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Generalizing From One Example

261 Post author: Yvain 28 April 2009 10:00PM

Related to: The Psychological Unity of Humankind, Instrumental vs. Epistemic: A Bardic Perspective

"Everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do."

   -- Vlad Taltos (Issola, Steven Brust)

My old professor, David Berman, liked to talk about what he called the "typical mind fallacy", which he illustrated through the following example:

There was a debate, in the late 1800s, about whether "imagination" was simply a turn of phrase or a real phenomenon. That is, can people actually create images in their minds which they see vividly, or do they simply say "I saw it in my mind" as a metaphor for considering what it looked like?

Upon hearing this, my response was "How the stars was this actually a real debate? Of course we have mental imagery. Anyone who doesn't think we have mental imagery is either such a fanatical Behaviorist that she doubts the evidence of her own senses, or simply insane." Unfortunately, the professor was able to parade a long list of famous people who denied mental imagery, including some leading scientists of the era. And this was all before Behaviorism even existed.

The debate was resolved by Francis Galton, a fascinating man who among other achievements invented eugenics, the "wisdom of crowds", and standard deviation. Galton gave people some very detailed surveys, and found that some people did have mental imagery and others didn't. The ones who did had simply assumed everyone did, and the ones who didn't had simply assumed everyone didn't, to the point of coming up with absurd justifications for why they were lying or misunderstanding the question. There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery1 to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images2.

Dr. Berman dubbed this the Typical Mind Fallacy: the human tendency to believe that one's own mental structure can be generalized to apply to everyone else's.

He kind of took this idea and ran with it. He interpreted certain passages in George Berkeley's biography to mean that Berkeley was an eidetic imager, and that this was why the idea of the universe as sense-perception held such interest to him. He also suggested that experience of consciousness and qualia were as variable as imaging, and that philosophers who deny their existence (Ryle? Dennett? Behaviorists?) were simply people whose mind lacked the ability to easily experience qualia. In general, he believed philosophy of mind was littered with examples of philosophers taking their own mental experiences and building theories on them, and other philosophers with different mental experiences critiquing them and wondering why they disagreed.

The formal typical mind fallacy is about serious matters of mental structure. But I've also run into something similar with something more like the psyche than the mind: a tendency to generalize from our personalities and behaviors.

For example, I'm about as introverted a person as you're ever likely to meet - anyone more introverted than I am doesn't communicate with anyone. All through elementary and middle school, I suspected that the other children were out to get me. They kept on grabbing me when I was busy with something and trying to drag me off to do some rough activity with them and their friends. When I protested, they counter-protested and told me I really needed to stop whatever I was doing and come join them. I figured they were bullies who were trying to annoy me, and found ways to hide from them and scare them off.

Eventually I realized that it was a double misunderstanding. They figured I must be like them, and the only thing keeping me from playing their fun games was that I was too shy. I figured they must be like me, and that the only reason they would interrupt a person who was obviously busy reading was that they wanted to annoy him.

Likewise: I can't deal with noise. If someone's being loud, I can't sleep, I can't study, I can't concentrate, I can't do anything except bang my head against the wall and hope they stop. I once had a noisy housemate. Whenever I asked her to keep it down, she told me I was being oversensitive and should just mellow out. I can't claim total victory here, because she was very neat and kept yelling at me for leaving things out of place, and I told her she needed to just mellow out and you couldn't even tell that there was dust on that dresser anyway. It didn't occur to me then that neatness to her might be as necessary and uncompromisable as quiet was to me, and that this was an actual feature of how our minds processed information rather than just some weird quirk on her part.

"Just some weird quirk on her part" and "just being oversensitive" are representative of the problem with the typical psyche fallacy, which is that it's invisible. We tend to neglect the role of differently-built minds in disagreements, and attribute the problems to the other side being deliberately perverse or confused. I happen to know that loud noise seriously pains and debilitates me, but when I say this to other people they think I'm just expressing some weird personal preference for quiet. Think about all those poor non-imagers who thought everyone else was just taking a metaphor about seeing mental images way too far and refusing to give it up.

And the reason I'm posting this here is because it's rationality that helps us deal with these problems.

