I Think in Pictures Instead of Language

                                                                   Temple Grandin

                                                           Dept. of Animal Sciences

                                                          Colorado State University

                                                              Fort Collins CO  80523

              I do not use language when I think and solve problems.  All thoughts are images.  When I design livestock equipment, images pop into my imagination and language only serves as a narrative of the images.  If I think about what I will do tomorrow, I visualize activities such as driving to the university, teaching my class or going to the airport. I have no subconscious, I think with the part of my brain that is subconscious in most other people.  I can see the decision making process in my brain.  One day an elk ran across the freeway and I had about three seconds to react.  Three images popped into my imagination like a menu on a computer screen.  The images were a car rear ending me, the elk crashing through the windshield, and the elk passing in front of me.  Each image was a consequence of a different action such as jamming on the brakes, swerving or slowing down.  I clicked on slowing down and the elk passed by in front of me.  I made a decision that was not a reflex. This may be similar to how a deer makes a decision when he hears a strange sound. I think this orienting response is the beginning of conscious behavior. When a deer hears a strange sound, it will turn and look.  When it orients it makes a decision. Do I stand still and listen, run away, or continue grazing.  It makes a decision and it is a choice not a reflex.

              All the images in my imagination are specific. There are no generalized images.  When I think of church steeples, I only see specific ones. There is no generalized image. When I questioned many other people, many of them had more generalized vague images.  They had a vague image first and when asked for more specific images, some, but not all people could produce them.  Their thinking was top down.  Generalized to specific.  My thinking is the other way from the bottom up.  I see specific images. My mind works exactly like the internet search engine – Google for Images. I can input a key word and images come into my imagination like a series of slides.  All the images are specific.  To form a concept, I have to put the images into categories.  Detailed pictures are grouped by categories.  When I was a child, I categorized dogs from cats by size.  When a small dog came into our neighborhood I had to use a different visual criterion for categorization.  I finally figured out that all dogs have the same nose.  It was a visual feature all dogs have, but no cats had a dog’s nose.  It is sensory based thinking instead of word based thinking.  Cats and dogs could also be categorized by sound, barking or meowing or smell.  As I get older, and have more and more experiences, my thinking becomes better because my internal Google search engine has more pictures to sort and search and categorize.  That’s why I have become less autistic acting as I have had more experiences.