Feldenkrais and Einstein: Thinking Without Words

I was reading a passage from the book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less and saw a quote by Albert Einstein about his creative process. It instantly reminded me of some similar thoughts by Moshe on his process of self-use as reported in Body Awareness as Healing Therapy: The Case of Nora. Both Einstein and Feldenkrais dropped words and thought in the visual system.

Einstein: When Language Interferes

The words of the language as they are written or spoken do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements of thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which . . . are in my case of visual and some of muscular type. [These elements take part in] a rather vague play… in which they can be voluntarily reproduced and combined… This combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought, before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign which can be communicated to others . . . In a stage where words intervene at all, they are, in my case, purely auditive, but they interfere only in a secondary stage.Hare Brain, p. 56.

Fascinating. To Einstein, visual and muscular “entities” are the essential elements of thought before becoming connected with words.

Feldenkrais: I make a special effort not to think in words.

Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais
Image credits: International Feldenkrais Foundation

“When I am presented with a trouble in function, I make a special effort not to think in words. I try not to think logically and in correctly formed sentences. It has become a habit with me to imagine the relevant nervous structures by seeing them with my mind’s eye. I imagine a part which produces a flow of fluid. Part of the travel of the fluid is electrical, then becomes chemical, and again electrical. After many transformations the flow will end in a muscular contraction, and the muscular play will result in some apparent outside action involving the body, or parts of it, that will affect or transform the immediate environment. Sometimes I am stuck at a point where I cannot imagine the pattern of the flow, nor the possible obstacles in its way. Then I ask, is the obstacle a diffusion, damping, deviation, loss of impetus, break of continuity, or an impossibility of one of the transformations."

"I have found this way of imagining so fruitful that I cannot do without it. It often shows me where my knowledge is insufficient so that I know exactly what I am after and therefore in which books I am likely to find the information. I form a working theory and change it in the light of new observations I must add to make the theory work. This mode of thinking is often successful in situations where specialists with greater knowledge than mine have failed. Nobody is omniscient enough to think mechanically.” Body Awareness, p. 16

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