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Visual Learning

  1. Sep 26, 2009 #1
    Hi. I have high functioning autism and like many other people on the spectrum I think predominantly in pictures and thats how I learn scientific concepts. Every concept I learn I represent it with a picture. Unfortunately a lot of the books on chemistry in particular (physics and biology I have no trouble with because there is far less abstraction) are torture to read. I like chemistry and when I grasp the concepts I can derive all sorts of other concepts from them but I find a lot of the books and websites really abstract and they lay out about a 10,000 words for concepts that can be illustrated with a single picture. Le Chateliers principle for example. A right pain in the *** to describe with words but its so simple to illustrate with diagrams yet I can never find any decent picture based tutorials illustrating Le Chateliers principle. It took me a long time to grasp what they were talking about in the tutorials but now I realize how extremely simple the concept of Le Chateliers principle is and I represent each scenario (pressure, temperature, concentration etc.) with a single picture in my head.

    Basically the only way I can learn scientific concepts is to construct moving images of the process in my head. Even things that are non physical such as EM radiation I can easily visualize translucent, somewhat visible energy and I can easily make models for how it propagates and interacts with matter etc. Chemistry is kind of tricky though. Take stereochemistry for example. Many tutorials ramble on about chirality and mirror images but do not even provide an image of two stereoisomers to compare. Took me a very long time to fully grasp the concept of stereoisomers but if I could have just seen a picture of two stereoisomeric molecules I would have grasped the concept in the space of a second rather than reading massive amounts of words to gain a vague understanding of what they are. I'm assuming there are plenty of people here that think predominantly in pictures. Can any of you tell me your favourite way to learn chemistry concepts on your own? I'm studying chemistry in university but I like to give my self a head start by learning in my own time too.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2009 #2


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    Some of us can not think in moving pictures, but can and do think in a sequence of pictures.

    Some of us who can think using a sequence of static pictures can not easily think more than one step ahead any current picture.

    Written reactions of elements and compounds are actually abstract pictures, but we cannot easily apply movement to them.

    Some chemical processes, methods, or procedures, when represented in worded descriptions, need to be analyzed, unscrambled, and then we must create our own list of steps or events; we keep these events in chronological order.

    HorseBox, the study of Chemistry must be abstract. We live and operate at a level that we can throw objects, tie shoe-laces, open and close doors; we do NOT live and operate at a level in which plastic absorbs ultraviolet radiation, or a functional group prevents a reaction, or the several alternate double bonds absorb radiation to allow a color to occur.
  4. Sep 26, 2009 #3
    I didn't know that. I'm sure anyone can develop the ability to apply motion to their mental images. Afterall we dream in moving pictures at night. If I was to say think of a train moving past you can picture it can't you? They're the kind of moving pictures I'm talking about. I often find it easier to visualize when I attach the appropriate sound to them. When I picture a train I'll hear the sound of it too. My mental images aren't highly vivid either when I need to visualize more complex concepts than I'm used to I have to practice to improve my visualization skills because the clearer I can see the pictures the clearer the concepts I can formulate.

    Yeah I don't like text reaction equations like CH4 + O2 -> CO2 + H2O, I much rather seeing the actual chemical structures of the reactants and products. Thinking about chemical reactions I picture the solvent and semi visualize the reaction taking place within the solvent.

    Yeah unfortunately we can't see what really goes on down there (in much detail anyway) but we can still make visual models. When I think of say a carboxyl group I still think of the black 2D OH-C=O but I've seen 3D models of methane so when I think of methane I think of the 3D model I've seen of it. I suppose I can come up with my own models of what really occurs during say a reductive amination of a carbonyl group. Its just laziness on my part wanting to see it with my eyes (an animation I mean). I have no idea how the things you mentions truly work so I'm reluctant to make mental images of the processes.
  5. Sep 26, 2009 #4
    Pictures help.If a picture is worth a thousand words how many words are moving pictures worth?
  6. Sep 26, 2009 #5
    Depends on the moving picture haha. Entropy a concept that I find it near impossible to explain to other people I represent it with a single moving picture.
  7. Sep 26, 2009 #6


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    The first year of chem was not very visual. Much of it is plug-and-chug. Very important concepts, for sure, but things like reaction rates, stoichiometry, and titration curves don't lend themselves to visual thinking.

    However, I found parts of organic chemistry to be highly visual. Lewis structures give a good predictive model for reactions...very handy when studying organic synthesis.

    You may find organic a lot easier than analytic.
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