Lexicoders Vs. Opticoders: The Verbal Versus Visual Brain

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please consider a print or digital subscription!)

Do you have movie dreams or radio dreams?

If dreaming for you is like listening to a radio, you are a lexicoder. Many authors, for example, who obviously are more verbal than most people, will have conversations in their head with their characters or imagine conversations their characters have with each other. If you are a lexicoder, you might find yourself saying things repeatedly to formulate your thoughts. You probably enjoy lecture-based learning and moving words around and around to develop ideas. You feel words are your friends, but you may have trouble trying to visualize scenarios.

If your dreaming experiences are like watching movies, on the other hand, you are an opticoder, and you most likely can take a mental image and make it sit, stand, and rotate in your mind. You probably find yourself frequently wishing people would get to the point, rather than talk so much. You see the “big picture” rather easily and think in logical patterns.

Lexicoders and Opticoders

We have five senses, including the two primary senses of seeing and hearing and the three auxiliary senses of touch, taste, and smell. Our primary senses are used to form thoughts by moving stimuli from the sense organs of eyes and ears through the brain processes of attention and memory, to become knowledge.

The eye-to-brain pathway is called the opticoder (the visual brain), and the ear-to-brain pathway is called the lexicoder (the auditory-verbal brain). If the opticoder is overworking — which means the visual brain is dominating — it can become the enemy of the lexicoder and cause a lack of sensory integration between the two primary systems. In other words, the dominating visual brain interferes with the activity and development of the auditory-verbal brain.

Approximately 32 percent of the population is born with a visual brain. This means that these people use their opticoder to think and process information, just as a small percentage of the population prefers to use their left hand. At birth, these babies decode the world around them through visual analogies rather than verbal reasoning. They store knowledge in mental slide trays and movie reels. Often speech, reading, spelling, and writing can seem cumbersome and slow.

Careers such as surgery, electrical engineering, computer science, and graphic arts depend heavily on the opticoder. However, without word-based knowledge, none of these skills can be acquired, nor can they advance to the next level. Visual images are great for receiving knowledge, but they are far less adequate for expressing knowledge and communicating. A surgeon must still talk to patients, write chart notes, read medical journals, attend committee meetings, and exchange information with colleagues. There is no escaping the lexicoder’s importance in daily life.

Although lexicoder communication skills are what distinguish humans from all other species, the opticoders throughout history tend to leave the most lasting legacies — the Einsteins, da Vincis, and Edisons of the world. The opticoder brain is considered to be 20,000 times faster than the lexicoder brain, leading to the type of visual, outside-the-box thinking that has resulted in some of the world’s greatest inventions and creative contributions.

But the lexicoder is needed for learning, loving, and achieving. To get thoughts into and out of the brain, people use words. Verbal communication accounts for 76 percent of learning in the classroom, 85 percent of career activity, 90 percent of love-affair intimacy and long-term bonding, and 95 percent of parent-child shepherding and guidance.

Most humans rely on the lexicoder 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We cannot shut our ears like we can shut our eyes. We awaken to an alarm clock, pull the car over when we hear a siren, and answer a ringing phone — which means our hearing vigilance is always on duty. So in addition to the lexicoder serving as the genetic basis for communication, learning, and relating, we practice using the lexicoder nearly all the time.

Furthermore, our educational system devotes the majority of its time training us to improve spelling, writing, speaking in front of a group and comprehending reading passages — all of which require us to practice using our lexicoders in a step-by-step, sequential building pattern to improve efficiency. The first-grader reads and listens to much less sophisticated language than the ninth-grader; a college freshman class is much less demanding in terms of language processing than a medical-school lecture. We are training and building our lexicoder throughout our lives.

The Extreme Opticoder

There are many children who are in the 99th percentile for their visual/associational thinking, but in the zero percentile for their verbal/sequential skills. I coin the term “Maverick Mind” to describe them. These are not autistic children, not children in the middle of the bell curve, but outliers with a genius in one area.

These children think a thousand times faster than their mouths can go. They communicate at such a high level through a world of mental pictures and videos that their verbal communication suffers. They may even enhance their visual ability by trying harder and harder to communicate in the only way they know how, causing an ever larger gap between their visual and verbal communication skills. Mavericks can appear as if they are “strangers in a strange land,” unable to understand, think or speak in a language familiar to verbal people. Their brains literally speed past language in such a way that language does not properly develop. In such a situation, the symptoms that result often mimic the symptoms found in autism and other disorders of language and communication. With Mavericks, however, I believe we can train the brain to switch channels between the opticoder and lexicoder brain.

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please consider a print or digital subscription!)

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