Can you picture this? (Mental imaging)

Tell me about your level of mental imaging. In this Can You Visualize? thread posters talk about their visualization abilities. It’s interesting, but I’d like some rough percentages to go with the anecdotes. And if your imaging abilities affect your life or livelihood I’d like to hear about that.

My own imaging abilities are pretty bad. In a chess thread Glee wrote about working on his visualization abilities until one night he could “see” a chess board in his mind. I cannot summon an image of a chess board with four squares, much less 64 (however, my illustration and photography abilities are above the 99th percentile). When I try to mentally see an object --Mona Lisa, my car, a chess board-- the picture is dark “Karo syrup” brown with fuzzy details forming and then disappearing after a second or two. An imagined fish is silver, then there’s a vague fish form, then that’s replaced with a murky image of scales. A trout gets a different set of fuzzy details than a swordfish.

Have a look at the poll choices and pick the one that’s closest. Feel free to offer up more details; maybe the next poll will have improved options.

I’m trying to visualize a poll…


Until I read that thread I honestly didn’t realize that not everyone could visualize. That’s really hard to wrap my mind around. I would guess people who can’t visualize don’t daydream, then?

I have an essentially (but not perfectly) photographic memory. Sometimes instead of memorizing info on a piece of paper or list, I just stare at it for a bit and then look at it in my head to remember what was on it.

I also did not realize there were people who couldn’t see pictures in their head the same way they see them in person.

Sharp images of important things, but little that didn’t consciously register

I have a kind of geometric imaging of things I guess. I reduce a lot to straight lines, right angles, and simple curves. Not everything, but it’s what works best for me. It’s the spatial relationships that are most difficult. Comparing things based on size or positioning is difficult for me.

I can visualize moving systems, like the solar system, but I can’t hold a detailed static picture very well. If I’m playing a game of chess I can see all of the board and the pieces in their correct locations, probably. I could be off a little. I can’t tell you the details of the Mona Lisa, like the color of her eyes but I still have a mental picture the room in the Louvre where I saw her with the glass case and the tourists, from 30 years ago.

I’ve always assumed that an artist can draw an image because he can hold a very detailed picture in his head while he works. Is that incorrect?

In life drawing I’m excellent at drawing what I see and getting the relationships right between the various parts.

In imagined artwork (say comic book style) I get a glimmer of a rough structure --such as a throng of people clustered around a huge half-globe with a cityscape in the background-- and then sketch in an appropriate set of perspective lines (birds-eye, worm’s-eye, wide angle, etc.). The figures get rough gestures to capture their pose, and the anatomical details are lightly scribbled in. The stuff the looks right stays and the stuff that looks wrong gets erased.

I’m pretty good at mental manipulation. The easiest example is being shown a cross, and, in your imagination, folding it up to be a cube. I can do that with more complicated imaginary “paper models.” I’m pretty good with maps and navigation.

But I’m just fookin’ ROTTEN at things like seeing and remembering license plate numbers. The visual memory just doesn’t work the way it ought.

I can do a chess board and keep track of regular speed play to a checkmate or draw, but in no way do I have a photographic memory. I chose your third option.

When I close my eyes, all I see is cthulhu!

Me neither.

It was difficult to decide what was the most correct answer in your pool. I picked the Mona Lisa example you mentioned. I can vizualize it. I can make a close-up of some proeminent features (the face, the hands) but the background is rather fuzzy. I have a general sense of what it looks like and of its colour (though I’m not certain, I’ll have to check if I get the colour right). I vizualize a detail (a path) that I’m not sure is actually present in the painting, and if it is, I’m pretty certain doesn’t look even remotely like what I’m vizualizing. My mental picture includes cracks in the paint, and though those are most probably present, they can’t possibly be as spaced and as visible as they are in my mental image. So, that’s probably my brain adding them because it associates old paintings and cracks.
Eventually, I decided on the third answer : “Sharp images of important things, but little that didn’t consciously register”
ETA : I was neither completely wrong nor completely right about the general look and colour of the background. It was sort of similar.

