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People who can't see things in their mind could have memory trouble too: study (sciencealert.com)
103 points by lnyan 1 day ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments





Without even digging into the paper, let's be clear. They didn't find "they have memory trouble." They found, "they have trouble recalling sensations."

> "Our data also showed that individuals with aphantasia not only report being unable to visualise, but also report comparatively reduced imagery, on average, in all other sensory modalities, including auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, taste, olfactory and emotion," the team wrote in their paper.

I, for instance, am not aphantasic, but I fall quite close to that end of the spectrum. But I don't use mental imagery to store memory. When I am attempting to encode memories, I do so in the form of a narrative - narratives stick very effectively for me, and I have a pretty good memory (no one without a good memory survives medical school.) It's true, I can't just "remember" the image of relevant anatomy, but I'm fine with other mental models for encoding and retrieving information.


Much what I was about to comment.

My mother passed away some 35-odd years away, and it really took me by surprise when I found out my little sister could visualise her and describe her from memory. I, on the other hand, could m and can recognise photos of her, but when describing her soul resort to learned facts: she was very pretty, slim, had brown hair and eyes, etc., etc.

Where the story turns, though, is how I remember things, as opposed to my academic (research professor) and artistic (painter/sculptor, and thus extremely visually oriented) wife. She continually misplaces her keys or glasses, for example. I have learnt to notice items, like them them amongst other things, and link them narritively (glasses on lounge table, keys on dishwasher, mask on sink…) and can then recall that without any real effort at a later stage.

It also fascinates her that I can read something like a programming manual like a story book and recall enough of it afterwards to put it into practice using the same manual only as a reference afterwards.

Horses for courses, I suppose.


I can do this as well (recall where a stray phone is), but don't understand why I notice and remember better than others. Do I remember more "that's out of place" instances, am I more predisposed to prefer things be in a certain place? Not sure.

Incorrect. If you did actually dig in to the paper they found:

Aphantasic participants scored significantly lower than control group 2 on all outcomes of the imagery and episodic memory questionnaires (all p < 0.0002, all r > 0.52, all BF10 > 1.42e8) with the exception of the factual memory component of the SAM.

So aphantasics (like myself) do have poor episodic memory.

Paper here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-65705-7


Interesting, I on the other hand remember things “geographically”. It’s like I have precise GPS locations in my head attached to memories. In order to recall something, I usually try to remember where the memory “happened”, once I figure out the associated location - there comes the vivid memory as well.

This sounds like the method of loci [1].

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci


Do you get the music or conversation too? Or vice-versa, from a song or topic back to a spot?

> "they have trouble recalling sensations."

On plus side, almost everytime I eat sushi it's the best sushi ever.


I think there's some accidental synecdoche here.

At least for those of us endowed with the gift/curse of forming memories as life rushes by, they can appear to be composed of details our senses perceived around us enmeshed with details about how our wetware experienced that moment. Sometimes, we even have false memories of things that didn't happen, or that happened differently than we remember.

There's a separate world of practice where people develop mnemonic devices (spaced repetition, narratives, memorable nonsense phrases, memory palaces, songs/rhyme/prosody, hand gestures) to help memorize things better than we could do by accident, or just by thinking "remember X".

I would guess most people who are able to form memories can find a mnemonic device that works for them when they need to remember things. The very idea of a "memory palace", however, is so absolutely foreign to my experience of the world that I don't think I could have invented it on my own. Once someone describes it, I have an abstract understanding that the ability to arrange things in visual space could be a powerful mnemonic. I can, after all, remember at least a few things about many thousands of physical places I've been at some point in my life, even though I can't really picture any of them vividly. But, as a mnemonic, it's useless to me--I can't conjure it.

My partner can remember things like what shirt she was wearing when we went to a specific restaurant a decade ago. I have abstract knowledge that we have been to that place, but I couldn't tell you anything else about it. For her, memories like this are a springboard into conjuring many other details about the event. Sometimes her recall injects enough context to jog my own. Sometimes it's all lost in the fog.

Whether you are "good" or "bad" at memorizing things in an intentional way, unless you have infinite time to creative narrative mnemonics as life rushes by, I suspect aphantasia impacts your ability to recall daily life.


I've found memory palaces need at least some upkeep. I only ever used it once to memorize some silly list of matrix properties for extra credit on a test and it worked really well, going along a chain of symbolic objects placed along a location I know very well (the first homeworld of Spyro 3), but it faded over time and now I only remember one thing from it.

I think a huge part of mnemonic devices is that it's "just" active memorization - something a lot of people do. Iirc, when researched, people using these tricks did not do any better than people using flashcards and repetition. Thought that might be different for memory competition with people memorizing a 1000 places of pi, a carddeck, etc.

I assume I have aphantasia, since I've never been able to "visualize" in the way that other people seem to be able to.

It seems to be strictly limited to visual imagery however. I remember lyrics / poems / quotes better than most people I know and I do pretty well on those wine-training smell tests. I can easily hear music in my head.

I've never really thought of it as a disadvantage, I assumed that I just had a different kind of imagination.


I came to the realization that not everyone feels emotions the same way. In therapy, I often had people ask me to try to describe my emotions in terms of bodily images and ask me to justify how I know I'm sad or angry or whatever. It always seemed like such an absurd waste of time, but apparently some people don't actually feel emotions, they infer them from their own behavior. My therapist seemed surprised that the sensation of sadness is an abstract feeling that I experience, like you would feel pain or coldness, and the same goes for all the other emotions you might feel. The idea of getting in touch with your emotions is like getting in touch with a punch in the gut.

It makes me realize there's a lot of experiences we probably all take for granted and assume that everyone experiences the way we do, but we just kind of assume that when someone says they can see it in their head or they can feel it in their heart we just assume everyone means that metaphorically.


> but apparently some people don't actually feel emotions, they infer them from their own behavior. My therapist seemed surprised that the sensation of sadness is an abstract feeling that I experience, like you would feel pain or coldness, and the same goes for all the other emotions you might feel. The idea of getting in touch with your emotions is like getting in touch with a punch in the gut.

That's what that phrase refers to? I've never even heard of that before. "An abstract thing that you feel" has always been what emotions are to me.


How would you test such a condition? When I paint (bloody amateur) I certainly can imagine a generic tree or house or something specific like my house or my garden tree. The latter takes more form of an image, but it is still quite abstract. It is not really a picture, it is a memory and quite fleeting. But if I would see a real picture, I would go to the doc.

What do you mean they cannot conjure an image. If you ask them to draw a dog they come out blank?


I think most people and journalists who speak about aphantasia are exaggerating or misleading others. If you actually are able to imagine an picture with your eyes open and have it cover the real world, that's called hallucinating. Some people can visualise things stronger than others, some cannot at all, but let's not pretend like actual visualisation (hallucinating) is the norm or that more than a few people on earth can do it.

A good test for me was this: ask someone to close their eyes and visualize an apple. Ask them what they experience. Some only 'see' the concept. Some only outlines. Some see black and white. Some see colors. Some see very specific things, like the brand. Some experience an entire scene, with smells and all.

