A Lack of Imagination


  • Pitcrew

    So recently (or recently-ish?) stuff about aphantasia was floating around twitter. For the record I'm pretty sure I don't have it since I can create mental images (albeit not very good ones), but doing a little digging had me realize that even though I can kiiiinda imagine stuff, I really can't do it nearly as well as some of my friends can.

    For example if I'm RPing and imagining what the characters are doing? All I really 'see' are just... I don't know how to describe it, vaguely people-shaped blobs with... impressions(?) tied to them. Like I won't 'see' a hairstyle, I'll just have this kinda gut feeling for what kinda hairstyle that character might have.

    As another example, I saw my mother 30 minutes ago but I can't really picture her in my head. I can't describe her face, I can't accurately recall how grey her hair is. If I see a picture of her then I obviously recognize her, but without her (or a picture of her) in front of me I can't describe her in any detail. The things I can describe are more facts that I know rather than things I remember.

    Anyway as fascinating as I'm sure this is to all of you, the part that really caught me off guard was how this suddenly re-contextualized certain things that I've always been a bit dismissive of.

    PBs. I never really understood the point. I could look at someone's PB, study it intently, and then tab to my BeipMU window and everything I just saw had vanished in an instant and I was just imagining kinda vaguely shaped blobs of nothing interacting. Maybe with hair color. And even the vague impression that my mind would create would often be completely at odds with the PB I just looked at. This is as much true for my own characters as it is for other people's. But the idea that other people potentially can actually somehow imagine the PBs moving around as the characters during a scene suddenly makes it all make so much more sense. (Also kinda makes me a bit jealous <_<)

    Overseas vacations are another thing. I suppose I could kinda see some of the appeal, but when a friend would want to pay thousands of dollars to spend a week in some other country it always just seemed to me like a massive waste of money. The way I always thought of it was that at the end of that week you'd have nothing to show for those thousands of dollars. And of course my friends would always say they'd have the memories, but I just couldn't imagine (hah!) that being worthwhile. But I suppose, if you're able to imagine things well enough to sorta relive those memories even a little? I guess I can kinda see that being valuable.

    I suppose it could also explain why I'm so bad at writing descriptions. (Or maybe that's just me fishing for an excuse :P)

    Anyway I just thought it was kinda interesting, and wondered how many other people here might have similar issues. I'm also kinda curious what other things out there might suddenly get new context and become more understandable in light of this little 'discovery'.



  • Interesting.

    As a side note, I have a friend who does have the inability to form images in her mind, yet she is married to a guy who is practically haunted by his imagination. They are a wonderful set of people and very inspiring. I will note that she did do a lot of travel, but I'll ask her about what about that seems worthwhile to her. Maybe I'll learn something.


  • Pitcrew

    I've always wondered to what extent people 'see' things when they RP or read a book. I find that my brain is working more with the sense and impression of things than with any specific visual imagery. I like PBs in that having looked at that picture does let me kind of fill that picture in. If I haven't seen a picture of it there's about zero chance of my sense of a thing being a visual one. My poses tend to focus on dialogue and I have a harder time tracking visual-based information like the sense of relative physical location or somebody's physical traits. It's more like what you said, blobs that I know things about.


  • Pitcrew

    @Tashly Similar. I am an aural thinker, not a visual one. Pictures do not come easily to me, and I don't know what color my friends' and family's eyes are.

    Also, your avatar suggests you have excellent taste.



  • I can imagine scenes, people, etc. fairly well, but I can't remember what someone looks like after they've left the room.
    Heck, if a famous actor looks different enough in a film, I can't recognize them. I've realized I have face blindness to an extent.

    It does make PBs kind of fun because I don't feel that same draw or even issue with the famous faces some people do. Like I don't feel an allure/attraction to them, but at the same time: I'm not repelled by the use of them! (The ones I am repelled by it's because I have a really really bad experience with someone who played one, sort of like how you can have a bad memory tied to a certain song or place or smell or something.)

    ETA:
    Though certain scenes/images get 'locked' in my head. Like I can read a pose or a passage in a book and the imagery of it (for example, say, two people dancing) will get stuck in my head like a chorus from a song will get stuck and I can't replace it with anything else for a while. I've actually got a few poses like that stuck in my head rn from a scene and I keep having to go back to re-read them.


