The views expressed herein are mine and not those of the Peace Corps.



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When I was home, one question I got from just about everyone was “so do you think in Swahili now?” It seems pretty basic, but it really got me thinking, because I don’t think in any language at all, really. Since then I’ve had a few conversations about how various people’s thought processes work. Kit and Chris and Katie said that they all have interior monologues, little voices in their heads that talk more or less constantly, at various speeds. Moritz said that he thinks in pictures, unless he’s very tired and then he reverts to words (“right before I start talking to myself out loud” he said). And I had an interesting e-mail exchange with David about the way we both think, which I’ve been articulating as follows:

It’s basically like a lake. The surface can be placid or choppy but most of the important stuff goes on under the surface. If I need to say something, need an opinion, whatever, it appears but I don’t know how. The process is opaque to me, which may be one of the reasons why I’ve always found math proofs hard: I arrive at an answer but simply can’t say how I got there. Dave said, and I agree, that this makes it a lot easier for him to pick up tasks (and often makes him frustrated when others don’t pick things up as quickly as he does) but that it also inhibits him from developing the obsession needed to produce works of true genius. We lake-minded people seem to be, by nature, talented dilettantes, easily able to master skills but having difficulty finding the dedication to achieve absolute mastery. I’ve even started wondering if perhaps my eye for details (and my prodigious ability to be irritated to distraction by small things that others don’t even notice) could be related as well.

And the real reason I’m posting this is that talking about these things has made me very curious about the people around me, so I wanted to ask you: how do you think? Words, pictures, opaque processes, or something totally different? How do you think the way your mind works affects your personality and the way you do things? Reply in the comments, please, I’m super curious! And if any of you has an idea of how to find literature on this topic without being flooded with stuff about learning styles, I’m all ears.


Comment from Daniel Drucker
Time February 26, 2010 at 6:56 am

I tend to think in pictures and graphs (the CS kind) – I think in structures and relations, only rarely with any linguistic content.

Comment from Kit
Time February 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

@Daniel: I definitely think that way when I’m thinking about systems, or CS, or whatever, but for daily “where should I get lunch” thoughts?

Comment from Chris
Time February 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

Ah! I was talking to Miguel D. ’06 the other day and he was saying that when he reads a book he has no conscious opinion on it, but when asked to give an opinion he spits one out right away, because he had one subconsciously. Same thing?

Comment from Miguel D.
Time February 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm

So to comment in my own right; yes, definitely fits with respect to a wide variety of things for me, so the lake-minded metaphor seems correct. Also probably true w/r/t to the tendency to dilettantism, partly true w/r/t mastery, but not, I think, necessarily true w/r/t ability to either synthesize alternate approaches to problems or explain how the approach occurs.

As to the last two things I just said, I would note that both of those abilities, when I do have them, also fit ‘lake’ processes. When I was tutoring kids, for example, I would ‘lake-calculate’ the correct answer, explain (without consciously noting what I was saying) the method I’d used (without consciously before having noted that that was the process I used), and then similarly calculate in lake-style alternate approaches and explanations.

Comment from Norax
Time March 1, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I have been trying to think about this but I don’t really have a good answer. I guess it is sort of a voice in my head but not one that speaks with a particular tone I’d recognize. I don’t really think in words, not ones that I’d see in my mind or anything like that, though sometimes there are pictures. Another thing worth mentioning is that my thoughts are always winding their way around the music that is stuck in my head, because music is always, in one form or another, stuck in my head.

Comment from Kit
Time March 4, 2010 at 2:45 pm

@Norax, amen on the music front. That’s true of me, too.

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