They really hate rainbows, don’t they?

All things must fall into a rigid binary. Everything. The right-wing rainbow is just a block of red next to a block of violet. When they do black and white photography they take it literally — max contrast, only solid blacks and solid whites. It’s all hex #000000 and hex #ffffff. It’s ridiculous.

Here’s the latest imaginary binary, wordcels vs shape rotators. There are only two kinds of brains!

Quick, how many cubes can you rotate in your brain? If you’re struggling to even form the image of a cube in your mind, let alone rotate it, then I’m sorry to say that you’re not a shape rotator. You are, in fact, probably a wordcel. If you have no idea what wordcel and shape rotators are, I will explain it to you, and I’m sorry your curiosity has brought you to this article.

At its base, the dichotomy is simple. Wordcels are people who are good with words. Shape rotators are people who are good with math and abstract thought. Use of the terms has skyrocketed online in the past few months, and especially in the last few days.

I’m sorry, this is insanely stupid. Here’s Marc Andreessen trying to be quantitative and instead coming out as a guy who makes up imaginary statistics to characterize people he doesn’t like.

Classic wordcel gibberish.

But look, these are bogus categories — there is a spectrum of mental ability, with different people having a different range of abilities, it’s not all one or the other. Further, individuals vary over time: when I’m writing something other people will have to read, I’m thinking about the words, even if the subject is something scientific. I can also get locked into problem solving mode, where I’m wrestling with abstractions. When I used to write code — and I’m sure some of you are familiar with this — I’d get into the zone where your brain is 100% machine, focused on tracing multiple lines of logic to track down a bug or implement some novel and non-intuitive function. It was great until you snapped out of it at 3am and forgot where you were or how to speak. I’ve literally had moments of verbal paralysis where my brain had to stop carrying out spatial deconvolutions to remember what English was.

These loons are taking the variety of entirely human modes of thinking and trying to cluster them into two terribly unuseful discrete and rigid “types”. People don’t work that way!

But there is a purpose to their madness. Once again, it’s a verbal — dare I say “wordcel”? — tool for conservatives to attack the left for being inferior thinkers while simultaneously patting themselves on the back for thinking like “scientists”. Let’s label those loser Woke folk with a shiny new derogatory term, never noticing how unscientific their whole approach is.

Much of America’s culture war can be cynically flattened and viewed through the lens of these two words; “woke” wordcels live in the land of philosophy and books and liberal colleges, clinging to ideals espoused in their precious books, tweeting about Wordle, while shape rotators are out here coding, building businesses, doing engineering, etc. etc.

And oh, boy, here comes the validation they need:

Hah. I doubt a Jungian psychologist can spin even one three-dimensional cube in his mind!

Sheesh, now I’m doing it. This is stupid. Still, it might catch on with all these right-wing aliens from Remulak.


  1. snarkrates says

    This may well be the stupidest dichotomy yet. Mental manipulation of objects in 2D, 3D and even 4D (to a limited extent) are all mental skills. Verbal ability is also a range of skills. Many people can do both, some one or the other, and some neither. And none of this by itself is determinative of their level of intelligence.

    This is just a bunch of not-very-smart people trying to inflate their sense of their own intelligence. The fact that they are trying to
    project their prejudices on the whole of humanity and score political points adds a whole other dimension of stupid to it. How do these dumbfucks not get laughed right out of the Overton Window?

  2. simonhadley says

    It seems to me that binary thinking is the result of emotional immaturity, as if they never got past age ten or so. If that’s the case then how do you teach emotional maturity?

  3. StevoR says

    Oh and only after clicking ‘send” do I remember of the even better example of Stephen Hawking famous for his books notably the best selling A Brief History of Time and science communication work as well as his astophysics and maths. Wordcel? Shape rotator? Both? Neither?

  4. kestrel says

    Those aliens told me they were from France – !

    This reminds me of the old “right brain – left brain” thing. People seem to love simplifying complex things.

