I like to think about how we think. It’s a thing.
Ok, so I’ve been getting increasingly curious about what goes on in people’s heads when they read. It all started when someone assumed that “voice” mattered to me in books. At the time I mostly just looked at them quizzically because I didn’t have the words, but it seemed to trigger a curiosity that just won’t quit.
When I ask people, the answers tend to be a mix of “hearing” the words they are reading, and “seeing” images of what’s going on. I hadn’t thought to ask if those images are more like photographs or more like movies, but I’m interested in that too. (side note: words are in quotation marks because I am not trying to indicate hallucinations, only ways we think about what we are reading)
Much of my curiosity was wondering if I’m different from other people. What I’ve gotten so far indicates that I’m a little bit different, but maybe not by much. See, when I read, there is no “voice.” Or at least, I don’t like it when there is. If I’m reading something that is, for whatever reason, hard for me to process, sometimes I resort to “saying” the words in my head as I’m reading. It slows me down and I consider it a terribly inefficient way to read.
When I am reading something particularly engaging, however, it’s different. For one thing, there is no voice, which is delightful. As other people, I do get images in my head. I don’t know what they are like for other people, but mine are incredibly rich. Damn near movie quality rich. If I am REALLY into a book, I will actually lose conscious awareness of the words entirely. I will disconnect from the world and be in this other world, in the book, experiencing what the characters experience. It’s very immersive. For me, the mark of a well-written book is all about the ease at which this happens, or just how thoroughly it does.
Thinking about what happens in people’s heads when we read transitioned fairly smoothly into wondering how people think. This is a very old ponder for me – I remember being a child and wondering about the nature of a deaf person’s thoughts, though I was too young at the time to be able to properly articulate my question (I tried. I was accused to believing that deaf people don’t think).
I have read a few things by Temple Grandin, and how she apparently believes that different people have different ways of thinking. Word thinkers, picture thinkers, etc. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as all that, but I do believe that there are different ways of thinking and that different people may tend to one way of thinking or another.
I don’t know if word-thinking is actually the most common way of thinking, but it certainly seems to be the most acknowledged. Years ago I once was talking to a friend of mine about verbal thinking. Specifically, I commented that a particular person seemed to be very much a verbal thinker. Her response was “Isn’t everyone?” She was really quite shocked when I answered “Well, no.” Apparently it hadn’t ever occurred to her that thoughts could take a form other than words. That was when it really sunk in, why so many people think that if you don’t have words you must not have thoughts. They believe that words are the ONLY way to have thoughts.
I have word thoughts. I also have image thoughts. And concept thoughts. I rely mostly on concept thoughts. This blog post, for instance, mostly lived in my head as a concept until I actually started writing it. I had a few key words and phrases scattered through, attached to concept thoughts, but most of these words only happened as I’ve been writing. That’s how I write and frequently why I write; writing is how a concept turns into words for me.
This also gets into something that you might have guessed by now – written language is, for me, fundamentally different from spoken language. Or at least, I process them in ENTIRELY different ways. Trying to connect written language to spoken language is actually a rather laborious process for me, so it’s not something I care to do unless I have to. Reading is most pleasurable when it is least like listening.
I’m still curious, just for the record. What goes on in your head when you read? What structure or form do your thoughts take in your head?