January 17, 2006

How do you think?

Apparently I'm quite strange in the way I think – I never thought it was until I mentioned it in a Revelation rehearsal and after it, getting asked lots of questions by the pyschologists in the room, so…

does anyone see subtitles when people talk? (I can't really say whether the subtitles are a particular colour but they do include punctuation and sometimes have pictures above the words.)

In most of my life it comes in useful. For example, I tend to remember what people say word-for-word and freak people like Jill out when I remember conversations or blog entries from over a year ago, and usually the subtitles rubberstamp over the surroundings of the conversation.

However, and this is where it falls down:

  • I find it really hard to understand play-on-word jokes and to understand foreign languages as my head automatically spells words as I hear them in English.
  • It's also hard to understand maths lectures when lecturers talk about symbols by spoken words, divide, psi, alpha etc. as I have to 'translate' them in my head to the specific letters.
  • I can't follow lecturers who ramble with never-ending sentences as my subtitles buffer until a full stop is 'heard'.
  • I can't make sense of song lyrics unless they are written down

And yes, I do have to watch TV (esp. West Wing) with subtitles, and if I'm reading and someone else is talking, either one gets ignored or subtitles overlay!

So, does anyone think like me, or am I just an oddity?


- 23 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Steve Rumsby

    You're just odd, Ali:-)

    On the other hand, when I read emails from people I know very well, I hear them being read in the sender's voice, accents and all. Is that odd, too?

    17 Jan 2006, 15:58

  2. To me it is – I can't hear voices, pitches or accents in my head! When I 'hear' music in my head, I see the sheet music, lyrics or (if it's a Rev song that I've never seen written down) people singing it!

    17 Jan 2006, 16:03

  3. I have the voice thing too! It's amazing! I don't have the subtitles, but it's fun blurring your subtitles by having different conversations and have the music on at the same time!

    17 Jan 2006, 16:13

  4. Yes, I know you find it amusing, but it really does confuse me! Although, to get the facts right, they don't ever blur, they either interject or don't appear at all until I've finished doing whatever thing I was concentrating on!

    17 Jan 2006, 16:17

  5. Like on TV with live subtitling? And then there are lots of spelling errors in it?

    17 Jan 2006, 16:23

  6. Yes – but without the spelling errors, just more gaps where words should be!

    17 Jan 2006, 16:26

  7. You're not an oddity: look =>

    In last week's programme we responded to an enquiry from a listener who sees words as she listens to them, and wondered whether other people shared her experience. This week, many of you wanted to add your thoughts and experiences, so we put together some of your feedback, and asked synaesthesia expert, Dr James Ward of University College London to explain further.

    I heard all about this on Dr Raj Persaud's R4 programme All in the Mind, it's called synaesthesia!

    See how special you are! YOu can listen to the programme here: link

    17 Jan 2006, 16:44

  8. oooh – how exciting – I'm 'special' – although I don't get colours at all so I think I must be a weird case of it. I did a BBC Online test entitled Do you see what I see? last weekend, however I found that I could do the things that only a small percentage of the population could do e.g find shapes of 2's in a grid of 2's and 5's, but couldn't do the bits that most people could do – like assign colours to numbers, words or letters.
    Interestingly, I made my boyfriend do it, and he was the complete opposite of me!

    17 Jan 2006, 17:00

  9. Special is a good way to look at it. On the other hand, perhaps you could change the subject of your PhD and start studying yourself!

    17 Jan 2006, 17:13

  10. Well, in a way I am. My title at the moment is: "Thinking online: Rates of participation in U.K Higher Education institutions". I suppose I find it easier to 'think online' as it leaves one step of my thought process out.

    17 Jan 2006, 17:19

  11. Hehe. I try and have the subtitles of stuff on most of the time, mostly cos people tend to talk to me and I can't listen to two things at once.

    I don't tend to think in subtitles though.

    That's kind of cool.

    :)

    17 Jan 2006, 20:46

  12. After a search on Google – I've found one person who sees subtitles like me!

    I also found out that people with synaesthesia tend to see number lines and sequences in their heads like me and have a poor sense of direction – so to the people who've got lost in a car whilst I've been driving – it's not just because I'm female!

    18 Jan 2006, 09:33

  13. I hear everything. Different styles of text also get different voices, and if I know the writer's voice I hear that. I find situations when I'm devoid of audio stimuli difficult to deal with. The only way I can be happy with silence is when I'm reading, because then I hear the words inmy head. Otherwise I have to construct an internal dialogue to fill the silence. I also find it difficult to read while the radio is on because I have to distinguish between the two audio inputs.

