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Being a Visual Thinker

DaffodilsMy life is lived in films, I run them in my head. I plan in films, long ones short ones. Often run in quick succession as if they were running concurrently. All information is taken in converted to visuals and processed, worked on, filed and fitted into the totality of my memories and understanding. I can overlay these films onto reality, like a head up display, this takes a lot of processing so normally they play in my head. Words follow the action at key points. Repetition is important, thoughts are rehearsed into my memory. Altered a little sometimes on each repetition. Every thought is modelled, run and re run. I insert variables and cross reference, link up with other thoughts, make connections and synthesise new thoughts in new visual scenarios. These too can be run to model and test to see how they work. Tumbling over and over thoughts run, like they are in a great turning drum. New ones being inserted, others displaced and some forgotten.

I must know the inner workings of everything I see and do. I know this is not always possible; I do this for everything that I can. This is mentally exhausting, but fun as I can see lots of connections and interrelationships. When I was a child I would study and build visual models of everything in my life. I recall back in the late 60’s examining the floor, sills and structure of my dad’s car. I wanted to know if it was made from solid metal, also if the floor was a single sheet of metal or if it had further layers and structures underneath. I did not think the floor would be strong enough if it was a single sheet of thin metal. It took me years to work out what the pressed channels in the floor were for; they were to give the floor three dimensions and stiffness. I did find out the sills and box sections were hollow. I had to find out why, this lead me on to learning about tubes and that a structure with three dimensions that is hollow in the middle is as stiff as one that is solid and of the same dimensions, but much lighter.

Today if I can see under a car I will stop to look. I am still building up my knowledge of structures and how forces are dealt with. I am also interested in how thought better steels, pressing techniques and computer aided design fewer panels and joins are used in every generation of cars. I go to work past a car dealer and transporters are parked outside regularly. I always stop to examine the structures, every time I do this I recall being a four year old examining my dad’s MKII Cortina.

From my dad’s car I learned how to analyse structures and visualise their inner components. Then I learned how to work out which parts of the structure were load bearing and which were not. The on and on to more structures, houses, ships, the planet, the freezer, my bicycle, our garden fence, the structures in wood, trees and smaller plants, then bones, then crystals and micro structures, then grass and plant stems, model aeroplanes, real aeroplanes, tractors with their load bearing transmissions, pens, cakes, eggs, clothing fibres and weaves, glue and glued joints, tyres, furniture, ceilings and roof beams, so on and so forth eve to this day I have built up an array of visual understandings of structures. Later in life I was delighted to find out that engineers visualised structures before doing calculations or building them. They can know by sight and visualisation if something is likely to work. I can do this too.

Even today when I buy a car I have to inspect every structure and join in it. I take parts off and remove trim to see, I must see, all the structures in the vehicle. I get a manual so I can analyse the parts in the engine and gearbox I am not able to see. I know exactly how the engine in my current car is made. It is a clever design using lots of aluminium and as little metal as possible. I have examined every piece of webbing cast into the block to make it stiff and light. I rev the engine to and feel the forces going through it. I will build up a visual model of all the lines of force and resonance in the engine and transmission. I have watched x-ray film of oil flowing in an engine. I have watched all sorts of fluids flowing, read about fluid mechanics, watched liquids flowing, studied shafts and bearings, dismantled oil pumps, checked out the oil return system, assessed the air spaces in the engine, looked at engine cross sections. At any speed I can visually model what is going on in my car engine including the oil flow, combustion and gas flow. I have checked out the exhaust and assessed what it is doing in relation to back pressure, gas management, resonance, sound insulation, silencing and releasing gases to the air.

I have studied tyre manufacture and the structures in tyres, the banding and layering of a tyre. I have examined all the areas of tyres and explored what they do. I have inspected the suspension on my car and analysed how forces are managed. Movement, compliance in the bushes, arcs of movement, passive steering, geometry, sound insulation and strengths and thicknesses of materials.

As I drive I can visually model my car working, it took me years to visually model valve timing and phases on a four cylinder engine. I use all this visualisation every time I drive. Its hard mental work but I can always get the best out of my car. There is even more detail than I have written about but I think you can get the idea. All this to drive a K11 Nissan Micra.

Then on to my bicycles, I know their structures in even more minute detail. I examine tubes, joints, machining, spokes, drive train efficiency, materials, lubrication and the synergy of the whole bicycle and rider. One of my bicycles folds, a Brompton, it is delightfully clever and efficient. I can see that the hinges are at points of maximum strength and folding practicality. All hinges and structures are designed with maximum simplicity, strength, ease of use and durability.

Another is a Moulton bicycle. It has a triangulated and separable space frame, small wheels and full suspension. No part of the Moulton’s structure is redundant. It is massively stiff and very efficient. The suspension is designed for road use and works at high frequencies allowing high pressure tyres to be efficient with a comfortable ride. I study the frame and can see all the ways in which forces and loads are dealt with. I see and feel the whole machine in action when I ride it.

The third bicycle is a Bob Jackson, a traditional layout diamond framed machine with large wheels. It is unique, bespoke and finished beautifully. Again synergy is just right and the whole machine feels so live and eager to get on with going anywhere. You would need to be a bicycle nerd to understand what the Reynolds 531 ST tube set is and what this does for ride quality and feel, trust me it works like nothing else, the bike feels alive like a living organism when in use. I have studied and can visualise the crystalline structure of Reynolds 531 steel alloy. I know how the tubes are cold drawn, they have no seams or inconsistencies and as near a perfect structure as possible, bringing out the best properties of steel. The build is of the best quality all round and equipment is top end.

I have Brooks leather saddles on all three bicycles. I understand the structure and properties of epithelium, skin, which has been tanned and made into saddles. I know just how these saddles are broken in and how they are shaped to my own body and joint peculiarities. I can see just how my muscles and skeleton work in relation to the bicycles and how there saddles help.

I know all the structures and materials used in my house and how all of it works. I have seen under the floors, in the roof, behind the plaster and how our Victorian house is built straight onto levelled off clay with no foundations. The latter with lime mortar make the building resilient and flexible. Strength is no got through rigidity from concrete foundations. The house moves and breathes; it is strong in a similar way to the strength of trees. Our house has stood for over 130 years, nothing in its construction or materials has failed.