Saturday, September 8, 2018
Note: This long version biographical sketch with reviews and comments was orginally prepared to describe West’s research and books for proposed talks and workshops, sometimes at distant locations. However, it also serves as a history of reactions to a powerful set of ideas concerning the talents and capabilities often seen among dyslexics and other differernt thinkers. These are seen through the responses of various individuals from a broad range of occupational and investigative groups over a period of more than twenty years. During this period, with further rapid developments in an increasingly visual digital technological context, these observations and comments are seen as more and more pertainent and timely.
THOMAS G. WEST
Biographical Sketch with Selected Reviews and Comments
Foreword to the Second Edition of In the Mind’s Eye
by Oliver Sacks, M.D.
“Although, as a neurologist, I sometimes see cases of alexia--the loss of a previously existing ability to read, usually caused by a stroke in the visual areas of the brain-- congenital difficulties in reading, dyslexias, are not something I often encounter, especially with a mostly geriatric practice such as my own. Thus I have been particularly fascinated--sometimes astonished--by the wide range of considerations which Thomas G. West has brought together in this seminal investigation of dyslexia, In the Mind's Eye.
“People with dyslexia are often regarded as defective, as missing something--a facility in reading or linguistic thinking--which the rest of us have. But those of us who are predominantly verbal or ‘lexical’ thinkers could just as well be thought of as ‘avisuals.’ There may indeed be a sort of reciprocity between lexical and visual powers, and West makes a convincing argument that a substantial section of the population, often highly intelligent, may combine reading problems with heightened visual powers, and are often adept at compensating for their problems in one way or another--even though they may suffer greatly at school, where so much is based on reading. Some of our greatest scientists and artists would probably be diagnosed today as dyslexic, as West shows in his profiles of Einstein, Edison, da Vinci, Yeats, and others. West himself is dyslexic--this, no doubt, has strongly influenced his life and research interests, but it also gives him a uniquely sympathetic understanding of dyslexia from the inside as well as the outside.
“My own experience seems to be in the opposite camp--I learned to read very early, and my own thinking is largely in terms of concepts and words. I am rather deficient in visual imagery, and have a great deal of difficulty recognizing places and even people. When I met Temple Grandin, the autistic animal psychologist who is clearly a visual thinker (one of her books is titled Thinking in Pictures), she was taken aback when I said I could hardly visualize anything: ‘How doyou think?’ she asked. Grandin herself has very heightened spatial and visual imagination, and thinks in very concrete images.
“The idea of compensation for various neurological ‘deficits’ is well supported by neuroscientific studies, which have shown, for instance, that people blind from birth have heightened tactile, auditory, and musical powers, or that congenitally deaf people who use sign language have heightened visual and spatial capacities, and perhaps a special attunement to facial expression. People with dyslexia, similarly, may develop various strategies to compensate for difficulties in reading. They are often very highly skilled at auditory comprehension or memorization, at pattern recognition, complex spatial reasoning or visual imagination. Such visual thinkers, indeed, may be especially gifted and vital to many fields; among them may well be the next generation of creative geniuses in computer modeling and graphics.
“In the Mind's Eyebrings out the special problems of people with dyslexia, but also their strengths, which are so often overlooked. Its accent is not so much on pathology as on how much human minds vary. It stands alongside Howard Gardner's Frames of Mindas a testament to the range of human talent and possibility.”
Oliver Sacks, M.D., January 2, 2009. The late Dr. Sacks, a British neurologist, resided in the US and is most widely known for his book Awakenings(1973) that was made into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. Also well known are his books An Anthropologist from Mars(1995), Seeing Voices: A Journey into the Land of the Deaf(1989) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat(1985). A more recent book is titled The Mind’s Eye(2010). Dr. Sacks was professor of clinical neurology and clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and maintained a private practice in New York City. Sacks considered that his literary style followed the tradition of 19th-century “clinical anecdotes,” a style that focused on informal case histories, following the writings of Alexander Luria. One commentator noted that Sack’s work has been featured in a “broader range of media than those of any other contemporary medical author.” The New York Timessaid that Sacks “has become a kind of poet laureate of contemporary medicine.”
Selected Reviews and Comments -- In the Mind’s Eye
“I would like to thank you for the copy of your book . . . which I read with considerable interest. I wasn’t aware, and I am enormously proud that I share my learning problems with such distinguished characters as Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Sir Winston Churchill, Gen. George Patton and William Butler Yeats. I found your detailed analysis of the various deficiencies very informative and I think your book is a real contribution to the field.”