    18 Jan 2006, 11:11

  14. That will explain your large poetry collection!

    I really can't appreciate poetry – unless I tell myself in advance that something is poetry I just read it – devoid of any rhythm or sounds. I also don't 'notice' rhyming in poetry if it's subtle and with spelling changes, for example 'bear' rhyming with 'lair'. Someone would have to read it aloud to me so I could realise, and even then it might take a while to put the correct word into the right context. For example, I would initially spell 'bear' as 'bare' and then work out that it was the wrong word for the context so I would have to translate it into different spellings until it made sense in my head.

    What you were saying about internal dialogue – I'm really bad if I'm having a conversation with someone as I will tend to look around to find more "visual" input. I relate to "Johnny 5" in "Short Circuit" very well!

    Apparently about 1% of the population have some form of synaesthesia but with everyone being in the 'hearing things' camp, I'm beginning to think that the subtitling version is a lot less common!

    18 Jan 2006, 11:41

  15. Hayley

    So, you've probably heard me talking about this already but I don't see anything in my head. Ever. And I don't hear it either- there's neither sound nor picture in my head… my thoughts are sort of… quiet and colourless.
    I didn't know any of this was weird until right before ARCTIC when I went for the dyslexia assessment, and it came up in passing there…

    I don't know how to explain how I do think, however… mostly by talking to myself- if I'm really quiet, it's not really because I was thinking, because I need to say or type anything that's in my head in order to make sense of it… hence the excessive amount of blogging I do!

    It does mean that I can't learn parts in Rev… or in fact learn anything by rote- I have to understand things in order to know them, and I don't know if it's even possible to understand a soprano part in a song, and if it is, I can't do it!! It does mean that the things I know, I can explain. But it also means that I know less generally, because I can't understand everything and my brain isn't happy to accept anything without knowing the whys and wherefores. Hence I often come across as quite thick, because I don't know stuff…

    Does that make any sense?

    18 Jan 2006, 17:56

  16. Martyn

    Ali, you are weird. Not just that, it seems you're a weird kind of weird. I got called weird today for liking snooker and darts – you're off the scale (but in a nice way).

    19 Jan 2006, 20:18

  17. Hmm. Intriguing…. Weird and special are good words indeed. I don't see the subtitles thing, but sometimes the voice thing. I do remember conversations from over a year ago, but more like picturing the scene in my head like a photo or film…..

    (oh and Thor just likes looking at paintings…....random i know)

    19 Jan 2006, 23:48

  18. hurray, another one who needs tv to go to sleep :) i'm using futurama and simpsons at the moment. you know you can get your computer to read articles for you and put them on after whatever you're watching has ended, i dunno if it works but some people say it does

    22 Jan 2006, 12:25

  19. Weird and special are good words indeed

    Thanks for that, and despite all the comments, still noone who has subtitles…apart from Rachel (a random person who admitted to subtitling speech on her blog)

    23 Jan 2006, 23:38

  20. Heather

    Hey Alison,
    My names Heather and I have the same subtitle thing as you. I researched into synaesthesia also but I’m not sure if it is that because it didn’t really mention what happens to us. However, maybe it is just a really rare case. I didn’t even realise it was weird until the other day when I mentioned it in passing, thinking it was normal, and people had no idea what I was talking about. Then someone mentioned seeing something similar on a documentry but couldn’t remember what it was. I wish they could!

    03 Apr 2007, 13:06

  21. Sara

    Oh my god! I have been looking and googling all morning for someone else who has this! I was wondering too if it was a form of synesthesia. But no site mentioned this particular thing. I remember having it since being a kid – much stronger when I was littler; now I kind of ignore it.

    Here’s another thing – when learning another language, with a different alphabet, I keep wanting the subtitles to appear, because then I could read faster and more fluently – but they never show up. I can see words in Spanish when they are spoken, though.

    I’m so glad you wrote this.

    10 Oct 2007, 12:07

  22. Attila

    Well, I speak two language fluently and an other third not so fluently but I do have the subtitles whenever and whatever I speak or listen… What a freak….

    18 Nov 2007, 23:22

  23. Attila

    Well, I have the same “problem”, I have had it since 4 or 5 and I realized it only a couple of years ago. And! I speak two languages fluently and a third one rather well and I see the subtitles in the specific language wich is being spoken. Sometimes I chage from Finnish to Hungarian and into English within a minute but no problem, it just works… And I do have major difficulties with the song lyrics…

    20 Nov 2007, 03:08


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