Subvisualization: when visualization is not fast enough

To be honest I have not been doing visualization at all since I started to read above 5000 wpm. When I slow down and want to remember everything, I still use memory structures – more often than not I do not have to. Here is a short confession of what it feels like to be one of the fastest readers in the world.

It’s not a competition

I never wanted and never will want to have my reading skill tested by independent experts. There is nothing to hide, but I do not see a point. I develop and share methods for everybody to use, and if I can use them better than others this is my own business.  Personally, I am not a competitive man, and I want to be true to my own values.

With that being said, I have been practicing speedreading for more than 15 years, and it became my second nature. I do not have to force myself to read ever faster or to read at all. I read faster because this is who I am. As the years pass, I notice that I use different tools and easily accomplish things I could only dream of several years ago.

Critical limitations for beginners

At every step of the reading process, there is a different limitation.

At the beginning just the ability to visualize feels complex, and everything feels abstract. Taking several words from an article as its summary feels weird, even when we understand that a year from now we will not remember more.

Then visualizations get complex and need to go into mindmaps and memory palaces. Putting them there and revisiting them is a full-time job. And then it needs to be very fast to even consider speedreading. Speedreading starts at 90% retention.

When starting to speedread the eyes hurt. There is a hard word on the visual angle with the tables and on saccading strategies. It takes time to get to the subvocalization limit of 400 wpm just by moving the eyes properly.

The subvocalization suppression step is pure magic. It is a very simple exercise, and it works only if you are ready for it. Suddenly the inner voice disappears, and we can read faster, maybe 1000 wpm.

This is where Anna’s coaching stops, yet my masterclasses continue. Since the masterclasses are relatively new I do not yet have sufficient statistics from others. I continue based on my personal experience.

Critical limitations for experts

To go above 1000 wpm, we need to read from eidetic memory and saccading is substituted with a visual scan or done once per section. This is hard to accomplish, but once done – the eyes do not hurt anymore.

Once I started collecting huge amounts of knowledge, simply revisiting it is not an option. For long-term retention, speedwriting is the best possible choice. I use what I read to formulate and write my own thoughts – and I do it fast.

Then I noticed that I do not even process data on some articles. They are blank. The limitation was not technical but emotional. I do not want to read the article or do not want to understand what it has to say. I used some tools from CBT/ACT and NLP to overcome the issues.

Once I did not reject materials, my filter bubble got broken. I started getting a lot of information that did not correspond with my body of knowledge. To work with that I improved both my creativity and critical thinking. Contradictions were reduced. I suddenly found out that I make an annual 20% from my investment decisions – which is a nice bonus.

And at this point, I did not need any prereading. I had enough prior knowledge and preconfigured visual dictionaries to get what I need in one reading iteration.

And yet I had it tough reading above 3000 wpm. I knew that the best readers in the world read above 5000 wmp, and I understood what the next reasonable step should be.

Trying to beat the god mode

Before attempting the next step, I read everything I could find about human senses and the way they work as well as the inner structure of the brain. It became very clear that visualization may happen without me paying attention to it.

I call this subvisualization. Like subvocalization is talking in one’s head without talking aloud, subvisualization is visualization without ever noticing or reexamining it. It is an automatic process, like breathing and heartbeats. We can control breathing, and freedivers control the heartbeat but usually, we do not need to. The process is automatic. It is efficient and it happens without us noticing.

To become automatic, the process needs to be approximately the same for about a decade. After not trying to change the reading technique for approximately a decade, it became automatic. I allowed myself to stop noticing and measuring, and when I was measured by Anna my speed went up.

How fast do I read?

I honestly do not know how fast I read. When I was measured, I got 10000 wpm with 20% retention on a very simple text on a computer in English. I probably do not read above 1000 wpm in Hebrew or in Russian or when I read from paper books. Simply holding the book at the right distance and turning pages without physical damage to them is not as easy as it sounds. With a large 4K screen, I do not have this limitation, and if the screen is in portrait orientation, the line width is usually ideal for me.

The complexity of the text also matters. I cannot read dense Wikipedia articles so fast. Even less so when working with patents and contracts. I can probably read very fast scientific articles in my areas of expertise but not other areas.  And if something is more complex I have to reread it several times.

So I can read 10000 wpm, but overall 5000 wmp is more realistic. I confess that I prefer to read simple content where I can read at my top speed. This limits me to non-fiction. When reading fiction I really slow down, below 1000 wpm, as I want to enjoy every description and every choice made by the author.

Do I subvisualize when not reading?

I do not really visualize in conversations. One of my friends told me that I am like wikipedia with links within articles and further links within them. Most of my friends suspect that I work for some secret organization because I know things I am not supposed to know based on my formal CV.  And in conversation, I often feel my eyes saccading as if browsing some mental structures. Yet I do not see any mental structures.

Simply thinking about memorization, made me acutely aware that I know to use expertly mental structures that I never read about. This means that in the subconscious my mental structures not just exist, but improve. Moreover, I invent new mental structures and learn about them consciously after using them for years. My subconscious is actually smarter than my consciousness.

Connection to productivity

Slightly before I noticed a jump in my reading speed I was working on productivity, trying to improve multiprocessing. The exercise comprises managing multiple mental structures for different processes. Each mental structure had a separate indicator of progress. By will, I was forcing myself to the latest point in any chosen mental structure.  And I did it for 4 simultaneous processes. I kind of had to do it, as I was cooking for the entire family: the kids were small and Anna traveled.

I think that once we can switch processes in and out of consciousness, they are automatically processed in subconsciousness. This is what I did after learning about senses and it worked.

I am still a student

While I am no longer learning reading and memory techniques from actual people, I constantly learn new things from the masters of antiquity. It appears to me that they had skills we have forgotten: less focused on quick encoding, and more on quick retrieval.

Also, do not expect me to REALLY teach you subvisualization. The prerequisites are tough. You need to read 3000 wpm, have master-level memory skills, and multiprocess 4 tasks. If you can do all of that, you can probably figure out subvisualization without me. This is just a testimony that the task is doable.



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