  • Pitcrew

    I also now wonder if maybe I'm one of the normies and it's just the couple friends I talked to who have freaky good imaginations? So I guess we'll learn that from this thread too!

    (And Gunnerkrigg is rad, yes. I can't wait to be inevitably disappointed when someone decides to try start a Mu* based on it <_<)



  • @Tashly said in A Lack of Imagination:

    (And Gunnerkrigg is rad, yes. I can't wait to be inevitably disappointed when someone decides to try start a Mu* based on it <_<)

    it would fail after the chosen ambassadors from the court to the forest are staff alts/bffs and everyone rage quits.


  • Pitcrew

    Aphantasia blows my mind, and I try not to make the person I know who has it feel like I pity them but omg I pity them and if it was me I would be SO SAD (except probably not as I wouldn't know any different).


  • Pitcrew

    My daughter has this. It causes her major issues at times, but she didn't know it was not how everyone thinks...


  • Pitcrew

    Holy crap.

    This describes me. It's a thing? When other people say they picture something in their mind, they see an actual picture?



  • I have aphantasia. Until a couple years ago I genuinely thought 'mental images' and 'seeing things in your mind' and the like were just metaphors.

    Kinda take a little exception to it being called 'a lack of imagination', though. My imagination is fine, thanks! It just doesn't make actual images. I kind of think of it as being like a computer without a monitor. The images are still there, and I can glean information from their code or filenames or whatever, I just can't actually see them. So when I design logos and websites and sometimes draw pictures, I don't actually see a visual representation until I've done it and I'm looking at it outside my head. I can tell you whether it came out 'how I imagined' or not, but I have to make it and see it with my eyes to be sure whether it works the way I expect it to. Usually it's pretty close. But I never see any image inside my head, I just kind of... know.

    For RP blocking and such, I keep track of things like a file of facts, and I rely a lot on other senses in my mind. Sound is middling there, scent and taste are pretty faint, but feeling and especially proprioception are pretty clear. If you ask me to imagine my kitchen, I don't get an image, but I do get a sense of where everything is and how it would feel to reach for this or for that. If I tried to describe it to you, I could tell you the facts like the cupboards are white, with round wooden handles, but I don't see that in my head. I do have a sense of them being about this high and about this wide and I would probably be gesturing to tell you the stove is there and the microwave is over there. This is one reason it helps me a lot when there are maps of game areas, and even better the rare case where someone lays out a combat scene or similar in a document!

    Anyway. Finding out about it explained why 'guided imagery' in elementary school was never anything but boring. But having been in a number of discussions of it at this point, I think people who do 'see' things in their head often overrate the necessity of it in things like enjoying fiction. It would be neat to have the images (though from where I sit it seems like it would also be distracting), but I can get into a book just fine without needing it to mentally be a movie too.


  • Pitcrew

    This is fascinating. I've heard/read a little about this before but never reflected much about it - it was peripheral knowledge that popped up in relation to other things. It's fun trying to pin-point where you are at however.

    I do see images in my mind. If I RP on a MUSH I often make images in my head based on descs - mostly locations however. The people are much more indistinct, people are more about how they are as persons, if that makes sense. So they're sort of blurry and indistinct while the setting, well, I can build a whole room up with windows, rugs, paintings, and so on. This is weird, since I absolutely suck at writing descriptions for rooms - I can absolutely picture how I want it to look in my head but describing it, that's a pain. Or it might just be I like the picture but I'm no fan of writing it - it's just boring.

    But yeah, the people in a book, or in RP - heck, sometimes I have to double-check people even if I've RPed with them many times before, whether they are blonde or dark-haired, or their eyes are blue or brown, or whether they are tall or short. (Though, those I meet often - I do tend to remember them - the ones close to my character, that I've got a more personal, closer, relationship with.)

    I struggle with both names and faces IRL. Might be related. But I can remember the shape and color and details of a hotel room I lived in 15 years ago. :P



  • Yeah, I have aphantasia. It's interesting to me to look at the practical effects of it. Like when descing the grid for my game, almost all the room descs are extremely perfunctory descs of what the place looks like and then a long digression in lore, and it never occurred to me until recently that might be why.