I never heard of aphantasia before but having read a bit about it, doesn't seem to be the same thing. When I "see" things mentally it's not like it "takes over" my visual input, nor it has weight in the real world. The image seems to be "nowhere", like when dreaming. Closing my eyes doesn't really make the image clearer by itself, it's more like there's no visual input to interrupt my visualization and that's what makes it "clearer".

If I mentally listen to music it's clearly not coming from my ears (in fact the whole concept of sound direction doesn't seem to exist when I imagine sound. No stereo separation either.)

I find this whole stuff fascinating though. I wish there was some way to measure and/or capture those images/sounds and make them physical data, even if once captured it turns out to be a lot less detailed than what it seems. It'd be a security nightmare though!


It's as if the image from your memory/imagination appears on a different monitor than the signal from your eyes.

Yeah, it's like some sort of internal framebuffer. I'd kinda equate it to some sort of SVG-like format where you define a series of objects and your mind "displays" it as best as it can, with more processing on whatever you are focusing currently.

I think you're the one exaggerating here...

I don't see anyone claiming that they are "able to imagine an picture with [their] eyes open and have it cover the real world".

You specified "eyes open". Are you able to visualize things with your eyes closed?


I can't close my eyes and imprint a picture over my closed eyelids as if i was watching a movie. If you could imprint an image over your closed eyes, logic dictates you would be able to do the same in a dark room since light is the only difference between open and closed eyes. But I don't think people are having vivid and realistic hallucinations in the dark.

Regardless, the way journalists talk about aphantasia, or more specifically, the opposite of aphantasia, has led a lot of people to believe this is possible (at least, I believed it based on what people have said they can do).

Maybe I am just exaggerating then, but i think this whole topic has got a lot of people worried that they are not normal. I don't think it's good for the mental health of hypochondriacs.


Yes, closing your eyes and being in a dark room has the same effect (to me at least). As I mentioned in another reply I think it's simply because there's no visual input to process so your mind can focus on images better/more efficiently. After all a decent amount of processing comes from visual input, I figure that's what makes stuff like a Rorschach test or cloudgazing to be a thing, or certain optical illusions. You are parsing what you see and the brain takes some licenses for speed at times.

It's clear everyone is hardwired to see stuff like faces in something as simple as ":)", I feel it's related, but it's not my field, I can only wonder.

Is there any science done on this particular topic? It sure is super interesting but all I see about it is anecdote or very surface level stuff. It's clear some people do it better than others (my anecdata seems to indicate creative types might tap into it better?), but since most people is also affected by certain optical effects or tricks, the ability has to be present in everyone to a degree. Might be a thing that needs to be exploited consciously to make it "vivid".

It could also be a matter of priorities in perception. Like some people remembers lyrics better than songs, or numbers better than images. Maybe we are just taking our vision of the world in the way that's the most comfortable, and for some people it's images/sounds and for others "plaintext" information.

I know I really got a thing for visual information, as I can tell stuff like typos not from reading a word, but from noticing its shape is "off", like I'm remembering a printout of the word instead of the word character-by-character. (note that difference in typesetting does not affect the "shape" to throw me off. Unless it's very weird handwritten text, but that throws everyone off)


I'm talking about literally seeing the image, not being able to better internally visualise the image in the dark. If you are able to literally see images in the dark as if light was bouncing off of them, that's hallucinating and I don't think we're talking about the same thing then. If you are actually able to hallucinate on command I'd be very surprised.

That would be like lucid dreaming while awake and I'd imagine it would be more well documented considering half of this thread claims to be able to do it. Actually, why are so many people trying to lucid dream at all if this level of visualisation is so common?


As far as I can tell, you're the only one moving the goalpost from "internally visualize" to "actually see the object manifested in front of you".

I don't think anyone is claiming that the latter is widespread, and I also don't think you're acknowledging that there are many people who can't do the former at all (myself included).

If you ask me to imagine something, there is no visual component to that at all for me. Internally, externally, nowhere.


I probably was moving goalposts, but it's just one of those issues where it's hard to communicate with each other. I guess i'm not very good at visualising other people's experiences :p

I guess I should clarify that I don't think you were arguing in bad-faith ("moving the goalposts" is a bit a of a charged phrase in the current political climate). I appreciate the conversation!

It's frustrating that so few people argue on simulacrum level 1. (Reference: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fEX7G2N7CtmZQ3eB5/simulacra-...)

Moving the goalposts is bad arguing. Bad arguing is often due to bad-faith arguing; but good arguing is hard, so it's also often accidental. Yet, people equate pointing out flaws in an argument with accusations of intellectual dishonesty: it's been politicised.


Thank you for these thoughts and that link. Spent an hour reading there, the article[1], and about The Gervais Principle[2].

[1]: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fEX7G2N7CtmZQ3eB5/simulacra-...

[2]: https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-...


So we have a meta-problem of different abilities to visualize or imagine the concepts of visualization :)

Sorry, but this is too funny. There's some sort of fundamental difficulty when humans are trying to compare their varying (or not?) qualia.

Like those stoner-philosphy questions. ("Is the 'red' I see the same hue as the 'red' you see? How would we ever know??")

There's an element of that unsolvable problem here; of knowing whether the other person is describing their internal mental state using the same definitions as you are.


I've read plenty of folks who claim they can watch a movie on the inside of their eyelids, an experience they claim is indistinguishable from watching it on a TV.

This is such a civil discussion and debate. I don’t even know you folks but I am more optimistic about our future as a society because of this thread.

Oh then definitely not. As I replied earlier there's no real weight to any image I might be thinking about. I had a case of sleep paralysis or whatever it's called once and hallucinated someone standing at my door, and even thought it was persistent and made sense it faded over time until I was just left with a "what was that?". It's nothing like that at all.

Even if you can think of an object, even complex ones, and determine through a visual method its properties, shapes and colors, it's "nowhere" relative to real life visuals. You could be spinning in place or blind and you can still visualize the image. I could think of a scene with a very bright light but I'm really thinking of a white color or a gradient, it's obviously not going to blind me because it's now flowing through my optic nerves. I mean I can do something like divide a screen in two regions with an imaginary line, but it's not some sort of futuristic HUD.

That's kinda why I think there's some relation between our ability to mentally visualize an image and the ability to recognize a face or find shapes in stuff like Rorschach tests. In other words I think everyone has the ability to visualize images mentally, they just don't exploit it because maybe they put more weight on other details. Where I can remember and play with images and sounds mentally with no effort, other people can remember huge amounts of text, or do complex math instead. It might be a matter of specialization, perhaps?


Think of what you see (with you eyes) as a stage, space, or, in computing terms, a buffer or something like that. What I imagine in my head does not compete for space in this buffer that much -- it's like in a different stage, a different space. I know something I imagine lies in imagination-space not in eye-vision-space. Those two spaces are probably merged somewhere[0] so they can use similar recognition and abstraction engines in the brain, but this information of what comes from which one is maintained (like you can distinguish between senses, between the auditory stage and the visual stage without thinking).

[0]: I believe this explains how, while I can do all this visualization, it's difficult to simultaneously "grasp" both spaces -- it's like both are there, but when I switch to mind space the visual one goes to the background and I can't process it too much.


