Thursday, July 20, 2017
For the In the Mind's Eye blog.
Below is information on my new book. Soon more text and images will appear in the new blog called Seeing What Others Cannot See. Please have a look there. -- TGW.
From Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, new book to be published July 11, 2017 --
Seeing What Others Cannot See
The Hidden Advantages of Visual Thinkers
and Differently Wired Brains
by Thomas G. West
For over 25 years, Thomas G. West has been a leading advocate for the importance of visual thinking, visual technologies and the creative potential of individuals with dyslexia and other learning differences. 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. He also discusses persistent controversies and the unfolding science.
This is an inspiring 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.
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 and the highly acclaimed Thinking like Einstein: Returning to Our Visual Roots with the Emerging Revolution in Computer Information Visualization. In the Mind’s Eye was awarded a gold seal and selected as one of the “best of the best” for the year by the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association. The book has been translated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean -- and West has provided presentations for scientific, medical, art, design, computer and business groups in the U.S. and 19 foreign countries.
West continues to lecture worldwide having given presentations to the Confederation of British Industry in London, the Netherlands Design Institute in Amsterdam, a meeting of 50 Max Planck Institutes in Göttingen, Germany, the Italian Dyslexia Association in Rome, the first “Diversity Day” conference for the staff of GCHQ, the code-making and code-breaking descendants of Bletchley Park (World War II code breakers), in Cheltenham, England, scientists and artists at Green College and at Magdalen College within Oxford University, England, the Royal College of Art in London, the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, a conference at the University of Uppsala before the Queen of Sweden, the University of California at Berkeley, an education conference sponsored by Harvard and MIT, the Arts Dyslexia Trust in London, an education conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and a meeting of visualization scientists and artists sponsored by MIT and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Other presentations have included the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, the Learning Disability Association of Taiwan, the international conference of computer graphic artists and technologists (ACM-SIGGRAPH) in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the International Symposium on Dyslexia in the Chinese Language organized by the Society of Child Neurology and Developmental Pediatrics in Hong Kong, the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey, the Aspen Institute in Colorado, Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California – and a Director's Colloquium for scientists and staff of NASA Ames Research Center (at Moffett Field in California’s Silicon Valley).
In November 2014, West was invited to give five talks for the Dyslexia Association of Singapore as part of a year-long, nation-wide effort 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.
The second edition of In the Mind’s Eye includes a Foreword by the late Oliver Sacks, MD, who said “In the Mind's Eye brings out the special problems of people with dyslexia, but also their strengths, which are so often overlooked. . . . It stands alongside Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind as a testament to the range of human talent and possibility.” According to one reviewer: “Every once in a while a book comes along that turns one's thinking upside down. In the Mind's Eye is just such a book.”
Contact: email@example.com. Distribution for Prometheus Books is provided by Penguin Random House (www.penguinrandomhouse.com).
Note: This is the draft introduction for the book by Thomas G. West: Seeing What Others Cannot See -- The Hidden Advantages of Visual Thinkers and Differently Wired Brains (Prometheus Books).
Since my first book, In the Mind’s Eye, was published in 1991, I have had the privilege of providing presentations for many different kinds of organizations in the U.S. and in nineteen foreign countries. In the process, I have met and learned from, I like to say, some of the smartest, most creative and most interesting people on the planet. Many of them are dyslexic or they are, as described these days, “on the spectrum,” with Asperger syndrome or other learning differences. Still others are merely very strong visual thinkers -- people who habitually think in pictures (who may have troubles with words or numbers).
With this book, I will draw together some of the observations and stories that I have accumulated since In the Mind’s Eye was first published. In the first book, I took a scholarly approach with a great many references and notes to support my perspectives and arguments. With this book, I am taking a very different approach. I will be focusing on brevity and simplicity -- using a collection of short stories and excerpts, layering a world view with minimal explanation and discussion.
I hope that these stories and observations will help others to begin to see how important these visually oriented capabilities are for high-level work in many fields -- and how little they are understood and appreciated in traditional education and in conventional measures of intelligence and ability. I make no claim to special knowledge or expert status. I just want to share with visual thinkers and different thinkers what I have learned in the hope that it will help them along the way -- and in the hope that it might influence the direction of future research and practice.
Some forward-looking organizations have come to appreciate and value these visual capabilities, but most educators and employers seem to be stuck in old ways of thinking. (The psychologists say, “we have got it covered -- with our well-established ‘performance’ tests.” The artists, designers and visually oriented scientists say, “no, you have not even begun to see what we see.”)
Over centuries, we have built an academic system that relies mainly on words and numbers. However, we are now living at a time when powerful visualization technologies, together with emerging large-scale problems, are driving us toward a new realization of how much we need to develop a new kind of thinking -- and how much we need the kinds of people and the kinds of brains that have been marginalized in the past by the dominant specialist culture, mostly based on proficiency with words rather than images.
