Thinking in Pictures: Pros and Cons

Thinking in Pictures: Pros and Cons

Whenever I think about something I visualise it. This isn’t some conscious process; it’s just how my mind works.

With any new concept I come across, if I can form a mental image I can understand it. On the flip side, if I can’t see it in my mind’s eye I generally can’t get my head around it at all. When programming I have become very adept at seeing the structure of software. It’s not just a static picture but a dynamic visual model. It’s something like not just watching an animation but scripting, drawing and directing it all at the same time. I find this gives me an intuitive grasp of software systems and I tend to have a gut feeling for those aspects that aren’t well built.

This visualisation also helps me navigate but only if I have travelled a route before. I find I can run through the journey in my mind. However I can rarely remember details such as street names, junction numbers on the motorway or even in some cases the names of towns I pass through! I have lived at my current address for nearly ten years and I still can’t name roads even within half a mile of home. But I don’t get lost because I can “see” the routes in my mind. It’s like Google Street View crossed with a SatNav but without needing to carry some gadget around. It’s a right bugger though when anything changes. If, for instance, some building is knocked down and something else built in its place I can lose my bearings for literally months afterwards. I seem to have trouble remembering how the scene looks now as opposed to how it used to.

I hate it when they move stock around in the supermarket: I’ll write my shopping list out in the order that the items appear as I traverse the aisles. And then I get there and something has been moved since the last time so it’s not where it should be and I start to overload. I don’t handle changes to my routine well at all.

Similarly when I’m trying to remember something I might be able to “see” whatever it is, but can I always put the words to it? Not likely! Not usually a problem when it’s just me because I obviously don’t need the words but I’m stumped if I’m trying to tell somebody else about it. This leads on to another pet hate of mine: when manufacturers change the packaging of some item that I buy regularly such as toothpaste or pre-packaged food. I’ll go to the usual place in the store and I won’t see what I’m looking for because it now looks different. So now I don’t know whether they’re out of stock or I need to look for something different. Either way it means a change which is a Bad Thing. Something like toothpaste or shampoo is particularly bad: if I can’t find my usual product I get overwhelmed by the dozens of almost identical choices on offer. I take it as a deliberate act by the manufacturers to make life difficult for me. It’s as if they’re forcing me to change my routines, and I start to overload again.

I’m getting better at handling it. I no longer tend to have a meltdown in the middle of the store, but my wife is  very used to me ranting about the stupidity of having 50 different kinds of toothpaste, and how such-and-such a store have got it in for me and the only reason they have moved the salad section, sold out of meat & potato pies or discontinued my regular brand of garlic sauce is to upset me personally. I don’t rant at anybody, it’s more of a monologue. The ranting is my safety valve: it lets me handle the stress of the situation before it overwhelms me.

So, there you have it. Despite the drawbacks I wouldn’t change this visualisation aspect of my mind. It allows me to do certain things very well and I can’t imagine life without the images in my head.