Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Non Verbal Thought

This article was accidentally published before it was ready or meant to be. I do apologize for that. Now, here we go....

Peter Chatterton wrote an article I found very interesting article.

He talks about Non-Verbal Thought (NVT). What is NVT? Hmmm... well, let me paint you a picture....

Have you ever read a book and heard the words in your head? Okay, that's verbal thought. When I was in Eighth Grade, Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics came to our classroom and taught us Washington State History over several months, using their methods.

Sadly, and you'll understand the irony of this even more in a minute, when I got into High School, they wouldn't count the credit for this class for some reason, and I had to take it all over again. Their comment was, "Well, if you did take it before, then it will be a breeze for you this time." What a jerk. Well, it was a breeze. But I learned it better the first time, than any of the kids did in this new class, this time.
Evelyn Wood had taught Pres. Kennedy herself, as I heard it, and many others, to use this method to read quickly and increase your comprehension. They wanted to find if teaching in a classroom setting was workable. Turns out it was. I've seen many other "speed reading" courses over the years, and most of them aren't worth the money, if you ask me. Some teach you better reading skills than you have now, to be sure. But I guess I see Wood as the gold standard.

The first thing they told us, and taught us, was to stop thinking words in your mind. After all, your mind can move much faster than your words, when spoken. When you "hear" the words in your mind, you slow your mind down to the rate at which the muscles in your mouth and face will allow you, to talk and articulate. Well, don't do that in your mind and you immediately speed up the rate at which you read, and think.

I went from 60% comprehension at around 280 words per minute, to within several months, by the time this class was over, to 80% comprehension and 10,000 words per minute. Honest. I was reading a novel in an hour. And I was understanding and retaining more by 20%.

One thing this told me was that in all the years previous, where I thought I was slow and stupid, I found that I was simply bored. There was actually more to it than just that, but that was a lot of it, actually.

When my teachers, who were usually going too slow for how my mind worked (or could work), whenever they sped up their teaching, I found I was then able to understand them better. But usually someone in the class would complain and they would slow down and typically start going over it all again, which just made me even more bored and on top of it, frustrated.
Of course there are other elements involved, emotions, nutrition, etc., but let's skip those for the purposes of this discussion.

Then when it came to tests, it looked like I was just stupid as the other kids would get better scores. But that was because they got to learn at their speed and (this will sound funny), I couldn't keep up at their slower speed of assimilation. I would get quickly bored and start looking around and not pay attention.

But that wasn't inherent in my attitude. I was interested, actually, fascinated, but my thoughts were going so fast, I simply couldn't pay attention. It was like watching a movie, only they play the first scene at half speed and repeat it three times, so that by time the next scene comes up, your now reading a book or something.

Getting back to the Speed Reading, I kept it up for a while, but doing the "push up" drills gave me headaches. Your eyes have to get accustomed to the zipping back and forth across the pages, at first. Then once you get beyond that, you're smoothly slipping down a page; in the time it takes to look from top to bottom of the page, you have read it and can answer questions about it. You also can't read dense material that way, as it simply slows you way down.

So I eventually quit reading that fast. But the real reason I quit was that I had read a few really good novels using that technique. They took me an hour or two to read. It was actually pretty cool, like watching a movie in your head while you read. Except for one thing.

When I read a really good novel I want to savor it, enjoy it, let it last for a few days, a week, maybe as long as I can stretch it out. But with this fast reading style, it was zip, over. Also, to really learn a book, they expected you to read it possibly three times. But then you would have learned it far better than using normal reading methods. Of course, even reading it three times, you were still done far faster than ever before possible.

Now you might ask, could I really do that? Well many years later I asked myself the very same thing. I was in the USAF in my early twenties. I had a letter from Evelyn Wood stating that should I ever want to take their classes again, for the rest of my life, I can take them for free. So when I was about twenty-two, I saw they had classes starting at a local downtown hotel conference room. So, I signed up for free.

I knew I had done this before. But even having done it before, I had trouble understanding by then, how that was possible. How does anyone read 10,000 words per minute? So I took the class again. And once again, I got up to those speeds. And once again, I found the same issue. I liked taking time reading so that the experience lasts longer.

But that is neither here nor there.

So I was bored as a child in my classes. I did have ADHD as a kid which explains some of that. Or is ADD a natural evolutionary development for us to help our race pick up the pace to that of modern times?

The point here is speed. That is one element in this NVT thing. Remember that? We naturally, purposely slow our minds down, without even knowing it. Parents will tell kids sometimes, "you're going to fast" (yeah, for the slow adult). They tell you to slow down. Sometimes of course, kids are going too fast, but if they can handle it, let them go at their own pace. If it seems not to be working, consider if you are trying to teach them using a method too slow for a kid with a fast processor.

What makes you think that a car that runs at fuel injector speeds, can run in a healthy manner using a carburetor? Well, you see what I'm saying anyway, right?