It's incredibly easy to "typical mind" and expect that the normal inner experience of being human is the same for everyone else as it is for you.

There's a wide variance in visual imagery. I know people who can vividly imagine things with their eyes open, find it easy, almost automatic, others who have to try, and some who can't at all.

Similarly there are wide variances in how people think: some think very visually, some have an internal monologue (or multiple), some have an inner experience with neither.

I used to be nearly aphantasic - having only brief flashes of vision except on the edge of sleep - but have been slowly training the skill after finding out it's possible, and normal, to do more.


What sort of "training"?

Focusing on spending time around the edge of sleep on thinking about things -> sometimes seeing flashes of them -> eventually can do it on demand more? Now focusing on those -> trying to imagine more intricate details.

Afraid it's hard to explain, and if I'd been fully aphantasic to start (including when nearly asleep) would not have been able to make any progress.

Same type of issue as trying to explain how to move a specific muscle or unfocus your eyes


I can draw you a dog, but if you ask me to picture a ball on a table, i do not picture anything specific. It is just the abstract idea of a ball on the table. It does not have colour, substance, space, nothing.

Same, at first, but if I try I can conjure a vague / unspecific mental image (the harder I mentally try, the clearer the image gets, but it never gets anywhere near perfectly clear). For example:

Are you able to take a table in your house and then imagine a soccer ball on it? Or do you still come up blank with just the concept and absolutely no mental imagery?


Still blank with the concept

What about dreams? Presumably you see images of stuff when dreaming?

My dreams are very spatial, contain movement, indistinct dialogue, and sometimes an "emphatic" sensation of feelings of the characters present.

There's pretty much no color, no exact shape, clothing detail etc. No surface has any pattern, really. But I know extremely clearly how 3 people in my dream were positioned relative to each other and the room.


How about doing math in your head? If I couldn't visualize the actual numbers I don't think I could do it at all.

Same, tbh i can't really. Usually maths end up on a whiteboard or paper.

Nope. Tbh i do not dream a lot.

But even in dreams, it is all about abstract things that move around me.


For me - I can draw as much as I can visualize. That is, I know that a face is bisected sphere with some extra lines on the bottom for the chin. I can't hold this image clearly, but I can hold it for a fraction of a second - enough to know what to put on paper. I think drawing and visualization are pretty closely tied.


There's an aphantasia subreddit I checked out once. There was a discussion where people mentioned that they could hear a song in their head and play it back, and they could recall a voice or speak in their head, but it had never occurred to them that people could do something like that with images. I asked someone if they could visualize red versus blue in their head and they said they could not, they could only think of the words red and blue and not imagine what the colors looked like without actually looking at something red or blue. One person told me they had absolutely no imagination at all and could not, for instance, recall the sound of someone's voice or imagine warm sand between their toes.

Yeah, as one of the more extreme cases Im honestly pretty jealous. All my memories are essentially abstract ideas/connections. Memories of places for example is mostly how they're spatially connected, rough dimensions, how it was constructed, how it operates, and sometimes how it made me feel the first or last time I saw it. I can't conjure the face or voice of any loved one nor the feeling of walking into a cold lake for example only an abstract description like if you were writing in a journal. When music triggers a memory, what is recalled is the feeling or train of thought when that memory was formed.

As someone with the opposite of aphantasia (I can daydream very vividly) who's also worked as a pro illustrator I don't really imagine things as I draw. Drawing is more mechanical than people think, and while coming up with a concept requires imagination, and composition requires a level of spatial intelligence you don't really need to visualise things as you draw them. You just do.

I honestly don't know if it can be tested unless it's determined to happen in some area of the brain, that can be monitored externally for increased activity.

When I paint myself I usually compose a scene in my mind. When drawing characters, I mostly follow whatever my mental image is, then as I trace the lines I can visualize how they connect. When drawing characters that aren't mine I make a point of not using a reference picture. Basically I can "see" the whole result as soon as I have the eyes drawn, then I just draw single lines until it's "traced", undoing if it doesn't fit the shape I need. Only problem is that at times I don't close lines so using a fill tool is always a pain. When painting proper I just make a quick color base and I add the rest until it fits whatever is in my head, then I add minor detailing to complete the piece in a more mechanical manner like "this gravel can use more texturing" or "add some grating in this robot's armor for cooling". My speed when drawing characters is very high, I at times like to speed-doodle stuff for friends and each piece takes about 5 minutes once I decide on an angle/pose, so the process doesn't seem to interfere with agility.

I can also doodle stuff while not conjuring any mental image (such as idle doodling on a notebook or such), however, it just has weird proportions or so. My point being that it's not something necessary at all as you can still paint/draw/write without doing it. Doesn't seem to be a necessity or provide any significant advantage over plain "logic" (as logic as creative stuff can be, but stuff like light usually works in rigid ways)

When doing things like coding I plan the structure in advance, but it doesn't resemble the process for visual arts at all. There's no mental image there, just something like "okay now loop here and call this function".


There are some studies that suggest there are brain activity differences, at least when asked to imagine something the self reported vividness of that imagery was correlated with greater activity in visual cortex while imagining.

There also was a recent paper suggesting that increased baseline visual cortex excitability can lead to decreased imagery ability (perhaps due to a "saturation" type effect).

But there is not a ton of research out there on these topics yet, so it's all very preliminary.


Let's say you are shopping for a new sofa. Often people will imagine their room and how imagine how the new sofa would look in the room. Usually people will visualise that imagination process.

Now re-read the above and consider that I've asked you to imagine yourself imagining something!


There's a difference between "imagining" and "doing" (for me, anyway).

I can't picture a dog. I can (very, very crudely) draw a dog. Just like I don't "hear" words or songs in my head, but I can sing a song. I can't visualize someone's face, but I don't have any trouble recognizing them if I see them.

I know the "facts" that describe a generic dog, and I have a spatial awareness of how those parts relate to each other.


I’m not getting how someone can close their eyes and a high res picture shows up like the image on your desktop background? Is that even possible?

Yes, that is what the experience of most people is like without aphantasia. I can even, for like a second, see a fully formed picture in my mind, like a scene from a sci-fi movie, or anything else, really, although it can disappear if I don't focus on the exact details. I can see everything, the shapes, the layout, colors, all of it. It really is like playing a movie in your mind.

Picture a soccer ball in your mind.

Can you now count the black hexagons in view, or do you have to decide how many there are first?

(Ok, now did you notice that they aren't actually hexagons, they are pentagons?)


Sure, I can count them. I can make them hexagons or pentagons at will when I think about them. It does take some time however to remember what a soccer ball actually looks like but after that I can see every details of it.

How do I know how detailed you are experiencing a mental picture? Can you imagine a detailed map and follow a street from one place to another in precise detail? Or is it an approximation

Yes, it's pretty accurate. Interestingly, this can be used as a memory technique, the method of loci, also known as the memory palace. You imagine a path such as from your house to the grocery store, and you place items on that path to remember them. For example, a large fish cresting out of the sidewalk might remind you to buy fish at the grocer.

yes some people dont have to close their eyes.