  5. StevoR says

    @ ^ kestrel : Of course. Complex things ar ehard and finding nuances and thinking of multiple possibilities and spectra and fuzzy boundarues that shift is so much mroe work and difficult than just binary off :on, black-white, us / them, zero-sum either-or thinking.. Simple, easy and misleading and often plain wrong.

  6. Michael says

    Isn´t funny how these people sneer at “ideals in their precious books” and then turn around and say they are the defenders of “Western civilization”. Nothing like western civilization being upheld by book burners and censors.

  7. david says

    Maybe “woke” means seeing the situation from multiple points of view, while claiming that a one-dimensional argument is sufficient to understand a situation is faulty. Typical “owning the libs” with shallow reasoning.

  8. bcw bcw says

    So when I can’t remember a word does that make me a word-incel?
    Time to start some angry reddits on the right of word-incels to abuse language.
    If I was French I could start writing long screeds against feminine nouns.

    There are two types of people in the world: those who divide everything into two groups and those who don’t,
    and those who do sometimes.

  9. PaulBC says

    It’s all hex #000000 and hex #ffffff.

    Shhhhh… Nobody better tell them about anti-aliasing.

    Those perfect black/white boundaries aren’t even getting preserved on your screen, and if they were, you’d notice.

  10. Nemo says

    I reluctantly waded into the article to confirm that the etymology of “wordcel” was what I thought it was (derived from “incel”). Ugh. Also, Andreessen’s tweet feels like some sort of twisted paraphrase of that scene from “Revenge of the Nerds” where… yeah, I’m not even gonna type it.

  11. PaulBC says

    Do you have to be celibate to be a wordcel? I can figure out “shape rotator” but the “cel” is throwing me.

    It is a pretty silly dichotomy since many tasks require both visualization and verbal expression (say you’re a mechanical engineer and you teach and write about it). It sounds like the new “left brain/right brain” silliness.

    Does anyone ever explain to these knuckleheads that there’s already perfectly good pseudoscientific nomenclature for most of their neologisms?

    I don’t even know what Marc Andreessen is trying to say here. “Wordcelling” 24/7? Do wordcels have purely verbal dreams? That covers around 8 of those 24 hours for most people.

  12. PaulBC says


    How do these dumbfucks not get laughed right out of the Overton Window?

    Overton defenestration?

    Wow, I just made a pun and simultaneously visualized someone being pushed out a window. I must be some kind of super-ambi-wordcel-rotator.

  13. kome says

    Between this and Rebecca Watson’s post yesterday about John Ioannidis’s recent publication about social media profiles of various scientists’, I’m starting to suspect that there is a very concerted effort by adherents of right-wing or right-leaning ideologies to completely denigrate the very idea that socialization has value.
    Maybe we need to be more concerned about this.

  14. Akira MacKenzie says

    I thought I left jocks bullying nerds when I graduated high school. Now its a political philosophy.

  15. clsi says

    You all laugh, but do any of you have a better explanation for why EVERYONE who does well on the math section of the SAT does poorly on the verbal, and vice versa? Can you explain why people who do well on the verbal section all become obnoxious WOKE idiots trying to make white people feel bad about our history, while those who do well on the math section are wonderful, open-minded, science-based thinkers who don’t shy away from expressing uncomfortable but obvious truths about race? I didn’t think so.

  16. nomdeplume says

    Two kinds of people in the world – those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who know such suggestions are utter gibberish.

  17. nomdeplume says

    It strikes me as an attempt to simplify the already mindlessly simplified Myers-Briggs pseudoscience.

  18. PaulBC says

    It’s kind of strange that anyone would settle on the distinction between verbal and spatial reasoning to make a point about liberals and conservatives. Politics tends to be highly verbal no matter which side you’re on. Rightwinger William F. Buckley’s reputation was based on verbal sparring, and not his ability to rotate cubes in his head (or even his harpsichord playing). This is also true of most conservative commentators today as well as most liberal commentators. Conversely, many scientists are quite liberal, and may employ visual models in their work more than pundits. I suspect that rotating cubes in your head comes in handy to a crystallographer, though some may approach it algebraically.

