Note: Here is a new short version of the listing. Intended to give an overall view with a few of the more interesting sample items up front and a brief guide that follows. -- TGW
Selected Significant Events and Documents for the West Archive
Updated Listing for History of Medicine
National Library of Medicine, NIH -- Revised, May 14, 2021
Working Draft, in Process -- First 12 Listings of 72 Total
Short Sample Listings of 12 Significant Events and Documents
Archive Introduction and Guide in a Following Section
(Total of 72 listings, to date, available on request.)
(1) The Orton Dyslexia Society, 47th Annual Conference, Boston, Mass., November 6-9, 1996. West was selected as one of four symposium speakers along with Albert M. Galaburda, MD, and Gordon Sherman, PhD, both of Harvard Medical School. The title of West’s talk was: “ ‘Strephs,’ Tumbling Symbols and Technological Change: The Implications of Dyslexia Research in a World Turned Upside Down.”
The program booklet for this Boston Dyslexia Conference included an article by West which was reprinted with permission from Computer Graphics, August 1996 issue: “Images and Reversals, Talking Less, Drawing More.” This article was introduced by the conference booklet editor:
“The following article was prepared by Thomas G. West as part of the series of articles requested by the editor of Computer Graphics magazine, a publication of the International Association of Computer Graphics Professionals, ACM SIGGRAPH. Mr. West says that he sees himself as often serving as a bridge between worlds that know virtually nothing of each other -- such as those dealing with the brain and dyslexia on one side -- and those dealing with advanced computers, film animation, scientific data visualization and technological change on the other.
“This particular article addresses the possible great changes in education and work that might be expected from the spread of new computer graphic technologies. However, you will note that Mr. West introduces to this technological audience the ideas of nonverbal talent and dyslexic gifts by referring to quotations from the German poet Goethe and the modern British science writer Nigel Calder. He says that he meets many individuals with dyslexia within the highly creative computer graphics community. Perhaps we can help our students with dyslexia have a more positive attitude about their own talents and future prospects through the ideas presented here in this column.”
[An excerpt from the article:] “ ‘We should talk less and draw more. I personally would like to renounce speech altogether, and, and like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches.’ These are indeed strange and remarkable words to be coming from a famous writer -- the great German poet and author of Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s words are quoted by the essayist Stephen Jay Gould, who explains it is quite notable that words occupy such an important place in human culture, in spite of the fact that we are highly visual by nature.
“ ‘Primates are visual animals,’ explains Gould. ‘No other group of mammals relies so strongly on sight. Our attraction to images as the source of understanding is both primal and pervasive. Writing with its linear sequencing of ideas, is an historical afterthought in the history of human cognition. Yet traditional scholarship has lost this route to our past. Most research is reported by text alone, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Pictures, if included it all, a poorly reproduced section gathered in the center, divorced from relevant text, and treated as little more than decoration.’ (Eight Little Piggies, Norton, 1993)
“Gould touches on a matter that I expect will become more and more important in the near term and the long term. It seems inevitable, as new visualization tools are applied effectively in more and more fields, that visual talents and skills will have greater and greater value in the economic marketplace, as well as the scientific laboratory. However, during the transition, I would expect a lot of debate about the proper roles of visual versus verbal ways of thinking.”
[End of excerpt. The Orton Dyslexia Society was later renamed The International Dyslexia Association in Memory of Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton.]
(2) Markle Scholars in Academic Medicine, Fifty-Year Reunion, September 17-19, 1998, Arizona Biltmore Resort and Villas. Speakers included, among others: Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, National Library of Medicine; Gerald M. Edelman, Scripps Research Institute (Nobel Prize winner); Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education (MacArthur Prize winner); and Thomas G. West, Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University. Markle Scholars were identified as the best medical school professors in the US and Canada during several decades after WWII. Dr. Lindberg suggested that West provide a brief proposal for a talk at the gathering. Indeed, as it turned out, the organizers were interested.