You can somewhat train it as well through getting better at drawing.

Glad to know there's a word for it. I'm aphantasic. I can't see things in my mind, and the vague imagery I do see literally cannot hold still for even a second -- any image I conjure up will twist and shift from one shape to another.

Somehow, I can draw quite well though. But not from mental imagery.

And, I can hear music clearly in my head, with a very long memory. I can easily play back a song as almost perfect audio, even if I haven't heard it in decades, with clear little details.

But I mostly can't make out the words of any music I remember, and in fact I struggle to remember lyrics in general, even of songs I've listened dozens of times. And my sequence-memory is crap.

Sigh... memory is fascinating.


I think the takeaway here is that there are lots of people who are _partially_ p-zombies: missing important "inner experiences" that everyone else has, but otherwise appear normal.

I'm worried I have this but I'm not completely sure I do. My dreams are not very vivid at all and usually I just "know" that things are happening in them instead of vividly seeing what's going on.

However I can hear music very clearly in my head. If asked to visualize, say, an apple in my head I really don't see it very vividly at all. It's depressing if I'm being honest.


Your descriptions of dreams is what my visual imagination is like, but my dreams are completely vivid. On rare occaisions, I'm aware of the transition from non-dream to dream which is like a lightbulb switching on and suddenly my visual imagination goes from "there exists a face" to "I see a face, with color and texture and motion as if it were in front of me".

For sound, I can imagine sound and hear it essentially exactly as if I were to actually hear it, but the only sounds I can imagine are sounds I can make myself. I can't imagine a song per se but I can imagine myself humming it. Same as above, when on the verge of sleep my sound imagination can switch on and I hear music as if I were at a concert hall - dramatically different from my day-to-day experience.

Because of this, I can assure you that there are real differences between people's experiences, despite what others might tell you.


No one on earth can 'visualise' an image in their head as if they were seeing it in real life. This entire fiasco is just people on different spectrums of mental picturing that are freaking out because they are misinterpreting what aphantasia is. I assure you you are most likely normal, and it's common to not recite a sentence word for word or picture an object perfectly. Others can do it very well. Just like you can visualise music very well, whereas I cannot. It's a (tight) spectrum.

Plenty of people can visualize an image in their head as if they are seeing it in real life. As one of those people, trust me that if your brain is set up to work that way, it's pretty difficult to imagine any other way of picturing the world. Likewise there are plenty of people who honestly can't picture things in their mind at all. The fact that you are towards the middle of the spectrum does not mean the extremes don't exist.

Its likly to be largely an illusion; There was a talk from a neurologist years ago, when he demonstrated that mental images don't act like real images.

If you picture something like a pirate, and someone asked you about the scene, eg; what color are his trousers, what kind of shirt.. You will get a question that you don't instantly know, your mind will quickly 'colour/paint in' so you can answer, but the important part is that you didn't notice that bit was missing before you were asked, which is not now a real picture acts - you would have noticed the pirate had no trouser without needing to be asked about them.

eye-sight itself is an illusion to some degree, eyes don't send images, they send data that is re-assembled into a construct of abstractions, aka you don't see a cup until you know its a cup. there are a lot of optical illusions that exploit this.


Look at your computer screen. Really take it in. Where is the banner? Where is the exit button?

What is the color of your underwear?

Perhaps you will remember what color underwear you put on this morning, perhaps you will check, but it would be pretty weird if your underwear's color was constantly on your mind. Nevertheless, I doubt you would argue that your underwear did not have color while you weren't thinking of it.

Now open up an image of a pirate on your screen. Click on the window and drag it down until the bottom half is off the screen. What color are the pirate's trousers? The computer is only displaying a portion of the image, so technically the pirate's trousers don't exist. But nevertheless the data in the image file would suggest that the pirate does in fact have trousers of a certain color, even if that color is just a number.

You are correct that visual memory does not work like a photograph, but why would it? Your eyes don't send photographs via mail to a little post office in your head, your vision is a means of processing the signals of huge numbers of neurons firing together. Visual processing ought to the same circuits in the brain as vision, the fact that it behaves like vision is evidence that those circuits really are in use.

Of course what I imagine is an illusion, no one is proposing that simply by imagining an object it will manifest in reality. The point is that it is exactly the same sort of illusion as the one that my brain makes when I see real things, and thus my perception of my visual thoughts is the same as my perception of the visible world.


I think you are cheating a bit, first the instruction was to picture a pirate, not a bit of one. Second, the exercises purpose is to demonstrate that missing information in an image is obvious whereas missing information in a mental image is not.

And the point is that picturing something to many feels the same as looking at a picture, but in actual fact that feeling is an illusion.

>my perception of my visual thoughts is the same as my perception of the visible world.

If this were true, you would not know when the picture of the pirate was partially off the screen. Or conversely you would know that the mental image of the pirate had no trousers before being asked.


Okay, here's an experiment less subject to philosophical interpretation:

Picture Jack Sparrow (assuming you feel like you have a good memory of pirates of the carribean). In particular, picture his sparrow tatoo. Write down what color it is. Then look online at an image of it [0]. Is the color the one you wrote down that you pictured? Repeat this again for any image you feel like you remember. If your mind were simply making you think that you were picturing things correctly, what you write down should rarely match reality. On the other hand, if you are actually storing visual information, your memory should pretty regularly be correct. Not everyone actually does store data visually, it really could go either way.

With regards to your comment, the instruction was to picture a pirate, not a pirate's shirt. If you look at a photograph of someone, do you become instantly aware of all information contained within it with perfect detail? If so you must be great at where's waldo. For the rest of us, we perceive a gross overview at first and to identify any details we must focus in. But the fact that we don't know where waldo is before we look for him does not mean our brains are retroactively placing him into the picture.

[0] http://www.jacksparrowcostuming.com/tatoo.htm


So you can draw photo realistic impressions of those memories? Come on now. I can visualise pretty vividly, but I know that my memory is conning me, the textures and details are the feelings of textures and details. If I actually interrogate the visualisation the detail is not there. It's like trying to read writing in a dream, you imagine that it's perfect because the feeling is the same, but try to actually read - the detail is not there.

Well I can't draw anything very well, but I can see in my mind a photo-realistic image indistinguishable from what I am perceiving in real time. No matter to what degree I interrogate it, I find no discrepancies with the real world. Everything I revisit is exactly as I remember it. I can read text in my dreams. I can make arbitrary changes to whatever I visualize and project them onto the real world as if my eyes were seeing it for real.

Compare your memory of, say, song lyrics - you might misremember some of the words but that doesn't mean your memory of the lyrics aren't real, you are remembering a real and coherent set of words, not making them up as you go. When you hear that song again and you know what word is coming up next that is not your mind conning you, that is just successful recall. Likewise you probably know the melody of the song; though you might not be able to transcribe it, you would immediately notice if even a single note was off. More impressive, you can probably correctly identify a song you haven't heard in years from a fraction of a second long sample. If you show me some tiny portion of a photograph of something I've seen before, I will similarly be able to identify it instantly.

