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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2022 - Winter 2023)

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Temple Grandin redefines human consciousness

By Robb Scott, Co-Editor of C2C Digital Magazine and Editor - Multilingual Adaptive Systems Newsletter

Figure 1.  Research (by Gam-Ol on Pixabay)

In her new book, Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions (2022), Dr. Temple Grandin expresses concerns regarding the dominance of verbal thinking and the limited range of thought represented by "sequential and linear verbal thinkers [who] tend to comprehend things in order, which is why they often do well in school, where learning is mostly structured sequentially" (p. 10).

The dominant role of verbal thinking

She writes:  

Verbal thinkers are the kids with perfectly organized binders and the adults whose computer desktops have neat rows of folders for every project. Verbal thinkers are good at explaining the steps they take to arrive at an answer or to make a decision. Verbal thinkers talk to themselves silently, also known as self-talk, to organize their world. Verbal thinkers easily dash off emails, make presentations. They talk early and often. By default, verbal people tend to be the ones who dominate conversations, and are hyper-organized and social. (p. 10)

Object visualizers

Grandin contrasts verbal thinkers to "visual thinkers [who] see images in their mind's eye that allow them to make rapid-fire associations" (p. 10).  She writes: 

Generally, visual thinkers like maps, art, and mazes, and often don't need directions at all. Some visual thinkers can easily locate a place they've been to only once, their internal GPS having logged the visual landmarks. Visual thinkers tend to be late talkers who struggle with school and traditional teaching methods. Algebra is often their undoing, because the concepts are too abstract, with little or nothing concrete to visualize. Visual thinkers tend to be good at arithmetic that is directly related to practical tasks, such as building and putting things together. Visual thinkers...easily grasp how mechanical devices work or enjoy figuring them out. [They] tend to be problem solvers, and sometimes appear to be socially awkward. (pp. 10-11)

Making K-12 education more practical

Grandin believes current educational practices in America largely leave out more practical, constructive activities that visual thinkers -- and all learners -- would greatly benefit from, and she suggests that this shortcoming in K-12 curricula is weakening American ingenuity and poses risks and dangers for our economy because important machines based on key technological advances are no longer being made in the U.S., nor are fully understood by today's American engineers since those with valuable visual thinking capacities are largely neglected within an educational system that places too much emphasis on abstract thinking skills.

Figure 2.  Cogwheel (by Pavlofox on Pixabay)

The real costs of leaving out visual thinking skills

According to Grandin, the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 resulted from production-line cost-saving measures associated with retrofitting fuel-efficient engines as well as a failure to integrate a back-up airspeed sensor and pilot training for countering the computer malfunction that falsely was indicating a stall angle-of-attack configuration.

Successful teams require a variety of skill sets

Figure 3.  Successful Teams (by GraphicMama-team on Pixabay)

Grandin also analyzes the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, suggesting that "clever engineers" with spatial visual thinking abilities, working together with object-based visual thinkers like herself, may have been able to predict the need to build that energy plant on higher ground where it would have been protected from tsunami waves, or even using water-tight containment technology to preclude the flooding that worsened this event.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., on Visual Thinking
(from the Family Action Network)
October 23, 2022

Imagining the what-ifs

Figure 4.  Tsunami Wave (by WikiImages on Pixabay)

She writes:

This is where verbal thinkers can overthink things. To my mind, as a visual thinker and designer, it's not that complicated. Had the engineers at F1 been able to see the probability of a massive tsunami, they would likely have installed waterproof compartments in the basement. Perhaps they wouldn't have put the diesel generators and emergency batteries in the basement, or maybe they would have built on a higher elevation to begin with. In both the Boeing and Fukushima accidents, I see it: the single sensor breaking, or water coming over the top of the seawalls. (p. 227)

Is consciousness only for humans?

One of the most interesting chapters in Grandin's new book concerns her insights regarding what our awareness of visual thinking can mean for our understanding of non-verbal consciousness and potentially increasing our sense of kinship with and respect for the emotional capacities of fellow members of the animal kingdom.

Preventing vulnerabilities in internet-based technologies

Nevertheless, the greatest social benefit likely to be developed as a result of Grandin's primary thesis is in her ideas for safeguarding the energy grids and technological aspects of our modern world.

Figure 5.  Solar Panels (by JoseMalagonArenas on Pixabay)

In the future, the most dangerous hacks will be those that deliberately sabotage industrial processes. Some examples include disabling electric power generators, opening water spillway gates on dams by manipulating critical valves, and causing oil refineries to explode. To prevent such disasters, we must also have noncomputerized controls to shut off critical equipment if a rogue computer message instructs it to spin too fast, get too hot, or operate with excessive pressure. These controls would be hacker-proof because they would have no internet-connected component that would leave them susceptible to hacks. In my mind's eye, I can visualize the systems and the hacker-proof controls. I see round metal gauges with needles, like the old rpm meter in a car. Each gauge face has a clearly marked red-colored danger zone. When the needle enters the red zone, the equipment shuts down. I'm not a Luddite, but our vulnerable electrical power grid has me lying awake at night.  (pp. 228-229)

Figure 6.  Speedometer (by Clker-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay)

About the Author

Robb Scott retired as a teacher educator and special education expert in 2020 after a cross-cultural career that included middle school, high school, community college, university, and adult-education settings in Ecuador, Kansas, Colorado, New York, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. His most recent book, Teaching Content: Skill-Building in Inclusive Contexts, was published in 2022. He was interviewed on a Leading Equity podcast in summer of 2022, and is currently working on a middle and high school English language arts curriculum project in Colorado.

His e-mail is
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