In his talk, West spoke primarily of visual thinking among creative scientists and recent developments in visual technologies and computer graphics. However, West also spoke of how visual thinking and associated innovation were sometimes linked to dyslexia and other related learning differences. Remarkably, during the course of the three-day conference, roughly one half of the attendees and their spouses spoke to West about their own dyslexia (two surgeons from Johns Hopkins, for example) or told stories of dyslexia among their coworkers or the more creative and innovative members of their own families. (See a highly supportive letter from a Canadian physician, to be provided. -- TGW)
(3) West was invited to be the main speaker at the first “Diversity Day” conference (June 2006) for the staff of GCHQ, the code-making and code-breaking descendants of Bletchley Park (World War II code breakers and the source of “Ultra,” the extremely secret intelligence source for Winston Churchill, never revealed to the public until the 1970s), in Cheltenham, England. See section on GCHQ, pp. 147-150, in Seeing What Others Cannot See, West, 2017: “Seeing the Puzzle with Only Two Pieces -- Learning Differences at GCHQ.” According to one employee at GCHQ, “while people with neuro-diversity may be viewed as ‘odd or weird,’ they are ‘fully accepted’ at GCHQ,” p. 150.
More to be provided about this most important meeting -- and a subsequent informal gathering the following Saturday with a nearby village walk and pub lunch -- where one teen-aged son said, “Now I finally begin to understand my father.” At one point, after the lunch and the round the village walk, West found himself sitting with a group of seven at the edge of our host’s garden, suddenly realizing that all of those with him had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Among other things, they discussed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and connections with a Sherlock Holmes story. It is apparent that GCHQ would be an excellent place to investigate and better understand extraordinarily high performance in the modern world and seek positive links with visual thinking, dyslexia, autism and other forms of different thinking and working. -- TGW
(4) National Dyslexia Research Foundation, The Extraordinary Brain Series, Hawaii, June 27-July 2, 1998. Thomas West and Maryanne Wolf (Tufts University) spoke on “The Abilities of Those with Reading disabilities.” Other speakers included Glenn D. Rosen, PhD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston; Drake D. Duane, MD, Institute for Behavioral Neurology, Scottsdale, AZ; Daniel Geschwind MD, PhD, UCLA School of Medicine; Sally Shaywitz, MD, Bennett Shaywitz, MD, Yale University Medical School; and Frank B. Wood, PhD, Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The conference talks were collected into a book: Reading and Attention Disorders: Neurobiological Correlates, Drake D. Duane, MD, editor, York Press, 1999. West’s talk is Chapter 11, “Focusing on the Talents of People with Dyslexia.”
(5) An annual meeting of 50 Max Planck Institutes in Göttingen, Germany. See chapter in the book compiled from the proceedings of this conference: West, Thomas G., 1994. “A Return to Visual Thinking,” Proceedings, Science and Scientific Computing: Visions of a Creative Symbiosis. Symposium of Computer Users in the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, edited and translated by P. Wittenberg and T. Plesser. Göttingen, Germany, November 1993. Published as a book in 1994, in German: “Ruckkehr zum visuellen Denken, Forschung und Wissenschftliches Rechnen: Beitrage anlasslich des 10. EGV-Benutzertreffens der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Göttingen, November 1993.” Invitation initially based on a short article by West in Computers and Physics. The article in English and the German language proceedings volume has already been donated to the archive collection. (To be confirmed.)
During informal discussions after his talk, West was told of dyslexia and other learning differences within the families of famous German physicists. It is noteworthy that this large high-level meeting in November 1993 was dominated by conventional “main frame thinking” and remarkably antiquated technologies. For example, we had to move to a small conference room to show video clips on a TV. (This is, in fact, shown in one of the photographs provided in the printed proceedings book; West is shown looking at a computer graphic image on a TV screen.) In dramatic contrast, in the conference in Amsterdam in October of that same year the designers, artists, architects and computer professionals had already adopted and were using the latest technologies in all the presentations. (See item 6 below.)
