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I don't like Wired's original title: weird framing
May 27, 2013 5:28 AM   Subscribe

I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers. ~ Temple Grandin
posted by infini (51 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay! I've always described this in tactile terms: it's the difference between thought as analogous to sight, where you visualize things and then make them, and thought as an analogue for touch and proprioception, where you just feel your way around a problem, like navigating home after work. It's not picture, it's not sound, but it's a kind of groping comprehension that has to be translated into words or images or actions to be useful, but makes programming and logic and argumentation and engineering seem even more natural than the words and pictures we use to explain them.

I buy that autistics might have privileged access to this form of cognition, but it's certainly not unique.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:43 AM on May 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


This way of thinking is neither new, nor peculiarly autistic, so far as I can tell. But it's so underdescribed here that it's hard to be too sure.

I think it's good to spin out speculative hypotheses and get them out there so that others can see what they think. But it's important to realize that most of them will be wrong. Everybody wants to be the next Malcolm Gladwell, give the next TED talk... This seems like swinging for the insta-pop-psych-fame fences to me...

Also: that Pixar/LaserWriter example...sheesh...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:45 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems like swinging for the insta-pop-psych-fame fences to me...

I don't know if you are familiar with Temple Grandin, but I am pretty sure that is not her goal.
posted by dubold at 5:52 AM on May 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


Well wikipidia doesn't list it, so it must be new. But just as there are lots of ways to get inspiration and different kinds of learning, at some point you gotta "do the math" or it's just not all that real.
posted by sammyo at 5:52 AM on May 27, 2013


If we can teach others how to recognize the patterns we sense they may already be able to roughly discern and give them a language or framework to describe them, then its already being taught.
posted by infini at 6:23 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pattern matching has always been my strongest suit.

In some ways that's good because I can pick up new skills very easily -- I just have to watch you once or twice and I pretty much get it. Or read a book, and if I can suss out what is going on as a pattern, I'm fine. I can improve my skills quickly through iteration by subtly varying my approach and seeing what's better. So, yay, that's cool.

And in some ways it's bad because it's super easy to become discouraged when patterns don't produce the desired outcome. If no alternate approach is visible, I get all "why bother." It's also why I get bored easily, I suspect.

There's probably some learning feedback variable in my brain that's fairly high off the median, maybe it's called Q, I dunno. Trial feedback response is very high so those pathways get burned in fast.

Anyway, that's kind of my life experience.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:48 AM on May 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


There really is room in the world for people with different learning types. Like I am great at trying new shit and seeing if it works or maybe fixing it if it doesn't, and doing lots of stuff "well enough" to sometimes seem like a polymath. But I am not great at refining things to the Nth degree or just sitting down and doing stuff over and over and over until it's perfect, or banging my head against a wall until the wall breaks. So there's plenty of need for those talent types too.

In conclusion, humanity is a land of contrasts.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:51 AM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Very exciting, a new book by Temple Grandin. I am a fan.
posted by snaparapans at 7:00 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Never mind the title, they could have at least spelled Asperger's right in the URL.

I must admit I don't really understand the modes of thinking she's describing. I think because I don't understand any of the descriptions of programming that she gives. I do understand anotherpanacea's getting home from work analogy and maybe asking people how they give directions (or if they can give directions) is a way to sort these modes of thinking out.
posted by hoyland at 7:16 AM on May 27, 2013


Take #1.
So, the traditional way of learning how to master a skill fits in with all this.

1. Learn the rules
2. Practice using the rules
3. Learn when the rules don't apply due to some other more subtle rules, and then break the original rules.

The first set of rules is a structure to help you reach the second more obscure set. Perhaps some class of people can skip steps 1 and 2.



Take #2.
There are a lot of habits I've formed in the last 20 years of being a computer guy. They don't make any sense to outsiders, but they are distilled wisdom of that time made into habit.

For instance: When installing a program, reboot at least twice after you're done.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:21 AM on May 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I mean, the author does realize that the human brain can be described as one gigantic pattern recognition machine, yes? One which we have manifestly been unable to reproduce mechanically or electronically? Which defies programming equivalents? Which can discern patterns even where there are none?