I used to think that everyone experienced the world the same way as I did. Personally, as a visual person, I found graphs to be the most intuitive way of conveying information. How could anyone not understand a graph? But my brother can't make heads or tails of them. He's an incredibly intelligent person, but he fundamentally does not process and store information visually. I've met many other people who can think in ways I can't, such as people who can think visualize objects in 4 dimensions.

If you want further evidence that thought processing is not constant across different people, consider that it is not even constant over a single lifetime. What language do you process language in? If you learn a second language, most people, myself included, eventually reach a point where you can think in that second language without using your primary language as a mediator. The brain is simultaneously incredibly powerful and incredibly plastic. Entire regions can be repurposed to function in radically different ways. All evidence points to extreme variability in how our individual minds work.


I do have aphantasia, but I've experienced that level of realism in specific dreams that happen in the morning, after I partially wake up but I need extra sleep and then fall sleep, and I dream with colors, reflecions in materials, I can't interrogate the dream as I haven't reach that lucid dreaming skill, but it makes me think that the hardware it's there, but there are some circuit that is not connected while I'm awake and I try to imagine or think.

I was born with severe farsightedness and astigmatism(12 dipoters) and it went unoticed for a while, I learned to walk before I got glasses, I think it might be the reason my brain didn't connect the graphic card for thinking, does it make sense?


Ok I kinda believe you. But I do not understand why you wouldn't be able to draw perfectly. Why can you not simply overlay what you see with you're minds eye over the real world? I do this when I am drawing, that's why I'm not a bad drawer. And it's also how I know the limitations of my visualisation. As I learn to draw, say, faces better, the detail and accuracy of my visualisation improves.

I can't draw what I see with my mind very well for the same reason I can't draw what I see with my eyes very well: my hands are terrible. I do enjoy drawing, but it sucks to be painfully aware of how different what I produce is from what I intended to produce. Where I am not limited by my dexterity, such as with computer aided design, I can perfectly recreate what I envision.

So you can't trace a picture using tracing paper?

Not photo-realistically, no. Fine motor control and visualization are different skills. I can probably keep a pencil point to within .5mm of where I want, but that still produces a very crude final result.

It would be absurd to conclude that just because a physicist isn't a champion at billiards that he can't think in terms of vectors, or that someone with a speech impediment can't process words clearly in their mind. That someone who can see an image clearly should be able to perfectly reproduce it does not logically follow.


>the detail is not there.

Usually no, but (anecdote); I cannot normally remember my credit card number, dreaming years ago i read the number aloud and when i woke i could remember the numbers that i had recited in the dream, i checked and they were correct... So at least sometimes in dreams the detail is real.

I have a theory that memory recollection is linked to social impulses, that our minds forget things on purpose (without our knowledge lol) as a tool for social integration. I've seen some indirect evidence of this in some sports, where people tend to be just about as good at a sport as their social peers, change social peers and they become better or worse accordingly. -this would have interesting implications for aphantasia treatment.


Yes, that is what the experience of most people is like without aphantasia. I can even, for like a second, see a fully formed picture in my mind, like a scene from a sci-fi movie, or anything else, really, although it can disappear if I don't focus on the exact details. I can see everything, the shapes, the layout, colors, all of it. It really is like playing a movie in your mind.

Try to imagine something you know, rather than imagining something from scratch, as it uses different mental muscles.

Try taking something you know and putting it someplace else you know but which is unexpected.

Like your sofa in your supermarket's car park. Or your pet under your desk at work.


Makes sense. I’d like to see an experiment done with reading comprehension as well as real memories. When I read something, I hear and see it. I’m reading it out loud in my mind and I either have instant visual associations with certain words (e.g. when I read the word aphantasia I think of the hippo from Fantasia, when I see the word tea I instantly ‘see’ a teacup) or I visualise the scene (like where they have the quote from the man who can’t imagine music, I ‘see’ and ‘hear’ it like it’s a TV interview). So I suspect I’m going to remember it better than someone who purely reads the text - but maybe not! Maybe people who don’t do all the ‘translation’ work to turn text into audio/visuals will in fact turn out to be MORE efficient at remembering.

I have no idea how reading would work without at least hearing it though. If you told me to read without doing this stuff it would be like telling me to think without having thoughts. Impossible.


>I have no idea how reading would work without at least hearing it though. If you told me to read without doing this stuff it would be like telling me to think without having thoughts. Impossible.

I read a lot - and the story unfolds in my mind's eye. But I don't hear the dialog as sound, unless I explicitly want to (if I wish to hear a sentence in my mind, using a friend's voice, I can). I don't even "read" the book (including the dialog), except at the beginning. When I get into the story it's just in the mind, I don't consciously read. And the dialog is also not voiced, it just "is". Which is one reason I've never felt that strange, foreign, or difficult-to-pronounce names are a problem (a complaint I often see in e.g. Amazon reviews). Never had that problem. And if I try to add a voice to a spoken sentence the reading slows down to "natural" speed, which is way way too slow for me.

(As for hearing sounds in my mind in general - I'm very susceptible to ear worms, and I don't use a car stereo - if I want to hear music I just hear it, in my mind.)


I have aphantasia. When reading I also don't "hear" the words (although I am capable, if I choose, of mentally simulating auditory input in a way for which I have no corresponding capability for visual input). I think I read much faster than average and have extremely high reading comprehension and recall for written material.

Funny story: one benefit of not being able to visualize things is that I'm never disappointed by casting choices (at least as far as appearance is concerned) when a novel is made into a movie or TV series. My wife was "upset" that Jaime Lannister in the Game of Thrones show had blue eyes instead of green, because she had such a strong visual image of what he should look like.


Your description of being capable of simulating "hearing the words" resonates with me.

When I think about it more, I think I almost feel the sounds on my tongue, which is to say, when I try to simulate the sounds, I do so by imagining how I would make the sounds with my mouth.

Also your point about casting choices for movie adaptations resonates. When a movie is made of a book I've been reading I'm almost always just so pleased by finally being able to see what the character looks like, and have never felt disappointment.

If anything while reading about characters, my mind cycles over possible physical attributes wondering which a character might have, but never really building anything resembling imagery.


For me reading is pretty much making a movie in my head. Characters have their distinct "voice", and I fully form the scenario as if seen through a lens. Like, the book is giving me the details and I put them together as a mental construct of sorts.

I noticed this "ability" is very useful for stuff like studying. Like, if I arrange the data to study in a table or graph, it'll be easy to remember the shape and colors of the table/graph, giving me a hint on how many elements a group has or stuff like that.

I used to read a lot as a child, unfortunately I haven't seen a book I'm feeling interested in reading in a while, so I mostly abuse this "skill" by drawing or making games.


I do not see/hear/smell/taste anything with my "mind".

Speaking from my own personal experience, my reading comprehension doesn't seem to suffer at all, and the speed at which I read seems to be much faster than average (for instance, if my wife and I are reading the same page of text, I'm done long before she is).


I don't think it's so much comprehension that suffers. I comprehend, but...

I have no strong concept of the sensory world of the text. I have a very, very vague impression of what a character looks like. I'm prone to forget explicit features that the author bothered describing because there's no durable image to factor them into.

