Thinking Like Einstein: Returning to Our Visual Roots with the Emerging Revolution in Computer Information Visualization

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Overview

Albert Einstein once said that all of his most important and productive thinking was done by playing with images in his imagination. Only in a secondary stage did he translate — with great effort, he says — these images into the language of words and mathematics that could be understood by others.
According to Thomas G. West, Einstein was a classic example of a strong visual thinker, a person who tends to think in images and visual patterns, and sometimes has difficulty with words and numbers. In his awarding-winning book, In the Mind’s Eye, West discussed the connections between highly talented, visually oriented persons like Einstein and certain learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Now, in Thinking Like Einstein, West investigates the new worlds of visual thinking, insight, and creativity made possible by computer graphics and information visualization technologies. He argues that, with the rapid spread of inexpensive and powerful computers, we are now at the beginning of a major transition, moving from an old world based mainly on words and numbers to a new world where high level work in all fields will eventually involve insights based on the display and manipulation of complex information using moving computer images.
West profiles several highly creative visual thinkers, such as James Clerk Maxwell, Nikola Tesla, and Richard Feynman, pointing out that there is a long history of using visualization rather than words or numbers to solve problems. Citing the longstanding historical conflicts between image lovers and image haters, West examines the relationship of art, scientific knowledge, and differences in brain capabilities - observing how modern visual thinkers with visualization technologies seem to have learned how to cut through the problems of overspecialization in academia and in the workplace.
West predicts that computer visualization technology will radically change the way we all work and think. For thousands of years the technology of writing and reading has tended to promote the dominance of the left hemisphere of the brain, with its linear processing of words and numbers. Now the spread of graphical computer technologies is permitting a return to our visual roots with a new balance between hemispheres and ways of thinking - presenting new opportunities for problem solving and big picture thinking. Thus, he argues that the newest technologies will help us to reaffirm some of our oldest capabilities, allowing us to see previously unseen patterns and to restore a balance in thought and action.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Salter Reynolds
"There is increasing evidence,' writes Thomas G. West, . . . 'that many highly original and productive thinkers have clearly preferred visual over verbal modes of thought.' West argues that our traditional letter- and-number-based education . . .. has changed little from that of the medieval clerks. 'Written language is a technology,' he claims, and technologies change: '[T]he kind of brain that lends itself poorly to an old technology may be just what is wanted with a new technology.' West doesn't mean television and other information-poor screen-based technologies; he means the visual literacy of patterns and the creative use of computer graphics, which, he argues, will put an end to the tiresome, age-old tension between word and image. Computers in the classroom, he writes, allow students to 'move rapidly on to high-level conceptual matters and a variety of practical problems,' as opposed to such old-fashioned exercises as calculus sets and memorization. These are path-breaking essays. . . . "
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 12, 2004, p. R11
J. J. Accardi
"Drawing on a series of columns that he wrote for Computer Graphics magazine, West . . . postulates that we are on the verge of a new era of visually based thinking that will replace traditional word- and number-based modes of teaching and learning. He is quick to point out that this world of visual imaging is quite different from ubiquitous television images comprising low information content and no interaction, citing as classic examples Albert Einstein as well as some contemporary pioneers in the forefront of visualization technologies. West explains how these individuals are working to infuse visualization technologies into education and business. This is not a how-to book like Michael Gelb's How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, another visual thinker, but instead a persuasive, provocative argument for the societal benefits of visual thinking. Recommended for all computer science collections."
Library Journal, vol. 129, no. 16, October 1, 2004
James F. Blinn
"This book is a fascinating look at the history of the relationship between logical and visual thinking. There are aspects to this history that are both frightening and encouraging, and, with the current pendulum swing back toward visualization as a respectable thinking tool, it provides an important guide to what has been done before and what can be done in the future."
Graphics Fellow at Microsoft Research; Columnist for IEEE Computer Graphics; MacArthur Fellow; Recipient of the SIGGRAPH Achievement Award and the Stephen Coons Award
Library Journal
Drawing on a series of columns that he wrote for Computer Graphics magazine, West (director, Ctr. for Dyslexia & Talent, Krasnow Inst. for Advanced Study) postulates that we are on the verge of a new era of visually based thinking that will replace traditional, word- and number-based modes of teaching and learning. He is quick to point out that this world of visual imaging is quite different from ubiquitous television images comprising low information content and no interaction, citing as classic examples Albert Einstein as well as some contemporary pioneers in the forefront of visualization technologies. West explains how these individuals are working to infuse visualization technologies into education and business. This is not a how-to book like Michael Gelb's How To Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, another visual thinker, but instead a persuasive, provocative argument for the societal benefits of visual thinking. Recommended for all computer science collections.-Joe J. Accardi, William Rainey Harper Coll. Lib., Palatine, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591022510
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 10/25/2004
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

homas G. West is a writer, lecturer and consultant based in Washington, DC. In connection with In the Mind’s Eye, he has been invited to provide over 200 presentations, interviews and documentary segments for computer, business, education, art, design, scientific and medical groups in the U.S. and fourteen countries overseas.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 11
1 Forward into the past : a revival of old visual talents with computer visualization 25
2 Thinking like Einstein on the hokule'a : visual thinking through time 39
3 Visual thinkers and Nobel prizes 45
4 Word-bound : the power of seeing 53
5 When the world plague was stopped by a digital artist 59
6 Smashing images 65
7 Is visualization no longer a "new new thing"? 77
8 Talk less, draw more 83
9 Unintended, unexpected consequences 89
10 Artist discoveries and graphical histories 95
11 Transforming spheres - in three parts 101
12 Making all things make themselves 109
13 Enormous eyes and tiny grasping hands 113
14 Brain drain : reconsidering spatial ability 119
15 Knowing what you don't need to know 125
16 Feynman diagrams, spreading illusions 133
17 Missed opportunities and cheap tools 139
18 James Clerk Maxwell, working in wet clay 147
19 Digital artist as hero 155
20 Is a visualization language possible? 161
21 Following the gifts : art, visual talent, and troubles with words 167
22 Nikola Tesla and thinking in pictures 175
23 Seeing the unseen : concluding remarks 187
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