And how is "pattern thinking" different from "verbal thinking" or "visual thinking" anyway? Aren't those both essentially just ways of making, manipulating, and communicating with patterns? Isn't that why we can instantly spot the sameness between Comic Sans, Helvetica, and Times New Roman?
posted by valkyryn at 7:24 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's good to spin out speculative hypotheses and get them out there so that others can see what they think. But it's important to realize that most of them will be wrong. Everybody wants to be the next Malcolm Gladwell, give the next TED talk... This seems like swinging for the insta-pop-psych-fame fences to me...

Well, given Temple Grandin is already famous, I doubt that's her angle. And she says she realizes it's just a hypothesis here:
(At this point, this third category is only a hypothesis, though I’ve found scientific support for it. It has transformed my thinking about autistic people’s strengths.)
I mean, the author does realize that the human brain can be described as one gigantic pattern recognition machine, yes?
Are people not familiar with Temple Grandin, the fact that she has a PhD. and is like, rilly smart?
The brain might be a pattern recognition machine but some people are better at it than others. Personally I hear people describe themselves as "visual" thinkers or "verbal" thinkers all the time. In my experience those are well-accepted concepts. I have always wondered where I fit in a framework like that because of neither of those suit me and I never heard someone described as a "pattern thinker", which is how I would describe myself relative to "visual" and "verbal". So this makes sense to me.

Isn't that why we can instantly spot the sameness between Comic Sans, Helvetica, and Times New Roman?

Well, some people can, some people can't.

This "article" is an excerpt from a book, not meant to be the end-all and be-all of this theory. It's a small sub-set of one part of what Temple Grandin has been working on for her entire career.
posted by bleep at 7:36 AM on May 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Isn't that why we can instantly spot the sameness between Comic Sans, Helvetica, and Times New Roman?

Well, some people can, some people can't.


As former Director of Graduate Admissions at a rather well known graduate Design program, I attest to the validity of this statement, based on my years of sorting out portfolios.
posted by infini at 7:48 AM on May 27, 2013


And how is "pattern thinking" different from "verbal thinking" or "visual thinking" anyway?

I recognize in the "pattern thinking" description what I've also heard described as "systematic" or "strategic" thinking, the ability to abstract singular events into a broader framework, to recognize similarity between situations and to make contextual connections. This is a useful mode, because it allows the transference of solutions between two seemingly disparate examples. The Applewriter and Pixar.
posted by bonehead at 8:03 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, I just thought of another term for "pattern thinking"! How about normal human cognition

Anyway, what she's describing is so vague it could mean anything. You can't really say much about it one way or the other because "pattern thinking" could mean anything. Like other people said, the human brain does really well at pattern matching, so calling it some new thing or whatever seems strange.

I Also think it's strange to put people into categories like "visual thinker" or "verbal thinker" I mean, some people don't have access to the 'minds eye', but it seems to me that most people do both at various times. Maybe some people do one more then the other, but it might also depend on what they're trying to do. But it also seems obvious that most people do pattern recognition all the time too. I'm skeptical that these are even scientifically valid categories.
the fact that she has a PhD. and is like, rilly smart?
She has a PhD in Animal Science. I don't think that makes you a qualified neuroscientist.

Isn't that why we can instantly spot the sameness between Comic Sans, Helvetica, and Times New Roman?

Well, some people can, some people can't.
Some people don't even know the names of fonts. But anyone who's ever been told what those fonts are would be able to tell them apart, unless they have serious a visual impairment.

I mean, I can't tell the difference between the smell of frankincense and myrrh, or Chanel No. 5 and Hai Karate, that's not because there's something wrong with my nose, it's because I have no idea what those things smell like. If someone pointed out those aromas, I would probably be able to tell them apart, just like other people would be able to tell those fonts apart if they knew what they were.
posted by delmoi at 8:21 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


the ability to abstract singular events into a broader framework, to recognize similarity between situations and to make contextual connections.
That just sounds like normal thinking.
posted by delmoi at 8:22 AM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have just discovered that I employ a new type of thinking. It is called "brilliant." This has enormous implications regarding how smart people think I am. Does anyone know the TED organizers?
posted by michaelh at 8:41 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know if you are familiar with Temple Grandin, but I am pretty sure that is not her goal.

Hey! Oh, yeah, I'm familiar with and like her stuff (I come from farmers and ranchers, so it's of particular interest to me), though I didn't know/recognize her name.

Yep, you are right, she's probably not aiming for more notoriety.

Still, from what's said here, I don't see that this is a significantly new hypothesis. A pattern is just a kind of similarity. And the Jobs example is just about a dude who's smitten with a weird analogy.

