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TOPIC: What does mental imagery mean?

What does mental imagery mean? 6 months 4 weeks ago #5050

  • stringer
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I realise this may be (almost by definition!) the wrong place to be asking this question, but I am longing to hear a clear description from someone who can "see mental images" as to exactly what that means. Is this a case of "if you need to ask, you don't see them"?

I think I don't see mental images at all, but then I sometimes wonder if what I think of as being just a hazy impression of "knowing vaguely what someone or something looks like" is the same thing that someone else describes as "seeing a mental image." I think probably this is not the case, because there is no way I would ever describe any of my mental impressions as being vivid, lifelike, clear, or indeed like pictures in any way at all. I just have a vague impression of the concept of what the person or object is like. I am not completely clueless about what someone I know well looks like, but I don't see a picture in my mind when I think of them. And probably if I were asked to describe them, I could do little more than say "two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth."

But is anyone here able to describe what "seeing mental images" is like, or can anyone recommend a good article or description one can read? I have read about the experiences of people who do have aphantasia, and I think those resonate very well with me. But I haven't ever been able to find a good description of what it is like to not have aphantasia. Pictures in one's mind that one can look at, "walk around," study up close? Sensations that seem almost like looking at a scene in real life? I just don't really understand what it is that people without aphantasia are talking about when they speak of mental imagery.
Last Edit: 6 months 4 weeks ago by stringer.
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What does mental imagery mean? 6 months 3 weeks ago #5058

  • presbyopic
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I could be totally wrong but I think it would be like when one dreams. I believe that would be similar to mental imagery. You see an image and can describe what you are seeing in real time. Verses, remembering or knowing what something looks like, and using words to build it into a non-image thought.
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What does mental imagery mean? 6 months 3 weeks ago #5064

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That is interesting, what you say about dreams. When I think about a dream that I just had, I certainly have the impression that there were visual images involved, although i can't recall the images afterwards in my conscious state.

Also, once or twice since I realised that I seem to have aphantasia, I have experienced impressions, just as I was hovering between being awake and asleep, of seeing some sort of images that were reminiscent of what I think I experience in dreams, but while I was still sufficiently conscious to be aware that this was somewhat unusual.

It seems somehow as if I have some ability to form mental images in the unconscious mind, but that they "evaporate" as I transition into consciousness. That possibly accords with the feeling I have while conscious, that there are images that I can almost but not quite access. I can get the sense that they are somehow lurking below the surface, beyond reach but I have an indefinable awareness that they are there, I wonder if this accounts for why I still have the impression that I "know what someone looks like," even though I cannot bring a picture of them into my mind.
Last Edit: 6 months 2 weeks ago by stringer.
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What does mental imagery mean? 6 months 3 weeks ago #5065

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I wrote a long, long message, to the point where I got logged out, then logged in, and then my message was "considered spam". So you'll have to do with this much shorter answer (sorry!)

When I think of an apple, I have a vivid sensory impression of the apple. It is completely accurate to an apple, scratch-generated by the brain. If you want to experience what I do when I think of an apple, pick one up and look at it.

I just don't need to pick it up and look at it.
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What does mental imagery mean? 6 months 2 weeks ago #5067

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Sensorium wrote:
When I think of an apple, I have a vivid sensory impression of the apple. It is completely accurate to an apple, scratch-generated by the brain. If you want to experience what I do when I think of an apple, pick one up and look at it.

I just don't need to pick it up and look at it.

Thank you for this explanation, and I'm sorry to hear your long message was lost.

The sensations you describe are so far outside my experience that I have no conception of what it must be like to be able to summon mental images like that. But your description makes it a lot clearer to me what people who are able to visualise must be meaning when they speak of mental imagery. And it makes it all the clearer to me that I have no such ability at all!

It also brings home how remarkable it is that people can go through life without ever realising that most people are so different, in that they can bring mental imagery into their minds! As an unknowing aphantasiac, I simply assumed other people were exaggerating and/or speaking purely metaphorically when they said they could see things in their minds.

If you have the chance to write up any of the other insights that you lost in your crashed message, it would be most interesting to read them!
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What does mental imagery mean? 6 months 2 weeks ago #5069

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Thank you, Stringer, for this topic! It is so amazing how different we all can be without noticing it much. Of course we are all told to focus on similarities, but the differences can be needed in order to grasp the similarities!

About the apple example: in my immediate family there are 2 aphantasiacs and 2 hyperphantasiacs. We 2 aphants do have vivid dreams (NOT all with aphantasia experience dreams!!!) but then remember our dreams in words, plots and concepts, no lines, colors, hazy pics, nothing whatsover when conscious. But the 2 hypers can even cut apart that apple, watch, hear, feel and smell juice spray out from it, make the apple pieces float out into the air, spin around, come back together like puzzle pieces, see which pieces are minuscully off, change around again, peel, make apple sauce, whatever. Now THAT blows my mind even more.

My particular hyperphantasic family members also, well, don't get much done in life and have heavy issues with their feelings, thinking others are trying to manipulate them and spending a lot of unnecessary time avoiding that. I wonder if they are so inundated with their inner life worlds which they CAN manipulate, that the outside world which they CAN'T manipulate very much is a less preferable place to be!

(Apologies for following soap-box.)
I am also worried that I should possibly be more worried that so many people around me, around the world, may be consciously or unconsciously creating their own reality IN THEIR MINDS, believing it disproportionately, proponing it, to a high level exclusion of a more genuine reality outside of their minds ... and then thinking that aphants or others with different day-dream-realities are somehow lacking logic or such if we don't follow their lead.
Last Edit: 6 months 2 weeks ago by Blackstage.
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