An eminent psychologist offers a major new theory of human cognition: movement, not language, is the foundation of thought.
When we try to think about how we think, we can’t help but think of words. Indeed, some have called language the stuff of thought. But pictures are remembered far better than words, and describing faces, scenes, and events defies words. Anytime you take a shortcut or play chess or basketball or rearrange your furniture in your mind, you’ve done something remarkable: abstract thinking without words.
In Mind in Motion, psychologist Barbara Tversky shows that spatial cognition isn’t just a peripheral aspect of thought, but its very foundation, enabling us to draw meaning from our bodies and their actions in the world. Our actions in real space get turned into mental actions on thought, often spouting spontaneously from our bodies as gestures. Spatial thinking underlies creating and using maps, assembling furniture, devising football strategies, designing airports, understanding the flow of people, traffic, water, and ideas. Spatial thinking even underlies the structure and meaning of language: why we say we push ideas forward or tear them apart, why we’re feeling up or have grown far apart.
In this dialogue Dr. Tversky and Dr. Shermer discuss:
her new theory of cognition, in detail, with examples what is a thought? what did humans think about before language? what do babies, chimpanzees, and dogs think about without language? how will far future humans think if their language is completely different from ours? if you had to warn humans 10,000 years from now not to open a container of nuclear waste, what symbols would you use? gender differences in spatial reasoning why there are not more women programmers in particular and women in tech in general I.Q. tests, intelligence, and why thinking is so much more than what these tests capture.