Maybe there's more here than it seems, of course.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 8:44 AM on May 27, 2013


Some context: Temple Grandin is an autistic person who is a visual thinker. As a Doctor of Animal Science, she has designed 60% of the slaughterhouses in North America, because her favorite animal is the cow. She revolutionized the slaughter industry by designing the most humane way for an animal to die. For instance, as a visual thinker she can instantly see why a cow will panic and back up in a chute, while no one else had a clue.

Within the realm of the typical person there is pattern thinking, visual, verbal, etc.. but there are also individuals who exhibit extraordinary abilities. Many times these people have heightened abilities in one area and very little ability in another, say lots of visual, and almost no verbal..

These are the people Grandin is talking about, people like her who are on the autistic spectrum. This discussion can be generalized to discuss a range of non-autistic people, who may also be brilliant but, whose abilities are more evenly distributed.

Her writing on animals is pretty amazing, imo. Animals in Translation is really worth a read for anyone who loves animals. Also the biopic, Temple Grandin, a movie about her, starring Claire Gaines is fantastic.
posted by snaparapans at 8:48 AM on May 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


But anyone who's ever been told what those fonts are would be able to tell them apart, unless they have serious a visual impairment.

You are deeply wrong about this. I can see there is a difference between various fonts, but I cannot reliably identify them. (Except Courier. I can spot Courier a mile off, because my students use it to fill space in short papers.)

Oh, I just thought of another term for "pattern thinking"! How about normal human cognition

You seem to believe in the following fashion:

I am normal.
I think like X.
Therefore, everyone else thinks like X.

Probably, you easily recognize the form of such arguments, and how they may go wrong. Most people do not; this ability is not distributed universally (or even normally) throughout the population. Consider the possibility that you are not normal, and that most of your friends are not normal, in a way that is advantageous in our shared political, economic, and technological milieu.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:50 AM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Writing code feels like snapping together legos for me.

So if we're taking pattern thinking in Grandin's sense seriously, Norbert Wiener was maybe the pattern thinker par excellence, and cybernetics as a whole was an extended exercise in finding both the strengths and (annoyingly often) the limitations of pattern thinking as a mode of interpreting the world.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:53 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I can only ever solve math problems if I can picture them as machines. "OK, so this goes up around here and then that X would drop in...I get it now." Probably why geometry is my favorite branch.
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on May 27, 2013


That just sounds like normal thinking.

Pattern recognition, as Grandin describes it, is not something the average university graduate does well, at least those specifically with science or engineering backgrounds. I spend the first few years teaching new grads/baby grad students to abstract patterns out of their datasets, formulating their hypotheses and then building tests for them. One of the biggest problems with the way a new student/hire thinks is the lack of this skill (the other is time management).

This is the specialized science version of pattern recognition, of course, but most new graduates come to me with very little training or experience in using that part of their minds. They are often good communicators, and have well-developed symbolic/logical reasoning skills. Many have good spatial/visualization training and some a high degree of manual dexterity. All of these are skills taught in an undergraduate STEM education.

Few new grads can do "pattern recognition" well, in my expereince, and even then it's mostly intuitive, without any real structure around it. Learning how to "think systematically" is one of the challenges of graduate school, or success as a newly-hired scientist.
posted by bonehead at 9:10 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


For instance, as a visual thinker she can instantly see why a cow will panic and back up in a chute, while no one else had a clue.

Alternatively, she is the first person who has ever given a flying fuck. If no one has ever taken the time to actually think about the chute system, the first person to approach the problem with a modicum of care is going to look brilliant.

She is a wicked cool presenter, regardless. If you ever have the chance to attend her talks, do so.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think that makes you a qualified neuroscientist.

And yet here we all are, commenting or asking questions or even making pronouncements on something neurosciencey, and most or none of us have PhDs in it or any other related science. Amazing.
posted by rtha at 9:22 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


she is the first person who has ever given a flying fuck

Well, yes maybe about the cows, but many in the industry have been very interested in solving the problems she solved, because every time a cow backs up in the chute, 1000 + cows back up and it is a money disaster, for the owner of the plant.

The only reason she was taken seriously is that she saved people big $$$..