I notice some people have strong reactions to casting calls in movie adaptations of novels. This objection is foreign to me; I had no strong image for it to conflict with.

I am more likely to find a turn of phrase beautiful for the words and sounds, than to have any sense that the thing it describes is beautiful.


I'd take slower reading speed for the ability to recollect my childhood home, or the face of my wife when she's away.

Yep, given the choice, I would too.

Anecdotal, but a friend of mine has essentially no inner eye and has roughly one memorable dream per year, if even.

He cannot picture anything internally bar the most basic geometry, and that requires active focus.

I know him to have a strong memory across the board, and no particular issues with reading (dyslexia, however he is a very strong reader. Certainly a lot stronger than average).

So I wouldn't say there's necessarily anything that prohibits a person with a weak minds eye from having good memory. Not arguing against the point he may be an outlier or that these two features don't often go hand in hand, just pointing out it's not so hard and fast.


I neither hear nor see things I read. Such that I can remember things, but I couldn't tell you how I remember them.

Is akin to knowing your way home. I don't see the turns ahead of time, but I recognize them when I do. And I can remember the decisions ahead of time.

I think remembering decisions is ultimately my best way to describe it. Remembering making a choice. Something that is not sensory.


I am curious, what would you do when you lost your map in a forest/mountain while hiking, but assuming you "remember" the map that you checked the day before?

I do not think in terms of maps at all. I do think in terms of choosing to go left or right.

You have probably heard directions like, go straight until you get to the big tree, take the left path towards the creek...

Basically, I remember what choices to make at different spots. I used to be a pizza delivery driver. I could work out where houses were based on the street and number. But it was always an iterative process. I will remember what sequence of things should happen at points. And going to new places is always harder, because maps don't help me much.


Satellite photos with superimposed map data is a true revelation for me. I study them to remember certain landmarks and how the terrain should look when I need to take a turn, etc. And I memorize street names too, to keep tally on where I am.

Teaching people how to tie even simple knots is effective at distinguishing the visual from non-visual thinkers. It's one of the interesting aspects of going sailing.

I'm pretty convinced I experience aphantasia (never been clincially tested), I can't even fathom what it means to "visualize" something.

I'm also very good at knot tying. It's a hobby I enjoy, and a practical skill in rope rescue activities I participate in. Knot typing seems much more "spatial" than "visual" to me.

Interestingly, the article specifically mentions differences in spatial abilities as not being correlated to the ability to visualize.

"But other aspects of the findings suggest self-reporting may not be biasing the results that significantly: there were variations in answers coupled with data suggesting that spatial abilities - an ability to map relationships and distances between objects - appear to be unaffected in the volunteers."


I resonate with this as well. Anything strongly spatial, such as tying knots, navigating really any sort of space, even after just a single visit, and things such as sports come very easy to me. But even visualizing an Apple in any capacity (as an arbitrary example) seems to escape me, And asking me to, for instance draw one, would rely on a list of facts that I know about apples: * Apples are red * Apples are generally spherical * Apples have a stem on one side, and a little flowery bit on the other. * There are indentations around those bits. * An Apple's shape is a bit heart-ish. * Bits of the apple are bumpy when as swept around it's primary axis (I.... think only on the bottom???)

Maybe that gives you a sense of my ability to visualize.

While in stark contrast, I can often take a few looks at an already tied knot, and reverse-engineer/decompose it's construction down to a series of steps that I can feel spatially I can then often, much later be able to reconstruct that knot based on the combination of the few bits I remember, and the general knowledge I have about space in general and knots in specific.


I'm probably conflating visual and spatial into one group here.

I only learnt about aphantasia very recently. I seem to be affected. It was very surprising to me, that people can "see" things only by thinking about them. It explains a lot. For example I never understood what's so great about reading books. But I can imaging that this is great if you actually see the things you read about.

I can also confirm the findings of this study. I rarly dream. I cannot hear music in my head. I also learnt quite a while ago, that my peers can remember the past in way that is mind boggling for me.

It's pretty depressing to be honest.

Do we already know if this is something which is inherited?


I believe I’m aphantasic and I still enjoy books. I think about the things described. To go the other way, I read recently that the author of the Witcher books doesn’t “see” the things he’s writing, it’s pure text description for him but his books are still great.

I'm pretty sure I have this condition. Never even knew the vast majority of people experienced the world differently than I do until recently.

One of the perceived benefits IME has been that I seem to have a substantially higher capacity (on average) to understand things at a conceptual level than my co-workers.

Not sure if that's just a testament to how I learned to learn early in life, or if it's somehow a way my mind has compensated for the lack of sensory info in my imagination.


Question: Beyond aphantasiacs, could there be living humans who lack qualia altogether?

The Hard Problem of Consciousness™ is "how can a physical system generate qualia?", where "qualia" is something like "the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions", or "what it feels like to have experiences".

I once ran into a very intelligent person (philosophically trained) who genuinely didn't understand the Hard Problem of Consciousness, or what was even meant by qualia. It occurred to me during this conversation that there might be genuine instances of humans out there who lack qualia. As opposed to p-zombies (hypothetical humans who lack qualia but claim they have qualia), real life qualia-less humans might just find the notion of qualia nonsensical. Perhaps there are even people out there who understand what qualia is, and outright deny that they have it?


There are those who lack an internal monologue. People with a lack of critical thinking skills may be overrepresented by this group without an equivalent tool to analyze abstract concepts.

People who genuinely lack qualia would be completely immune to physical sensations, so this is unlikely.

I can imagine a hypothetical brain in a glass jar might survive like this, but for most people the absence of physical sensations while living in a body would be evidence of a very serious medical condition.

Of course being able to persuade yourself through sleight of philosophy that physical sensations are somehow illusory is a different class of problem.


"Not everyone can see pictures in their minds when they close their eyes and summon thoughts - an ability many of us take for granted."

I used to be into visualization as focus training. I can't "see" and change (move, change color) shapes in my mind at all. Artists I know claim to be able to do this. Obviously, Tesla (, Nikola) supposedly did this.

For those who can do it - to what degree can you do it? Can you imagine a circle? A cube? A rubix cube with color?

Edit: Since we are discussing this a lot - I am also a skilled lucid dreamer. In the sense that I trained myself for months to remember and control my dreams vividly. I realized my dreams have a "bandwidth limit" / "render limit". If I try to "look" at a detailed scene, it blurs and/or I wake up. Which, btw, is a huge argument against astral projection, not that anyone here likely ever even considered it to be real, but as a young child, I did.


Yes, and there are no real limits to this. I can picture a Rubik's cube dominating the Manhattan skyline. I can also picture abstract images with no connection to the real world, that have emotions associated with them.

I believe my wife cannot make images, and the differences between us that result are pretty wild. I'm dramatically better with directions and maps because she can't make a mental model of the map and how it relates to the real world. However she's very aware of her emotions in a given moment where it's very difficult for me to express how I'm feeling.


It's crazy how varied everyone's experiences are. I can't visualize anything at all, but have a very strong spatial sense, and navigate much better than my wife does (who can visualize things very vividly).