Getting back to Peter's article, in it he says:

"To me, the idea that mathematicians, artists and chess players think in words while they are working productively is preposterous."

Interesting. He goes on to say:

"I’ve found that I can reduce unnecessary sub-vocalization in daily life just by making a point of not thinking in words. It is my impression that anyone can improve their NVT, but it takes time and effort; on the other hand, presumably, anyone can lose NVT by sloppy thinking."

Interesting article. He has a good point. How many years were humans non verbal? Language has developed our brains in a certain way, certainly, but the basis was non verbal. So, if we allow that to work, now, what happens?

I like the concept on a TED video I saw about our minds using a kind of photo indexing system, or even video, or more so, perhaps, 3D image indexing inter relationships, rather than a FAT (File Allocation Table) type format to allocate and track our compartmentalization of data. A FAT type table tracks the beginning and end of a file on your hard drive, and if it's fragmented, spread all over the disk, it tracks where all parts of it are, so you can access the entire file without having to realize it's in pieces all over the place.

As for 3D indexing, think holographic indexing, perhaps. It's on the order of what I'm talking about, anyway. Still, it's too simplistic, but you get the idea.
Computer memory hardware "bit", 0 or 1, on or off
If every image in your mind is 3D, or "video" in nature, or video 3D, a streaming one second slice of that stored moment, then every element possible to consider is stored in relation to that "experience". So, you are indexing not just by word, image, temporal slice, but the overall consideration of  that, EAT "Experience Allocation Table". Then by "lighting up" different matrices in your brain, you can access these, which lends itself to this kind of thing; in a computer, it uses more basic indexing as a grouping of various hardwired junctions using "on or off" bits, 1's and 0's. The difference between the two concepts is light years apart in complexity.

If, rather than using words to categorize our thoughts, to store and access data, what if we use a rich image related to the event, then each element within that frame becomes a search element. Think of the depth of storage and retrieval we must be capable of.

I've always had trouble with retrieval in my own thought indexing. It is slow. Why? Well there may be many reasons, and many of those may be physical. But I wonder.

We have two basic ways to access memory: retrieval and recognition. But I discovered early on that I am incredibly good at recognition and creation, but not so good at retrieval and association. So it can take me a while to fully remember something.

When, let's say, I see a face I've seen before, I recognize it instantly. But attributing it to its history in my memory, and extracting that data, takes me a while. So I've learned how to make that work for me in life. Basically, I'm very good at creating but not so good at regurgitating information. I'm just very good at generating as I go. And so I'm good at writing, composing articles and stories. The funny thing about that is that as I'm creating, I'm drawing indirectly, vast amounts of information, but more in an image index than a word index. If you follow what I'm saying.

If you want to learn something, learn it in those two formats. When I started college, one of my first classes was Physics / Chemistry, as they are basically the same in their beginnings, I had to learn the entire periodic table. So I wrote two programs. One to help me recognize, another to help me recall or retrieve.

Basically, one program showed me an element and I had to recognize it and recall what its properties were. The other program, required me to type in, to recall the properties, to retrieve information, which I find more difficult. But with time and repetition, it's doable; see that is usually the issue. I can do it, it just takes me a long time to remember, which appears as dysfunctional.

So, I learned it all in a week, far faster than anyone else in class, and with better memorization. One of the students said I cheated by using a computer, but all we had to do was learn it, so I don't know how it was cheating. Then someone pointed out, my lab partner, very cute girl (after getting together, getting a college degree, then breaking up), she pointed out that I had first had to design and write a computer program to be able to "cheat". The others thought about that and then all agreed they had to give me that much. This was back when few people anywhere had a PC at home.

Now, Peter ends his article with this:

"I would like to see more awareness of NVT to save other people the learning curve and to improve the overall level of cognition and reasoning (wow!)."

What he's saying is that this all sounds rather intimidating, high level functioning, genius level stuff. But, it's not. Anyone can do this. You just have to understand what you are doing. Though it helps to understand how your own personal brain works, how your mind best functions, for you.

Once you realize you don't have to "hear" words in your head, you're way ahead of the game. It takes a little effort, but I believe almost anyone can do it, if they really want to.

When I started college, the first class I took, was study skills. I never took a more important class. I came to realize that my understanding of how to study was wrong and  for the first time, learned how I could learn and retain information in a way useful to me in an academic environment. Since college throws things at you faster than you need it, that was no longer at issue. Learning was still difficult, in a classical type or academic environment, but you learn to adapt.

Sometimes, all it takes is being given the right information for the task at hand. We just need to have the information about how to do what we need to do and, they simply don't tend to teach that to you in school.

But in this information, that I'm giving to you today, gives you enough information so that you can go look it up yourself, and change your life. If you want to.

And if you do, let 'er rip!

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