Thomas G. West (1997) In the Mind's Eye. New York: Prometheus books.
One of the important developments that arose from research on the function of the two hemispheres is the idea that the right hemisphere is thinking at all, that is, the clear demonstration that consciousness and thought are, indeed, possible without words. ... how is it that we have so little awareness of this other half of ourselves? One answer is that many functions of the right hemisphere are so fundamental that they are easily taken for granted. Another answer is that the overt concerns of modern culture appear to be almost entirely dominated by the modes of thought most compatible with the left hemisphere, that our view of the world, our educational system, our system of rewards, our aspirations, and our value systems are all effectively focused on reinforcing the operation of the left hemisphere (while the more basic contributions of the right are largely ignored or seen as primitive).
We may consider "visual thinking" as that form of thought in which images are generated or recalled in the mind and are manipulated, overlaid, translated, associated with other similar forms (as with a metaphor), rotated, increased or reduced in size, distorted, or otherwise transformed gradually from one familiar image into another.
p. 25, quote from Einstein:
How did it come that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity? The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up. Naturally, I could go deeper into the problem than a child with normal abilities.
Einstein sometimes refered to the source of his ideas as "playing" with "images".
Einstein: The words or the language ... do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be "voluntarily" reproduced and combined. ... this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thougth -- before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.
Such observations as Einstein's occur frequently in the literature of creativity.
The capacity that can promote both innovation and wisdom may be relatively underdeveloped or underrepresented in our conventional leaders, whether in the sciences, politics, or other areas. ... many of those people most able to comprehend and provide enduring solutions to some of the most complex problems may be the same ones usually excluded from positions of authority or excluded from the community of discourse that informs and advises those in authority.
p. 109, quote from Faraday:
I was never able to make a fact my own without seeing it.
p. 143, quote from Nikola Tesla:
When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop."
In some cases it seems that the greater the fluency with nonverbal thought, the greater the dysfunction of verbal communication. This tendency might create difficulties for those in universities and other institutions where verbal proficiency is seen as a major indicator of intellectual competence. Yet it seems that some of our greatest minds may fit this unexpected pattern. ... Perhaps if there were a greater awareness of this paradoxical tendency, we could begin to look past verbal dysfluency - or even fluency - to measure the true value of the ideas that lie behind. Perhaps more important still, we might also learn to see some of the real power of nonverbal modes of thought, however difficult theymay be to communicate in words.
Well-trained and successful scientists are kept busy with many obligations - preparing lectures, advising students, consulting with coauthors, meeting journal deadlines, reviewing grant applications, making student recommendations, sitting on expert advisory groups and government commissions, and attending faculty parties and retirement dinners. Little wonder that Einstein recommended that a scientist should remain apart as much as possible from the politics of science ("the battle of the brains") and instead take work as a lighthouse keeper or shoemaker or some other undemanding employment in order to keep the mind free from interruptions.
As [Einstein] observed, in [a conventionally successful academic career path] there is a strong tendency to do research that is comparitively superficial and predictable - little steps that do not risk serious failure or threaten existing beliefs, modest research programs that can be relied upon to produce publishable results and supportive, unthreatened mentors.
The most surprising and productive findings can sometimes be seen as funny - Lewis Thomas has observed that one can easily tell when something of real consequence has been discovered in the laboratory because people start laughing - something has turned out in a way that no one expected and it is too unexpected to be believed.
p. 195, quote from German chemist Kekule', half asleep by the fire...
The atoms flitted before my eyes. Long rows, variously, more closely united; all in movement wriggling and turning like snakes. And see, what was that? One of the snakes seized its own tail and the image whirled scornfully before my eyes. As though from a flash of lightning I awoke; I occupied the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis ... Let us learn to dream, gentlemen.
It would be a supreme irony if a demanding educational system served mainly to eliminate many of the most talented. ... We don't need just more facts. We do need more deep understanding. ... There is no money for simply sitting in the library and thinking.
Could it be that some of those with the greatest potential for being truly great inventors, mathematicians, and scientists, as opposed to knowledgable scholars and competent technicians are to be found among those who are repairing cars, attending art school, driving trucks, managing small entrepreneurial companies, giving flying lessons, designing computerized animated graphic images, or burried unnoticed in mid-level positions deep inside some corporate or governmental bureaucracy?
[Some teachers use Venn diagrams to show the properties of a logical argument.] Hadamard explains that he uses an analogous representation in his own mental images, but does not use the circles themselves. Rather, he uses something like a cloud of points. In his mind's eye he sees "spots of an undefined form, no precise shape being necessary for me to think of spots lying inside or outside of each other" [The purpose of these vague concepts? Hadamard:] "I need it in order to have a simultaneous view of all elements of the argument, to hold them together, to make a whole of them - in short, to achieve [a] synthesis ... and give the problem its physiognomy [face, or countenance]".
Some (but not all) of the most creative mathematicians and scientists show clear evidence of employing some form of visual thought to arrive at their most innovative results. They use conventional signs and symbols to communicate with others, but not as entities for their own productive thought. For some, then, "productive thought" is made up of images, not Greek letters and conventional mathematical symbols and concepts. A second major consideration is that some highly creative scientists (and even mathematicians) have been reported to show signs of curious difficulties with rather elementary parts of mathematics, while with the very "difficult" parts they show great facility.
The minds of these visual thinkers and creative dyslexics have been as restless and vibrantly alive as their transcripts and resumes have been varied and erratic.
[these people] rarely have the option or the inclination or the temptation to stake a claim to one tiny hoard of knowledge, as many specialists do - holding off all comers with a barrage of facts, minefields of technical language, and bulwarks of prerequisites and qualifications.
Sometimes selection among students seems to be education's main task. What is studied is less important than if it easily and credibly distinguishes between the very bright, the average, and the not so bright. It seems to matter little what is learned and what is tested as long as a small number rise to the top, and, preferably, the same small group in each case (otherwise things get confusing). Some wonder if education is really only a long and elaborate hazing process.
As institutions become more bureaucratized, and different groups and factions begin to compete more aggressively for a few positions providing high rewards, stability, remuneration, status, perquisites, and power, the infighting eventually backs everyone into a corner. The only apparently fair criteria for hiring and promotion come to be paper qualifications, education, and experience, not promise, passion, or originality. This situation is a disaster for the creative dyslexics and late bloomers because these qualifications depend so much upon those qualities where they are the weakest.