    Politics is about people, and usually you approach people with words. True, you can persuade with music and imagery, and maybe Nazi architect Albert Speer was more visual than verbal. Obviously, almost nobody is all one or the other.

  19. mcfrank0 says

    When I took the SAT’s way back in the early seventies, I scored exactly the same both times: 760 in math and 650 in verbal. Both scores were considered very good, but since my math score was so much better, does that mean I couldn’t possibly be a wordcel? Am I condemned to be continually spinning objects in my mind?

    Oh no, does this also mean I’m not really woke?

    Of course not. What this really means that the Right has worn out yet another benign descriptor that they’ve turned into a pejorative and they are looking for a replacement. I guess wordcel fits the bill due to its similarity to incel. (It was only while typing this comment that I realized that ‘woke’ had totally replaced ‘SJW’ .)

  20. numerobis says

    I recall a discussion with the teaching team for the algorithms course we were teaching; there did seem to be a dichotomy between people who really got symbolic manipulation versus those who really got geometric manipulation. All of us could do either at the level needed for the course, but one felt easy and natural, the other hard, and there was a clear division between people.

    The people who couldn’t rotate cubes in their heads were miles ahead of me in several fields of math. I was a better writer than most of them though.

  21. numerobis says

    Rob Grigjanis: I doubt Peterson has got the math chops to do that.

    The easy way to make a cube into a sphere is to declare you feel like doing geometry in the L_\infty metric rather than in Euclidean space.

  22. StevoR says

    @ ^ PZ Myers : Or a mind like a metal trap that was forgotten by the person that set it and lost in the wilderness where it went all rusty and has become broken due to decades of non-use maybe?

    @18. Great American Satan : Way to think inside the square! Well, cubical anyhow.. ;-)

    @ 10. Michael :

    Isn´t funny how these people sneer at “ideals in their precious books” and then turn around and say they are the defenders of “Western civilization”. Nothing like western civilization being upheld by book burners and censors.

    Quoting for truth. Well put.

    @25. garydargan : Multicellular even!

    @ mcfrank0 : Sodns like they’re trying to make “wordcel” happen but I doubt it’ll take off or come into wide use and also yeah. “Woke” has also replaced “politically corroect” at least mainly.and like it long sicne became basically meaningless and simply a descriptor of people that care about others and especially those not of their own background or perspective.

  23. PaulBC says

    About rotating cubes, specifically: I remember the text for an AI course I took in the late 80s (forgot the author) included the claim that people are usually bad at the task of imagining a cube in front of them with its main diagonal aligned vertically and pointing to where its vertices should be in space. In fact, I got sidetracked testing myself on this to the point of not studying as well for an upcoming exam that I should. But anyway…

    I concluded that I too am not naturally very good at the task. But I can explain in words that when you tilt a cube that way, you get (from top to bottom), the top vertex, next three vertices in an equilateral triangle in a horizontal plane, next, another such triangle rotated 60°, and finally the bottom vertex. You can fudge the spacing a little, and point out the vertices that way. It’s good to have more than one way of understanding something, and while I imagine there are “super visualizers” who would find the task easy, it’s a remarkable feature of symbolic expression that you don’t need to rely on your brain to do it on its own. Thus mathematics progresses (consider what a breakthrough it was to have cartesian coordinate system).

    One form of reasoning is not better than the other. The ability to switch between them (with ease or with difficulty) lies at the heart of developing more than a shallow understanding.

    (I would add that if you have the misfortune of having to meet a “wordcel-hater” in person, vertex pointing would be a useful challenge to hand them, since you only have their word for it that they “rotate cubes in their head.”)

  24. clsi says

    @ Brony, 23. My apologies. My comment @ 22 was an attempt at reductio ad absurdum. I sincerely thought that what I wrote was so blatantly over-the-top false that no one could mistake it for anything but sarcasm, but I forgot that trolls sometimes do drop by here and say some remarkably stupid things. I wouldn’t want you to go on thinking that I actually hold those opinions!