-- Baruj Benacerraf, M.D., letter of August 5, 1994. The late Dr. Benacerraf was Fabyan Professor of Comparative Pathology, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School and was past President of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston. A Nobel laureate for discoveries in immunology (1980 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine), Dr. Benacerraf was recognized as a distinguished dyslexic in 1988, receiving the Margaret Byrd Rawson Award from the National Institute of Dyslexia. Together with his life-long difficulties with reading, writing and spelling, he observed that he (along with other family members) had a special facility with visualizing space and time--an ability that he believed contributed greatly to his scientific research and discoveries.
“. . . I entirely agree with [Dr. Doris Kelly] when she says that [In the Mind’s Eye] is ‘about 20 years ahead of current educational thinking.’ Many of us have spent long hours considering all the things that dyslexics are supposed to be weak at. What Tom West reminds us of is that we need also to consider dyslexics’ strengths. . . . At present, so he implies, education is in the hands of those who possess all the traditional skills; and since, not surprisingly, they assume that others are like themselves, the needs of some very gifted thinkers whose brain organization is different are not being adequately met. I very much hope that both teachers and educational planners will read this book and take its message seriously.”
-- T.R. Miles, PhD, in Dyslexia Contact, June 1993, pp. 14-15. The late Dr. Miles was Professor Emeritus, University College of North Wales, Bangor, where he founded the Dyslexia Unit (later named for him). He was also the founding editor of the journal Dyslexiaand Vice President of the British Dyslexia Association.
“I want you to know that reading your book and the conversations we had at the SIGGRAPH [computer graphics] conference were pivotal in the history of our project. We rewrote much of our material based on insights gained from your book. Previously, we had not realized fully how central the role of visualization was to what we were trying to do. We were already on the right path without really knowing it. . . . In our project CALCULUS&Mathematica, we have learned the effectiveness of teaching the concepts visually using graphic software prior to verbal explanations. Our students have gained a deeper understanding of the subject and they can recall and apply the material long afterward, which is rare for students taught with conventional methods.”
-- J. Jerry Uhl, PhD, Department of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, dictated telephone conversation of September 29, 1993. The late Dr. Uhl was active in the National Science Foundation-sponsored reform of calculus teaching at the university level. With W. Davis and H. Porta, he was author of the interactive courseware,CALCULUS&Mathematica(Addison-Wesley, 1994), using high-level, general-purpose mathematics software along with graphic computers. Initially viewed as radical, the innovative approaches used in this courseware have been widely adopted and are now in use by many modern calculus courses and textbooks.
“Thanks so much for sending the material. . . . There is a lot of overlap in points we have both been making for years. I have often argued in my public talks that the graduate education process that produces physicists is totally skewed to selecting those with analytic skills and rejecting those with visual or holistic skills. I have claimed that with the rise of scientific visualization as a new mode of scientific discovery, a new class of minds will arise as scientists. In my own life, my ‘guru’ in computational science was a dyslexic and he certainly saw the world in a different and much more effective manner than his colleagues. . . .”
-- Larry L. Smarr, Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Illinois, electronic mail message of August 6, 1994. With W.J. Kaufmann, Dr. Smarr is author of Supercomputing and the Transformation of Science, Scientific American Library, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1993.
“The computer is the most malleable tool we’ve ever invented. The Turing revolution, which brought it to us, has proceeded over its 60-year history to absorb field after field of human endeavor. First was simple number crunching. Then text processing, table making, pie charting, data basing, and a host of other, more sophisticated, fields have gone digital with the new tool as human brain amplifier. Visualization is the latest domain to become “ordinary” this way. Tom West argues that the legitimacy of visualization as a first-order attack on problem solving is therefore being established after generations of quiet use by only some creators--and some of the best at that. He claims that visualization is not only a legitimate way to solve problems, it is a superior way: the best minds have used it. West urges us to join the dyslexics of the world and use pictures instead of words. In the process we get fascinating glimpses of how other minds have worked--minds that have changed the world.”
-- Alvy Ray Smith, PhD, electronic mail message of November 20, 1996. Dr. Smith was co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, former Director of Computer Graphics at Lucasfilm, Ltd., and Graphics Fellow, Advanced Technology, Microsoft Corporation. At Pixar, he formed the team that proceeded to create Tin Toy, the first 3-dimensional computer animation ever to win an Academy Award. This team later produced the first completely computer-generated motion picture, Toy Story. At Microsoft, he designed the multimedia authoring infrastructure for Microsoft third party developers and content producers. While he was a Regent for the National Library of Medicine, he was instrumental in inaugurating the Visible Human Project.
