Can you picture this? (Mental imaging)

Yeah, it’s an odd poll. It mixes together memory and visualization, which are two very different mental skills. I’m horrible at the former and excellent at the latter, so there was no way for me to answer in a meaningful way.

For example, I can easily visualize a chessboard in my head with all the pieces. I can rotate it and imagine different moves. But there’s no way I could glance at a real chessboard and instantly memorize the positions of all the pieces.

I’m another who finds this poll difficult- again, I can visualise 3D objects, rotate them, manipulate them, no problem… Have nothing like perfect recall though. I’ve very occasionally recalled visual details that I didn’t consciously notice at the time, but it’s hardly something I’d class myself as being able to do.

I picked the second option down. I’m reluctant to say I’ve got a photographic memory – I can’t do the test where you’re supposed to look at one dot screen and then remember it while looking at another and find the picture in it, and it’s very rare when I can read more than a word or two off of a memory of a page. If I remember the snippet of text specifically, however, I can often tell you not only what book I read it in, but the size of the book, color of the cover, how far into the book the text was, whether it was on recto or verso, whether there were any illustrations on the page and if so what the predominant color was, how far down the page it was, and just where it is I put the book down last so I can go get it and prove to you that I’m really not crazy. :slight_smile:

If you want to get technical about it, I don’t really store text with the images. There’s no OCR involved. If the driver wants to know how close we are to the next city, I have to go pull up the image of the last highway sign and check that. I don’t know “23 miles” like I do if I’ve read it in a book – it’s not converted into just the information – I just have pixels that I can interpret if I care to check.

The "eidetic"ness kicks in with more than one sense, too. I’m capable of finding my keys by remembering what was around when I put them down last, and of buying thread for a costume project without needing to bring the sample cloth. I have a similar recall of music. I can re-run and pick out different threads in classical pieces I’ve heard often, and when I sing in the shower I have a hard time skipping over the instrumental parts of the song, because the backing is still running in my head. When I remember going places or being in a space, kinesthetics also kicks in, and I can put myself in the space with the same clarity (or lack thereof) that I can bring up tunes and snapshots.

The sense of space and the snapshot pictures of places is strong enough that I occasionally pull them out of dreams. I have two or three dreams that have haunted me for years now – not in a horror-movie way, but because they were murder mysteries and I woke up before the end. One of them involved watching bootleg footage from a production on someone’s old TV, and the snapshot (actually, video clip) was so clear in my mind that after I woke up I started examining the image to see if I could figure out the signal chain and where it had ultimately come from.

A fair point. I was thinking about the mental response to a request such as “picture a car” or “picture Starry Night” or “picture your mother’s face”. My assumption was that some people would remember a specific image (such as a favorite photo of mom) and other people would synthesize a composite image of their mother.

Those are two different types of imaging, but for the poll I was mostly interested in the detail and stability of the mental image, not whether it was a snapshot versus a “computer generated” image that could be rotated, viewed from different angles, etc.

I’m also interested in whether people’s imagery can be mentally examined to extract information that they didn’t know they had --for example, the shape of a casual friend’s earlobes-- so, the poll touched on that.

I can’t do this at all. I can’t even imagine how you could “see” something without actually seeing it.

On the other hand, I can “play” a piece of music in my head.

I’m very good at art when it comes to copying stuff, but I have no ability at all to create something of my own. I do sometimes wonder if I have an imagination – is it possible not to have one?

Do you not dream in pictures? Can you see patterns when you rub your eyes?

Can you get any sort of visual if you close your eyes and imagine red versus imaging silver? If you think of the Mona Lisa is there no hint of dark green or pale skin or filmy fabric or small smile?

I’m not much of a dreamer, and I forget my dreams very quickly, so I’m not sure if there are any pictures.

I just tried as hard as I could to imagine colors, but couldn’t do it at all.

Obviously I know what the Mona Lisa looks like, and I can sketch vaguely what it looks like from memory. But I can’t see anything inside my head, its just a sense of whether what I’m drawing looks “right” or “wrong”.

It’s possible that yours just isn’t very visual. I mean, people who are congenitally blind and deaf think things up all the time – it’s not like everything has to be a symphony of all the senses. If you can run music like a tape in your head, you’re probably doing okay. :slight_smile:

I don’t know if my explanation of it is very typical. I have this quasi-eidetic thing going, and I am informed on a pretty regular basis that this is “weird”, or “cool”, or “frigging scary”. Other eidetickers inform me that I’m odd because I don’t close my eyes to do it either – I can’t do remembered snapshots with my eyes closed, in fact, and I prefer not to do it with user-generated visualizations. It seems to short-circuit something that needs to be on for me to pseudo-see stuff. A lot of people find having external input gets in the way of rummaging around in their own brain for something.

The way it goes for me is that I get the image by doing something akin to ‘miming’ the experience of seeing it. You can pretend to write by pinching your fingers together as if you’re holding a pencil, and moving your hand in the same way you would use to mark letters on the page if either the pencil or the paper were real. You’re missing literally everything you physically need in order to write, save your hand, but you can remember what it is and where it goes and the process of using it, so you can pretend without having all the props.

The best I can explain it is that, to see eidetic snapshots, I do the same thing I did the last time I was looking at it. My eyes move as I focus on different parts of the scene, I bring up context like how I was feeling or what I was hearing or what I’d been doing right before. I also have a good sense of how things are embedded in space, and that helps a lot. It recreates the circumstances, and thereby recreates the ‘perception’ of the thing. I don’t know if it would be strictly accurate to say that I am literally seeing a red car out in front of me – that would be a hallucination, and much more worrying. :slight_smile: I think I’m recreating the circumstances under which the neurons that fire when I see a red car are apt to fire again.

With imaginary things, what I do is use my experience to construct that contextual mockup of what it would have been like to see it in the first place, and that helps me build up the visualization in my head. Otherwise it’s the same as above.

As an aside, I don’t know how accurate it is, but I’ve heard it said that you can identify people who can pull up full or partial eidetic snapshots by asking them to describe their memory of a static scene. People who use the past tense have the scene stored as a description of past experience. People who use the present tense are ‘seeing’ what you asked them to describe at the moment they’re describing it. They’re both valid answers, but gotten through different methods.

With 64 responses:

About 54% say they can see sharp or moderately sharp images in their mind.

About 12% see nothing or only fuzzy and unstable details in their mind.

About 26% were between those two situations.

Another 8% went for the “none of the above” response and aren’t analyzed in this post.

I, the OP, seem to have fuzzier mental images than 80% of the population. I never knew.

Arabella Flynn, it does sound like in some times and locales you’d be charged with witchcraft.

I do not know if you are aware of it, but there is a well established tradition of scientific research into this sort of issue, using questionnaires broadly similar to this poll, but that have been extensively tested and validated. (The Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire VVIQ) is probably the most widely used and studied, but there are others.)

Results from this sort of research have mostly been quite inconclusive, however (see here and here). People do not actually seem to be very good at the sort of introspective judgments about their subjective experience that these sorts of enquiry rely upon.

i do think there is a difference between visually remembering and abstract visualizing.

in some science and engineering abstract visualization can be helpful. if you can visualize molecules then some kinds of chemistry might be easier. if you can create a mechanical linkage in your mind then some types of engineering might be easier.

creating a realistic painting might be easier if you remember the scene.

i think there may be a sex linkage for some people. a female might easily navigate to a location by turning at the gas station with the elm tree out from and then at the green house with the brown roof. a male might use street names, compass directions and relate to the route as it were a map.