Currently Pondering...

1. There is a double association between the skills that high-IQ people with nonverbal learning disabilities do well and the skills that low-IQ savants can do. On the one hand are explicit skills that are either fundamentally verbal, or symbolic and easily verbalizable (like the skills learned in an English class or explicit deductive reasoning, for instance). On the other hand are implicit musical, artistic, spatial, time perception, arithmetic calculation, calendar calculation, or size estimation skills.

Why this division? Why do some skills go together and not others? Why is it that among gifted students who took the SAT, almost all were strongly skewed in favor of either verbal or math, and very few were equally good at both? There has to be a brain basis for why some of these skills go together, but not others, and why these tendencies to math-spatial or verbal skills tend to appear at an early age.

2. The key has got to be in the parietal lobe, at least regarding the nonverbal functions. Spatial, attentional, time-related, magnitude, size estimation, mental rotation, and such skills have all been associated with the parietal lobe, often with great overlaps in the regions activated (Sound familiar? These are pretty similar skills to the ones where savants excel). In general, similar types of computation tend to be performed near each other, so these various nonverbal functions should overlap in space because of some overlap in function.

3. What is that functional overlap, though? What exactly are all these component processes in the parietal lobe that so much resemble savant skills/nonverbal learning disability deficits, and what computations do they all have in common? Why are they all centered in the parietal lobe? Do they tend to be wiped out together in cases of brain damage because they're all next to each other, because they're functionally related in a network, or both? (Presumably both, as functionally similar areas tend to be located near each other, but it's not a given).

4. What makes some people develop strengths in nonverbal parietal-centered abilities and others develop weaknesses? (One would probably have to do a longitudinal study where people with nonverbal learning disability are matched with typical people on verbal IQ, and savants are matched with typical people on nonverbal IQ, and all three are compared both behaviorally and with neuroimaging).

5. It's pretty clear that to understand nonverbal strengths and weaknesses, we need to look to the parietal lobe. But what about verbal abilities (the language network seems to be distributed all over the brain, with short-range connections diminishing and long-range connections increasing over development)? There may be parietal involvement here too, as a parietal region is involved with integrating phonology and orthography, and the parietal lobe is considered part of a network relevant for (explicit) intelligence of the sort measured on IQ tests (the P-FIT model). My guess is verbal abilities are probably more distributed in location than nonverbal ones, and explicit IQ even more so, but why should that be? And again, what would that say about the relationship between verbal and nonverbal ability, and why they so often trade off?

Not an easy set of questions to answer, as the parietal lobe is full of areas that activate for many different kinds of tasks, with very subtle differences between coordinates and lots of room for differences of interpretation. One really needs to compare across experiments to understand what's going on, but that requires comparing not only hard to visualize coordinates (in different numbering systems), but also procedures and statistical thresholds...not to mention, taking into account the overall task-related network in which each activated region appears...in short, information overload. So, in spite of finding, and starting to work my way through, a bunch of fascinating papers on the parietal lobe and its functions, I haven't made much progress on thinking through these questions.

Also, these questions (and the reading I would need to do to address them) have only the most tangential relationship to my homework, which I should really be doing instead...


  1. I don't have any neurological explanations, just some information from life.

    When I have trouble putting things into words, what ususally happens is that i can see the whole situation (It's a dwelling place with a roof and walls, but they're not very good at keeping out cold, they're too thin, so maybe they don't count. And it's a particular color of green with a tree.) And trying to strip it down and down some more into the right combination of letters. House. And what words should go along with it to add some of that back? Green house? Or is it more of a shack?

    Whereas I know someone who is really good with words but sees things as almost mathematical "types".

    So I think that there are some people who look at something and find out what "type" it is and use that. And some people who see the complicated knot. But the complicated knot is better at some things and the "type" at others, language, math/logic etc. But the knot is seeing how it relates to the situation around the "house". What the shape "does". How rectangular rroms make good places for rectangular furniture, but make people feel certain ways.

    Of course things are a little complicated - there's people on th edge, or having one kind of thinking in one sense and a different kind in another. Or something completely different. The diversity of people won't fit neatly in any two boxes.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment! It gave me a lot to think about.

    The way you talk about your thinking reminds me of what Temple Grandin says in Thinking in Pictures. What do you think, am I understanding you okay?
    Are you saying maybe people who are good at thinking in words might not picture anything at all, but if they do, it's whatever all houses have in common? (Instead of picturing a particular house, they'll picture the general shape of something with a roof, walls, a door, maybe a chimney or a garage, as I do)?