“Since he first published In the Mind's Eye18 years ago, Thomas G. West has been at the forefront of a growing number of experts who recognize that the ‘dys’ in dyslexia is often far less important to those who have it than the often remarkable abilities in reasoning, visualization, and pattern recognition that frequently accompany this condition. The impact of this now classic work upon the dyslexic families and individuals that we have the privilege to work with--the encouragement and insight it has provided--is incalculable . . . . Everyone who is dyslexic, has a child with dyslexia, or works with such individuals will be encouraged and enlightened by this marvelous book. For those tired of an educational system that too often treats dyslexic children like ugly ducklings, it is a field guide to the glories of the swan. We cannot possibly recommend it highly enough."
-- Brock Eide, MD, MA, and Fernette Eide, MD, email of August 2008. The Eides are founders of the Eide Neurolearning Clinic and the non-profit Dyslexic Advantage in Edmonds, Washington, and are authors of The Mislabeled Child (Hyperion, 2006) and The Dyslexic Advantage(Hudson Street Press, 2011).
“Interestingly, dyslexia is found to be often associated with talent. . . . It’s not unusual for children with perceived general learning disabilities to display an exceptional ability that results in their placement in programs for the specially gifted. . . . Perhaps no one has championed the association between dyslexia and talent more than Thomas G. West, author of In the Mind’s Eye. . . . West’s research focuses on the correlation of very high success with the prevalence of dyslexia, a relationship that will likely be the focus of more research in the years ahead.”
-- Jim Romeo, New York Academy of Sciences, Update Magazine, April/May 2004, “Getting Scientific about Why Johnny Can’t Read--Understanding Dyslexia.”
“Dyslexia and other learning differences are commonly seen as disabilities, but they must also be seen as distinctive abilities, different (and often superior) modes of perceiving and understanding the world. As Thomas West shows, some of our greatest minds, from Einstein and Edison to Churchill and da Vinci, have been visual thinkers who today might be labeled ‘learning disabled.’ In the Mind’s Eyemakes a powerful case that the dyslexic-visual mind may be full of creative human potential, and is as crucial a part of our cognitive heritage as any other.”
-- Oliver Sacks, MD. Blurb above sent to Thomas G. West by Dr. Oliver Sacks for use with the second edition of In the Mind’s Eye, October 23, 2008.
“Unfortunately, I did not discover this wonderful book [In the Mind’s Eyeby Thomas G. West] before I wrote Thinking in Picturesseveral years ago. I recommend it to teachers, parents and education policymakers. West profiles people with dyslexia who are visual thinkers, and his conclusions on the link between visual thinking and creativity are similar to mine.”
-- Temple Grandin, “The List,” The Weekmagazine, March 3, 2006, describing why she has included In the Mind’s Eyeon her list of six favorite books.
“Dear Tom: Thanks for sending me your epilogue [to the second edition of In the Mind’s Eye]. It was wonderful. I think that visual thinking in both autism/Asperger and dyslexia are very similar. Your descriptions match the descriptions I get from people on the autism spectrum. I share your concern that educators do not understand the creative visual thinking mind. I give talks to parents and teachers all the time and I emphasize that they need to develop a child’s strengths. I am really pleased that you are going to use my quote. I love the Oliver Sacks foreword. Sincerely, Temple Grandin”
-- Email of August 17, 2009. Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science and is author of the memoir Thinking in Pictures(dealing with her life with autism) and the best-selling book Animals in Translation. An HBO cable TV film based on Grandin’s life debuted February 6, 2010, starring Claire Danes. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews--being nominated for 15 Emmy Awards and winning seven.
“Thomas West brings to life the fascinating capacities and syndromes that arise from our visual-spatial imagination. His book proves beyond doubt that we are not all points on a single bell curve of intelligence.”
-- Howard Gardner, PhD, letter of October 15, 1996. Dr. Gardner is author of many books, including Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences(BasicBooks, 1983) and Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century(Basic Books, 1999). A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he is affiliated with Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Selected Reviews and Comments -- Seeing What Others Cannot See
“In this fascinating book, Thomas G. West revisits and interprets his earlier theories in the light of ongoing changes in society, highlighting the importance and awareness of positive aspects of dyslexia by contrast with the traditional deficit approach. Here he extends his thinking to include a novel evaluation of Asperger’s, drawing links between distinctive visual thinkers in both groups in a series of compelling case studies. West argues most persuasively for greater emphasis on the power of visual literacy and the need for new tools to evaluate these strengths throughout life, to meet the challenging demands of our modern environment.”
-- Angela Fawcett, PhD, editor, Asia Pacific Journal of Developmental Differences and former editorDyslexia. Emeritus Professor, Swansea University.
“For twenty-five years Thomas G. West has been a leader in the movement to highlight the value and beauty of minds that see the world in non-typical ways. In Seeing What Others Cannot See, he presents his strongest case yet for the importance of recognizing, educating, and utilizing nonverbal strengths, and their special value in our contemporary world. Recommended for anyone interested in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, innovation and creativity, technology and education.”
