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Mental pictures

  1. Aug 14, 2004 #1


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    Can people actually make mental pictures of things?

    For a long time, I've remarked to myself that, while I often have a very good memory of things I see, I cannot picture them. For instance, I may look at a map and later be able to describe the map, but I can't "see" the map. The same is true with my other senses; I can play a tune in my head, but it isn't like hearing at all.

    But recently (over the past year or so), I've had many occasions when I wake up that I can retain images; I close my eyes and I can still see as if they were open. However, when I notice this, the image goes away.

    Because I've just awakened when I've experienced this phenomenon, I'm somewhat suspicious of my perceptions, but they're vivid enough to make me wonder.

    Can people actually recall a mental image as if they were actually seeing it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2004 #2


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    That is not a strength of mine.

    I am incredibly impressed by those who can play blindfold chess. The late Ray Charles, blind from an early age, had no choice but to play chess that way, and I hear he played quite well.
  4. Aug 15, 2004 #3
    have you read the art of happiness at work? i think it was there that i read some monks can retain incredibly complex images in their mind for long periods of time.
  5. Aug 15, 2004 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    I don't know about formal interpretations but I am a very visual person. AFAICT I do actually "see" images by memory. Just now I was testing myself and thinking about Feather Falls in N. Ca - a favorite old hiking area. I can see the area almost as if through tunnel vision. Only a narrow field of view is seen but the clarity in my mind is like a picture [25 years hence]. While in college I could see the equations needed for tests in a similar fashion. When I struggle to recall details of text or of a map, or for about anything else, I find that I am visually trying to fill in the blanks.

    Your description of the loss of the image reminds me of some common meditation techniques that I have used, where the key is in not thinking about what you are doing. As soon as you do the control is lost. I would find it interesting to know if you could learn to concentrate and see images in your mind's eye on demand.
  6. Aug 15, 2004 #5
    i can play blindfold chess but yet cannot see a map in my head...playing blindfold chess is just a matter of training....
  7. Aug 15, 2004 #6


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    I am one of those people whose memory is like a photo album. When I remember a book I read I can recall actual pages in my mind, see smudges, creases in the paper, etc... I see it as a snapshot if I want, but I can also remember just the details if I want. I can see maps in my mind, all the details, just as if I was looking at them now.

    In fact, the way I remember things is like accessing a photo album and picking the picture I want to look at.

    I wonder if this ability can be learned or if it's in how your brain is wired?
  8. Aug 15, 2004 #7
    Yes, it is possible, but it takes practice. I guess certain genes can also help. I've noticed on several occasions that I can sometimes recall part of a page I've been studying. I don't remember what's written there, but I can see it in my mind as if it's right in front of me, and read the text right off the mental image. I suppose it's what people call photographic memory. Also, since I am dealing with computer graphics a lot, I can generate my own mental images as well, and manipulate them in my mind (rotate, translate, etcetra). However, the more complex the image, the harder it is to do that. Sometimes I find myself really struggling to visualize what I want.
  9. Aug 15, 2004 #8


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    I don't know if it's how we are taught things while still small children that influences how we learn later, or if we're just born with certain learning styles, but people definitely have a variety of learning styles. I'm also a very visual person. If you give me a set of directions to someplace, just written words, I'll probably get lost, but if you just draw a map, I'll find my way, no problem. So, yes, I actually see scenes and stuff when I think about them. In fact, it's hard for me to think about something without visual images coming to mind. But, there's nothing wrong with you if you don't see things this way. If you think of just words, you're probaby a verbal or auditory learner (depends whether you're better at learning from reading words or hearing words...or you might be a little of both). Besides being visual, I'm also very much a tactile learner. It's probably the reason I love working in a lab and wound up doing well in neuroanatomy...lots of looking and touching.

    I wish I still had some old quizzes I used to have that helped distinguish learning styles. They would be fun to share. I'll check my files, but I'm pretty sure those are long gone.
  10. Aug 15, 2004 #9

    Math Is Hard

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    Gosh - if you find those, MB, please post. I would sure be interested. I don't know what kind of learner I am, but I can understand and remember concepts very well by example, while almost not at all by strict definition.
    Also, I know that hearing a lecture is very important to my learning and I have all these little recorded audio snippets that I store in my brain that I can "play back" when I need information on tests. A technique that I use frequently is reading aloud things that I need to remember - and thus I have the audio recorded for playback later on. Is that unusual?
  11. Aug 16, 2004 #10
    wow, MathIsHard! That's amazing. (you too Evo) I think that's quite a gift. I wouldn't say its unusual; I'd say its very unique.