Oh, the map thing is interesting. I can visualise pretty well but I can’t move around smoothly in my visualisations. I can only warp around like in VR games. Most of what I visualise is more like a 2d film/photo than a full 3D scene. Like your wife, I can’t figure out maps or 3D spaces (I spend a lot of time in 3d games wandering around lost) - despite me being able to form images. Maybe some of us only have 1d/2d imaginary worlds in our heads!

I also don't see smooth movement without extraordinary effort and simple objects, and it seems I'm just increasing the framerate. Although funnily I can imagine body and hand movements (which are smooth) in detail, and I don't feel the framerate limitation at all; I can get a 'intuitive feeling' for each kind of movement that way. So it seems like my kinetic-proprioception has a lot more temporal capability.

In terms of 3D imagery, I can visualized complex 3D objects and rotate them around, or navigate 3D cave spaces. But it requires significant focus, and the "framerate" is very low, like warping you mentioned. And for years I've spent time before sleeping visualizing things (often in 3D), so I think it's something I developed too (it's fun and I knew it was going to be useful -- when solving problems I very often resort to visualizations).


Can you draw what you visualize? Can you recall a face exactly and draw it? As an amateur artist, I don't think there is as much "mechanical skill" in art, as there is clearly imagining what you are trying to draw. Any time anyone claims to be able to visualize, I ask them this question.

To be clear, I am not "challenging" you in any sense, but it's a good reality check.

Anyway - I am the same with maps, I can easily see the route in my head, but that has to do with being aware of where north is and a vague notion of where I am.


No OP, but I fall into the camp that can draw/sculpt/paint/etc what my mind's eye produces. I'm not as good a sculptor as a painter, but I can generally paint a face/landscape/car/etc that my brain is seeing, at least to a degree that I am satisfied with. Paintings take a long time to get 'good'.

Getting better at drawing and creating takes time and practice. I'd go on youtube to take a look at how to get better quickly, there's a lot of good people on YT that are happy to share and teach.

One good 'cheat' is to use a camera lumisia or a reference mirror to see how light interacts with your media directly: https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/11/vermeer-secret-to...

I'm likely an outlier though, as I'm a synesthete and my senses get a bit mixed up from time to time. So take that into account.


Actually my mechanical skill is way too inferior to capture things that I can imagine. Like I could spend a long time trying to bring to life a specific image, but why? I wouldn't bother unless it was somehow very important to communicate to someone else. Simple things I'm easily able to picture and draw.

Characters, structures, vehicles, robots, pretty much anything I would like to draw or design. With color (or at least enough awareness to know a certain shape or area is in a specific color). I can also "listen" to music, unfortunately I'm really bad at creating new music so this skill is utterly useless for anything but remembering songs with just one listen or so.

At night before falling asleep it's pretty much like visualizing a movie, including motion and sound, the effect is somewhat stronger when eyes closed and not moving, I assume because "input" is mostly clear and thus doesn't conflict with whatever image you are conjuring mentally.

Seeing from other post, they say their dreams are pretty dull. My case is the opposite, my dreams are ridiculously vivid (including color, sound and touch) and there are very detailed environments and a lot of people moving around. I wonder if those things are related somehow?

EDIT: I have narcolepsy, perhaps that's a factor.


In general my dreams have duller images than reality, but I had a dream many decades ago, after a half-dramatic winter day in the mountains - when sleeping in the tent that night I was dreaming about a summer day where I walked over the top of a hill, and in front of me was a valley with an old road, and fields of yellow flowers as far as I could see. What was special was that it was extremely sharp and vivid, much more so than reality. I could see every individual flower, from an apparent distance of a hundred meters or more. And at the same time I could see it all.

I still remember that dream vividly. Which is also unusual for me.


That's interesting. Dreams always were a very interesting topic to me, so I like to hear stuff like this.

For me that's usually kinda how it goes. My dreams are usually rather mundane, borderline formulaic, although at times I can recognize places from my past that are altered (a little or a lot), or it's cleaner/with different materials or stuff like that. A thing that amuses me and seems to be uncommon, at least from what I hear from other people, is the amount of life. If I dream of a street, it's always going to have a lot of persons moving about. Entirely normal people, not people without faces or anything weird like that. They even remain consistent, like if I look somewhere in the dream, if I look back again, people retains their path and clothing. If I'm a bar or something there will be random patrons who I don't really interact with, but can be seen and heard like if it was a totally normal place.

Another amusing thing is that people claims they cannot read in dreams, but while there are times I have difficulty reading a thing, stuff like billboards or random "decorative" text are clear to me. Exceptions happen, for example a few days ago I dreamed I was doing a school test online on a tiny old-school flipphone and I was struggling to read the questions (didn't help the text was in garish colors, probably remembering something a teacher used to do in real life).

I can also get the feelings of taste, smell and touch, but for some reason the temperature is always "neutral". Like, if I'm dreaming in a hot or cold day, it'll be "neutral" in the dream, even if I later wake up because I'm too hot or cold. At times I dream I'm walking but my legs hurt (like when standing up for a long time) but then I wake up and my legs are in a totally neutral state, not in a bad position or anything.

The biggest drawback is that at times I dream I'm just doing my job (maybe with some minor differences in the room or so) and it feels like doing 3-4 hours of just real life, absolutely realistic work stuff. That is terrible. Once in a while I get a cool nightmare monster or setting (which I parasitize for my creative endeavors. Is it plagiarism when your subconscious came up with it?), but overall it's really mundane stuff.

Also, my dreams tend to be pleasant and chillaxing (like 99%), for some reason when sharing dreams people speaks of dreadful or depressing things or psychedelic nightmares and such. I'm glad it's not the case here. I have had weird psychedelic dreams during times of being extremely sick with fever but otherwise it's like some sort of virtual reality.

Makes me wonder if people who claimed to do stuff like astral walking just had the same "ability" and just had really vivid and realistic dreams instead. I also wonder how much of this is related to narcolepsy (I might be dreaming in a higher state of awareness than most people, but I'm not very wise on these topics).


I guess you are well aware of the concept of lucid dreaming?

Yes, it seems pretty close to what I get by default, although I don't particularly pursue it (I hear it makes for lower quality sleep, and being narcoleptic I can't afford any lower quality, heh).

I do have a certain degree of autonomy while in the dreams. I usually do what I want to do and go where I want to go, even if the results aren't exactly logical at times. I particularly like to admire certain architectural elements that are slightly off or non-euclidean. Most of the weirdness comes from stuff that is slightly off, houses with too many rooms, places with too many floors or unusual layouts or lighting, or stuff like a 1:1 recreation of a real street but it leads to different or entirely new places. My brain seems to put a lot of emphasis in stuff like structure and lighting. I wonder what that says about me as a person.

Not gonna lie, I enjoy the stuff a lot. Only problem is that it's too random and can range from incredible to ridiculously mundane and normal, so I don't quite take dream exploring as a thing. If the opportunity presents itself I'll milk it for all it's worth though, both from enjoying the dream and from whatever creative material I can take for myself.