-- Brock Eide, MD, coauthor of The Dyslexic Advantageand The Mislabeled Child
“People who think in pictures have contributed greatly to both scientific discovery and artistic expression. Thomas G. West carefully documents their abilities. Our education system needs to change from an emphasis on deficits to the development of a student’s strengths.”
-- Temple Grandin, PhD, author, Thinking in Pictures andThe Autistic Brain
“Thomas G. West argues convincingly that dyslexics and related intellectuals seem to fail in elementary school learning while excelling at the broader level of graduate school. Many whose stories he recites were smashing successes in business. West urges that this is because of extra gifts in visual learning and thinking. He goes beyond praising dyslexics’ hidden strengths in visual thinking and learning, their ability to see what others cannot see—he demands that we stop hiding the imaginative strengths of all children under their weaknesses in reading.”
-- Donald Lindberg, MD, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine
“In Singapore, we have certainly met many individuals with dyslexia who have talents that many do not see. Like Tom West, we would like everyone to emphasize and develop the strengths of those with learning differences rather than focus on their weaknesses. This is so that society can benefit from the incredible gifts of those with dyslexia.”
-- Lee Siang, CEO, Dyslexia Association of Singapore
Selected Reviews and Comments -- Thinking Like Einstein
“West . . . has compiled a set of essays [which are] engaging on their own; together they explore the issues of visualization from many perspectives. . . . He makes a compelling case for the growing importance of visualization as a powerful agent of change. . . . The book is very readable and will attract a wide audience--anyone interested in better understanding the importance of visualization and some of its history. Summing up: Highly recommended. All levels.”
-- R.A. Kolvoord, James Madison University, Choicemagazine (a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association), April 2005, vol. 42, no. 08.
“ ‘ There is increasing evidence,’ writes Thomas G. West, . . . ‘that many highly original and productive thinkers have clearly preferred visual over verbal modes of thought.’ West argues that our traditional letter- and-number-based education . . . has changed little from that of the medieval clerks. ‘Written language is a technology,’ he claims, and technologies change: ‘[T]he kind of brain that lends itself poorly to an old technology may be just what is wanted with a new technology.’ West doesn’t mean television and other information-poor screen-based technologies; he means the visual literacy of patterns and the creative use of computer graphics, which, he argues, will put an end to the tiresome, age-old tension between word and image. Computers in the classroom, he writes, allow students to ‘move rapidly on to high-level conceptual matters and a variety of practical problems,’ as opposed to such old-fashioned exercises as calculus sets and memorization. These are path-breaking essays. . . . ”
-- Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 12, 2004, p. R11.
“Drawing on a series of columns that he wrote for Computer Graphicsmagazine, West . . . postulates that we are on the verge of a new era of visually based thinking that will replace traditional word- and number-based modes of teaching and learning. He is quick to point out that this world of visual imaging is quite different from ubiquitous television images comprising low information content and no interaction, citing as classic examples Albert Einstein as well as some contemporary pioneers in the forefront of visualization technologies. West explains how these individuals are working to infuse visualization technologies into education and business. This is not a how-to book like Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, another visual thinker, but instead a persuasive, provocative argument for the societal benefits of visual thinking. Recommended for all computer science collections.”
-- J. J. Accardi, Library Journal, vol. 129, no. 16, October 1, 2004.
“In this exciting and captivating set of essays, Tom West makes a strong case for fundamentally rethinking and revising our educational system by including visual literacy to balance our overdependence on analytical approaches. The book explores the role visual thinkers have played in creating scientific breakthroughs, and it makes a compelling case for a future when individuals will develop their full creative potential by ‘returning to our visual roots.’ I am envious of the author's writing skill as well as his ability to weave, with diverse facts and stories, a string of pearls.”
-- Michael McGrath, Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, Colorado School of Mines; Formerly Education Director, ACM SIGGRAPH
“This book is a fascinating look at the history of the relationship between logical and visual thinking. There are aspects to this history that are both frightening and encouraging, and, with the current pendulum swing back toward visualization as a respectable thinking tool, it provides an important guide to what has been done before and what can be done in the future.”
-- James F. Blinn, Graphics Fellow at Microsoft Research; Columnist for IEEE Computer Graphics; MacArthur Fellow; Recipient of the SIGGRAPH Achievement Award and the Stephen Coons Award
“Thinking Like Einsteinis a refreshing intellectual drink in the drought of contemporary visual literacy. It raises important issues and historical facts that restore the balance of power between nonverbal/visual creative thinking and verbal/math creative thinking. The book is a valuable tool that recognizes the potency of data-driven digital visualization and empowers our visual technological futures. It is a must-read for any visualization educator.”