    Like there's an interesting conflict between people that are mindblind and others when I write a description and someone presses me for details. It feels exactly like someone telling a story, and then someone pushes them for completely extraneous things they never would have thought of. Like "what color is something" is a lot like a kid asking a parent telling a story and pressing them for details the parent hadn't thought of. "Exactly how old were the protagonist's parents, what was their birthday" -- details I'd never, ever think of because I just don't picture things so like "what color is it, how big is that, where exactly in the room is this located" never, ever occurs to me.

    Funny enough, I always considered people going, "But what does this LOOK like" to be extremely anal and I just didn't care. ETA: In contrast, I actually really enjoy reading people's descs, but in RP I've been more drawn to people implying the mindset of a character, their motivations, emotional state, etc- it's much more immersive to me.



  • This is super interesting. I never really knew aphantasia was a thing.

    I have a friend who has these interesting sci-fi story-ish dreams, and he'll describe them to me in ridiculous detail. Like down to the color of the curtains in the room or the way the sunlight glints off of the steel doorknobs or whatever.

    Meanwhile if you asked me to describe my kitchen, like @Ninjakitten says, I could do so in fact-based terms... the cabinets are brown, the sink is right by the back door, the stove is gas with five burners... but I don't really see a vivid image in my mind. It's more like fuzzy still pictures at best.

    I think this is partly why I find MU descs so useless and love PBs. You can give me this elaborate evocative desc of a room or person, and all I'm gonna get out if it is, like... "ok there's a table in the corner and that guy is tall with brown hair". I can't picture it without an existing reference.


  • Pitcrew

    @Lisse24 Though I imagine you got the answer, yes. We do see an actual image, like we draw a picture in our mind and hang it up there. Someone says 'There is a brown oak desk, polished to a shine, with a pile of books and a feather quill ink set on it' - we literally get an image of this coming up.



  • @Apos Well, there is a map of Arvum front and center on the Arx site. Sometimes room descriptions are like that, just to help everyone kinda be on the same page. Every now and then, when the stars are right, it's even relevant to RP. Usually it isn't, but sometimes!



  • @faraday said in A Lack of Imagination:

    Meanwhile if you asked me to describe my kitchen, like @Ninjakitten says, I could do so in fact-based terms... the cabinets are brown, the sink is right by the back door, the stove is gas with five burners... but I don't really see a vivid image in my mind. It's more like fuzzy still pictures at best.

    It's interesting in that there's definitely degrees, between people that have photorealistic imaginations vs fuzzy imagery vs nothing at all. For me, asking me what color things are in the kitchen is a lot like asking me to remember the calendar date that something happened. I can take a guess. It might be right, might be wrong, I have no idea though I might sometimes get an extremely vague sensation.

    On the other hand, if I imagine a song, I can often hear it so vividly it can be difficult to tell if I'm listening to something for real or just imagining it, and I dunno how true that is for other people.

    @peasoupling And I can understand how it would be useful! The details I was thinking of were very much so people could enjoy them, rather than something like, 'how far from point a to point b' and would effect the RP.


  • Pitcrew

    @Apos That would perhaps explain why I can remember a room but have problems with people imagery.

    Found a test online! https://aphantasia.com/vviq/



  • @Goblin said in A Lack of Imagination:

    Found a test online! https://aphantasia.com/vviq/

    It's one of those annoying ones where you get all the way to the end and then they demand your personal info/email before they'll send you the results.

    But judging by how all of my answers were "dim and vague" at best, I don't think I really need them to send me a score :P

    @Apos I also can 'hear' music in my head far more clearly than I can 'see' images. And yeah there are definitely degrees. I know my cabinets are a sort of orangish brownish color, but I couldn't describe the countertops if my life depended on it.

    I have trouble recognizing faces too, especially if they're out of their usual context.



  • @Ninjakitten said in A Lack of Imagination:

    Kinda take a little exception to it being called 'a lack of imagination', though. My imagination is fine, thanks! It just doesn't make actual images.

    This is supported by a number of the articles I've been reading. From the researcher who's primarily studied it:

    An inability to visualise does not imply an inability to imagine: imagination is a much richer, more complex capacity than the specifically visual ability lost in aphantasia.

    Also interesting, since a couple folks have mentioned it on this thread:

    a substantial proportion of those contacting us also report problems with face recognition or ‘prosopagnosia’.


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