In the last few decades, the world has changed in important ways. And it is changing once again. We need to understand current trends and not be blinded by traditional beliefs and practices. When we take the long view, the trend lines appear to be quite obvious. But many professionals and experts are well trained to see and believe what they were taught to believe decades ago. In a time of major change it is really important to listen to people who can “see what others cannot see.”
When traveling with my first book, I would talk with scientists, physicians, designers, artists, inventors and others. They often made the remark that their dyslexic colleagues had a different way of looking at things and “they could see things that others could not see”-- whether in reference to an indefinite ultrasound or x-ray image or regarding a novel surgical procedure or the solution to an enduring scientific puzzle. At first, I came to believe that this capability was most often characteristic of those dyslexics who were also strong visual thinkers.
Later, I was surprised to hear the very same words used by an advocate talking to a group of high school students with Asperger syndrome. In the same vein, another advocate had written and discussed with me her own propensity to think in pictures -- seeing things in her work that others did not notice or think were important. Indeed, she had asked one researcher and writer, how do you think at all if you don’t see pictures in your mind?
Over the years, I heard similar observations hundreds of times in hundreds of different places. Gradually, I came to see that I was dealing with a pattern of consequence, one that many had observed in a variety of different fields. The cumulative effect was that I was handed an intriguing topic -- and a book title -- that I could no longer ignore.
It is apparent that visual thinkers seem to experience the world differently from non-visual individuals and other “neuro-typicals.” And this I believe, is a good thing -- although not usually recognized as such, especially in the early years of education. I have learned that for some people the easy things in primary school can be quite hard -- while the hard things in graduate school and in advanced work situations can be quite easy.
Over time, I have come to realize that I have had the considerable advantage of gaining a special perspective into remarkable parts of our world -- providing me with distinctive insights into diverse and alternative ways of thinking, learning and working -- all related, apparently, to observing things in a deeply original and perceptive manner.
It is often noted that some dyslexic scientists or entrepreneurs need only a brief mention of an idea or concept. They don’t need to read the rest of the report. They just think about it and all the implications and future problems and potentials become immediately apparent. They do not need a painful elaboration of the obvious.
As always, I have continued to rely mainly on stories and first-person accounts. I have come to trust them more than many conventional academic theories and studies based on large-scale surveys. I listen to what the affected individuals tell me. I believe they know what they are talking about. They live it every day. And I believe it is important to look at a whole individual life story to see how mixed strengths and weaknesses manifest themselves through time in changing economic and social circumstances. You can assemble the data and count the frequencies later; but you first must look at the individual life story, like a good medical history, to see the most important overall patterns. If you are mainly looking at many people using the established conventional tests, you may be measuring and counting the wrong things.
When one looks, as an outsider, at a century or two of evolving conventional thinking, you can see how often the winds have changed or have blown the wrong way. Looking back, it is often easy to see who was on the right track from the beginning -- and how long it has taken for the conventionally trained experts to abandon outdated beliefs.
These observations are especially true in regard to the different thinkers we focus on here. In a way, it is self-evident. If you see what others do not see or cannot see -- most will say that you are wrong or, in some way, a heretic. It is not pleasant for the conventional experts to see threatened the material that they have been teaching for many years -- or to have their books and articles suddenly become outdated or irrelevant. It is always so.
These stories and first person accounts have provided me with a set of primary sources that permit me to gain insights perhaps rarely otherwise available – and I hope these will be of interest to a wider audience. This approach is not unlike the style of the late Oliver Sacks, M.D. -- who kindly provided a Foreword and blurb for the second edition of In the Mind’s Eye.
Over these years, I have also been fortunate to meet a number of individuals who were eager to tell me their own life stories. Indeed, several individuals who have been at the very top of their fields -- including, for example, one of the leading individuals in the early development of modern molecular biology -- as well as a major figure in the emerging specialist field of pediatric surgery. Both of these individuals contacted me after reading my first book -- saying, in one way or another: “I read your book. You understand how I think. Others do not. I want to tell you my story.”
I have been surprised at the remarkable range of fields and occupations of those who have shown interest in these topics -- including scientific, medical, art, design, computer and entrepreneurial business groups. In many cases, attendees and contacts have shared with me observations that were, apparently, not generally known -- and sometimes well hidden.
In time, I found that these observations seemed to fit into a larger pattern, acknowledging the value of diverse minds and diverse brains – especially when this diversity is beginning to be highly valued in a time of rapid technological change and global economic competition. We are becoming more aware that we need something other than the conventional clerks or strong test takers or traditional narrow specialists -- although our educational system continues to train and select them.
Instead, I believe our very survival may depend on strong visual thinkers and practically-minded visionaries, those who think in different ways, those who see the larger patterns, those who seem to be able to see over the horizon and predict what is coming, those who naturally think in moving pictures by mental manipulation of three-dimensional shapes and forms -- increasingly aided by the newest integrative graphical computer technologies.