Amazingly enough she developed a checklist and got burger sellers to sign on to it:
The secret to her success is that she rarely uses emotional arguments to win her battles but rather, helps to implement change by working with regulatory bodies that economically punish meat-packing plants that do not pass regular audits. She has also persuaded big beef purchasers like McDonalds and Wendy’s to sever ties with meat-packers that fail these audits. She has proven that economic consequences typically get fast results.
link
posted by snaparapans at 9:28 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The excerpt also seems bookended in a way that steers the reader towards the context of consumer product design and market functions, since it begins with the Steve Jobs story and ends by touting the marketplace advantages of a mind that "that finds its greatest fulfillment not in the fizzy buzz of forming a personal relationship but in the click-clack logic of writing code." The argument as framed by the excerpt seems to be that the path towards a neurodiverse society leads through and only through the marketplace, where the autistic mind can be recognized as a valuable commodity.

That's a shame, since the meditations on the overlaps between creative art and mathematical and data-driven science as overlapping paths or perhaps even parallax views of one path towards understanding seems like the most insightful and game-changing portion of the article. It also suggests that neurodiversity is already an established fact of culture. The bent of the article - and again, I don't know if it reflects editorial work, or the views of Grandin and Panek -- seems intent on forcing this into a much more limiting ideological framework.
posted by kewb at 9:31 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a bit curious about the politics [or the zeitgeistyness, if you'd rather] of all this, although I don't have any theory.

1. I've noticed a lot of "autistics, they are smarter than the rest of us" stuff kicking around the internet. It seems to be replacing some of the "Asperger's means you're really smart but awkward" stuff I was seeing. In both cases, the narrative was this sort of hero narrative about tech people - programmers as autistics or as people with Asperger's who are therefore smarter and better than people who are non-autistic or non-Asperger's. Sometimes this is framed as "learn from autism" [creepy in one way] and sometimes it is framed as "some people are just genetically better" [creepy in another].

2. I live in a social setting where nerdy people generally are the norm, although not so much with the programmers, so I don't know whether this exists in a broader social climate of hatred and distrust of tech people and thus is sort of a recuperation of social awkwardness ("they may be autistic but they are brilliant!") or whether it is more about a weird ubermensch narrative ("you will never be like them, puny neurotypical!!") or whether it's a bit of both depending on the setting.

3. The pervasive mental-illness-ization of everything. I don't know how to think this through. When the latest statistic is the 26 percent of Americans have a mental illness now, I feel like something is going on, but I'm not sure what. What narrative of mental illness is in play? What narrative of failure/success is in play? What demands on the individual does society make that push people into the less grave mental illnesses? (Note: I "have" depression and anxiety and I feel that both - in my case! not in all cases! - are "social" conditions brought on and then exacerbated by certain aspects of modern life in the US.)

3.a. The mental illnessization of everything: is this like global warming, where we're basically struggling to adapt our social narrative? If so, is it going to be just like everything else under capitalism, where certain illnesses or conditions are "recuperable" because they make you a better worker and producer?

3.b. The mental-illnessization of everything, tumblr version: On tumblr, it seems like mental illness has become an identity category, with people self-diagnosing a lot, and people often define themselves over and against an imaginary "neurotypical" norm. This is very interesting but again I am not sure how to think it through. It certainly signals a cultural change in attitudes about mental illness and certain kinds of difference, but again I feel like this is fairly depoliticized - very much "mental illness is a natural category like having blue eyes; it is not politically constituted like ethnicity or gender performance"

4. Pattern recognition: mixed feelings about it because I'm interested in history, political struggle, literature - and I know pretty well how tempting it is to impose patterns there; pattern imposition is always political, probably to a degree always political even in math or science but definitely political in history or politics, and it can lead to hilariously terrible problems or awful cruelty and disaster.
posted by Frowner at 9:37 AM on May 27, 2013 [25 favorites]


I'm sure the book is quite interesting but this article is too glib.

I think the claim is that "pattern thinkers" do a great deal of abstraction, but what pattern thinkers do remains unclear to me. To distinguish "visual thinkers" from "pattern thinkers" (a noisy distinction, as many "visual thinkers" may indeed be relying on visual patterns) the example of chess is used. But expert chess players tend to store specific board layouts in long-term memory, such that it isn't necessary for them to do much abstraction.

