is a Very Concrete (Pseudo-)Auditory Thing for me, and it really throws me off when that Mental Voice starts...stuttering over some bits? Flubbing the lines? Like, when the sentence as it's written "clearly" doesn't fit in the Mental Voice's mouth, as if the Mental Voice isn't used to talking that way.

    ...Not that my Mental Voice is necessarily always 100% accurate to the Canon Voice of a character, or that it's not subject to drifting over time...just that there's a clear boundary between "dialogue 'consonant' with the Character Voice" and "dialogue 'dissonant' with the Character Voice" for me. I can never tell whether the people writing Fanfic Dialogue I Don't Like are doing so because the Mental Voice Representation they've made of the Canon Voice is extremely different from the Mental Voice Representation I've made of the Canon Voice, or...if they really don't feel that "consonance/dissonance" as strongly...
    That's really neat!! Can you do that with smells, too? I ask because I like buying fragrances (and have spent a considerable amount of time trying to find a "signature scent" for appropriate occasions, that kind of thing), and it bothers me sometimes how very bad I am at predicting what a fragrance will smell like just from reading about the individual notes in it. I had kind of an Adagio Teas Fandom Blend Phase, too, and I relied a lot on established flavor pairing wisdom for all of the tea blends past the first few, because I started buying samplers and realizing that I really had no idea what the blend would taste/smell like at all until I got it...

    But then, it's likely that you've had more experience with the discrete building blocks of Food Taste than you've had with the discrete building blocks of Fragrance is a much more accessible pastime than perfumery, and I assume most everyone spends more time Actively Tasting (i.e. paying attention to the food they're putting in their mouth) than Actively Smelling (i.e. actively monitoring the scents surrounding them). So it might be the kind of thing that you could get better at with practice...

    OH, ALSO: how do online articles about Unusual Food Combinations make you feel? Like, I found one just now suggesting beetroot with chocolate, or ice cream with olive oil, or scrambled eggs with grape jelly, and I need to know now if they're fucking with me, because I feel like they have to be fucking with me on at least one of those.
    Mental visualization is another interesting topic that I totally forgot about...I do think about it a lot, mostly bemoaning the fact that I am Really Super Bad At It. I worry a lot that I'm doomed to suck at physics forever because I can only "mentally rotate" things I visualize in my head with the greatest of effort (and poorly, at that). So I'm really bad at problems that require me to look at something from a "different perspective", spatially...

    Like, for example: imagine there is a person in front of you, doing a handstand, their back facing you. Is their left hand to your right or to your left?

    That's the kind of question I always feel like Everyone Else is much better at than I am. be honest, I've had that question in my head for a while as an example of a "mental rotation" problem, and I still can't actually...think of the took me long enough to get to a point in my life where I understood where "the left" is for a person facing me right-side up, and I only got the hang of that because I commissioned a lot of art for a character whose prosthetic hand needed to stay on the right (left) side of his body...the question I just characterized is way too many steps harder than that for me. Every time I try to imagine it, I lose my place before I get to an answer.

    (Totally untested hypothesis, but: @Saro how good are you with that type of thing? See, I'm pretty bad at "mental videos", too, and I'm wondering whether the "mental rotation" skill is a part of the "mental video" skill.)
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  10. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    It might be because I draw, and so had to practice visualizing things, but I'm pretty good at those kind of mental rotations and whatnot.

    (don't know what the big deal is with words in particular wrt mental visualization....)
  11. Alexand

    Alexand Rhymes with &

    @Saro Oh, that's an interesting nature/nurture problem for me...I've tried to pick up drawing myself several times, but I always end up giving up because I get so frustrated at how bad I am at...well, all visual-art things, but perspective and anatomy-type stuff, I can never even get myself so far as to learn to "draw recognizable faces", which as a Person With OCs I'd Like To Draw would theoretically be the most rewarding part of learning to draw for me, but I can't imagine tackling faces until I fully master "drawing bodies in all sorts of different poses while making sure that the limbs are all the right sizes". But...

    ...Am I bad at drawing because I'm bad at visualizing things, or am I bad at visualizing things because I'm inexperienced with drawing?

    ...I had this brief stint where I tried getting myself into visual puzzle games in the hopes that it might help me develop my spatial reasoning skills...and I totally forgot about it until just now, because Swiss Cheese Brain. Maybe I should try picking that back up again.
  12. Nobody's Home

    Nobody's Home I'm a Greg Coded Tom Girl

    I will backread later because this is fascinating but also there's like textwalls and that's a bit of processing time but like

    I think in a mix of words perhaps voice is a better descriptor, and like people moving in a space? Like i don't think my imagination is vivid enough to imagine whole scenes but like there's usually an image or an animated person talking when I think.