-- Donna Cox, Director of Visualization and Experimental Technologies, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Thomas G. West is the author of the award-winning book In the Mind's Eye--Creative Visual Thinkers, Gifted Dyslexics and the Rise of Visual Technologies(Prometheus Books, first edition 1991, updated edition 1997, second edition 2009). The book was awarded a gold seal in 1998 by the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association as “an outstanding academic title” and, later, in 1999, recognized by the ALA as one of the “best of the best” for the year (one of only 13 books in their broad psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience category). According to one reviewer: “Every once in a while a book comes along that turns one's thinking upside down. In the Mind's Eyeis just such a book.”
The book was published in Japanese translation in 1994 as Geniuses Who Hated School. A Chinese translation was published in 2004. After 16 printings, West’s publisher, Prometheus Books, requested a revised second edition of In the Mind’s Eye--which was published in September 2009. A Korean translation was published in 2011.
In connection with In the Mind's Eyeand his other writings, Mr. West has been invited to provide presentations for scientific, medical, art, design, computer and business groups in the U.S. and 20 countries overseas, including groups in Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, Malta, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Dubai-UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. In November 2017, he was invited to participate in a conference in Tallinn, Estonia.
In the Mind’s Eyecovers brain research, computer graphic technologies and profiles of 11 famous people who have shown evidence of great visual talents along with dyslexia or other learning difficulties. One of the main arguments of the book is that we need to better understand the great diversity of human brains--the hidden gifts and talents that often coexist with various learning problems. The profiles include: Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell. Albert Einstein, Rev. Charles L. Dodgson, Henri Poincaré, Thomas Alva Edison, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston S. Churchill, Gen. George S. Patton and William Butler Yeats.
The book points out that major advances in computer information visualization technologies and simulation promise to transform education and the workplace--greatly increasing the perceived value of visual talents for understanding patterns in complex systems in business, the sciences and other fields. Many of those who rely heavily on visual thinking (sometimes with dyslexia or other language difficulties) are already leaders in areas of technological innovation as well as science and entrepreneurial business--as technological change makes their distinctive visual strengths more and more valuable just as their academic weaknesses become less and less important.
West has organized conferences, consulted and given presentations on computer visualization of information, creativity, dyslexia and other learning differences for scientific, business and media organizations such as: the US National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, the Confederation of British Industry in London, SRI International in San Francisco, a meeting of some 50 Max Planck Institutes in Göttingen, Germany, the Italian Dyslexia Association in Rome, the Malta Dyslexia Association, the Netherlands Design Institute in Amsterdam, the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, the Aspen Institute in Colorado, scientists and artists at Green College and at Magdalen College within Oxford University, England, the Learning and Behavior Charitable Trust of New Zealand in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the Royal College of Art in London, the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, SPELD in Perth, Western Australia, a meeting in at the University of Uppsala before the Queen of Sweden, a reunion of winners of the Markle Scholars in Medicine Prize in Phoenix, Arizona, a small meeting of visualization scientists and artists sponsored by MIT and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, the Learning Disability Association of Taiwan, The National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, and the International Symposium on Dyslexia in the Chinese Language organized by the Society of Child Neurology and Developmental Pediatrics in Hong Kong.
In June 2006, West was invited to travel to the UK to be the main speaker at the “Diversity Day” conference for the code-making and code-breaking descendants of Bletchley Park (World War II code breakers). It was the first ever diversity day for the employees of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) near Cheltenham, England. Among the many brilliant linguists, mathematicians, engineers, analysts, scientists and technologists employed at GCHQ, there are a number of individuals with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia or Asperger syndrome--indicating that it is not unusual to find some form of learning difficulty coexisting with certain high talents and capabilities. All of this used to be top secret at GCHQ. However, more recently, organizational pride in their diversity support policies for “different thinkers” has resulted in talking publicly and listing their accomplishments on the GCHQ website.
Other presentations have included two talks at Oxford University, two talks for the Malta Dyslexia Association and a talk given at the University of California at Berkeley. The main theme of these talks has been: “Dyslexic Talents--Engines of Discovery.” West was invited to make a presentation at the Harvard/MIT Learning & the Brain conference on “Preparing Students’ Minds for the Future” in Boston, November 18-20, 2011, with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Martinos Imaging Center at MIT. West was asked to discuss his book, In the Minds Eye--specifically, how those with learning disorders and differences may benefit from their gifts and talents, such as visual and creative thinking, in the technological 21st century rather than being considered as having certain deficits only. The overall conference was organized to explore the cognitive abilities and skills that will be necessary for students to succeed in the 21st century--such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, cultural respect, self regulation, global and collaborative working skills, among others. It also looked at how those with diverse learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD, as well as the highly gifted and highly creative, may increasingly benefit from their distinctive skills in the future. Other speakers at the conference included Howard Gardner, Jerome Kagan, Kurt Fischer, Edward Hallowell and John Gabrieli.
