No Matter What Pinterest Tells You, Humans Are Not Visual Creatures

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Little Timmy stood within the white walls of the test lab where three overworked and underslept college students poked and prodded him with wires. He didn’t enjoy that process, but it wasn’t so bad. He was going to McDonald’s later so it was #worth. The underenthusiastic and overreaching college students showed him a screen with numbers from 1 to 15, in random positions on the screen, flashing for a second and then turning black. Timmy was tasked to identify where the numbers had been and what the number was. He had been able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the number 4 in the top right corner, so he pointed that out to the underpaid and underfunded college students. They hmm’d and ahh’d and noted down their findings with scribbly handwriting. This was a good study, they thought. Turns out they thought wrong, because they didn’t have a control group.
Most of us, when put in Little Timmy’s position would falter and fumble when presented with a similar situation. We can identify information; we can look at a fence for a second and tell approximately how old it is based on how the paint has chipped, and we can look at mountains and surmise that they indeed, are tall. But what humans struggle  with is taking in a whole lot of information at once. Listen to a song once and you won’t remember the lyrics, but listen to it fifty times and unless it’s Alt-J or Radiohead you’ll probably understand a few words and be able to place them in your memory bag.

Will somebody please cheer him up?

When setting up Pinterest accounts or trying to optimise websites for imaginary robots crawling through your pages, people tell you to keep in mind that humans are “visual creatures.” I don’t think they are.
Humans are the least visual creature in the animal kingdom. Well, except for animals that are literaly blind, and plants because they can’t see. And a lot of other animals that are counted out for the nature of their being. And also animals who are many times stupider than humans like Dodos and California Turkeys, who were literally too stupid to survive. So basically pretty much every animal is not counted in my statement where I say ‘Humans are the least visual creatures in the animal kingdom.’ But pretend this isn’t a parliamentary debate and allow me to make my point.

That gif was on the front page of reddit and it’s what forms the basis of this post, mostly. Aside from the fact that chimps are amazing at remembering positions once they’re taught the concept of numbers, a lot of animals exhibit remarkable mental fortitude in various tasks. Crows remember the faces of pretty much every person they see, so they know exactly whose head to peck on when they inevitably formulate a grudge. Birds and flies and bees can see identify millions more colours than us because it helps them tell which flowers are the prettiest. And there are probably animals aside from elephants that have insanely long memories, just by statistical probability, and if not that then because of the fact that remembering things is probably a useful trait to have evolved in a world where many things can eat and kill you.

Humans are decidedly non-visual creatures. We can do derivatives and integrate imaginary constructs called numbers to slingshot robots to pluto – centuries worth of human time would have been spent doing the required mathematics for that to be possible. Centuries worth of time would have been spent refining the English language to the point where Shakespeare could write plays with it while inventing words such as ‘scuffle’ and ‘marketable’. I’m sure if you give a chimp an infinity to create the complete works of Shakespeare, it’d just try to eat it, atleast that’s how I imagine it would go. We can enter a trance listening to a man half a planet away create interference in a copper wound magnet by plucking a few strings. We can spend hours reading a book without any pictures; just soaking in knowledge from swiggly lines invented by old men hundreds of years ago that is somehow able to communicate almost the full range of the human experience. That’s like the opposite of visual.

Literally what humans invented in their free time

If we were truly visual you wouldn’t be reading this, you’d be watching it on a piece of paper with moving pictures. Oh wait… That seems to be very close to reality. Nevermind, I guess we are visual creatures after all. We just haven’t had the technology to replace squiggly lines and imaginary numerical constructs with tumblr gifs and Friends reruns.

Follow Upamanyu Acharya:

IIM Ahmedabad MBA 2021. My hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is my personal blog where I write on topics ranging from blockchain, to leadership skills and the consistency of jam.

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