    When I'm thinking to myself Theres a you -me thing where I dialogue to myself.
    And recently I more solidly personified The me's haha
    They argue

    Also it is especially evident to me when I RP, bit when I think of what I do I think of like, an image of, for example -> hands. And they're moving in my mind space, and it's hard to translate the actions I think of into words. It's easier to do that irl because ppl can see me but I can't always replicate the actions I think. Like for example mouth snarls or cat hissing. Or on a different level, I think sometimes about potential art I wanna do, like how it looks, but I can't execute it.

    When I think of what people will say I have version of em talking but never fully distinct because I don't remember exactly what ppl look like unless I'm actually looking at someone. So basically like when I have visuals I know it's someone or something but it's all very vague human like shapes. Unless i think really hard. Tho, if! We're talking about cartoony stuff or basically stuff that don't look reallife exactly then I remember the shapes and lines better.

    (All this probably because I draw? But I don't draw realism yet. Perhaps my visualization of realism might actually get better if I get better at drawing realism but who knows)

    I find that I'm not as good verbalizing myself as when I draw or when I type. Because sometimes there's a lotta visuals.

    But sometimes I'm worried that there's nothing in my head and that I'm not actually thinking? Like there's times when it's just processing and immediate reaction, like when I start pointing at things like "whoah i like that!" And i can't exactly say that
    That's a thought? And more of some kinda reaction
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  13. unknownanonymous

    unknownanonymous i am inimitable, i am an original|18+

    i switch, yeah, if what i wrote sounds professional/polished enough. if i think i'm sounding like an idiot or immature or too much like myself, i read it in my voice.

    i always read you and seebs in my Professional Voice.

    there are also some people i read in my "me voice" and some people i read in Mental Character Voices based on my impressions of them. (there are some people i read in the most juvenile extreme of my "me voice" 'cause i know they are young and they come off as really immature to me.)

    and i don't know if i can write dialogue for characters who don't have a strong Mental Character Voice in my head 'cause i think all characters do have a Mental Character Voice in my head (though sometimes it's been changed enough to not even be accurate) and it doesn't really stutter ever. it just says the lines in the closest approximation to how it seems like the character would say them.

    so, basically, what mental voice i'm using for someone is a matter of either how i've heard them talk before, or of what my opinion of them is.
    • Informative x 1
  14. KingdomByTheSea

    KingdomByTheSea Well-Known Member

    WRT visualization, my dad is crap at art (and at writing legibly), but he is amazing at mental visualization. My parents drive me 600 miles to college and then back again each year and when we pack the car, he has a mental map of where everything needs to go to take up the least amount of space. (He's also told me he maps out routes in his head to minimize the number of left turns, the Least Efficient Turn, but that miiiiight have been a joke)

    It's a running joke in the family how he ended up with a daughter with 0 spacial skills :D

    (Dad's a mechanical engineer, so he probably had a lot of practice at this sort of thing, but I'm not sure if the visualization or the career in engineering came first)
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  15. Nobody's Home

    Nobody's Home I'm a Greg Coded Tom Girl

    Interesting how
    Either works i guess?
    Whether an already innate good visualization can lead to an easement in certain actions, or skill development leading to a development in the thinkspace as well

    Something to ponder
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  16. Aondeug

    Aondeug Cringe Annoying Ass Female Lobster

    I think in words in long rambling strings which often repeat over and over and just kind of branch off chaotically. The perspective of my thoughts vary from first, second, and third persons. They also vary in terms of the number. I often end up referring to myself in the first person plural, for example, both in writing and text and in my thoughts. I can't think in pictures too well beyond some places I've been to or in broad swatches of movement with no real detail. What I can do is think in voices VERY WELL. I get certain voices stuck in my head very easy and depending on who I've been listening to my thoughts will often be changed in terms of grammar and vocab choices and even how it sounds in my head. I've had days where I've thought primarily in Russian accented English, for example, due to class with my Russian professor. The other thing I vividly think in are smells.
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  17. Erica

    Erica occasionally vaguely like a person

    i essentially only think in words when i'm consciously trying to phrase something - normally, it's... concepts? ideas? sometimes with words mixed in but fully formed thought-sentences only happen in cases like now, when i need to somehow externalize the thought & make it concrete enough for other people to see it. (same thing when i read - at one point last year our teachers talked about how when you read smth really fluently, you can hear a voice reading the words out loud, and.... no. nuh uh. hearing the words happens when i'm focusing on reading the wrong way; the most fluent kind, the fastest & the one i remember the most with, is when i don't register that i'm reading at all. or like. the process becomes so automatic i don't hear the words or focus on "i am reading these words", the information just, happens? SPEAKING OF WHICH, RELATED QUESTION TO THIS THREAD: To what degree do you visualise scenes/people/anything when you read?)
  18. Aondeug

    Aondeug Cringe Annoying Ass Female Lobster

    I honestly really can't visualize things I read unless it is like. Streets in cities or broad swatches of movement. If smells are mentioned though I can get that shit down "visualization" wise. I "feel" textures I read too and have distinct voices for the characters I read. The strongest of these is with tastes and scents. If it's a scent I'm aware of then god damn does it become overpoweringly real. Describe to me the wonders of some asshole's beer tainted breath and I WILL BE TORMENTED BY THAT FOR YEARS.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2017
  19. Alexand

    Alexand Rhymes with &

    I feel like there are bits of this thread that I keep wanting to reply to and then end up skipping over because I want to reply to some later post uh, don't be surprised if I go back later and reply to a bunch of earlier posts.