(6) Invited speaker. The Netherlands Design Institute in Amsterdam: “Doors of Perception,” October 30-31, 1993, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, organized by The Netherlands Design Institute and Mediamatic magazine. Program description: “DoP is a ground breaking conference for which leading thinkers from the fields of graphic and industrial design, architects, information technology, philosophy, computer science, business and media will assemble . . . to consider the cultural and economic challenges of interactivity + the role of design in turning information into knowledge, for example through the visualization of complex scientific data. . . .” Other speakers included Louis Rossetto, the founding editor and publisher of the first Wired magazine (published in Europe well before moving to the US).
West was recruited to speak at this first conference of the newly formed Netherlands Design Institute based on a talk he had given at the ACM SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Los Angeles only two months earlier. (This is the only time West observed an unusual Dutch practice: He was paid his speaker’s fee in cash, using crisp US bills of $100.)
Please see a letter (to be provided separately) from a designer met at this Amsterdam conference. An excerpt: “It was a pleasure to have met you at the ‘Doors of Perception’ seminar in the Netherlands. I enjoyed listening to your talk on visual thinking. It was inspiring and was very appropriate in that particular forum. I found your talk of particular relevance to my work with LEGO. . . . I work for LEGO in a capacity as a designer visualizer. I’m sure you understand how your talk and book was a great inspiration. In the Minds Eye is a real eye opener. Your book has given me a detailed insight into the way my mind works and why it behaves the way it does. The book is well researched and it is edited in such a way that it becomes a useful reference book. In the Minds Eye should be read by teachers and parents alike who have children in their care that show traits of dyslexia. It will enlighten them all about the gift of dyslexia and its many advantages that it can provide the individual and possibly society. As we discussed during our meeting in the Netherlands, the Vice President of my research department at LEGO . . . is a cofounder of a school for dyslexics in Brande, Jutland. It is the first school of its type in Denmark and has a campus of 50 students.” K.B., Lyngby, Denmark, 21st April, 1994.
(7) A small, high-level, visualization, science and technology conference at MIT. Program description: “IM: Image and Meaning Conference, MIT, June 2001, Envisioning and Communicating Science and Technology. Who We Are: In late spring of 2001 we have come together at MIT to consider images in science to learn from each other to add something of our own, We are shown here in name and image.” Attendance was by invitation only. Each attendee was asked to provide an image that represented their work -- to be worn as part of their nametag -- for discussion with other attendees. The conference handout (to be provided separately for the archive) includes 210 images with names and organizations.
Speakers and attendee participants included Benoit Mandelbrot (his image was the famous “Mandelbrot Set”), E.O. Wilson (an image of a tree) and Victor Spitzer (an image from the Visible Human Project; he was one of the developers of the Visible Human Project for NLM). The image for West was the first x-ray crystallographic image produced by Sir William Lawrence Bragg, used to discover Bragg’s Law, which is basic for the determination of crystal atomic structure, and later, the discovery of the structure of DNA. (Image supplied to West by Bragg’s daughter, Patience Bragg Thomson, former head of a school for dyslexic students in London. This family includes over five generations, many with visual occupations, many dyslexics and four winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics.)
West had several conversations with Dr. Mandelbrot at this conference. Dr. Mandelbrot talked about the hostility he encountered from most conventional mathematicians, especially at Harvard University, where he had been teaching at the time. He had moved on to Yale University where they showed respect for Mandelbrot’s highly innovative approach to mathematics. West mentioned his own interest in highly talented visual thinkers and dyslexics and asked whether Dr. Mandelbrot had ever encountered any dyslexics among his work associates. He laughed and said: “If you ask my wife, she is convinced that I am dyslexic myself.” Later, West heard of several additional reports from others where Mandelbrot had spoken elsewhere of his own dyslexia. West was not surprised by this revelation because Dr. Mandelbrot’s work is extremely visual in nature and extremely original in orientation and approach, successfully employing the most modern computer graphics technologies (starting with the most primitive early forms of computer graphics, well before others). These aspects are seen as signature indictors of the work of a classic visually-oriented dyslexic approach.