Remarkably, I have continued to be surprised at the serious interest in these perspectives among the most highly successful individuals. These individuals seem to immediately understand that high creativity and capabilities are often linked to visual thinking or to dyslexia, to Asperger syndrome or other learning differences. In general, strangely, it seems that Nobel Prize winners are highly interested in these perspectives -- whereas there appears to be very little interest among most teachers, school psychologists and educational administrators. They might find much more talent among their students if they knew how and where to look for it.
In many respects, Asperger syndrome (which I regard as still a useful term although some professional groups have recently discontinued its use) appears to be the complete opposite of developmental dyslexia. However, many individuals in both groups appear to share a strongly visual manner of thinking, a link that is not always obvious but could be extraordinarily important -- especially in an era when high-level work in many fields increasingly involves “scientific visualization” and visual analysis of complex information.
In addition to these powerful trends, it appears that, historically, many of the most creative and productive in regards to technological innovation and scientific discovery have been strong visual thinkers. In contrast, it appears that many non-visual thinkers may be very good at learning and applying old knowledge (and doing well on exams, often getting the top grades and the top jobs) but may be very poor at creating new knowledge or developing the broad and deep understanding so badly needed for modern, real-world challenges. What spelled success in the old specialist culture may very well generate major failures in the new.
In this book, I want to focus mainly on visual thinking -- and its considerable power in many different fields to understand relationships and novel solutions not often available in other ways. Among computer graphics folks, words and numbers are seen as the “thin pipe to the brain.” In contrast, they see computer graphics and information visualization as “the fat pipe to the brain.” I hope that this book will begin to illuminate what the “fat pipe” can do -- and how is changing the fundamentals of our world.
Mostly, I will be looking backward at some of what I have learned -- but I hope to look a little way forward as well. As we know, for years computers have been taking over low-level jobs. In more recent years, the newest and most powerful computers have played into the hands of visually oriented different thinkers -- providing powerful tools well suited to their mix of talents and special abilities.
However, the context is changing once again. Now in the early days of “deep learning,” we can expect shortly to see major effects on very high-level jobs as well. The machines are now learning to see patterns that only high-level, experienced professionals could see before. In some cases they have already surpassed human capabilities. This has long been expected. But after several false starts, it appears that the time has arrived. The effects are not yet entirely clear, but it is likely that these trends may require the distinctive talents of “different thinkers” once again. Then we will badly need to listen to those who “can see what others cannot see.”
From the quotations page of Seeing What Others Cannot See --
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.”
—Oliver Sacks, MD
I believe those of us with Asperger’s are here for a reason, and we have much to offer.
—John Elder Robison
Dyslexia is Britain’s secret weapon in the spy war: Top code breakers can crack complex problems. . . . Most people only get to see the jigsaw picture when it’s nearly finished while the dyslexic cryptographists can see what the jigsaw looks like with just two pieces.
—Statement from GCHQ official, July 2013
During residency, I recognized that I had dyslexia. And then I realized I had this gift for imaging. Radiology is where I belonged. I live in a world of patterns and images and I see things that no one else sees. Anomalies jump out at me like a neon sign. . . . I do have a gift that other people don’t have, and I will always stay ahead of the crowd and see more in an image than other people.
—Beryl Benacerraf, MD
Many of the most exciting new attempts to apply deep learning are in the medical realm. . . . While a radiologist might see thousands of images in his life, a computer can be shown millions. . . . “This image problem could be solved better by computers . . . just because they can plow through so much more data than a human could ever do.” The most remarkable thing about neural nets is that no human being has programmed a computer to perform any of [these] stunts. . . . In fact, no human being could. Programmers have, rather, fed the computer a learning algorithm, exposed it to terabytes of data—hundreds of thousands of images or years’ worth of speech samples—to train it, and have allowed the computer to figure out for itself how to recognize the desired objects. . . . In short, such computers can now teach themselves.
—Roger Parloff, Fortune magazine, October 2016
Draft back cover copy for Seeing What Others Cannot See by Thomas G. West
“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 Advantage and The Mislabeled Child
“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 editor Dyslexia. Emeritus Professor, Swansea University.
“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 and The 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
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, which was selected as an Outstanding Academic Title and one of the “best of the best” for the year by Choice magazine, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries division of the American Library Association. He is also the author of Thinking like Einstein: Returning to Our Visual Roots with the Emerging Revolution in Computer Information Visualization. West lectures worldwide and has given presentations to such institutions as the Confederation of British Industry; the Netherlands Design Institute; the Max Planck Institutes in Gottingen, Germany; the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey; the Aspen Institute in Colorado; Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California; and the NASA Ames Research Center.
Cover image © arosoft/Shutterstock. Cover design by Liz Mills. Cover © Prometheus Books.