Interesting idea, certainly, but this article feels a little loose.
posted by nicodine at 9:42 AM on May 27, 2013


Patterns have played a large part in what makes something pleasing to the eye. Think of the Golden Ratio in math. Nature is abound with examples of the golden ratio. We can take this one step further and look at the math behind flower arranging. Some people intuitively can arrange flowers in a vase that is pleasing to the eye; others can't. If you are a "pattern" thinker, you could just look at the bad flower arrangement, make a few adjustment and like magic, the flower arrangement looks great.
posted by JujuB at 9:47 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit curious about the politics [or the zeitgeistyness, if you'd rather] of all this..

The notion of neurodiversity and, I think the bent of the article, is that it takes lots of different people to come up with innovative ideas. This is not about mental illness or the ubermensch, but collaboration, coming together. Not marginalizing, and certainly not fantasizing that these people want to take over the world because they are "smarter than us".. we saw that big time in the thirties, and the answer was extermination... the characters change but the "question" still seems to rear its ugly head.
posted by snaparapans at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like I have this sort of mind. I have struggled to articulate how it works, and often, I end up talking about fairly nonsensical things like "the shape of concepts" as if they were puzzle pieces. I have to know a subject extremely well, it's not some parlor trick, but for the handful of topics I know well enough, I have a mental model which I can try to fit things into and sometimes they snap in, sometimes they don't. This is also a method of recall for me. If I'm trying to remember some trivia, I often do what I call "bouncing a similar thought around" to try and shake it loose. I'll remember another historical event with similar circumstances, if that's what I'm trying to remember, etc. I think this skill has been honed by many years of debugging complex software systems.

That said, being given the "gifted" label as a child almost destroyed me, so I am extremely wary of any argument which sets this up as some sort of superior intelligence. It isn't, it comes with a whole new set of intrinsic fallacies. I'm not sure that's what's going on here, but it is never far away in this sort of discussion.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:51 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


This strikes me as a fairly generic label with a fairly useful insight: that both "verbal" and "visual" thinkers are merely responding to different sorts of patterns, different sorts of abstractions. Everybody is a pattern thinker, but some people think in patterns other than words or images.

There are different methods of thinking which are useful in different situations. Often we pick up certain thought modes and then just sorta stick to them, without wondering if there are other ways of thinking. Often we define ourselves by these modes, even if the modes are not necessarily an inherent part of us. And often, of course, people have difficulty thinking in certain ways, adhering to certain patterns, for whatever multitude of reasons that all amount to "the human mind and body are perniciously difficult things". I feel that the rise in self-diagnosed mental illnesses that Frowner mentions has to do partly with this realization that different people function differently, period, but we haven't so internalized this yet that we can refer to these differences as anything other than illnesses.

Both visual and verbal thinking are potent because they deal with incredibly dense and rich conceptual models: one deals with entire languages of abstract thoughts and ideas, and the other deals with patterns which are very easily surface-recognizable. Everybody is ultimately constructing systems in their minds, and it's interesting to propose that some people think of those systems in a purer, abstract sense, without the barriers of language or imagery. But it's not especially insightful, is it? Verbal/visual thinking is useful not as a complete summary of how a person thinks but as an easy way to refer to the ways we most easily associate with thoughts and understanding. Saying that some people are good at thinking in patterns is well and fine, but that has nothing to do with there being some "third category" of thinking. Pattern processing is the core property of intelligence, and people we consider to be especially intelligent are people who are good at understanding the properties of patterns. To the best of my knowledge this has been understood for a long, long time.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:08 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sure the book is quite interesting but this article is too glib.

Seemed sorta like something Malcolm Gladwell might write. Not really Grandin's fault, although her cowriter could have maybe put in a little more effort.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:14 AM on May 27, 2013


Having been thought to have Aspergers by two people in my life (professional and personal), this article was great.

The things that have helped me, immensely, are 1.) a greater cultural acceptance of critical thinkers, and 2.) taking those amatuer armchair diagnoses, essentially, and interpreting them as a call to pull my head away from the computer, observe the world around me, and make decisions based on the social, environmental, and material consequences certain choices could have, roughly.

This has made work life considerably more enjoyable. Personal life is getting there.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 11:52 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seemed sorta like something Malcolm Gladwell might write. Not really Grandin's fault, although her cowriter could have maybe put in a little more effort.

It is an adaptation from her new book (PR?). Maybe Wired assumed familiarity with Grandin's prior work about people who think in pictures (herself) and people who think in words. Her book Thinking in Pictures was written in 1996.
posted by snaparapans at 12:04 PM on May 27, 2013


Frowner, I think the attitudes you're describing are attributable to popular misunderstandings of autism, stereotypes people have about programmers and "nerds" generally (ie. anyone who likes or is good at mathy or sciency kind of stuff), and the disjunct between actual mental disabilities (including autism) and how we usually think of intelligence.