    Meanwhile, people who are good at nonverbal thinking usually picture things? Maybe they'll imagine particular houses they've seen (like Temple Grandin does)? Or sort of a composite house with a particular kind of roof they tend to see a lot, particular kind of walls they see a lot, and a particular kind of door they see a lot? (This is much more detail than what I see, which is like a silhouette or a child's drawing of something with a roof, walls, and a door).
    Also, if seeing a "knot" lets you figure out contextual/association things like how people feel in rectangular rooms, it seems like it'd be ideal for understanding other people. You'd think Temple Grandin would be a social genius, then! :D Why do you think people who think in "types" and people who think in "knots" can both have trouble understanding other people?

  3. Hey, It's actually been very good meeting you. It took a while to respond, I know.

    First off, I don't agree with everything Temple Grandin says, in fact I disagree with a lot.

    "You'd think Temple Grandin would be a social genius, then! :D Why do you think people who think in "types" and people who think in "knots" can both have trouble understanding other people?"
    Yes, both kinds can have trouble understanding others, especially eachother, and both can understand other people quite well too. And Temple Grandin herself saw a group of people who had emotions and social selves, and saw that they were in pain and fear for most of their lives and acted to FIX THAT and comfort them. That they were cows and horses seems to make the situation go over many people's heads, though. I don't know why humans put this huge gap there between humans and other complex animals.

    But both kinds can have big troubles understanding each other, because it's pretty simple to use the golden rule and harder to understand what would someone else who's a person but different than me want?

    And in the society we live in it's even harder because we're taught to think that everybody is the same, except for "broken" versions of Normal People,and when reality starts to happen and we meet people who ARE obviously different, then there's all sorts of stuff about how certain types of people are "socially or emotionally broken". Is any kind of communication going to get by in a biased environment like that? No.

    And secondly, about "knot" thinkers, yeah, it's more a bunch of houses, then I figure out what they generally share in a few minutes and focus more on that, but in reality it isn't usually like that because I'm looking at some actual thing that is a "house" and also "green" and lots of other things, but also it's own unique "Thingness", and "house" isn't the first thing that comes into mind at all. And if it's in something I'm reading, there's a lot of other words around it and I read those too, until I see what it is. Execpt visual is only one part.

    It was cool to read about your way, too.

    But I don't think those are the only ways people can be, I think there are lots of other ways, too, but these are the ones we're talking about.

  4. Nice to meet you too, & thanks for the fascinating comments! It's OK, I've been busy & I bet you have, too.

    What do you disagree with Temple Grandin about?

    When I asked about her, I was actually asking if the way you "thought visually" was much like the way she "thinks in pictures," because you describe your thinking in a similar-sounding way. But, not wanting to presume, I was unclear!

    Yeah...it struck me reading her book that Temple empathizes with animals the way NTs empathize with other people, & NTs really don't get animals the way she does. It made me think about the limitations of the autism diagnosis, since it only captures how she relates to people, not animals.

    Here's a guess about why we put such a gulf between ourselves & other animals. How do we know other people have minds, if we can't directly experience them? We can observe the similarity between our behavior & theirs, and infer that similar causes, like thoughts and feelings, must produce both. So the more similar something is to us, the more confident we are it has a mind. Plus, we can talk, so we can always ask people about their experiences. Animals behave differently; they don't talk, use symbols or engage in politics & religion, as far as we know. Furthermore, we can't ask them what they think & feel.

    Also, some people assign more value to thinking than feeling. Animals seem to have most of the emotions we do, & feel them just as strongly, but don't seem to think as complexly or abstractly. I guess some people think the differences in thinking are more important than the similar emotions.

    "it's pretty simple to use the golden rule and harder to understand what would someone else who's a person but different than me want"
    Yeah! Also, when people use different mental languages that follow different rules, it's hard to communicate how they want to be treated. (So if I accidentally say something offensive or confusing, please tell me!)

    The way people don't accept differences angers me, too! If a person has keener senses or more intense emotions than average, they hear, "stop being so sensitive." (I've heard this one a LOT; have you?) I don't know much about people with blunted senses or emotions, but I bet people give them a hard time, too. If people have more social motivation than others (as in Williams Syndrome), that's treated as a pathological distraction, and given a psych jargon term which I forget. But if they seem to have less social motivation (as in autism), that's seen as a deficiency to fix.

    You're right. How can I communicate with someone who thinks I'm broken & have nothing of value to say? (Sadly, I've been both judger & judgee--working on being less judgmental, though). I've often wondered how many people with autism symptoms could connect better if they'd ever experienced empathetic behavior themselves?

    Interesting! If "house" isn't the first thing that comes to mind, what is, usually? If visual is only one part, does that mean you can smell the house or hear its floorboards creak, too?

    You're right, we've been lumping verbal with abstract, general concepts & visual with specific ones, haven't we? What other ways of thinking do you know?

    Sorry this was such a long reply. Consider it a replacement for the replies I forgot to send on livejournal. ;)