(8) Wadsworth Center, Albany, New York, May 31, 2018. West gave talk titled: “Seeing What Others Cannot See -- Visual Thinking, Different Thinkers and Scientific Discovery.” For the state of New York, the Wadsworth Center is similar to the U.S. Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, it was established long before the Federal level CDC and has a similar broad range of responsibilities and missions. (Details of mission and programs to be provided.) West was invited to speak by the Head of the Center, a virologist, who he met at a dinner of the Friends of the National Library of Medicine. The visit included an extensive tour of the Center facilities, programs and missions -- along with several Q&A discussions with Center staff.
(9) The New York Branch of The Orton Dyslexia Society, Twentieth Anniversary Conference, Language & Medical Symposia on Dyslexia, March 18-20, 1993. As the economy moves from a primarily verbal orientation to one that is visual-spatial, the talents of dyslexics will be increasingly needed as various visual technologies are adopted. Presentation title: “Dyslexic Talents in a Changing Technological Context.” Speaker: Thomas G. West, MA. Chair: Anne Ford, Chairman of the Board, National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York, N.Y. It is noteworthy that West was invited to give this talk only two years after his first book was published in 1991 -- and that he was introduced by the Board Chair of NCLD, a major organization in the field. At this time, the conference of the New York Branch was often as big as or bigger than the annual national conference of the Orton Dyslexia Society (that later became the International Dyslexia Association, as noted above).
Many of the major figures in the field spoke at this three-day meeting. This included Patience Thomson, Head of Fairley House School, London, England -- who Thomas West and his wife Margaret later came to know well through several conferences and visits in the US and the UK. Patience Bragg Thomson is daughter of the famous Sir Lawrence Bragg, who received the Nobel Prize, with his father, for their work with x-ray crystallography -- and who later was the boss for Watson and Crick when they discovered the structure of DNA using his techniques (both of whom also received the Nobel Prize). The Bragg Thomson family over five generations includes many visual thinkers, many dyslexics and four winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. (See item 44 and Appendix B.) Other speakers at the New York meeting were: Martha B. Denckla, Bennett Shaywitz, Albert Galaburda, Frank B. Wood, Roger Saunders, Edward Hallowell, Wilson Anderson, Barbara Wilson, Drake D. Duane and Diana Hanbury King. (Full program listing to be provided.)
(10) Director's Colloquium for scientists and staff of NASA Ames Research Center (at Moffett Field in California’s Silicon Valley). Standing room only, at sides and back of large lecture theater, at this large organization with many, many visually-oriented scientists, technologists, mathematicians and engineers. As part of our associated visitor tour, we were shown massive wind tunnels and many scientific exhibits -- including new raw data on a large wall of flat screen TVs indicating possible planets orbiting hundreds of stars fresh from the Kepler satellite. When asked whether there might be life on other planets, we were treated to wave after wave of stars and planets washing across on the large wall of TV screens -- so, hundreds and thousands of possibilities (and these were only the planets that happened to be “in front” of the star at the time of observation).
(11) The Learning Disability Association of Taiwan. Three day-long presentations in three different cities. Three different translators -- from English into Mandarin Chinese language, alternating. One formal professor served as the last of the three translators. She seemed initially reserved about the content of the talks. However, in time, she warmed to the topic and began to elaborate and provided her own related examples and commentary along with the Mandarin translation of the talk. During a break, the organizer requested that the professor stay within the translations alone. (West, however, was greatly pleased to see the new interest and support from this previously rather reserved professor.) Travel to Taiwan was linked to a prior conference in Hong Kong conducted in English and Cantonese (item 17 below). (The organizer of the Taiwan talks, Wei-Pi Hung, over 12 months, translated West’s book, In the Mind’s Eye, into Chinese, with traditional characters. This book is to be provided to the archive along with the Japanese and Korean translations.) Discussions of dyslexia in Taiwan were especially interesting since the culture puts extreme pressure on students. They should look pale and sleep deprived -- or they are not studying hard enough.