For years West wrote a column, “Images and Reversals,” on visualization issues for Computer Graphics, a quarterly publication of the international professional association for computer graphics artists and technologists (ACM SIGGRAPH--with very large week-long conferences, usually at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with up to 50,000 or 60,000 attendees from all over the world--members and attendees include many highly creative, visual-thinking dyslexics). These columns were collected into a book published in November 2004 with the title: Thinking Like Einstein--Returning to Our Visual Roots with the Emerging Revolution in Computer Information Visualization.
West’s third book, Seeing What Others Cannot See, was released in July 2017. In this new book, he investigates how different kinds of brains and different ways of thinking can help to make discoveries and solve problems in innovative and unexpected ways. West focuses on what he has learned over the years from a group of extraordinarily creative, intelligent and interesting people--strong visual thinkers and those with dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome, and other different ways of thinking, learning and working.
West shows that such people can provide important insights often missed by experts and professionals--as they also can prevent institutional “group think.” Based on first-person accounts, West tells stories that include a dyslexic paleontologist in Montana, a special effects tech who worked for Pink Floyd and KISS and who is now an advocate for those with Asperger’s syndrome, a group of dyslexic master code breakers in a British electronic intelligence organization, a Colorado livestock handling expert who has become a forceful advocate for those with autism and a family of visual thinkers and dyslexics in Britain that includes four winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
This book that not only documents the achievements of people with various learning differences, but also reveals their great potential. This potential is especially great in our new digital age where traditional clerical and academic skills are less and less important--while an ability to see the big picture and to understand complex patterns revealed in high-level computer information visualizations is rapidly increasing in value in the global economic marketplace.
Prior to writing In the Mind's Eye, West worked with engineering and consulting firms where he co-managed a large international renewable energy research, design and training program in Egypt for USAID, participated in and led trade missions to Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, via Hong Kong and Singapore, helped to redesign a nationwide computer information management system and integrated strategic planning for several federal government agencies, with periodic travel to the Middle East and the Far East. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in English Literature, Philosophy and International Relations.
West is the son of American Impressionist painters Charles Massey West, Jr., and Anne Warner West who met when they were students in the early 1930s at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia--where they both achieved the top prize and traveling scholarship (in 1934 and 1936) for painting and study in Europe. Coming from a long line of hands-on craftsmen and visual thinkers--millwrights, silversmiths, clipper ship skippers, church clock makers, artists, airplane pilots, engineers and inventors--it is not surprising that West is himself a strong visual thinker and is dyslexic. Aware of his mixed talents from an early age, West was formally diagnosed with dyslexia relatively late, when he was 41 years of age.
Based in Washington, DC, West has appeared on television and radio programs broadcast by NPR, ABC (Australia), CBC (Canada), New Zealand TV, the BBC and UK Channel 4, among others. In the UK Channel 4 program, West was featured with the UK entrepreneur Richard Branson and film maker Guy Ritchie, among others. Articles reviewing or citing In the Mind's Eyeor Thinking Like Einstein have appeared in Vanity Fair, The Washingtonian magazine, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Computers in Physics, Chemical and Engineering News, The American Bar Association Journal, The Roeper Review, The Boston Globe, The New Zealand Herald, The Asia Pacific Journal of Developmental Differences, The Financial Times, The Oxford Mail, The Times Educational Supplement, The Independent, The Times, The Evening Standard, The Australian, Kagaku Asahi Science Magazine andNikkei Daily.
Mr. West has been affiliated with the following organizations: ACM SIGGRAPH (Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group on computer Graphics), DC SIGGRAPH (Washington Area Chapter, Board Member), American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Arts Dyslexia Trust (Honorary Founding Member, Advisor, United Kingdom), Speaks Volumes (founding member of a UK charity providing speaking/writing computer technologies for dyslexics), The Cosmos Club (Washington, DC, for publications and advocacy in relation to the talents of dyslexics and other different thinkers), the International Dyslexia Association, the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities, the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study (interdisciplinary brain and computing research, George Mason University, Advisory Board Member), the Neuhaus Educational Foundation (Houston, Texas, National Advisor), Wye River Upper School (high school for bright dyslexic youth, Centreville, Maryland, Advisor to the Board) and Distinct Studios (Fairfax, Virginia, Advisory Board, computer graphics design startup), Dyslexic Advantage (non-profit research and advocacy organization, Board Member).
