blind to nuance, alive to detailsramble

November 17, 2011

New navel-gazing, the latest in a search for a KUT (Kirk Unified Theory):

I have a very good memory for certain details I find "interesting", but also a disdain for, or at least disinterest in, other types of nuance.

I think the details that interest me, that have hooks my memory can grab onto, are the things that describe how an object interacts with other objects. Previously, I've seen this as appreciating the verbs of something over nouns. (Recently on my tech blog I put the implication for this in my work as "People and computers should be judged by what they do, not by what (you think) they are.")

In this world view, a nuance that's only a quantitative and not qualitative difference doesn't matter all that much. But of course there are shades of gray: The difference between two admittedly similar fonts, say, Arial vs Helvetica, will never matter to me, but I can appreciate how two radically differently weighted fonts will look different when piled up into a body of text. Eventually the quantitative changes add up, it changes how the object interacts with other systems, and that's how a qualitative change is born.

(A bit of weirdness is how a measurement is some usually a form of interaction. I think this might be why I better thinking about things that have a quantitative hook, it's clear how the thing interacted with the measuring system. When I gain or lose weight, I might notice pants or shirts are tighter or looser, but I never look that different to myself. So I depend on a scale to keep me on track, because otherwise I have no idea; degrees of chubbiness are a non-interactive nuance.)

I saw this in school a lot: classes where you had to learn a few basic ideas and then apply them in real time, I did well in. Physics, I was fine in; 4 or 5 equations explain so much. Chemistry I struggled with, there was just so much to know. Foreign languages were disasters. Math up until Calculus was easy but then suddenly there were SO MANY equations you just had to know... History classes were a seeming exception. I would have guessed they were full of dates and names to remember, but I think now since there were hooks and anecdotes about what the people did, or how they interacted, I was pretty good at it.


Lately I've begun to think that my difficulty remembering faces is part of this. A curve of cheek or a shape of nose is hard for me to remember because there's no interaction there, it doesn't change how people or things interact with it (until you get into the extremes of beauty or ugliness.)

This feeling of separating the sheep of details from the goats of nuance shapes how I read as well. I read at a breakneck, almost skimming, pace, but then I have time to go back and jump to the difficult or important parts. (This was a hugely valuable skill for many Standardized Tests.) Conversely, it is INSANELY difficult for me to take in spoken words in real time, like with simple directions, or even somebody spelling a word out loud. (Seriously, I hate when somebody thinks they're helping me by spelling something out loud, I get lost after the second or third letter.)

I NEED things written down... not because I think in pictures, but because I think in interactions. Come to think of it, words ARE better at describing interactions than pictures! It makes me think that labels like "thinks in words" need to be more specific... I don't remember seeing categories of learning or thinking style that quite get the noun/verb, interaction-centric system that I now see is so crucial to understanding where I'm good and where I'm bad at coping with the world.

(Another wacky anecdote, where I can see my thinking is verbal, but not audio or visual: spelling. I'm OK at remembering the spelling of words in terms of the consonants, but once it's a blend of vowels, forget it. If it doesn't come out in how I say it, I'm not going to remember what it looks like on the page. Amber had to learn that it wasn't just my usual laziness or a lack of attentiveness that was causing so many typos... she knows at a glance that a word is spelled wrong -- I think the hook is visual for her -- while it is physically much harder for me to get the vowels right because of no mouth-interactive consonants to grab onto.)
I think of the iPhone (and before that the PalmPilot) as an almost literal extension of my brain. Kinda funny how I can go ahead and look at a bit-o-brain.
"It's a fast paced, complicated world, baby.
Understand something or have an opinion on it.
There's no time for both."
--A Softer World