(12) In November 2014, West was invited to give five talks for the Dyslexia Association of Singapore as part of effort to take advantage of the distinctive talents exhibited by dyslexic children and adults. Long a leader in technological and commercial innovation, Singapore is leading the world with this effort as well. (Several publications and web videos are available.)
Introduction and Guide to the Archive and Listings -- May 2021
From 1991 to 2021, Thomas G. West has given hundreds of presentations in the U.S., and 19 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Over time, West has come to measure the significance of these invited talks, seminars and workshops by the extent to which the simple but powerful ideas he learned from two prescient neurologists have been received and given serious consideration by those interested in the strengths and talents of individuals with dyslexia and other learning differences -- together with the related advances in computer graphics, computer simulation, visual thinking and advanced information visualization technologies. Throughout his research, West has relied on the extensive primary sources made available by the National Library of Medicine archives and collections along with those of the Library of Congress.
This listing of selected events and documents, with informal brief descriptions addressed to users, is intended to show evidence of the gradual development and effectiveness of these efforts -- and provide researchers, advocates and other archive users a guide to available resources along with models for future efforts.
West is the author of three books, In the Mind’s Eye (with editions in 1991, 1997, 2009 and 2020), Thinking Like Einstein (2004) and Seeing What Others Cannot See (2017).
The first book, In the Mind’s Eye, was awarded a gold seal and selected as one of the “best of the best” for the year out of some 6000 reviewed books by the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association (one of only 12 books in the broad “Psychology” category, including books on neuroscience, intelligence testing, language impairment, mental health and psychiatry).
The book has been translated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean -- and West has provided presentations for scientific, medical, art, design, computer and business groups. The interest in these topics, across many different fields and disciplines, has been an indicator, much to West’s surprise, of the timeliness and broad impact of these research findings and publications -- largely based on the original work by the neurologists Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton in the 1920s and Dr. Norman Gechwind and his students in the 1980s.
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 early 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.”
A broad and enduring interest in these topics is further indicated by the reissue in July 2020 of a Third Edition (first time in paperback) of West’s first book, In The Mind’s Eye. Now with over 29 years in print, the book continues to be what they call in the trade an “evergreen” -- a book that never stops selling. The two previous revised and expanded editions (updated edition and second edition) each contain Epilogues with some 40 to 50 pages of new material.
Another indicator of continuing interest is that in recent months, West has been asked to join a global network, based in Stockholm, Sweden, of those with high interest in the strengths and talents of dyslexic children and adults. This network includes researchers, advocates and academics from Oxford, Cambridge and Sheffield universities in the UK as well as individuals associated with the Nobel Prize Foundation in Stockholm and a former advisor to the Swedish Royal Family (where three of five are dyslexic). The 8th meeting of the group was held (via Zoom) on May 10, 2021 -- including network members from Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and the US. This network provides evidence that the interest in dyslexic strengths is global and continues to be a main focus for many researchers and practitioners (although these views continue to be debated by certain groups).
West has given additional talks (via Zoom and related technologies, recorded and/or live) in October and November 2020 for groups based in Amsterdam, Holland, Cairo, Egypt, and a group associated George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia -- as well as the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) annual conference based in the U.S. (previously planned for Denver, Colorado, later made virtual). In June 2021, West is scheduled to speak via Zoom as part of a panel for a dyslexia and talent conference organized by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore.
On June 9, 2020, West gave the commencement address (via Zoom) for graduates of Siena School, Silver Spring, Maryland, a high school for college-bound dyslexic students. (A copy of this address is provided in Appendix C, below -- providing a brief overview of these considerations for young adults, among others.)