In 2008, the Wye River Upper School established the annual student prize: “The Thomas G. West Achievement in Digital Arts and Technology Award.” In 2010, West was presented with the Siena Cypress Leadership Award given by the Siena School, Silver Spring, Maryland. The award honors “individuals who make significant and lasting contributions to the education of children and young adults with learning disabilities.” In 2011, West was selected to receive the Alumni Leadership Award by Suffield Academy, Suffield, Conn. Recipients of the award are recognized for their “ability to make a significant, lasting, and positive impact on the world” together with their “attainment of professional excellence, demonstrated leadership, . . . and contributions to the betterment of our society.”
Additional Reviews and Comments --In the Mind’s Eye
“In the Mind’s Eye. . . [is] scholarly, encyclopedic and endlessly fascinating. . . . [It] is a great public service and one long overdue. Every family concerned about a learning problem--or even the usual problems of dealing with a teenage student--should have it in the house. . . . If I were dictator, every teacher everywhere would have to pass a test on it.”
-- Loren Pope, “The Learning Disabled of Today Will Be the Gifted of Tomorrow,” in Colleges That Change Lives(Penguin, New York, 2000 and 2006).
“There is a great deal in this book which is pertinent to the study of the highly able. The author points out that this century’s focus on what is normal, and pushing children towards those norms, may have obscured an understanding of the high degree of individual differences, masking many forms of giftedness which then may go undetected. He urges us to cultivate these awkward individuals for their unusual gifts to improve creativity in the sciences as well as the arts. West’s weave of case studies and ideas to promote his arguments is intriguing and convincing. If what he says is true, then the waste of high ability is very much worse than we might have thought. But using his reasoning, if we were to change our educational outlook to a more positive and humane one, then millions more children would be enabled to develop into creative, productive, and fulfilled adults.”
-- Review by Joan Freeman, European Journal for High Ability, vol. 4, no. 2, 1993.
“Tom West argues convincingly that brains which learn differently may contribute a unique set of talents to the world. Although these brains may present a variety of educational challenges, this book stresses the importance of individual differences and biological variation for adaptation to future environmental challenges. We should consider the design of educational environments within this context.”
-- Gordon F. Sherman, PhD, former Director, Dyslexia Research Laboratory, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School; past President, the International Dyslexia Association. Electronic mail message of December 3, 1996. Recently retired, former Head, Newgrange School and Educational Outreach Center, Princeton, NJ.
“At last, here is a book that can be whole-heartedly and enthusiastically recommended to all our readers. Thoroughly researched, clearly and delightfully written, it says many of the important things about visual thinking that we have long been waiting to hear . . . . Arguably, it represents the most significant turning point in educational thought this century. Everyone with concern for the future of education in this country, and particularly those involved with the education of dyslexics, should read it -- now.”
-- Susan Parkinson, editor, newsletter of The Arts Dyslexia Trust (United Kingdom), November 1992.
“If you accept [Thomas West’s] arguments, then the period of the domination of Western scientific thought by printed papers and mathematical formulae may be just another transitory period, perhaps akin to that of the introverted and argumentative world of medieval scholasticism before the new vision of the Renaissance and the practical empiricism of the Enlightenment.”
-- The Lord Renwick, Chairman, European Informatics Market (EURIM), Vice-President, Past Chairman, The British Dyslexia Association. Electronic mail of October 30, 1996.
“The original title is In the Mind’s Eye. The Japanese title Geniuses Who Hated Schoolis a wildly different translation. However, people who are considered geniuses may have great powers of visual thought. . . . There is a possible relationship between the great visual thinker and the poor reader or math student. . . . Many visual thinkers have trouble adjusting to conventional education systems. This is the logic behind the two titles. . . . [The author] raises . . . an important question, asking us to look again at what are fundamental abilities in a time when computers can do the simple work in place of humans and to reconsider the educational system while keeping in mind the variety of human brains that exist.”
-- Review in Kagaku Asahi, the monthly Japanese science magazine, August 1994, p. 92. Review translated by Yoshiko G. Doherty.
“Every once in a while a book comes along that turns one’s thinking upside down. In the Mind’s Eyeis just such a book. . . . What is unique about West’s essay is that he weaves . . . disparate areas together to show that technological change is affecting what we value as intelligence.”
-- Roeper Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, September 1992, p. 54.