First of all, "islets of ability" are common with autism, that is, people who have autism can be quite smart or talented in areas unaffected by the disorder. There is, however, no guarantee that people who have autism will also have special talents of some kind, and this is not diagnostic of the disorder. Nor is there any guarantee that any talents autistic people do have will be in direction we would consider nerdy. Autism is real disorder with pretty specific symptoms. It is not remotely the same thing as being smart and shy.

I've known quite a few programmers ‒ at least a dozen or so. I used to live with one, and I got to be friends with people in the IT departments of a couple companies I worked for because we both ended up having to work weird hours. All the programmers I've known have been pretty friendly, outgoing, sociable people. At some point, if none of the people you've met in a particular group correspond to the stereotypes about them, you have to consider that maybe the stereotypes are wrong. (All I can say about them is that an unusual numbers of programmers I've met have also been amateur musicians, and they remind me a lot of carpenters.)

All of us in the US have been exposed to the idea that intelligence is a unitary trait that people have different amounts of, because that's how tracking works in almost all US school systems. (The streaming system used in other anglophone countries is pretty similar.) After twelve years of being classified this way, this becomes very ingrained. However, intelligence doesn't actually work that way, and no one in cognitive psychology or psychometrics thinks it does. Mental disabilities are qualitatively different from each other, and normal people can also be intelligent and unintelligent in very different ways. The idea that someone can simultaneously be very smart or talented and diagnosed with a severe disability emphatically underlines the falsehood of our assumption that intelligence is unitary. We basically just need to understand that intelligence isn't unitary.

I've read other stuff that Temple Grandin has written and I don't think she has any of the attitudes you seem to be attributing to her.
posted by nangar at 1:28 PM on May 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


And yet here we all are, commenting or asking questions or even making pronouncements on something neurosciencey, and most or none of us have PhDs in it or any other related science. Amazing.
And most of it's ridiculous nonsense. AMAZING.

Theirs is a difference between posting an internet comment and writing an article in a major magazine - the article has a lot more authority in people's minds, and for a lot of people, they'll just take it being true, while they'll assume an internet comment is just some bullshit.
"that finds its greatest fulfillment not in the fizzy buzz of forming a personal relationship but in the click-clack logic of writing code." The argument as framed by the excerpt seems to be that the path towards a neurodiverse society leads through and only through the marketplace, where the autistic mind can be recognized as a valuable commodity.
I find this kind of thing annoying, since it assumes that "neurotypical" people somehow can't write code, which isn't true at all. I seriously doubt Steve Jobs was on the autistic spectrum, yet her first anecdote was about him because he was using "pattern thinking", but it seemed like he was just using a pretty straight forward metaphor.

(And by the way, a huge part of what made Jobs so successful was his ability to form interpersonal relationships, his ability to get people to buy into his vision was a critical component of his success)
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on May 27, 2013


I play guitar and have taken a jazz improvisation class before, where we leaned various different chords and scales and applied them to soloing over jazz songs either by ear or sometimes with a chord chart. This was my first foray into learning music theory. I quickly figured out that most every scale or mode had identical patterns on the neck of the guitar and I was therefore easily able to commit them to memory through practice, and that these patterns were the result of slight changes to the major scale. My main issue after that was NOT playing so close to the patterns and therefore making my solos more varied. I had a hard time moving from one pattern to the next up and down the neck of the guitar in ways that wasn't "boxed in". I could move from playing in one mode or scale to playing in a different one up or down the neck, but they were very boxed in to the patterns.

A friend of mine, however, is very good at this. He explained to me that he approaches guitar playing in a point-based system, which makes sense. Depending on where he is on the neck of the guitar certain notes will have a certain point value to them, which allowed him to make music that could be very consonant or dissonant (I think ideally he figured notes with a higher point value were consonant, such as a movement from the root to the fourth). He seemed to be thinking in some sort of patterned thinking that was very abstract compared to my approach.

