Visual Thinkers / Zip files in our Heads Re-Post

Zip files make it easy to keep related files together and make transporting, e-mailing, downloading and storing data and software faster and more efficient. The Zip format is the most popular compression format used in the Windows environment, and WinZip is the most popular compression utility.

Portrait of my mother.

Portrait of my mother.

As people age they tend to become conservative, or at least shift toward values they held when young, and move toward comfort ideas, similar to craving comfort food. I’ve suddenly started making pancakes after a hiatus of many years, so something must be going on. Nostalgia?

In my visual universe, my mother pours batter from a big spoon onto her Guardian Ware griddle: she waits for “a sign” that they are done. Is the aluminum surface the correct temperature? Is the batter too thick or too thin? The moment of perfection was a pattern of dimples across the surfaces and the edges pulling away from the metal – but are they ready to flip? Yes? No? Peek under the edge using the spatula: brown enough, overcooked, uncooked inside?

I grew up believing that making pancakes was one of the most challenging cooking projects on earth. Invariably my mother would reject the first batch for a reason known only to her; these were served to my father, who viewed them as perfectly edible. As I waited for “respectable” pancakes to be released to my plate, all I could think was, “We’re just going to eat them! What’s all the fuss?

My Asperger father (this was decades before the Asperger’s had a name) would eat anything placed in front of him. He made oatmeal for himself every morning before leaving for work, day in, and day out, in the same saucepan, for years, and for all those years, to me, the sight of that sauce pan was my father. I saw it every morning in the sink, before I left for school.

Portrait of my father.

Portrait of my father.

My father was odd. It made life difficult at times. It was my function in the family to translate between my father and the “other side” of the family – my mother and brother. “You understand him,” my mother would say. “You go talk to him.”

The chasm between my parents solidified in my child mind the notion that marriage requires a bizarre sacrifice of personal happiness and fulfillment. My memories of an almost unbearable tension between my parents’ personalities is contained in two images; pancakes and oatmeal. Images function like zip.files in my brain. Memories are not triggered by, symbolized by, but encoded in images.

For many years I believed that I had no memories: other people could verbalize great chains of conversation and interaction with relatives and friends, including names, dates and places. Sometimes they would pull out a photo album filled with low quality snapshots, and point out every person in every blobby image, and every conversation that had upset them – and people claim that Aspergers go on and on about uninteresting fixations!

I continued to have the same perplexing experience, in which my brain popped out seemingly random pictures with great gaps in time between them. In fact, my memorable images have no past, present or future at all, but do connect to other images by content. The imposition of a socially-constructed timeline onto lousy photos and repetitive events freaks me out, since I don’t think in a linear fashion.

Asperger diagnosis has revealed that my seemingly inadequate memory is due to  memory for “normal” people is word-based, but for visual thinkers, images are vital -dense packets of information in which information is condensed, like a zip.file, so less space is needed for storage. Perhaps this is why visual thinkers have so much spare computational power. Our image-based memory system is efficient and not fixed in time; information is available immediately as connections and patterns that cascade into awareness mostly without effort.

How then, do visual thinkers learn in a word-based world? Some Asperger individuals say that unless they can literally copy a lecture word for word, by hand, they will not remember the content, but they can visually memorize entire pages in a textbook and can recall the image during a test. Articles and studies that I’ve found that purport to explain visual learning, get hung up on “pictures” in the pedantic sense and advise teachers to add lots of diagrams, cartoons and drawings as bones thrown at “developmentally defective” children. Word people just don’t comprehend that visual children perceive the environment visually and form relationships with the environment that are concrete, detailed and specific.

For a visual thinker images are nutrition for the mind. Shapes, colors, patterns, specific details, and the relationship between parts contain meaning, without which we are very unhappy. Therefore the modern social environment, which is visually cluttered, but content-impoverished, holds little attraction –



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