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Thinking and seeing like a cow

July 14, 2009

Dr. Temple Grandin is arguably the best-known autistic person in the world. She designs equipment for the cattle industry. More specifically, she designs what is known as “squeeze chutes,” a device that allows cows to more humanely walk to their death in a slaughterhouse. You may wonder what co-creation has to do with it, given the undesirable outcome of the process from the cow’s perspective, but Dr. Grandin’s invention is in fact remarkably focused on the cow’s experience. Thanks to her, the cows no longer have to be shocked along with cattle prods, nor do they have to be pushed from several feet up into their last bath, to remove ticks and other undesirable insects from their skin. Instead, they walk and bathe confidently for the last time.

In a BBC video, she describes how her autistic mind works like the mind of a cow. Because she was long afraid of everything around her as a child, her perception of the environment was close to the cow’s panicked state, fearing potential predators everywhere. This, Dr. Grandin claims, literally allows her to think like a cow. Call it a sense of identification.

In her book Thinking in Pictures she further explains that visualization is her second gift. Her mind stores and processes full-color movies. To think like a cow, she needs to see like a cow. She refers to this as her “visual thinking” ability.

There are many other inspiring features to the Temple Grandin story, including how this autistic child learned to speak in public and achieve rock star status through the lectures she gives all over the world. Lacking Dr. Grandin’s instinctive abilities, I have to remind myself every day that identification and visualization are the two pillars of the co-creation process. The good news is that both can be learned.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Martine Bédrune permalink
    July 14, 2009 7:09 pm

    Je suppose que tu connais Daniel Tammet, un autiste anglais qui parle notamment de la visualisation.

  2. Francis Gouillart permalink
    July 18, 2009 6:15 pm

    I did not know of Daniel Tammet, but just looked him up on Wikipedia. He can apparently visualize numbers and describe their shape, color, texture and feel. I was sorry to hear that 289 is particularly ugly, but reassured to hear that 333 is attractive and pi downright beautiful. Talk about visual ability! Thanks for the helpful reference.

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