I have never been able to incorporate his patterned thinking with mine. Whereas the patterns I found seemed to box me in to repetitive playing, his seemed to give him freedom to play around. His seemed to be very mathematical (something the author mentions in the article) and mine more of a feel-it-out approach. It is something that still bothers me to this day! I have such a hard time playing lead guitar that isn't patterned.
posted by gucci mane at 7:16 PM on May 27, 2013


(And by the way, a huge part of what made Jobs so successful was his ability to form interpersonal relationships, his ability to get people to buy into his vision was a critical component of his success)

Are the only words worth repeating.

I sincerely believe the Wired title and framing has undermined the value of whatever conceptual direction they may have taken, including a swipe sideways at design thinking.
posted by infini at 2:10 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


gucci mane I have never been able to incorporate his patterned thinking with mine.

You may find that if you take what you think your friend is doing, rather than his explanation,
and analyze it, you can come up with a system of your own. Practice that system over and over and over and over, until you have integrated into your playing in a natural way.. IOW, if you can imagine another way of playing, (your friends way or another) you can integrate it into performance with a lot of sweat.

In a funny way this method mimics Job's method, but instead of using different people's talents and integrating them into product design, you use different parts of yourself and integrate them into play.

YMMV...
posted by snaparapans at 7:08 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


pattern imposition is always political, probably to a degree always political even in math or science

It really, really isn't.

There's nothing political about, say, the Fibonacci sequence.

Though, FWIW, I think you were hitting on all cylinders up to there...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:13 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having done a lot of training, I categorize people as learning by process or concept. Some people learn a set of steps to accomplish a task, and will do those steps even if the reason for some of the steps no longer exists. Others learn the reasons for the steps, and will always do the steps based on figuring out what they should do at each point. There are advantages and strengths to each way of learning. Like every categorization about people I've so far encountered, it's a gross simplification. Humans are so complex that it's hard for me to imagine that thinking can be put into only 3 categories.
posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


re: http://www.metafilter.com/128438/I-dont-like-Wireds-original-title-weird-framing#5000261 that is Claire Danes. She won an Golden Globe for the performance (it was originally an HBO movie, I believe). Highly recommended film. The subject matter probably doesn't appeal to you, but I guarantee that you will be glad you saw it, for many reasons. Temple Grandin.
posted by spock at 3:30 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


>It really, really isn't.

There's nothing political about, say, the Fibonacci sequence.


Perhaps not. But the sequence, in and of itself, isn't all that interesting. Trying to do anything with it beyond describing it involves applying that pattern to facts in the world, and it's going to be really difficult for that not to be political.
posted by valkyryn at 3:16 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look, if "pattern thinking" is really just a fancy-schmancy term for "abstract thinking," then this is something that everyone does to a greater or lesser degree. Abstraction is a critical part of what we tend to think of as "intelligence," and people that aren't very good at it tend not to do very well either in school or professionally.

Fortunately, and fittingly given the topic, there are any number of different forms of abstraction. Some musicians are synesthetic, others are almost logicians, and both can be excellent musicians. And this really is something that comes with the maturation of the brain. Some people will never be as good at abstraction as others, but your average ten year old is uniformly worse at it than your average fifteen year old, who in turn is beat by your average twenty year old. This process really continues up until the mid-twenties, or so I'm given to believe.

But calling this a "new way of thinking" strikes me as overambitious. There's certainly good work to be done in describing how brains mature and how/why they do not all mature at the same rate, the same way, or to the same extent. But the idea that this is something New and Different just strikes me as implausible.
posted by valkyryn at 3:23 AM on May 29, 2013


But calling this a "new way of thinking" strikes me as overambitious.

as infini states: I don't like Wired's original title: weird framing

The Wired article is a adaptation from her new book: The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. Previously, in Thinking in Pictures (1996), she described realizing that she herself does not think in words, but in pictures. When she reviews anything in her mind it is like streaming video. no words. She noticed that many autistic people think in pictures and many also think in words, now she realizes that many also think in patterns. Her subject, again, is those on the autistic spectrum.
Once I realized that thinking in patterns might be a third category, alongside thinking in pictures and thinking in words, I started seeing examples everywhere. (At this point, this third category is only a hypothesis, though I’ve found scientific support for it. It has transformed my thinking about autistic people’s strengths.)....

...I’m certainly not the first person to notice that patterns are part of how humans think.
There has been speculation that the spike in children with autism in Silicon Vally children was due to environmental toxins, vaccines (totally discredited, debunked) or other external causes. Another theory has been that many people on the spectrum (geeks?) wind up being drawn to computer programming type work. This wound up providing a fertile ground for autistic spectrum mating, a ground that did not exist before the computer revolution. Well, yes there were music conservatories, and specialized university graduate programs, but Silicon Valley represented a massive grouping of like minds (and bodies) hanging out by water coolers, and then.. well you get the idea.