I’m capable of visualizing a chessboard and the Mona Lisa because I know what they look like. But 8 times out of 10 if you describe an unknown object to me (say you need help looking for something you don’t know the name of) I’m not going to be able to picture it at all.

I can just catch the briefest of flashes of some things. I can’t recall my father’s face, for example, but I get a sense of a photo of him that used to be in my parents’ living room. Same thing with my wife and kids. I can sort of get a sense of their faces, but from photos.

I don’t even see single squares, let alone a full chess board. I can, however draw reasonable facsimiles of any of the houses or apartments I’ve lived in, even without being able to see them or get any kind of sense of them.

My mother and sister are the same, so it may be genetic.

My younger brother, OTOH, can see and manipulate objects in 3D.

I enjoy woodworking, especially making furniture. Before I begin a project, I usually ‘build’ the item mentally and visualize how the project will go together paying particular attention to the frame and what joints will be used to construct it and how they relate to the appearance and function of the piece along with what trim may be needed. My mental image is not computer graphic sharp and detailed and I’m simply trying to determine if I will face any major issues in building it.

After that, I usually draw a fairly detailed diagram and work off that while building the project.

Are you talking about visualizing or remembering? Because some of the options ("… little that did not register…") seem to be about the second.

Well, it is rather fuzzy in reality, too. Seeing the Mona Lisa’s background as “rather fuzzy” is like remembering the people in a Bosch painting being “rather small, although amazingly detailed”: perfectly realistic.

Visually remembering I suppose. The example given was a license plate number, and that’s something that is often seen but not given attention – people can follow a car for five minutes without noting the number. On the other hand, I’ve actively studied the details of my own car many time times: the grill, the hubcaps, the gas cover, the headlights and taillights. If I can create a sharp mental image of my car that would be a different kind of visualization than being able to recall the license number of a car that you saw but didn’t pay attention too.

If you can recall details that you’ve seen but never focused attention on, that’s part of having a “photographic memory”, but I was trying to explore different degrees of a photographic memory.

When devising the poll I typed up options that contained more specific detail and real-world examples, but when I tried posting it I learned that poll options were limited to 100 characters, so I did a 3-minute chop job. It’s probably just as well, since the poll is getting a lot more views than participants. I’m guessing that 10 options, each requiring introspection, is too demanding for casual readers.

I have a friend who has very poor visual memory, much like the OP, so he often has to learn things by rote or have them spoken to him in order to understand complex things.

I have a pretty decent memory, though I wouldn’t say it’s sharp, and it’s not instant recall. If you were to test me with that memory game of having 12 things on a tray then you take something away and I have to figure out what is gone and what replaced it, I’d do okay at that. But anything more involved than that and I’d be struggling a bit.

Ran out of Edit time:

Visualising things from scratch I’m good at, but it would usually be very simple. I wouldn’t have the flourishes and fine details that would truly make it come alive in my head, unless I was guided to carefully.

For example, if I was asked to think of a ship on the sea, it would be a big chunky ship and a blue sparkly sea, and not much more than just that. I wouldn’t see the reality of it, the rust on the flanks of the ship, the caps on the waves, the birds pecking at the scraps of fish on the deck. That would be something I’d have to be consciously directed to add in.

In the past I have been occasionally asked to be a conceptual artist for a short film, but this lack of visual detail prevents me from being any good at it.

My visualization abilities are perhaps only slightly better than the OP’s in terms of pulling up a mental image of a physical thing. However, I do still daydream and sleep dream. Daydreaming particularly is more of a sensory experience than one involving physical images.

I chose the third option, in that I can visualize something that I have seen (including a chess board) and picture what something/somebody looks like that I have read about (e.g. when I am reading a book), but I can’t look at a page and recall the text like a photographic memory; I also tend to use existing things when visualizing what something looks like (e.g. for a cruise ship, the first thing that comes to mind is the Costa Concordia because that was my last notable memory of a cruise ship).