    Right now, I want to try tackling:
    First of all: @Aondeug, your point about smells and textures and stuff really helped me out here, because when I originally saw this question I was thinking only about visualizing in the sense of Strictly Visual Things, but...Olfactory/Somasthetic Things are kind of a different thing, aren't they? Although...

    ...It's weird, because I feel like I do get a strong sense of smells/textures when reading things, but...all the examples I can think of were from passages describing Gross Things. Like, I consider myself relatively susceptible to Text Squick, where the "squick" is the feeling of...unconscious, involuntary, kind of intrusive "pseudo-perception" of the smells or textures or whatever in question. And I think that Squick Feeling boils down to "textures/smells" even when the gross thing being described is visually gross? Like, even a gross image triggers my scent/texture pseudo-perception more so than my visual pseudo-perception?

    Like, images or videos of big pimples or boils or other Drainable Skin Things gross me out hardcore, but the "gross" feeling isn't really tied to "seeing" the Skin Thing so much as it is to like...that instant reflex I get to imagine what it smells like, or what it'd feel like on my hands, or...

    ...I don't know, though, I think maybe the feeling of "being grossed out" is inherently more tied to smell and texture than it is to vision...or at least, the way I conceptualize that feeling is.

    But I don't know if I actually smell/feel non-gross things when reading, which is...interesting.

    ..."Pseudo-perception" is kind of interesting in itself, too. (I don't know if that's the word I should be using for it, but I hope that it more or less conveys the thing I'm trying to describe here?) See, once I started thinking about "visual pseudo-perception/visualizing" and "olfactory pseudo-perception" and "somasthetic pseudo-perception", I started feeling like there's...another form of pseudo-perception that doesn't really map to any sensory modality that I can think of? I get it most often with poetry, I think, and I'll try to post an example of one that affects me that way later. I think I get it most often when reading metaphors, or language describing a non-sensory thing in sensory language, or language describing a sensory thing in sensory language only literally applicable to a different sensory, "gossamer footsteps"? The "gossamer" here describes a Sensory Percept that I wouldn't experience myself unless the person doing the walking was walking directly on me, I guess, but like...can you imagine someone walking in such a careful way that the sight of them doing so triggers a sort of synesthetic "gossamer" response?

    And that might just be "synesthetic pseudo-perception", I guess, but...I feel like...there's something else. Something I get in response to words that sound good together phonetically, or really clever turns of phrase, or something...a sense of "aesthetic" that's like pseudo-perception but...just.............................."aesthetic".

    ...I don't know. The words are eluding me...

    ...Back to the original question, though. I don't do much visual pseudo-perception, I don't think. Other people seem to do more of it than I do, in any, when people develop some solid visual headcanons about a certain character's appearance? I don't...think I do that.

    The only occasion I can really think of that involves me pulling out my visual pseudo-perception is like...fight scenes...action scenes...just, scenes where there is a lot of physical movement and bodies moving around in different ways. Even then, I feel like I only do that so that I don't get totally lost...because it's frustrating to read a description of a scene and realize you have no idea how the characters got from one place to another. Like, d'you ever read a fight scene where Character A punches Character B in the back of the neck or something, and you just, you have absolutely no idea how they got access to the back of Character B's in the first place? Or maybe Character C gets put in a headlock, but then they get out of the headlock, and you have no idea how they did that? So you have to go back and reread the entire passage, carefully visualizing these different people in your head and moving them, like poseable action figures, through the motions described in the text, just so you can be sure that the writer's still following the rules of physics of your own world as you understand it? That's the only occasion I can think of where I "visualize" things.
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  20. Alexand

    Alexand Rhymes with &

    Also, by the way: @Erica, have you ever tested the speed at which you read? Because I think I've been told before that "eliminating that inner reading-voice" is exactly what you need to do in order to be capable of reading Better (i.e. quicker and with greater comprehension), so it is objectively the more fluent reading mode. But I've never had any luck getting myself to that reading state, if I try to make myself read so fast that my "inner reading-voice" can't keep up, I end up...not comprehending any of what I'm reading.

    ...According to this test, my reading speed is 428 words per minute, in case you want to try the same test. (Although...while I did get the reading comprehension questions right, I don't actually feel that confident in my comprehension of it. Like, I didn't read it as closely as I would have if it were something really important to me.)
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