A Word is Worth 1,000 Pictures

Uber or Walk

Something interesting happened last night. It was approaching 12:30am, and a few hours of house-warming chats had petered down to a natural silence. With empty beer cans sprawled across the coffee table and kitchen counter of the brand new apartment, the three of us decided it was time to wrap up the night. William, sunken into the leather couch facing the open concept living room, pulled out his phone. “I’m gonna call an Uber”, he said.

To this I suggested, “Why don’t you just walk it? You live on our street.”

But in sudden reflex Callum, my roommate standing only a few feet away, chimed in: “Nah, grab an Uber. Our apartments are 350 units away.”

Life of a Salesman

Callum is a salesman. Quick to his feet when his work phone rings with work emergencies; he’s a problem solver who applies tactics tactfully. A gregarious guy, and among his several skills is the ability to persuade with his words.

Let’s assume that Callum’s response originated from a knee-jerk emotion that he decided to express with his words: a car ride is gonna be easier and warmer than a cold walk through the streets of downtown Toronto in early March. But this begs the a followup question: What if his brain automatically composed a reason to explain the emotional decision, and he verbalized it afterwards?

When he said 350 units, it felt like he was selling this idea to me, using words and body language to communicate an idea into my mind. This is something we all do by virtue of being human, but surely the persuasion factor is heightened in Callum-like sales folk.

Pictures in our Mind’s Eye

I’m a visual person. Pictures come naturally to me, as I tend to think in images.

And even if it wasn’t my roommate’s intention to explicitly trigger any pictures into my head, it happened. The text “350” plopped into my visual field. And since our brain is a neural network of connections, one idea can trigger another, and another, and another. Only a few moments later, as I was looking up and into the top-left quadrant of my visual field, hyper aware at this point of my mind’s eye, I noticed a long line of dots, one after the other, in close proximity.

Mental Picture No.1

And as the image faded into the ether, as mental pictures do, my mind naturally went elsewhere. Will said that he was going to call the Uber, and my emotions kicked in.

“It’s healthier to walk than to take an Uber”, I whispered to myself.

I pulled out my phone and I punched in our apartment’s address and Will’s address into Maps. On the map appeared a short line joining the two apartments, a 15 minute tag close by indicating the time to walk.

A simplified representation of what I saw, appeared in the mind’s eye, external to the app and the phone.

Mental Picture No.2

The Realization

It was in this moment, aware of these two images, that I eased into a sensation of comfort. YES, Uber is fine. I forget the exact words, the exact thoughts in my head, but the essence and what I suspect was a major factor in all of this was that Picture 2 was simpler than Picture 1. The line was a quick, swift, flick across the screen of my mind, paired with a delicate little number tag. The dots, an overwhelming linear cluster of lots of stuff, one after the other, all bunchy and annoying.

Closing Note

It’s a mystery to me what these pictures in the mind mean.

Do our mental pictures dictate our moods and emotions? Alternatively, do moods and emotions dictate the images that we see?

Are mental pictures creating our thoughts? Or do thoughts create our mental pictures?

In the spirit of the neural network idea, perhaps the two are intertwined in a dynamic relationship. One influences the other, and vice versa. Maybe when I saw the line of dots, that triggered a subliminal image, triggering some mental sounds in the mind’s ear, triggering another subliminal image…etc.

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