More on the American Library Association Award
In January 1999, In the Mind’s Eyeby Thomas G. West was selected for the Choicemagazine gold seal award as an Outstanding Academic Book, and one of the “best of the best” for 1998 -- along with just 12 other titles in the broad Psychology category (including books on neuroscience, intelligence testing, language impairment, mental health and psychiatry). Choicemagazine is the monthly review service published by the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association. Each year, the editors ofChoice select the “best of the best” from the approximately 6,500 titles reviewed during the previous year. In 1998, 623 titles were selected within 54 academic categories. Titles are selected based on the following criteria: overall excellence in presentation and scholarship; importance relative to other literature in the field; distinction as a first treatment of a given subject; originality or uniqueness of treatment; importance in building library collections. (Choice, Jan. 1999, p. 801.)
Other books receiving the Choicegold seal award for “best of the best” in 1998 included: Lynn Margulis, Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth(Freeman); Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works(Norton); Richard Mabey, FloraBritannica(Chatto and Windus); Richard Feynman, The Meaning of It All(Addison-Wesley); Martin Gardner, The Last Recreations: Hydras, Eggs, and Other Mathematical Mystifications(Copernicus, Springer-Verlag); Per F. Dahl, Flash of the Cathode Ray: AHistory of J.J. Thomson’s Electron(Institute of Physics); Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau, Privacy On Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption(MIT Press); Victor M. Spitzer and David G. Whitlock, Atlas of the Visible Human Male:Reverse Engineering of the HumanBody(Jones and Bartlett). (Choice, Jan. 1999, pp. 823-841)
Following is the full text of the original review of In the Mind’s Eyeas it appeared in the April 1998 issue of Choice(p. 1458): “West, Thomas G. In the mind’s eye: visual thinkers, gifted people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, computer images and the ironies of creativity.” Updated ed. Prometheus Books, 1997. 397p bibl index afp ISBN 1-57392-155-6, $27.95. West’s outstanding book examines the play between the visual strengths and verbal weaknesses of 11 gifted individuals, including such persons as da Vinci, Faraday, Einstein, Edison, Churchill and Yeats. These case studies demonstrate that, in the past, those who were able to make their genius known in spite of verbal shortcomings were the exception rather than the norm and succeeded only through extraordinary resourcefulness, perseverance and good luck. In a society that has traditionally been centered on the word, persons with such deficiencies have often found themselves marginalized. The author’s thesis is that the hegemony of the word is being contested by a growing visual culture and society is undergoing profound changes as a result. These changes are being led by a new generation of visual thinkers (many of whom have had difficulty with verbal skills) who employ the television screen, computer graphics, virtual reality, and other relatively inexpensive tools of digital technology. West’s thesis is skillfully argued and illustrated with an abundance of examples. Impressive bibliography and resource list (complete with Web sites); will appeal to a wide audience. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through professionals. -- R.M. Davis 35-4810 BF426 97-19570 CIP”
Videos and Interviews
Several videos along with radio and TV interviews are available on the web which deal with visual thinking, visual technologies and the talents of dyslexics--together with the three books by Thomas G. West. Among these are:
“In the Mind’s Eye,” Podcast interview by Elisheva Schwartz, Dyslexia Quest, April 2016. About 58 minutes.
“A New World Shaped by Dyslexics,” Singapore, November 2014, on YouTube, January 2015. One of the five talks West was invited to give for the Dyslexia Association of Singapore as part of a country-wide effort, “Embrace Dyslexia,” to take advantage of the distinctive talents exhibited by dyslexic children and adults. Long a leader in technological and commercial innovation, Singapore plans to lead the world with this effort as well. (https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/a-new-world-shaped-by-dyslexics-thomas-g-west/)
In December 2010, West was asked to travel to New York to be filmed as part of a new author series developed for the website called “AT&T Tech Channel”-- Science & Technology Author Series, “Thinking Like Einstein.” About 17 minutes. Other than West’s two books, generally, the books discussed on this site are very technical.
“Dyslexia: An Unwrapped Gift.” Shot in “The Chained Library” of Hereford Cathedral in England, this video features Thomas West (with others) along with several dyslexic British teenagers who were filmed when they were coming to understand their own special areas of talent. A classic film popular and often shown in UK education circles. Still widely believed to be the best documentary for capturing the attention of dyslexic teens -- as well as suggesting the new world of visual technologies where many dyslexics currently thrive. Silva Productions, 1999. Provided on YouTube in two parts, about 9 minutes each.
Thomas G. West, author of Seeing What Others Cannot See, Thinking Like Einsteinand In the Mind's Eye(One of the “best of the best” for the year, American Library Association; new revised edition with Foreword by Oliver Sacks, MD, released 2009. Publisher: Prometheus Books, distributed by Penguin, Random House). Research Scholar Study Office 1W-16C, National Library of Medicine. Institutional address: Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, Member of the Advisory Board, 4400 University Drive, MS 2A1, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030-4444.
Email: thomasgwest at gmail.com or thomasgwest at aol.com.
Revised, September 2018