Over the years, West’s investigations have led him to look beyond dyslexia to a wider range of learning differences. In his third book, Seeing What Others Cannot See, West investigates how different kinds of brains and different ways of thinking can help to make discoveries and solve problems in innovative and unexpected ways -- ways of thinking often quite different from conventionally trained experts. With this book, West focuses on what he has learned over some 30 years from a group of extraordinarily creative, intelligent and interesting people -- strong visual thinkers and those with dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome, or other different ways of thinking, learning and working.
The numbered items below provide a listing of some of the more significant presentations, events and publications -- showing the broad range of institutions and organizations that have become increasingly interested in understanding the creative and innovative styles of thinking exhibited by dyslexics and other different thinkers. An additional section with selected reviews and comments is also provided (Appendix A).
Accordingly, this listing serves as a checklist of some of the associated materials not to be missed in the boxes and binders donated to the NLM History of Medicine permanent archive during recent mouths. In each case, the related documents might include drafts of talks and research papers, printed programs with topic descriptions, speaker bios, newspaper clippings and other publicity, conference proceedings, associated drafts, chapters, books, journal articles and other materials.
Related websites, videos, blogs, audio recordings, photographs, overhead transparency sheets, 35 mm film slides and Power Point images have been (or will be) provided separately. The West blog (below) has already been incorporated into the NLM History of Medicine digital archive system, with over 90 articles and commentaries to date. Additional information is to be provided from time to time for the numbered items and events below where only a name or brief description is currently listed.
A Time of Fundamental Change: “A Return to Visual Thinking”
It should be noted that with his early publications and talks (based on the work of Orton and Geschwind, along with what he had learned from those working with the most advanced computer graphics technologies), West found that he was swept up in a wave of fundamental change in thinking about thinking.
He found that he was invited to participate and provide presentations for a highly varied group of high-level institutions and organizations as part of a new awareness of fundamental change with respect to visual thinkers, visual technologies, scientific data visualization and new ways of thinking about the distinctive capabilities of dyslexics and other different thinkers.
This new awareness was partly based on the rapidly emerging power of the new visual technologies during this period. But it was also based on a renewed awareness of the power of the visual thinking used by earlier scientists, engineers and inventors, such as Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Tesla and others. (Thus “A Return to Visual Thinking” was the main theme selected for of the 1993 annual meeting of the 50 Max Planck Institutes in Germany. West’s previous talks and writings on historical visual-thinking scientists were seen as well targeted for their program. See listing 5 above.)
In most cases, the high interest in these topics and trends was from those who were observing these capabilities in actual operation and use “in the real world” of scientific discovery, medical innovation and entrepreneurial business. At the same time many specialist academics seemed to have found it difficult to understand and appreciate these capabilities, employing their conventional tests and measures and a conceptual framework that favored conventional verbal and numerical academic capabilities over visual thinking and “thinking in pictures” in 3D space.
In addition, West noticed over time that when he spoke of these learning differences in highly positive ways, with credible positive examples, some in his audience felt free, often for the first time, to talk about considerable strengths and hidden weaknesses in themselves, their family members and their co-workers. For example, see especially item 5, the Markle Scholars in Academic Medicine, the Fifty-Year Reunion. In a striking and unexpected example, during the course of the conference, among these highly praised, award-winning physicians and medical school professors, roughly half of those attending spoke to West of their own dyslexia or the dyslexia of highly creative members of their own families.
Accordingly, the events and documents listed in the archive could serve, in part, as a reflection of a significant cultural shift -- as well as the development these fundamental ideas in various industries and various parts of the world over three decades.
For some of the best examples of how these changes in perspective were recognized, adopted and promoted by organizations such as MIT, NASA Ames, GCHQ in the UK, the Max Planck Institutes and related institutions, see especially items 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 12.
Selected recent summary presentation text slides of this basic approach are provided in Appendix E. Listed in Appendix F, Acknowledgements, are the names of the people who did so much to move these ideas and insights forward by organizing the presentations, publications and events listed above and below.
Note: Full listing of 72 items available on request. -- TGW