Peaceful Atheist has another extremely interesting post which, like her previous one exploring the need even for an atheist to explore what she calls her “religious imagination and need for transcendence” about which we already blogged here, now explores the role that spatial thinking played in her formerly religious thinking and how it works in her engagement with mathematics. Her whole post is worth reading, so click on the link, but here’s a taste for even the lazy link-unclickers to enjoy:
When I read, for example, I have vivid mental images not just of the subject matter being described, but also of the sentences and words themselves, represented by symbols, objects, or colors that I can rearrange. I see each arrangement as having a kind of tone, and parts of each sentence as smooth or rough. Awkward writing stands out to me as spatial incongruities. The more I reread or rewrite something, the more finely I see its texture.
The same goes for math. I remember once trying to explain to my Linear Algebra professor why I wasn’t grasping a particular concept or proof: “whenever I work on a problem, I see images in my head. They usually have nothing to do with the problem– they can be pictures of a house or just floating shapes– but they always come together in a certain way that makes me able to figure out the problem. The pictures just aren’t coming together for this one.”
Now that I’m an atheist, I sometimes notice a lack in this area. I mean that I have found myself missing a certain mental aspect of life which religion provided richly. It was as if I had an entire additional life, an inner life that was my relationship with God and my exploration of the entire system of Christianity. It was deep and rich in metaphor and emotionally complex, the opposite of everything concrete and scientific and practical. I feel like that part of my mind has now fallen into disuse. My attempts at atheist spirituality have so far only replaced some parts of that, and intellectual exercises provide nothing that I didn’t also have when I was a Christian.
I don’t feel as challenged or as mentally fulfilled in a purely material universe.
I don’t necessarily believe that religion is the only thing that can fill that hole.
And no discussion of spatial mathematical thinking or synesthesia is complete without reminding everyone of the remarkable case of Daniel Tammet (about whom we blogged a couple weeks ago). So, here’s the youtube video about him again, for any who have yet to see it or who want to marvel once again: