Aphantasia - the inability to visualise things in your mind

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Wikipedia says, succinctly, "Aphantasia is a hypothesized neurological condition[1] where a person does not possess a functioning mind's eye. The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880,[2] but remained largely unstudied until 2015, when it was termed aphantasia by a team led by Prof. Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter Medical School."

Here's a link to a BBC piece about it, which features a little quiz that tells you (roughly) whether or not you have a mind's eye, and approximately where you might sit in the population regarding how well, or not, you visualise stuff: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34039054

This story broke out of an office down the corridor from me, and I initially didn't think much about it, until Blake Ross, who invented Firefox and then worked at Facebook before it was enormous and terrifying, wrote a post about it: https://www.facebook.com/notes/blake-ross/aphantasia-how-it-feels-to-be-blind-in-your-mind/10156834777480504

I read Blake's post with an increasing sense of identification, about my daily thoughts being a constant monologue rather than a stream of images, about not imagining music beyond "dum-de-dum-de-dum", about how my memory is shocking (good recall on 'facts', awful recall on who spoke to me when - I'm forever telling things back to Emma that she told me first - or on other details of events in my life), about being unable to write fiction despite being told by numerous people that they expected me to do so, about the books that clicked with me and the kinds of books that didn't, about how I have certain pre-loaded descriptions and anecdotes queued up in my mind that I can reel off if necessary.

It's not total identification - I can draw, I do dream, I do have some, albeit very minor, degree of visualisation, but I definitely felt like I understood his experience far more than the opposite. I catch myself saying "I can see them but I can't think of their name" quite often, for instance, but I'm not 'seeing' a face in my head, I'm just... knowing that I know who they are, and would recognise them if I saw them. I think of myself as a very visual person - I'm a decent (amateur) photographer, I commission and instruct professional photographers, I write design briefs and approve design schemes in my day job, I sign-off artwork, I used to draw and paint all the time when I was a kid. (I wonder if I could visualise and if it's slowly evaporated as a skill as I've got older?)

So I took the test on the BBC site, and came out in the bottom 5% of the population for being able to visualise things. I'm not completely brain-blind like Blake is, but any 'images' I do get are very, very indistinct, and so fleeting that I can't concentrate on them at all.

Interestingly, when I went home and spoke to Emma about this, she reminded me of something she'd said to me months ago - that she couldn't 'recall' what Nora looks like, she couldn't see Nora's face in her own mind, or mine, or her mum's, and that this made her sad when she thought about it. I didn't think this was that unusual, because I also can't, but now it seems that it might be.

So, aphantasia. Do you see things in your mind's eye? How clear are they? How easy is it? Discuss.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Friday, 6 May 2016 09:26 (seven years ago) link

I think this might tie in with this: Musical Recall: Do You Hear Music Playing Internally In Your Head?

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Friday, 6 May 2016 09:27 (seven years ago) link

This is really interesting and I've always been fascinated with the correlation between music and mental imagery. As someone who suspects he might have mild aphantasia, do you find that music brings images or other thoughts to your mind, or do you interpret it in a more literal way?

TARANTINO! (dog latin), Friday, 6 May 2016 10:00 (seven years ago) link

A friend asked me just that the other day - "what do you see when you listen to music?" - to which my response was "the stereo / speakers / fireplace / whatever; I'm listening, not looking". I listen very spatially though (or used to, before the stereo was toddler-proofed at the back of the room), and like to get a good soundstage and separation, etc. When I think about and describe music I often use visual examples I think, and I remember distinctly when I went to a Kandinsky exhibition thinking that some of his work, especially early, minimalist sketches as he started toying with abstraction, were like visual equivalents or representations of music, but I don't 'see' music in my head like that.

WE had quite a discussion about abstract art in relation to this the other day in the office, and I wonder how that connects too. Someone in my office visualises much more normally than me, but hates abstract art; he likes figurative, 'skilled' 'recreations' of things. I like swirls of colour!

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Friday, 6 May 2016 10:10 (seven years ago) link

I'm pretty sure I must visualise a lot when I hear music.
I've mentioned this once or twice on ILM but to me it's the ultimate goal of the musician/artist to conjure up these images. Of course music functions in loads of different ways and there are all sorts of other reasons people will enjoy a piece of music, like if you fancy the singer or you like slam-dancing into your mates or whatever.
But for me, I enjoy music the most when I'm able to suspend the ego entirely and just get taken away. Classical music, electronic music, instrumental music, I find does this most easily, but so can a love song. Joni Mitchell, as a random example, takes me on full-length journeys in the space of an album. A dance routine is a visual and physical interpretation of the sound. A music video or a light show too. It's one step toward helping the listener reach that apex point.

What I find myself striving for is a kind of apex point where I've stopped caring about my surroundings, forgotten who I am etc... I've had this only once or twice, usually whilst dozing off to an album on the train and being unsure as to whether I'm imagining the sounds I'm hearing. There was a very interesting experience where it felt like I was pre-empting and even controlling the music with my mind's eye.
Another time while at (lol) uni, I deep-listened to Autechre's EP7 on headphones in the dark and felt as though I could see and feel textures and light-patterns. It felt very real, but it was a one-off.

TARANTINO! (dog latin), Friday, 6 May 2016 10:49 (seven years ago) link

Sublimation of the sense of self. That's basically what religious worship has been after for ever.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Friday, 6 May 2016 11:17 (seven years ago) link

Well, I mean, I don't want to get too hippyish about it, but if I had a religion it would be music, and I do kind of believe in its transcendent qualities.

TARANTINO! (dog latin), Friday, 6 May 2016 11:18 (seven years ago) link



Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Friday, 6 May 2016 11:25 (seven years ago) link

Not blind, but usually rather hazy, as if I were seeing through mental cataracts. I would say that my imagination definitely keys off of language much more than it does imagery, but I can mentally visualize familiar faces and places and I have a fairly keen topographical and spatial sense, although it manifests more subliminally than as overt images. When I do visualize mentally, the images are usually fleeting and not especially vivid.

As for hearing music playing in my head, yes, but not to the point where I can recreate all the instruments in an arrangement and hear them separately if need be. Again, it is far more basic than that, mostly the melody and a general sense of the instrumentation.

My mother displays a very interesting phenomenon in regard to music and language. She is unable to connect a wordless melody to its lyrics. I have literally hummed her the tune of 'Happy Birthday To You' and she could not identify the tune by name or sing the words, but if you ask her to sing 'Happy Birthday To You', she can.

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Friday, 6 May 2016 17:03 (seven years ago) link

I have the opposite of this - the BBC website linked to above calls it 'hyperphantasia' but that sounds like a rave/trance compilation album.

Another time while at (lol) uni, I deep-listened to Autechre's EP7 on headphones in the dark and felt as though I could see and feel textures and light-patterns. It felt very real, but it was a one-off.

I just tried this with "Netlon Sentinel" and felt like I was floating weightlessly through a WinAmp visualisation suspended in the clouds that felt like corduroy and candyfloss.

I never wanted to be your weekend lover (snoball), Friday, 6 May 2016 20:46 (seven years ago) link

I mean the clouds felt like candyfloss and the WinAmp visualisation bits felt like corduroy. Sort of pixelated corduroy. Pixelisation feels like corduroy.

I never wanted to be your weekend lover (snoball), Friday, 6 May 2016 20:49 (seven years ago) link

I am sad there's not more talk here.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Saturday, 7 May 2016 19:02 (seven years ago) link

what happens when you do hallucinogens

home organ, Saturday, 7 May 2016 19:16 (seven years ago) link

Personally 'hallucinogens' (by which I mean mostly acid and mushrooms) don't have not much effect at all in terms of increasing ability to visualise things in my mind, even with music...It's the outside world that is transformed.

Half-baked profundities. Self-referential smirkiness (Bob Six), Saturday, 7 May 2016 19:54 (seven years ago) link

*don't have much

But I think I'm poor at visualisation. I remember being really struck when I first read John Updike how much of visual sense he had and conveyed in his writing, which I seemed to be lacking.

Half-baked profundities. Self-referential smirkiness (Bob Six), Saturday, 7 May 2016 20:08 (seven years ago) link

I've always thought my visual imagery is rather strong but according to that quiz it's average. Some of the questions I was quite blank on - the length of a friend's stride? I don't know if that's something I'd particularly notice irl. Colours are particularly vivid, I feel like faces and smiles and things are very clear - however, though I can draw, I don't think I could at all draw a face from visual memory, so maybe details aren't that clear after all. Or maybe drawing from memory is a learned skill that I've never practiced. I do feel like my auditory memory is quite sharp in detail and if I had the musical ability I could reproduce with some accuracy songs that are particularly familiar to me.

I don't have a great memory for past events, often friends will remember things I've totally forgotten, and when that happens it really feels like it's a visual memory I'm grasping for, if I do manage to remember it's as a picture. How do you aphantasiacs remember the past?

I've had Eno, ugh (ledge), Saturday, 7 May 2016 20:41 (seven years ago) link

aimless's post pretty much describes me. i can conjure some mental images but they are fuzzy and fleeting. "mental cataracts" is a good description. i especially notice this when recalling dreams. i know i've dreamt in detail about someone or something but there is rarely any distinct or persistant imagery.

new noise, Saturday, 7 May 2016 20:57 (seven years ago) link

My mental images are pretty hazy and fleeting but I do have them. I always hated exercises like "visualise a beach/relaxing place"; I can summon up a few vague, flat snapshots of actual remembered beaches or a stereotypical Caribbean holiday postcard or whatever but I hate being put on the spot to do so and can never summon any real sense of being "there" or being relaxed by it.

However this (from Blake Ross's blog) is completely alien to me, I cannot imagine living like this at all, as my dreams are totally visual and sensory and colourful and vivid:

I’ve had a couple dreams but there was no visual or sensory component to them. When I woke up, I just knew a list of “plot points” about things that happened. This is also how I digest fiction.

But I do v much relate to his approach to reading fiction: I very rarely have much of an image of the characters and often skip past descriptive sections looking for dialogue/action. I think I imagined the characters more when I was a kid, because I remember a few jarring moments when the text said e.g. "Susie flicked back her straw-blonde hair" when in my head Susie was dark-haired, but now even if I can partially visualise a setting the characters tend to be person-shaped voids moving through it.

I also think my ability to visualise things comes and goes a bit; the first time I read about aphantasia I scored my visual imagery a lot lower than I did this time round, and sometimes I've been distressed to not be able to call certain people's faces to mind, but reading the articles I went through my family, coworkers, friends current and past, and could bring them all to mind. No idea what it ties into though.

a passing spacecadet, Saturday, 7 May 2016 21:03 (seven years ago) link

yeah "visualise a beach" or "count sheep" are things i can't really do... trying results in my mind wandering elsewhere.

new noise, Saturday, 7 May 2016 21:11 (seven years ago) link

You know when they tell you there are 3 or 4 different learning/memory styles and you should tie your learning techniques into the appropriate sense? And some people instantly go "oh yeah, I totally have x kind of mind!"? Well, I've never really worked it out what mine is.

I actually do think I have a somewhat visual memory, just a uselessly hazy one. Trying to recall a fact or grammatical table I read in a book, I might have an idea it was halfway down the left-hand page inside a shaded blue box, but be completely unable to remember the useful details. If you asked me what I did on a day out I would probably run through a list of visual snapshots in my head, though.

But I have similar sort-of-but-not-really feelings about auditory memory too.

a passing spacecadet, Saturday, 7 May 2016 21:29 (seven years ago) link

I very rarely have much of an image of the characters and often skip past descriptive sections looking for dialogue/action.

Biiiiiig time. Which is probably why I've stayed with genre fic my whole life and not been tempted by fancy adult fiction that is mostly about characters' interior lives and 3 pages of describing the way light looks on a cityscape when you're having a midlife existential crisis.

If authoritarianism is Romania's ironing board, then (in orbit), Saturday, 7 May 2016 21:31 (seven years ago) link

Trying to recall a fact or grammatical table I read in a book, I might have an idea it was halfway down the left-hand page inside a shaded blue box, but be completely unable to remember the useful details.

loooooool Also true but at least you can flip through the pages looking for a blue box on the left! I'm like this with quotes or passages I want to reference later. "I can't remember the statistic but it was about 2/3 down on the right page just before a chapter header."

If authoritarianism is Romania's ironing board, then (in orbit), Saturday, 7 May 2016 21:38 (seven years ago) link

tbf when I flip through the pages looking for a blue box on the left I might then finally find it three entire-book-flips later on the right hand side in an orange-shaded circle, possibly in a completely different book, and then it won't even be about the thing I thought it was about

but it works about half the time I guess, which is the best I've got

a passing spacecadet, Saturday, 7 May 2016 21:46 (seven years ago) link

I took the "quiz" and am apparently in the minority of people who have super vivid visualization ability - I have no trouble imagining things at real-life levels of detail. Like as I was taking the test and got to the sunrise scenario, first I imagined a filmed sunrise, then I thought "that's cheating" and thought about sunrise as seen from an airplane window, then sunrise as viewed from the window of my house, and then imagined a sunrise as it looks sitting on the rocks by Monterey bay. All of this in maximum resolution.

Do y'alls dreams have the same sort of filter? My dreams are also extremely vivid.

bothan zulu (El Tomboto), Saturday, 7 May 2016 23:47 (seven years ago) link

I think I'm pretty ordinary in terms of my ability to "see" and "hear" things mentally. The images and sounds I create in my head are not fully developed, but they're sufficient - in conjuction with internal narrative and the recall of facts - to reassure me that I'm remembering or imagining things properly. For instance, I can call to mind several different views of my sister's face, a few of her characteristic expressions, and the tone of her voice. It isn't a particularly rich or detailed library, but again, it's sufficient. I dream in full-blown, big budget movies and can picture any number of beaches, real or make-believe. I can read text to myself in the voices of William Burroughs and Werner Herzog, play "Search and Destroy" in my head, actually "hear" the ragged sting of Williamson's guitar.

However, as an artist, I've long struggled with the limitations of my sensory memory and imagination. I've known a few people so gifted in this regard that they describe the act of drawing as being similar to tracing. They simply call an image to mind and copy it down. I can't do that. I can't do anything like that, though I wish I could. My mental viewscreen breaks down when subjected to demands of that sort. Like, if I try to focus in on that image of my sister's face, pull out the details that don't immediately spring to mind, I realize how indistinct and provisional it really is. Frustrating.

Francis Ford Cupola (contenderizer), Sunday, 8 May 2016 00:06 (seven years ago) link

Yeah that's very much how I feel.

I've had Eno, ugh (ledge), Sunday, 8 May 2016 06:57 (seven years ago) link

How do you aphantasiacs remember the past?

Maybe this sounded facetious - what I meant was, there are things I know I've done in the past, that I can recall in just factual, non visual detail, but they don't feel like memories. It seems to me (since I started thinking about this in earnest last night) that unless I have an image of something, albeit indistinct or even from a photo, it might as well have happened to someone else.

I've had Eno, ugh (ledge), Sunday, 8 May 2016 07:26 (seven years ago) link

So to rephrase the question, if you just have factual, non visual recall, does it feel different from other factual knowledge?

I've had Eno, ugh (ledge), Sunday, 8 May 2016 07:28 (seven years ago) link

Interesting research. Thanks for the link, Sick!

For me, it's kind of like one of those "can I rotate three-dimensional objects in your mind? what do you mean other people *can't*?" kinda questions. Because nope, I'm one of those super-visualisers. (Didn't get a super high score on the test because I have mild prosopagnosia - faces are the one thing I really can't recognise or recall in any kind of detail. But this means I am more dependent on things like hairstyle, dress sense, gait, voice, for being able to recognise people outsider of their context.) But come on. "Visualise a beach"? What kind of a beach? Tropical beach? Californian beach? Windswept Scottish beach? Cornish beach? What time of year is it? What wildflowers are out? Which direction is the wind coming from? How finely grained is the sand underfoot? How high are the wave caps? Can I draw u a picture? Maybe change the sky, make it an alien beach with a pink sun and an orange sky? Cool.

I think I'm a super-visualiser because I'm just a super-noticer. It's a thing I realised, going for walks with other people, that I just seemed to be taking in ten times as much detail as a friend on the same walk. I just constantly spotting plants, geological features, architectural details, only to have my friend go "what? how did you even spot that?" Which is odd, because I always thought of myself as someone who walked around in an oblivious daze. But taking that fine-grain of detail in, means that when I recall something, I have that much data to work with, when visualising, or describing, or sketching the scene from memory. I get frustrated with writing that isn't detailed *enough* for me to visualise where we are or who the character is talking to.

But, oddly, my memory is really incredibly poor. Maybe that's even because my internal visualisation is so good, it's easier to visualise or imagine a scene afresh, rather than fetch the memory.

Mostly, I'm just amazed at the staggering level of variation in human brains. How many people seem to take it for granted that everyone functions with pretty much the same mental apparatus, and we just don't. (I think it's important to recognise that it's not pathological or wrong, it's just *different*.) Much of the past year has been such a bizarre process of discovering all these things I am supposed to be able to do, but can't ("what do you MEAN, I am supposed to just look at a pair of disembodied eyes, and work out what emotion they are feeling, from a photo? Are you joking, that's sci-fi kinda stuff! I am not a mind-reader!") It's neat to discover other kinds of differences where I do above average, rather than badly. :) And it also helps to explain many, many sources of conflict.

Sehr Kornisch (Branwell with an N), Sunday, 8 May 2016 10:11 (seven years ago) link

I can read text to myself in the voices of William Burroughs and Werner Herzog, play "Search and Destroy" in my head, actually "hear" the ragged sting of Williamson's guitar.

This is pretty much my experience when I'm awake - realism and detail turned up to max. When I'm dreaming, however, it's like my subconscious is being efficient and only using as much detail as necessary. So a lot of my dreams are in black & white with no or minimal sound. Other times they can be like movies - but it always seems that the extra detail is required for a specific reason. Even if the reason isn't obvious, like a recent dream where I was on a nudist beach populated entirely by octogenarians. Why, subconscious, why?

However, as an artist, I've long struggled with the limitations of my sensory memory and imagination.

Also this. I can come up with bits of riffs and chord progressions, maybe a couple of lines of lyrics. But to do more I need to record instruments into the computer and then listen to them back so I can come up with the next bit, or with lyrics write them down and look at them on the page/screen so that I can juggle the words and lines around. Which is kind of frustrating, as I can sit and hear in my mind the whole of 'Search & Destroy' more or less entirely from start to finish, to the point of either hearing the vinyl version or the awful digitally distorted Iggy remix. Allegedly Mozart was able to hear entire pieces in his mind when he was composing, which seems like a really useful ability to have. Certainly more practical than cranking up a DAW. Bowie was supposedly on a bus in London when he came up with most of 'Life On Mars', and although he had to get off the bus and immediately go back home to work on it any further, it's way more than I can manage.

I never wanted to be your weekend lover (snoball), Sunday, 8 May 2016 10:19 (seven years ago) link

For me, it's kind of like one of those "can I rotate three-dimensional objects in your mind? what do you mean other people *can't*?" kinda questions

This reminds me of something that happened at a place I used to work a long time ago. One of the guys there was a 'topper', in other words whatever someone could do, he could always do it better. One day we were discussing moving some equipment into an office, and I said something like "oh I can imagine where that would go", just casually. But then this guy went into full 'topper' mode and started saying things like "I can VISUALISE things in MY MIND. I can SEE a THREE DEE CUBE and ROTATE it!". While I stood there thinking 'really?', because it seemed to me to be like someone saying "I can HEAR SOUNDS with MY EARS!".

I never wanted to be your weekend lover (snoball), Sunday, 8 May 2016 10:32 (seven years ago) link

I don't have anything against octogenarians going to nudist beaches, I just don't understand why I need to visualise every nook and cranny of the backside of an 80 year old man who's spent most of his life tanning himself mahogany.

I never wanted to be your weekend lover (snoball), Sunday, 8 May 2016 10:54 (seven years ago) link

I am not good at visualising in my mind, although I love visual arts and feel like I could be creative within those fields, and I write a lot, often including visual description (though mostly I write internalist prose). For instance, when I write something like a film script, I know exactly how to create atmosphere with camera angles, props, colour. But those things are more like maps or lists in my brain until they are assembled in the real world (NB sadly I have never made a film, but I have done analogous amateur art things). When I was trying to visualise my friend's face for the test I found that shutting my eyes didn't help at all, and in fact it was easier to have my eyes open and sort of 'catch' the memory of the face out of the corner of my eye. But it could only be conjured visually for a split second before reverting back to theoretical memory. Funnily enough, the questions about the walking gait and the thunderstorm were the only ones I could score greater than 'vague and dim' for, so maybe memory of movement is different to memory of still images?

emil.y, Sunday, 8 May 2016 12:48 (seven years ago) link

What is a theoretical memory of someone's face like?

I've had Eno, ugh (ledge), Sunday, 8 May 2016 13:10 (seven years ago) link

I suffer from this when I try to listen to a basketball game on the radio.

clemenza, Sunday, 8 May 2016 13:19 (seven years ago) link

It's like, I know what their hair colour and style is. I just *know* what it is. I know what size and shape their face is. Sometimes I know their eye colour. I know whether they wear makeup or not and what style of makeup they tend to wear, or if they have a beard or stubble. These are facts about this person and I can recite them to you if you ask me to recall that person. I can also use these facts to flash up for a millisecond that visual memory, but not longer, I can't grasp the face, I can't consider it long and hard.


emil.y, Sunday, 8 May 2016 13:22 (seven years ago) link

This is so interesting. I think I first realised I was lacking in this when I got a really below average score on a spatial awareness test in school, and my careers guidance teacher was trying to understand it. She was trying to say, "Oh maybe you'd filled the boxes in wrong"(?!) and I knew, no, it was the fact I couldn't visualise shapes or rotate them in my mind.

I can recall this memory, but I can't picture myself, her, or the room we were in at all.

Strangely, I have quite vivid dreams, that are highly visual. I don't understand why I can't do it when I'm awake.

gyac, Sunday, 8 May 2016 13:38 (seven years ago) link

"Catching" the memory of a face out of the corner of your eye is a great way of putting it. As soon as I try and concentrate on it, it's gone.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Sunday, 8 May 2016 14:37 (seven years ago) link

Very interesting thread topic and posts. Took the test, scored in the middle, of course. There was a time when it used to frustrate me, and once in a while it still does, that I don't have better visual recall of exact images but, as you guys just basically said, if one tries to force it, it usually dissipates and disappears that much faster. Much better to accept the slightly murky view as a sort of a cool visual effect. Instead of trying to bear down and focus on one part of the mental image, I try to remind myself to take a breath and ask myself questions like "who else was in the room that I am not remembering?" Since I'm reasonably good at remembering stuff like: "who was there, where were they sitting? etc., this may be a case of "looking where the light is" but nonetheless it usually bears some kind of fruit.

Wrecka Stow Ralph (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 8 May 2016 15:16 (seven years ago) link

Was hoping you'd like this thread / discussion, Branwell.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Monday, 9 May 2016 12:12 (seven years ago) link

Took the test. Got 29, which is average apparently. Not sure how useful a test like this is, since you can only go by your own experiences. 'As vivid as real life' is a high marker really, since nothing I visualise lets me legitimately reach out and touch it, or smell it.

TARANTINO! (dog latin), Monday, 9 May 2016 13:00 (seven years ago) link

Yeah 'vivid' seems like a problematic term. It's not like I'm actually seeing anything. 'Accurate' might be less misleading.

I've had Eno, ugh (ledge), Monday, 9 May 2016 13:17 (seven years ago) link

faces are the one thing I really can't recognise or recall in any kind of detail

I think I'm the opposite, I'm constantly amazed when people don't recognize faces, to the point of exasperation when they think a photograph of someone is someone else.

(Henry) Green container bin with face (Tom D.), Monday, 9 May 2016 13:42 (seven years ago) link

Though I suppose that's a different subject.

(Henry) Green container bin with face (Tom D.), Monday, 9 May 2016 13:49 (seven years ago) link

I'm good at faces IRL, but on film/television I'm so bad that if someone changes their hair or grows a beard, I've no idea who they are.

TARANTINO! (dog latin), Monday, 9 May 2016 14:08 (seven years ago) link

39 out of 40. Which I guess is unsurprising. My imagination is incredibly vivid. Which is something I've always valued until a relative was recently put on antipsychotics and now I'm kinda more like...whuh oh. I don't know if there's any actual correlation between hypervivid imagination/visualization and actual mental illness, though.

Peanut Duck (Old Lunch), Monday, 9 May 2016 14:10 (seven years ago) link

xpost I'm not terribly visually detail oriented IRL (at least not consciously so), so I don't know how much correlation there is there, either.

Peanut Duck (Old Lunch), Monday, 9 May 2016 14:12 (seven years ago) link

Took the test. Got 29, which is average apparently. Not sure how useful a test like this is, since you can only go by your own experiences. 'As vivid as real life' is a high marker really, since nothing I visualise lets me legitimately reach out and touch it, or smell it.

― TARANTINO! (dog latin)

yeah, same (i got 30, but close enough). the "vivid as real life" thing bugs me. i wouldn't ever describe remembering or imagining in those terms.

i mean, my dreams are vivid as life. i've had drug trips that eclipse reality. occasionally, while on the verge of sleep, i'll experience a brief auditory hallucination that seems 99.9999999% real. but ordinary, everyday thinking baout things never occurs with a comparable degree of verisimilitude. when i imagine a beach, it's not like I'm suddenly actually THERE.

if i were less uptight about that distinction, though, i would have answered "vivid as real life" for at least a few questions.

da vinci beaver testicles (contenderizer), Monday, 9 May 2016 16:19 (seven years ago) link

I think the distinction I would make is that I can visualize things with the same clarity as the things I see in real life but those visualizations are not at all necessarily representative of the real life things I'm visualizing. The details may be wrong but whatever I may have mentally added or subtracted is clear as crystal.

Peanut Duck (Old Lunch), Monday, 9 May 2016 16:28 (seven years ago) link

Can't suppress the thought that this thread must be about yet another Prince side project that I was hitherto unfamiliar with. Perhaps there is a screenname in there, hmm.

Old Familiar Toonces (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 9 May 2016 16:49 (seven years ago) link

i do that i think! i might have an album cover come to mind. i can conjure up sound no problem, but without any prompting images usually come first.

xp yeah saw that guardian thing, complete coincidence! probably covered upthread but it is really hard to discuss this kind of thing, when i 'see' things in my imagination it's not really like actual sight - it's really impossible to describe without using misleading visual metaphors.

home, home and deranged (ledge), Friday, 24 August 2018 16:22 (five years ago) link

It’s more like an idea of an image than an actual picture but I’m a designer so I guess I’m often picturing things that never existed and that’s even stranger to describe.

Britain's Sexiest Cow (jed_), Friday, 24 August 2018 16:32 (five years ago) link

when i think of modern english "i melt with you" i picture cheeseburgers.
"mmm mmm mmm... mmm mmm mmm mmm"

but they wanted me to, so i guess it worked.

Philip Nunez, Friday, 24 August 2018 17:20 (five years ago) link

to be fair I have a much better ability to recall/imagine sounds than images. or, rather, it's inconsistent -- I can imagine an image I've seen before, fairly well, but rotating 3D objects I'm hopeless at (which made large swaths of calculus basically a nightmare)

aloha darkness my old friend (katherine), Friday, 24 August 2018 17:30 (five years ago) link

"visualize your childhood bedroom from 20 years ago" = A-OK; "visualize a cross-section of an arbitrary cylinder with a hole in it" = are you fucking serious right now

aloha darkness my old friend (katherine), Friday, 24 August 2018 17:31 (five years ago) link

isn't that a donut? i could think of cruller things to visualize.

Philip Nunez, Friday, 24 August 2018 17:38 (five years ago) link

which made large swaths of calculus basically a nightmare

My experience with calculus was that the more complex it got the more being able to visualise made it easier for me to understand. So single variable area-under-a-function kind of problems took a bit of remembering of rules etc., solids of rotation shell / disk was the point where I could properly visualise what was going on, and multivariable here's a plane here's a surface described by a function now imagine the space where they intersect mindfuck kind of thing I found 'easy'. Or at least until I had to write equations again because remembering equations I find to be really difficult - they seem particularly hard to visualise.

Visibly Over 25 (snoball), Friday, 24 August 2018 20:46 (five years ago) link

yeah, that's the more common opinion I gather, but for me it was the exact opposite -- remembering the rules was fine, doing the integrals was relatively fine, but the second you asked me to imagine a solid of rotation and what that would look like I froze up, and when it got to visualizing anything multivariate it just got worse. (I distinctly remember in calculus 3 one of our tests pulling questions from the textbook, one of which was "match these six contour maps to these six 3D graphs." for most people I expect this was probably a gimme, being a matching question and all, but the only way I got anywhere with it was to literally tear that section off the test paper, rotate it so the axes at least aligned, then staple it back at the end. and even then I couldn't visualize it and at best could just trial-and-error plug in points.)

aloha darkness my old friend (katherine), Friday, 24 August 2018 21:09 (five years ago) link

12 year old snoball had real trouble with trig because teachers insisted on getting students to memorise 'sohcahtoa' but I would have had a much easier time if they'd just shown us sin/cos/tan on the unit circle.
I didn't see this diagram until years after I left school, but it would have saved me a lot of wasted effort randomly punching the sin/cos/tan buttons on my Casio FX-82A.

Visibly Over 25 (snoball), Friday, 24 August 2018 21:18 (five years ago) link

That Quietus piece actually pisses me off.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Friday, 24 August 2018 22:35 (five years ago) link

that’s because the ‘language’ employed by the human brain is primarily one of images. Even if we’re engaging in dense verbal cognition such as preparing a speech, vivid pictures act as the unbidden chaperone of all thought.

This is just not true at all. Anyone who's read a basic Oliver Sacks book could tell you musical cognition/language has a base even more embedded, some think, than visual or spoken. Its why music therapy exists.

Its why whenever anyone says "dont know why" I start mentally singing "stormy weather". Did the person who wrote this just say this bollox to justify talking about AFX's videos?

Stoop Crone (Trayce), Monday, 27 August 2018 04:21 (five years ago) link

Did the person who wrote this just say this bollox to justify talking about AFX's videos?

This is more likely to be a case of "At this moment I feel this is true and I am the sine qua non of what makes a human. So, if it seems true about me when I squint at it properly and don't stop to question it, it must be true about people everywhere."

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 27 August 2018 04:54 (five years ago) link

it's one throwaway line in an article about a video producer. Still it's interesting it's sparked such a debate

Scritti Vanilli - The Word Girl You Know It's True (dog latin), Monday, 27 August 2018 09:20 (five years ago) link

seven months pass...

Bump; being interviewed later today for the local news website about this. Emil.y I'm going to nick your "we need to move our creativity from the abstract to the concrete" idea, because that's amazing! Totally sums up how I feel about my own creativity.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 09:41 (five years ago) link

I saw people talking about this on Twitter the other day and someone mentioned the thing of counting sheep to get to sleep, which I never could understand, the sheep are not there! So that explained that particular mystery.

Psychedelics really did work for me, maybe a little too well, felt like that bit of my brain is a locked cupboard and that's the only key.

mfktz (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 09:53 (five years ago) link

Oh, the counting sheep thing is literally the first example in the link at the top if the thread, sorry!

mfktz (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 10:10 (five years ago) link

One odd thing is that I am 100% cannot visualise anything, except places I've been to, on a sort of architectural level I can take myself on a tour around them and usually they pop up uninvited when I listen to music that I associate with them, is this a normal thing?

mfktz (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 10:16 (five years ago) link

It's not normal to me! But who knows. I think they key takeaway for me from all this is just how different people's brains, and therefore experiences of the world, are.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 12:23 (five years ago) link

I never got the counting sheep thing either but I don't know if that's because I couldn't visualise them well or just because I had a very over-literal approach and felt like I couldn't just imagine some sheep until someone told me where they were and what they should be doing and what task I should imagine myself completing by counting them, or something.

Like I have trouble ~picturing a beach~ and similar find-yr-happy-place ideas, but maybe mainly because I get hung up on, OK, what does my beach need? What is it for? Do I need to have been there? Hm, maybe actual real life memories of British beaches in the drizzle aren't particularly cosy or relaxing; what generic tropical postcard can my brain conjure up? Does that count if it doesn't feel real or me-related at all?

Then after that I worry about the haziness of the image and the gaps in it and so on. So it feels very forced both visually and conceptually.

a passing spacecadet, Tuesday, 2 April 2019 12:26 (five years ago) link

The key for me is picturing an apple in front of me, I close my eyes and no matter how relaxed I am about the task, there's nothing but blackness there, I get the panic-related version for sure, but even without that happening there seems to be nothing.

mfktz (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 12:30 (five years ago) link

Bump; being interviewed later today for the local news website about this.

I forgot to say earlier that this is cool, so, that's cool! How did it go?

a passing spacecadet, Tuesday, 2 April 2019 19:37 (five years ago) link

Just a phoner that she’s writing up. Should go online Friday, so I’ll link to it. Went fine I think.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 20:22 (five years ago) link


just another country (snoball), Wednesday, 3 April 2019 18:01 (five years ago) link


just another country (snoball), Wednesday, 3 April 2019 18:02 (five years ago) link

Pretty typical local news fodder: https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/dad-cant-picture-what-children-2716422

I'm the human interest hook for the exhibition.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 4 April 2019 13:21 (five years ago) link

I'm surprised having this doesn't upset me. Maybe because I don't really know what I'm missing?

lukas, Thursday, 4 April 2019 13:28 (five years ago) link

Ooh, interesting. I'd love to see that exhibition!

emil.y, Thursday, 4 April 2019 17:02 (five years ago) link

I might go at the weekend. Got invited to the opening tomorrow, but kids. If I go I’ll take pictures...

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 4 April 2019 17:23 (five years ago) link

Please do my very scientific facebook poll: https://www.facebook.com/njsouthall/posts/10101282620831604?notif_id=1554802724292934¬if_t=visual_poll_vote_feedback

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 9 April 2019 09:54 (five years ago) link

Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says 'my mind's eye is blind'

(I see it's the same researcher as in your article, so that's good publicity, though no mention of the conference or the exhibition.)

I don't have a Facebook account or I would do your very scientific Facebook poll!

a passing spacecadet, Tuesday, 9 April 2019 13:03 (five years ago) link

Which is crazy, cos he spoke at the conference!

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 9 April 2019 14:34 (five years ago) link

ed's great, did you meet him?
I don't think I have aphantasia but I've always been crap at being able to put together mental images eg when reading books as a kid I could only 'imagine' versions of things/ places I'd actually seen. so more like visual memories which I kind of patch together

kinder, Tuesday, 9 April 2019 15:04 (five years ago) link

I thought that trying to picture actual faces was notoriously hard... like I can sort of do it but if I try and focus on a particular feature it's often to difficult

kinder, Tuesday, 9 April 2019 15:05 (five years ago) link

Didn’t meet him sadly, or go to the conference. Wish I had!

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Wednesday, 10 April 2019 16:34 (five years ago) link

great post. I think I'm similar re reading fiction.
am I missing it or is the quiz not on the first link in this thread any more?

kinder, Wednesday, 10 April 2019 16:47 (five years ago) link

Looks like it’s gone.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Wednesday, 10 April 2019 17:32 (five years ago) link

four years pass...

I got to thinking the quantified scale for aphantasia is likely bogus, because most people are awful at drawing bikes:

I ride a bike all the time -- you wouldn't know it! This was my third(!) attempt:
It looks nothing like my bike. or any bike.

You'd expect super-visualizers or even moderate visualizers to be able to reproduce a bike -- it'd be like tracing over a picture of one, right?

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 2 November 2023 21:16 (five months ago) link

That's actually a good drawing.

I can barely picture things in my mind but I am decent enough at drawing that I could sketch a bike easily.

Kim Kimberly, Thursday, 2 November 2023 21:32 (five months ago) link

Thanks! How would you remember to draw a bike if not from visual memory? Would it be more like muscle memory from drawing bikes before?

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 2 November 2023 22:40 (five months ago) link

way to bury the lede, that bike project is awesome.

to me it makes more sense that there would be some kind of lag or non-communicability between the mind's eye and one's hands. i don't think criticizing the drawings bears much on the mind's visualization. the visualization is the visualization, the drawing you make from it is a whole different mechanism.

budo jeru, Thursday, 2 November 2023 23:04 (five months ago) link

For sure how you transcribe from your head to your hands would vary quite a bit in finesse and skill, but even if it's a crude translation, my inclination is that "visualizers" ought to be able to preserve basic things (like a seat post that actually extends down to meet the pedals, which I'd forgotten and was completely unable to conjure up in my head visually).

This guy does seem like a rare example of someone who truly has a vivid visual inner experience.

Compare that to this artist who has obviously put in a ton of training:

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 2 November 2023 23:21 (five months ago) link

one month passes...

Been talking about this this week (there was a conversation taking place on Bluesky) and considered how I can visualise nothing at all (if not half-asleep or on certain drugs) but can play whole albums in my head. This may be more of a metaphor than something tangible, but I feel like there are a number of ways I experience the world, I could rank them like this:

1. Music / sounds
2. Spaces / buildings / rooms
3. Concepts / ideas
4. Smells

And so on. I can't see colours (well, I can a little bit) so suspect that's one reason visuals rank so low.
Is this the same thing, or a different thing, or is this me just overthinking the tedious and I think discredited "learning styles" bollocks we had to do at school?
Yeah I dunno.

the world is your octopus (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Tuesday, 12 December 2023 19:18 (four months ago) link

I'd bet way more people are more auditory than visually inclined than even they themselves think, just based on how most people can hum a song as a means of recall (compared to drawing a plausible bike!) -- and often people's humming recall of a song is in the correct key, despite not having absolute pitch.

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 14 December 2023 07:54 (four months ago) link

How would you remember to draw a bike if not from visual memory?

Sorry, missed your question before. When drawing I tend to think on paper, putting lines together until they look right somehow based on having seen countless bikes. Muscle memory is also a factor as I naturally have decent eye-to-hand coordination.

Kim Kimberly, Thursday, 14 December 2023 08:32 (four months ago) link

That kind of visual recognition seems almost universal e.g. most everyone can tell this is not what the painting should look like, even though all the abstract features are in the right place:


and the idea of orientation (e.g. spaces / buildings / rooms) being somewhat distinct from visual thinking gets me wondering if a good portion of people who claim to be visual thinkers are conflating these visual-adjacent aspects with being able to conjure bona fide fully-formed pixel-perfect images in their heads.

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 14 December 2023 19:28 (four months ago) link

two months pass...

Following my post just above:

Article on aphantasia at the Guardian today

For instance, visualizers might imagine their work before they begin. “Aphantasics, myself included, tend to have a general ‘sense’ or idea of what they want to create,” Ebeyer said. Ebeyer begins working, then edits and refines until he is satisfied. He often hears from other artists with aphantasia when they’re in the process of making art: I know it when I see it. This teaches us that imagination extends beyond mental imagery.

Zeman has written that people with aphantasia may have more of an interest in the visual arts, because their minds are devoid of it.

Kim Kimberly, Monday, 26 February 2024 15:23 (one month ago) link

one month passes...

Aphantasia sounds like a bad ‘00s R&B album title

papal hotwife (milo z), Sunday, 31 March 2024 13:00 (three weeks ago) link

aphantasia, hyperphantasia, elephantasia

gene besserit (ledge), Sunday, 31 March 2024 15:31 (three weeks ago) link

You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.