    For me, I just have a good memory in the sense that I can memorize facts about things in a short amount of time. It's not much, but its adequate.
  12. Aug 16, 2004 #11

    Math Is Hard

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    And annoying! I also record all the professor's bad jokes and extraneous comments that went along with the lecture! :biggrin:
    Don't take that for granted. It's not only rare, it is powerful. :smile:
  13. Aug 16, 2004 #12
    That is soooo amazing. Can you hear his particular voice? How much can you record? (60 minutes?)

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2004
  14. Aug 16, 2004 #13


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    Unfortunately, as Math Is Hard mentioned, I also store all the "junk".

    That's the best kind!
  15. Aug 18, 2004 #14
    Well it probably is how your brain is wired in the litral sense. But I see what you're asking. I would speculate that advanced photographic memories such as yours are probably a result of your own natural abilities...genetics could play a role in addition to many other factors.

    So you're able to look at a chart (for a few minutes) like the periodic table of elements and recall each element and its characteristics in addition to its specific position relative to the other elements? IOW, would you able to remember all of the elements in order? :eek:
  16. Aug 18, 2004 #15
    I use the same in paintball.
    I'm playing tournament paintball.
    I quickly look, go back and then i aim on the mental picture.
    It takes practice but it works.
  17. Aug 18, 2004 #16
    Of course in paintball, as I know, no one stays in the same spot more than a couple seconds otherwise doomsday is upon you, especially as a sniper.
  18. Aug 18, 2004 #17


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    I and most team sports acthletes use the same strategy. you take a quick look, plan were you teammate/goalie will be and then pass/shoot the puck/ball. It does not always work well when you have need teammates but once you get used to your team, it has a great success rate.

    I have also the same ability as Math is hard. I sit in class, take few line notes that do not make any sense to anybody and I remember everything. I have learned to weed out most of the stupid joke. sometimes remember the stupid joke make the learning easier.

    If I remember correctly, part of our memory is link to our visual and auditive ability. A person that tends to be auditive have really good memory of the sound and are good at making mental images from explanation. Visual people need visual cues to remember.
  19. Aug 18, 2004 #18


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    I'm not familiar with the setup in playing paintball.

    where do you "go back" to?

    why can you not aim at the very same time that you are looking?

    do you have some kind of gun, or do you hurl the paintball by hand?

    do you have a barrier or shield you can hide behind, and shoot projectiles through or over the top of?

    Please clarify what goes on with this "look and then go back and aim"
  20. Aug 18, 2004 #19
    Paitball as a tournament form is played on a field of aprx. 35*50 meters.
    It has a symetrical or mirrored layout.
    Obstacles called bunkers are used for cover.
    These are simply inflated shapes.
    Format is played in several team sizes ranging form 3 V.s. 3 to 10 V.s 10.
    In general the goal is to capture either a center flag and hang it on the start plate of the opposing team, or to grab the flag hanging on the start plate of the opposing team and hanging it at your start plate.
    Points are given for hanging the flag, as well as for the # of players "mugged" on the opposing team.

    Since the marker (paitballguns) in tournaments to day are quite hightech, the rate of fire consequetely is as well.
    RoF of 25 and higher are not uncommon (all depending on the speed of your fingers).
    This is the reason that you have to look, hide and snap shoot (quickly come out shoot a couple and go back behind your bunker).
    There is not time for looking and saiming, it opens you up to much.
    This is the reason you have to aim at the mental picture.

    Example of a tounament grade marker
    Example of a game
  21. Aug 18, 2004 #20
    Well eidetic memory would be photographic memory. Younger children exhibit it for awhile (like 5-15%), but it usually goes away. For an interesting read on the subject of extraordinary memory, there is THE MIND OF A MNEMONIST: A LITTLE BOOK ABOUT A VAST MEMORY. I believe he (S) had the best memory on record, if your basis of measurement is retention/retrieval. He not only had an eidetic memory, but also had synaesthesia.
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