Ergo: Wired made a big generalization with their title of the Article:

How an Entirely New, Autistic Way of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley

Wired appears to use Silicon Valley as a metonym for people on the autistic spectrum.

So the title and the ensuing article (adaptation) may be misrepresenting the book. Grandin has always warned about not getting hung up on labels because humans are too complex to be reduced to a label.
posted by snaparapans at 7:08 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not identifying a new way of thinking, it's building on different observations and descriptions about the way some people think.
posted by bleep at 8:04 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weird Framing... I'll say

I got the book, which is well worth a read. The subject is the autistic mind.. here is Temple Grandin's train of thought leading to her hypothesis that some autistic people also think in patterns, which expands her previous idea that autistic people think in pictures or in words.
For years I had been giving lectures, and I had made an assumption without even knowing it: I think in pictures; I'm autistic;therefore,all autistic people think in pictures. Made sense to me. If you say the word train to me, I automatically see a subway train in New York; a train that goes right through the campus of the university where I teach; a coal train in Fort Morgan, near my home; a train I rode in England...

But now, I wanted to find out whether the autistic people in the audience actually did think the same way I did. So I started asking audience members who introduced themselves to me after my lectures, "What was- or "is" as if I were talking to a child, "your favorite subject in school?" Often the answer wasn't art class, as you would expect from a visual thinker. Instead, a lot of the time it was history.

History? I thought. History is full of facts, and facts are full of words, not pictures.

But then one day I got an advance copy of a book in the mail, Exiting Nirvana, A Daughter's Life with Autism, by Clara Claiborne Park. The publisher wanted to know if I would write a blurb for it- a quote recommending the book would appear on the back cover. I already knew about Clara and her daughter Jessica, or Jessy....

I had written about Jessy a little bit in Thinking in Pictures, I referred to an elaborate system of symbols and numbers that Jessy had invented in order to navigate her life. Things she considered very good, like rock music, she labeled with four doors and no clouds. Things she considered pretty good she rated, two doors and two clouds. And the spoken word deserved no doors and four clouds- the worst rating.

She painted the objects in her artwork in photorealistic detail from memory, so she clearly could think in pictures, as I do. But her artwork was not like my drawings, the pictures she saw in her mind weren't my kinds of pictures....

So what kind of mind was hers? How was her brain wired? Did my system of dividing the world of autism into picture thinkers and word-fact thinkers deserve a rating of zero doors and four clouds?....

I focused hard on anything that might give me a clue about Jessy's thinking....

I thought about the Raven's Progressive Matrices Test... at the age of twenty-three, Jessy had scored in the ninety-fifth percentile on the test.....

I also thought about a work of origami.. that a boy had presented to me after one of my talks. It was unlike any work of origami I had ever seen.. his parents.. said he was gifted in math.... It certainly took a mathematical mind to engineer such a complicated structure. But didn't such a subtle and beautiful work of art have to be the product of a visual mind too? Maybe, I thought, people who are really good at math think in patterns.

Once I realized that thinking in patterns may be a third category, alongside thinking in pictures and thinking in words, I started seeing examples everywhere.
Excerpt from: The Autistic Brain Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek
posted by snaparapans at 9:32 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a result of my having chosen to live beneath a rock for the past few years, I'd never heard of Temple Grandin. While the article seemed to be a bit lacking in context as an excerpt, I'm now looking forward to reading a few of her books when they come across my lap.

For the record, I see where those who have argued that everyone is a pattern thinker are coming from, but as someone who has struggled to understand my own thought processes since they don't fit into the nice "pictures" or "words" paradigms, it's somewhat of a relief to see another category proposed, however hypothetically. When we understand it better, I'm sure it will get a more descriptive name.
posted by MoTLD at 7:24 PM on June 2, 2013


I was once taught that each individual predominantly learns by one of three different methods: by seeing something done, by hearing it explained, or by doing it themselves.

Might these be applicable to cognition as pictures (seeing), words (hearing), and "pattern" (doing)?

Or am I just conflating disparate mental processes? Anybody care to share anecdata about how you think and how you learn?
posted by MoTLD at 7:28 PM on June 3, 2013


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