Orhan Pamuk in his book “The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist” (I have bought polish translation in a cut-price bookstore in Krakow) writes about verbal and visual imagination. He proposes a simple exercise:
Let’s close our eyes for a moment, focus on a subject, and allow a thought to form in our mind. Then let’s open our eyes and ask ourselves: As we were thinking, what passed through our mind – words or images? The answer can be either, or both. We feel that sometimes we think in word, and sometimes in images. Often we switch from one to the other.
Pamuk says that what kind of those two imaginations we use depends on the writer and the book we read. For example, Homer is a visual writer for him, and Dostoyevsky is verbal.
I think it is not only a question of the text you read. It also depends to a great degree on how your mind prefers to work. A reader himself can be more verbal or more visual.
This dichotomy – visual/verbal – is something different than the old concept of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. The theory of learning styles is wrong. Several pieces of research proved that we all are multimodal, we learn best addressing with both visual, auditory and kinesthetic areas of our mind.
Verbal does not mean auditory. It does not mean you have to hear voices. It rather means thinking in a more abstract, conceptual, more textual way or a flat way (sometimes).
I have the feeling that for me, thinking in words is easier than thinking with images. Sometimes to see an image, I have to force myself. It is not always easy. When I read a novel very rarely I know how characters look, how rooms are furnished or what scenery is outside the window (even if this a boo by “visual” writer).
But visual imagination is necessary when it concerns learning. When you are learning you have to be visual. You have to put your imagination to work. Without it, it’s very hard to remember new words, ideas or sentences.
For example, yesterday I was learning a new word: jaundice. I have tried to remember it means jealous or envy. It was hard to remember until I found that it also means an illness that makes skin and eyes yellow. I saw an image: man yellow from jealousy. Even though the image was not an example of a good mnemonic, the simple use of imagination was of great help to assimilate the word.