As complete as it needs to be. I can see and hear my imaginings quite clearly, and often use mechanical analogues to test non-directly visualisable abstract ideas and logical flows.

In more general terms, I can see and explore real and imagined environments, and listen to music with perfect fidelity - although doing the hearing bit only works well with considerable focus, and peace and quiet - visual I find easy enough to just ignore what my eyes are seeing, leave walking or whatever on autopilot. To be clear, it’s not like just imagining a thing, it’s more like overriding a sense. When I visualise, I am literally looking at something that isn’t there, when I listen, I hear as though it’s real - although any real noise immediately breaks it.


I have a very hard time believing claims like this. Not to single you out, but you should be able to draw perfectly then and imagine whole systems in your mind.

The latter is especially unlikely given that most people are limited to 5-7 "items" in their working memory. To design even a simple system, e.g. a brake caliper, that's way more than 7 items, and they aren't "atomic" items either.

Again, this isn't a stab at you, this is a stab at the concept, because it's kind of like people saying they can put on 5lb of muscle a month without roiding. Sets false expectations.


It’s about levels of scale and abstraction. When you’re designing a car you don’t care about the innards of the calliper. Reducible complexity, and modelled inputs and outputs. If something seems wonky it gets looked at more closely - either the model or the concept is wrong.

I can’t draw for shit, but I can and do make complex devices and systems with no written plan, just a picture in my head.

Oh, and I’ve put on well over 5lb of muscle this month, by doing brutal hours of manual labour and eating like a horse. Being out of shape but historically stacked makes it a world easier.


I can hold whole systems in my mind, but I can't draw, as I've never learned. That doesn't mean that what I see in my mind is not real or inaccurate.

To expound a bit on what others are saying, I definitely have this visualization ability, and it isn't limited to sight, I have the same thing for all my senses. The way I've described it to other people is that I can emulate any sensation internally, it's just that it's a muted or foggy version of it. If it was 100% accurate, I think that would start to cause issues with your brain's ability to distinguish with what's real and what's "in your head".

The example I always give people is that when deciding what to eat and looking at things in the cabinet, or the fridge, or deciding where to pickup food, I just mentally "taste" each thing, and it really does feel like I have the sensation of eating that thing, and I decide based on which one tastes the best in that moment.


I can pretty much visualize things as if they were in a 3D modeling system (there may be a reason why I work in mechanical product design). I can take some object and imagine it flipped around to another orientation or imagine how a complex mechanism will operate. I'm so adept at doing this that I very rarely actually draw things out before I start doing CAD work.

I would say my ideation process starts with a vague view of what I am trying to accomplish, and then gradually becomes clear. I'll have a general concept and can picture the end result, but without understanding how it is accomplished at first, which gradually becomes clearer as I think about it. I generally know I've got something when it "feels right".

My main artistic hobby is photography. One of the things I most enjoy doing is going out without a specific shot in mind and trying to "find" a photo by deliberately experiencing my surroundings. It is almost have an aversion to have a shot in mind before I go out to take it because it invariably doesn't live up to the visual I have in my head.


Temple Grandin claimed her visualization worked like the Star Trek holodeck, which is amazing. But then many people can easily manipulate verbal language in their minds. Some can do that with music.

Like a 3D CAD or in Blender. Add or remove details. A circle could be a bouncy wire that has a shiny surface, or made of wood or plastic. They could rotate in the air, or running on a floor making a circle after being dropped. It could bend and get twisted it into a figure 8. I am writing this while imagining it, and I have no real ring-shaped object at hand.

Nikola Tesla always thought that this was a side effect of a very serious disease he had as a child. That was probably due to him never meeting other people like him, though as some comments here show they certainly exist (I count myself among them).

Some people with this ability can draw what they imagine very well, while others are not good at all. I don't see an issue - even if you project some image on a blank piece of paper so people just have to trace it everybody won't have the same results.


I can visualize to a limited extent, i.e. I can see anything I want but images are always very "unstable". I'm much better with music: I can listen to music in my head very clearly, even though there is a strong focus on the lead melody (e.g. voice, guitar). But I can also create music from scratch and let it unfold seamlessly, with any kind of instruments or vocals I want.

I can, but colours never seem as vivid in my mind as when I look at them directly, like I can imagine a red apple but it's like a faded red. I've always found this mildly frustrating.

I can only see a very limited amount of stuff in my head. My best visualizations are routes in 2D from above. Anything beyond that is really hard to do.

Funny thing is, when I dream I can see anything.


How can I tell if I have aphantasia?

Take the Vividness of Visual Imagery Quiz

https://aphantasia.com/vviq/


One question I like to ask in conversations about aphantasia: when you do relatively complex arithmetic in your head (for instance, compute 47 * 68 real quick), do you visually perform the gradeschool multiplication algorithm? Or something else?

I've surveyed a lot of people on this - probably forty or so in person, plus another 100 or so in a poll on reddit once - and there's a pretty clear trend: people who perform the visual algorithm tend to be 'not math people', and are less accurate and less confident in their answer, or not even willing to try.

I'm aphantasiac and I can do a calculation like that fairly quickly and accurately, without any special practice. I basically use my verbal memory to store and recall cached computations instead of any visualization. My theory is that the visual brain is not really designed for storing precise information so much as the gestalt of an image, so it does less well on precise numeric details.


That's an interesting question! I don't have aphantasia, and can visualize things pretty vividly - but I also resorted to "verbal memory" to do that calculation.

I foiled it like the other comment says (maybe somewhat of a visualization, since I "visualized" it as 40x60 + 40x8 + ...), and I remember the running sum by "saying" it to myself inside my head.

I performed each multiplication (grade-school multiplication memory lookup table, not actually doing the visual algorithm) and added the right number of 10's place zeros, then added it to the running sum. For this addition step actually, I do visualize as stacking the two numbers and carrying if needed. Then I "say" the result to myself and remember it for the next multiplication.

I will say that my first reaction to seeing "calculate 47x68 real quick" was reluctance and it was not an easy task to do mentally, but it was mechanically straightforward.


I'm also aphantasia and never considered that people would do blackboard math visibly in their head. I, like you, use verbal memory to store numbers. But I've never been particularly good at doing math in my head. At the same time, I can map 47*68 into a rectangle and either add and subtract slivers to get the right answer, all without seeing it.

Something else which blew my mind, people who use image search preferentially to everything. Ironically the only time I use image search (unless I'm trying to find an image) is when I want a graph or tabular data.


FOIL it :)

40 * 60 + 40 * 8 + 60 * 7 + 7 * 8

Basically a bunch of single digit multiplies followed by stacking zeroes


My mental method is not quite FOIL, for what it's worth. I distribute over one of the numbers -- so 47 * 68 = 47 * 60 + 47 * 8, and then compute the compute those (2400 + 420 = 2820). Then I grab additional terms: 2820 + 40 * 8 = 3140. 3140 + 7 * 8 = 3196

Among other things this scales better to larger numbers. I use it because it's more 'linear' -- I only need to remember one accumulated number at a time.


Or 47x68= (50-3)x(70-2)=50x70 - 50x2 - 3x70 + 3x2



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