  25. vereverum says

    Wordcels read poetry (Adam/Had ’em); read and go to Shakespeare plays (Titus Andronicus, yes he did write it); write and read novels; make movies (Plan 9 From Outer Space); rule empires; read about empires (of the Ants); and have peaceful political discourse. Shape rotators play tetris.

  26. birgerjohansson says

    In “Wrath of Khan”, Mr. Spock said of the villain he was intelligent, but his pattern implies “two-dimensional thinking”.
    So these goons are literally Star Trek supervillains. Except I doubt they would manage to survive marooned on a desolate planet like Khan did.

  27. lanir says

    So is it just me or can this be accurately summarized as “I’m smarter than you because you only go to college and learn things while I can make multiple mental fidget toys in my mind!” or something vaguely equivalent?

  28. Susan Montgomery says

    The question is not “how do we oppose this mentality?” but “how do we exploit it?”

    They are who they are and we need to find a way to use that against them.

  29. says


    That analogy doesn’t cut it.

    Lathes are useful tools; they can be used to actually make things.

    Not sure that the same can be said of Mr. Peterson’s mind. It seems to produce mostly chatter and swarf.

  30. KG says


    When I was a postgrad at the University of Sussex, and Geoff Hintonwas a postdoc there, he gave a talk including this example (as part of an argument against the notion that people have a kind of Euclidean “mental space” for tasks like rotating cubes). I believe he originated it.

  31. blf says

    clsi@35, Thank you for clarifying! To me, like some others, @22 seemed too close to trolls and other eejits I couldn’t be sure… well done (on the fooling!), and for quickly explaining.

  32. PaulBC says

    KG@46 Thanks! That fits. If I were sufficiently motivated, I could probably track down the textbook. But I remember seeing Norvig and Russell’s AI: A Modern Approach, and wishing that had been available to me much earlier. Between the “Handbook of Artificial Intelligence” that I bought through Byte Books as a teen, the unidentified one from the 80s, and the Nils Nilsson text used in a later course, I was completely turned off of AI. It might have been different if I had had a better textbook.

    Anyway, Hinton’s view seems a little dogmatic. Any animal with a complex brain uses spatial reasoning and is often amazingly accurate at difficult tasks such as throwing a ball at a distant target. “Cube rotation” doesn’t have an immediate survival value, but I’m sure at least some people can get very good at it with practice. OK, so it’s not a “Euclidean mental space” but it’s a cognitive capability that can be developed and probably corresponds to specific brain functions with other more practical purposes. (This may not contradict Hinton’s claim.)

    It’s also extremely useful to have a coordinate system and algebraic expressions for rotations. This is in fact a more reliable way to generate truth statements about shape rotations than trying to see the whole thing in your head. But I personally don’t feel I understand anything until I can “see” at least a rough idea of what it entails.

  33. says

    when I was studying organic chemistry I was able to imagine long aliphatic chains with all their conformations in my head.
    Today I would say I am very bad at imagining any imagery unless those are curves on hte graph.
    Use it or lose it.
    It’s possible some people are more talented into 1 area than other and whenever possible use this strategy in everyday life so they become much more proficient, but if they started training the other skill they maybe would be able to excel in that?

  34. KG says


    Interestingly, Geoff Hinton’s great-grandfather Charles Howard Hinton, invented a set of coloured cubes intended to help people visualise the four-dimensional analogue of a cube. I read in Scientific American decades ago (in one of Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Games columns) that using these cubes is actually dangerous (psychologically), as it can set up an autonomous process in the brain that is then difficult to stop (a kind of visual “brainworm”). Geoff is also descended from George Boole, originator of Boolean logic.

