How long and vivid can you keep an image in your mind?

I always had a bad visualization ability and I hate that, because I am an otherwise creative person, I like to make 3d models, create video game environments, edit videos and so on, but that’s a bit hard to do when my mind is almost blank and barely usable as far as images go.

I can barely imagine a simple circle shape, and even if I do, I can’t focus on it for longer than half a second, since it goes away, it moves to the side, zooms in/out, changes to a different shape,etc.

I wonder if other people have bigger levels of control, for example if you wanted to draw something, could you hold a stable image of a field in your head and maybe add/remove objects and draw based on that image?

Also, do caffeine and/or sugar hinder your ability to imagine? I drink a lot of both of those, so I suppose they have an effect of some sort, but I don’t know if they are bad or might make your imagination actually more vivid and wild as some other supstances like melatonin do.

I’m similar. I can mentally conjure up a simple shape, but only for about five seconds and I have to concentrate.

You ever have a conversation with someone who hardly ever explains with precision what they’re actually thinking of, so you’re listening to sentences like, “So, my computer was stuck, and the file wasn’t in Microsoft or anything, even when I clicked the thing where it shows them all” or “Naah, she’s one of those people, you know, grass won’t grow under her feet, can’t tell the time of day” ?

Well, that’s me with visual imagery. Rather than an actual visual image, I tend to have the vague notion of a visual image in my head.

I do complex visualization in my head, build models, make movies. Plus I am a mechanical engineer. It’s what I do for a living.

Also, I remember things vividly from as long ago as three years old.

A while ago I was reading about aphantasia, which is the inability to form / see visual images (and I think there’s a thread about it here somewhere), but the descriptions in this thread seem more like what I experience. I can see mental images, but I can’t hold them, focus on them, or manipulate them. It’s more that I can flash on them, but that’s it.

This comes up a lot in getting things for the house: I can tell whether I like something or not, but I can’t ever seem to imagine what it would look like in situ.

I wish I could have the same visualization for when I draw 3d models, instead most of the time I have no idea what I even want to make, other than a basic concept like a “house” or “eastern European village”.

Did you notice whether sugar or caffeine limit your visualization in any way? I used to be addicted to cola, but I am slowly giving it up, so I wonder if there will be a difference once I switch to water.

If it does, I’d wonder what I’d see if i didn’t drink 4 cokes a day.

Wow, I am getting down on my knees and thanking the universe that I can make images.

Just yesterday, I missed part of a conversation because we were in a restaurant, and I was mentally redesigning their antique bar. Pulling granite and metal like it was taffy, and adding more shelves and bottles, and a piano.

One of my favorite things is walking down the street and imagining brightly-colored mega-dinosaurs looming up over the buildings… then sending pieces down on the pedestrians as they try to climb over the rooftops. Which I think I do because I’m ADD, and on the verge of being bored to death if nothing happens to the normal street.

I’ve never been able to visualize stuff. I can kinda form the vague idea of a thing, but nothing close to an actual image. It’s a bit frustrating at times.

I’m the same. This is an interesting podcast about it. Aphantasia: Blindness of the Mind's Eye - Stuff To Blow Your Mind | iHeart

I design larger sound systems, think churches, schools, commercial buildings. Every design starts with very carefully thought out diagrams of signal flow along with signal levels expected at every stage, connectors expected to be used for terminations and a whole bunch of other minute but cumulatively important stuff. When physical measurements are important I do diagrams to scale. I do this mostly to keep everything straight in my head. Usually nobody sees the diagrams but me. My diagrams are invaluable to me as the design progresses. I’ve had other engineers compliment that my documentation is very pretty and detailed but major overkill. Most people (apparently unlike me) can can retain this stuff in their heads forever and don’t need any diagrams, so my efforts are seen as folly.

My pretty pictures don’t become important until 15 years later when the client wants to change something. All of a sudden it becomes important to remember what we did and why we did what we did 15 years ago. I make my clients pay for their system documentation. If they won’t agree to pay for it, I don’t take the job.

Getting back to the OP, I’m probably an oddity in that I must figure out a way to visualize most problems before I can come up with a solution. I’ve been known to draw diagrams to back-time my day so I can end up at the right places at the right times. It just helps to cement things in my head to either write about it or draw some sort of picture.

Is zero a length of time?

Depends on what your definition of “is” is

I can play blindfold chess, where my opponent has a board and pieces and they tell me their moves in chess notation (e.g. Bishop to b5.)

As a teenager, I used to visualise a chessboard on a plain surface (e.g. a ceiling) and gradually I could hold the image; then actually make a move on the board; then analyse continuations and finally restore the current position.

It’s pretty tiring and the game sticks in my mind for a few hours.

Depends on the image you are trying to recall. My first serious GF I can visulize in precise details and if I had artistic talent I am confident I could draw an accurate picture of her although I do not have a single photo of her. Her prefect imperfections even standout and not only visual things, but sights, sound, touching and taste associated with her are vividly recalled since she is sort of the standard I measure other females companions by. Sigh.

I can also recreate various mechanical designs I worked on over the years as they required a lot of detailed work over several months. I am sure I could rebuilt many of them in great detail.

Ask me to draw an schoolmate from high school or a layout of an apartment I had in college and it gets kind of vague. My mind doesn’t consider those memories as important.

My elderly mother’s first house as a child was quite the rambling mansion. She recently made an offhand comment that she loves to mentally walk through it, eighty years later, remembering all the little details and knick-knacks.

And I thought “How many people can do that?”, and it made me realize that I can walk through the houses of all my grade school friends. And tell you about the stain on the Prairie-style wainscoting in Denny’s house, and the utter banality of Mary Lou’s house and the stairs in Billy’s … wait a minute, that house was the exact same layout as Denny’s! Like the odd stairwell where, from the living room you go up six steps to a landing (turn left to continue upstairs), and go straight back down six steps to the kitchen.

It’s weird, I can’t remember any of the people in these houses. No images of Denny’s parents and siblings… just architectural details about the rooms in his house.

I wonder if I could construct a Memory Palace?

I am highly visual. Language is not my forte.

One good test of visualization is the following puzzle:

Consider a tetrahedron (4 equilateral triangles that form a sort of pyramid). Take a knife. Imagine making a single straight cut thru the tetrahedron so that the exposed cuts form a square. How do you do this?

Easy for people like me. Not so much for many others.

I orient the tetrahedron, slide the cut around, etc. All in my mind.

I can not only walk around places in my mind from memory, but I can also walk around places that I’ve only dreamed about. Some of these imaginary dream places are as real in my memory as real places. I usually remember very specific details, too.

I can’t do those kind of mental puzzles that @ftg describes, but I can’t even do those on paper.

That’s interesting. The podcast I mentioned earlier referenced a mental exercise - if asked how many windows are in your house, how would you go about counting them? Some people said they would take a mental walk through their house and count the windows as they go. My brain does not work that way.