Seeing What Others Cannot See – The Hidden Advantages of Visual Thinkers and Differently Wired Brains
by Thomas G. West
Tom West’s 1997 In the Mind’s Eye connects strong visual spatial intelligence and verbal weaknesses from DaVinci to Patton in the past, with the realization that creative visual thinkers aided by computer technology will be at the forefront of today’s dramatically changing society. In his 2018 publication Seeing What Others Cannot See he goes beyond countering the 'deficit-perspective' by offering stories from and about gifted thinkers that he gathers in eight chapters associating facets of picture thinkers.
Each chapter offers a fresh perspective about picture-thinkers in word-thinking settings.
- Ch 1 Seeing Whole – addresses how the academic system continues to rely on word and number symbols with education experts trained to believe what was taught decades ago using conventional tests measuring the wrong things. As a result, the system continues to train and select strong test takers and traditional narrow specialists. Among computer graphics persons word and number use equates to a ‘thin pipe to the brain’ while using picture thinking for information visualization is considered the ‘fat pipe to the brain’. NASA James Lovelock’s intuitive leaps illustrate seeing from ‘top down’ what others cannot see coming from limitations of one scientific discipline or another.
- Ch 2 Visual Perspectives shares that the more we understand deep brain resources for creativity and pattern recognition, the more we can realize and respect distant ancestors’ life and abilities prior to bookish education.
- Ch 3 Seeing Along the Spectrum – though dyslexia was once thought as rare, today’s new attitude is beginning to recognize visual spatial strengths of both autistic and dyslexic thinkers. Here West shares that though Tesla, John Elder Robinson of Raising Cubby, and Temple Grandin have many problems, they show us what is possible when you see and do things differently – by seeing what others do not see.
- Ch 4 Power of Design touches on the frequency of dyslexia in design and computer graphics and addresses the argument that while some argue the move to images superficial, the move to visual literacy will be as important or more important than verbal literacy. Forms of work change more rapidly than most are aware. Considering that machines have taken over routine tasks such as ATM/bank clerk, deep-learning computer systems are soon to replicate other routine professional judgements like physicians and engineers.
- Ch 5 Those who can see gives respect to the high level of sophistication of early non-literate peoples IE their use of stars and ocean currents. He calls out the self-serving role of promotion by makers and users of books. Here West, citing the writer Nigel Carter, illustrates the usefulness of trying to see the bigger picture by standing back to identify trends over time. More ‘seeing’ is evidenced with physicist James Clerk Maxwell’s work in wet clay because “if you can visualize the shape, you can understand the system” and developer of thermodynamics study Willard Gibbs. West relates scientists’ visual thinking strengths to the dyslexic writers’ strong observation powers going on in these larger than usual, slow moving, apparently overly connected brains that yield perspectives and insights often denied to non-dyslexics more likely to see what they’ve been taught to see, say, and move on.
- Ch 6 Insiders/ Outsiders - West points again to the lack of balance between visual and verbal approaches. New approaches manifest a trend in finding ways to return to visual thinking and learning in math by ‘doing’ instead of ‘watching’ math. Mary Schweitzer’s persistence about her discovery connecting dinosaur to bird bones is one more example of someone who saw what others could not – or would not see.
- Ch 7 Seeing and Technology starts with Socrate’s misgivings of a new technology threatening to devalue human contact changing work, learning and communication – the book! Now two millennia later we can ask our new technology to go beyond a book. West shares how Benoit Mandelbrot of fractal dimensions fame experienced the trade-off between verbal, word/symbol difficulties that come with major visual proficiencies. By identifying patterns Mendelbrot foretold 2007/2008 Wall Street financial mess. As a consequence of fractal patterns in astonomy, Astronomer Nathan Cohen applied fractals discovering a single antenna able to do the multiple jobs required for cell phone use – without this intuition the need for multiple antennae replicating a porcupine would have made mobile phone less apt to have come to today’s necessity.
- Ch 8 Visual Families and Nobel Prizes West observes Nobel Prize Committees’ shift to greater respect for ‘the practical’ when in prior times contributions of visual thinkers were considered primitive. He relates Genius in the Genes conference speakers citing high level of science achievement linked to success in the arts; this tradeoff of early visual spatial proficiency comes with the cost of lack of proficiency with language systems. West traces visual spatial talents of his clockmaker ancestors to artists and dyslexics in his family along with his own trouble with spelling and reading. His abilities with higher level work and eventual success in can-do product oriented atmosphere show him working around his weaknesses and exploiting his talents and strengths.
Tom West concludes that we need to focus on trying to gain acceptance of this simple idea: visual thinkers and those with differently wired brains can sometimes see what others cannot see.
To recognize and cherish these different thinkers, education and testing conventions should be changed to recognize these differences, as well as signs of future accomplishments.
His well-constructed aspects of various perspectives about visual thinkers Seeing Others Cannot See matches our work in the Davis Dyslexia Association International and Davis Autism Approach. Our Davis perspective accomplishes West’s suggestions worldwide every day through our Davis DDAI® and DAA® Licensed Facilitator and Facilitator/Coaches.
As Davis DDAI and DAA trained providers, we go a step beyond his recommendation: “There is so much more that needs to be done for visual thinkers…”. Our clients do for themselves because of, not despite, their way of thinking. Self-esteem rises as visual spatial learners realize they are ‘more than’ not ‘less than’ others. Given this understanding and tools, they accept the responsibility and pride that comes with Seeing What Others Cannot See - The Hidden Advantage of Visual Thinkers and Differently Wired Brains.