  35. acdoylejr says

    I know that anecdote isn’t evidence, but let me just raise a parting glass to JG, the smartest kid I ever knew. In his recent obit, the family posted one of his faculty recommendations to a college you don’t like, but kids work hard to make it in, and his faculty advisor said “J is not merely the best physicist I’ve ever taught, the best in this school, the best in New England, but J is the best physicist in this sector of the galaxy. I’ve never met his like”. J won the math and physics prizes, both with some sizeable cash money attached.

    And….drumroll please…..he won the Greek and Latin prizes, with even more cash money involved. The kid wrote and spoke beautifully, could do non-Euclidean Fourier transforms, and led the soccer team to an undefeated season. He was really nice, too, charming, sweet, funny, generous.

    We attended the same boarding school and college, and at the secondary school, good students might be “busted” twice, the first earning them 32 hours of cleaning toilets, the 2nd expulsion. Rumor has it that JG was busted 7 or 8 times. The faculty member would walk in on him and the bong, then think “I can’t do this, he’s way too sweet and way too smart” (and yes, there were some black kids who also were treated leniently, so it wasn’t merely white privilege), and the grown-up would announce: “I’m returning to this dorm room in 1 minute and 45 seconds!!!”, enough time to hide the bong, light a cigarette, and not be so obviously guilty.

    I don’t know how he was at building things, but he wrote and spoke with grace and flair, and he had a math and science brain that was non-pareil, just, ummmmm, a gift of the gods, heh heh. Sometimes we’d get baked, and he’d start describing what the 11 dimensions you’d need for the Standard Model to include gravity (I’m talking smack here, no idea how the microverse works with mesons and leptons and Higgs scalar bosons and superstrings, etc.), but he’d actually lead you onward from a 4th to a 5th to a 6th dimension, lushly describing each. And all you could do is envy, in a good way, namely, I wish my brain could do that.

    Anyway, this binary shape-twirler versus word-crafter nonsense is just that. Most of the best mathematicians and physicists I’ve known were delightfully skilled in high-end banter.

  36. PaulBC says

    using these cubes is actually dangerous (psychologically), as it can set up an autonomous process in the brain that is then difficult to stop (a kind of visual “brainworm”

    Interesting. That reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke story The Ultimate Melody (I had to look up the name) about an earworm so dangerous it could make you catatonic.

    I’ll have to look up the hypercube visualization (and be careful to steer clear of the gates of madness).

  37. Tethys says

    I don’t expect logic from people who invent terms like wordcel to explain why they lose debates.

    Being able to formulate and express complex ideas verbally clearly has far more utility in daily life than the ability to visualize and spin a cube. Writing itself is an abstract expression of lines that represent the sounds of speech, so the claims that cube spinners are somehow excelling at complex abstract thoughts because they lose debates is circular absurdity.

    Cube spinning requires zero effort for my brain, and I routinely design and create objects with complex geometries entirely in my head. Then I take a stick and some strings, and make a sweater, or a hat, or maybe sew something.

    I fail to see that as a special skill, as it’s a common characteristic of humans everywhere.

  38. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @50 & PaulBC @53: My first serious attempt at visualization of a 4D solid was courtesy of a 1938 paper by Paul Dirac. He imagined an electron as it defines a world line (a path through space and time). To avoid field singularities, he further imagined a sphere of radius ε around the electron, defined at each time in the instantaneous rest frame of the electron. Between two times, this carves out a 4D hypertube containing the electron’s world line. Of course, the surface of this hypertube is three-dimensional. At each end (initial time and final time), the three surface dimensions are spacelike. But along the ‘sides’ of the tube, one dimension is timelike and two are spacelike. Trying to visualize it caused me some minor headaches.

  39. mmfwmc says

    When I used to commute, I would think about what I had planned for the day. If I was coding, I’d do math puzzles like sudoku. If I was writing reports then I’d do the cryptic crossword. It had remarkably significant effects on how good I was at the two tasks – if I thought I was writing reports and suddenly found that I had to hotfix a bug, I’d be lost for the first hour.

  40. DanDare says

    I seem to be fine with spinning about 400 metalic cubes with different colours on each face while also considering epistemology.
    Is that a super power by crossing the streams?