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Books & Articles I wrote.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Imagery and savants

I have talked recently about my thoughts on how we think and yesterday I posted about savants who can display extraordinary powers of the mind. I contacted Stephen Kosslyn or Harvard who has published hundreds of papers on visual mental imagery. Here was my question below:

Hi - i have been interested in your work ever since i read your article on Edge.
I have also read a lot of related work, but i am not an expert in any fashion.

I watched a programme tonight about Kim Peek which led me to Daniel
Tammet with a comment:

"he is therefore able to articulate his experience, describing his mathematical calculations in terms of shape-form, visualizations, and emotionally sensitive reactions (a particular fondness for pi) rather than by traditional methodical processes."

I am a very strong believer that we are missing something in the subconcious that provides us with this visualization capability and it is destroyed when it enters our
conciousness. We are unable to say what our visualizations actually ARE in any
language we understand.

My question - have you folks done any work, or do you know of any pointers on what you are looking at and savants? It is a fascinating area of interest for me.

In other words, how does a savant represent the ears of a german shepherd :)

Best Wishes,
steven :: http://stevenr2.com/

He kindly got back to me within a couple of hours with this reply.


We've done two lines of work that may be relevant to your

First, we tested Temple Gradin (who is somewhere on the Aspergers
spectrum, but she calls herself autistic); she says that she relies
on imagery when designing cattle facilities. We gave her a large
range of imagery tests, but she was not exceptionally good at any of
them. Second, we lately have been testing monks, who claim to have
extraordinary imagery abilities as a result of years of meditation.
So far, nothing is leaping out from that work.

So, I'm afraid I can't be too helpful... We will someday
test mathematicians, but haven't gotten there yet.

Thanks for your


I was half pleased my question didn't sound ridiculous :) This is clearly an area to keep a watch on - if we could discover how to harness this visual imagery we may be able to have our own Semantic mind!

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