There's some evidence that the usual method of interacting with people involves something sorta like emulating them within our own brain. We think about how we would react, adjust for the other person's differences, and then assume the other person would react that way. This method of interaction is very tempting, and it always feels like it ought to work.

But when statistics tell you that the method that would work on you doesn't work on anyone else, then continuing to follow that gut feeling is a Typical Psyche Fallacy. You've got to be a good rationalist, reject your gut feeling, and follow the data.

I only really discovered this in my last job as a school teacher. There's a lot of data on teaching methods that students enjoy and learn from. I had some of these methods...inflicted...on me during my school days, and I had no intention of abusing my own students in the same way. And when I tried the sorts of really creative stuff I would have loved as a student...it fell completely flat. What ended up working? Something pretty close to the teaching methods I'd hated as a kid. Oh. Well. Now I know why people use them so much. And here I'd gone through life thinking my teachers were just inexplicably bad at what they did, never figuring out that I was just the odd outlier who couldn't be reached by this sort of stuff.

The other reason I'm posting this here is because I think it relates to some of the discussions of seduction that are going on in MBlume's Bardic thread. There are a lot of not-particularly-complimentary things about women that many men tend to believe. Some guys say that women will never have romantic relationships with their actually-decent-people male friends because they prefer alpha-male jerks who treat them poorly. Other guys say women want to be lied to and tricked. I could go on, but I think most of them are covered in that thread anyway.

The response I hear from most of the women I know is that this is complete balderdash and women aren't like that at all. So what's going on?

Well, I'm afraid I kind of trust the seduction people. They've put a lot of work into their "art" and at least according to their self-report are pretty successful. And unhappy romantically frustrated nice guys everywhere can't be completely wrong.

My theory is that the women in this case are committing a Typical Psyche Fallacy. The women I ask about this are not even remotely close to being a representative sample of all women. They're the kind of women whom a shy and somewhat geeky guy knows and talks about psychology with. Likewise, the type of women who publish strong opinions about this on the Internet aren't close to a representative sample. They're well-educated women who have strong opinions about gender issues and post about them on blogs.

And lest I sound chauvinistic, the same is certainly true of men. I hear a lot of bad things said about men (especially with reference to what they want romantically) that I wouldn't dream of applying to myself, my close friends, or to any man I know. But they're so common and so well-supported that I have excellent reason to believe they're true.

This post has gradually been getting less rigorous and less connected to the formal Typical Mind Fallacy. First I changed it to a Typical Psyche Fallacy so I could talk about things that were more psychological and social than mental. And now it's expanding to cover the related fallacy of believing your own social circle is at least a little representative of society at large, which it very rarely is3.

It was originally titled "The Typical Mind Fallacy", but I'm taking a hint fromt the quote and changing it to "Generalizing From One Example", because that seems to be the link between all of these errors. We only have direct first-person knowledge one one mind, one psyche, and one social circle, and we find it tempting to treat it as typical even in the face of contrary evidence.

This, I think, is especially important for the sort of people who enjoy Less Wrong, who as far as I can tell are with few exceptions the sort of people who are extreme outliers on every psychometric test ever invented.


Footnotes

1. Eidetic imagery, vaguely related to the idea of a "photographic memory", is the ability to visualize something and have it be exactly as clear, vivid and obvious as actually seeing it. My professor's example (which Michael Howard somehow remembers even though I only mentioned it once a few years ago) is that although many people can imagine a picture of a tiger, only an eidetic imager would be able to count the number of stripes.

2. According to Galton, people incapable of forming images were overrepresented in math and science. I've since heard that this idea has been challenged, but I can't access the study.

3. The example that really drove this home to me: what percent of high school students do you think cheat on tests? What percent have shoplifted? Someone did a survey on this recently and found that the answer was nobhg gjb guveqf unir purngrq naq nobhg bar guveq unir fubcyvsgrq (rot13ed so you have to actually take a guess first). This shocked me and everyone I knew, because we didn't cheat or steal during high school and we didn't know anyone who did. I spent an afternoon trying to find some proof that the study was wrong or unrepresentative and coming up with nothing.

Comments (386)

Comment author: gwern 23 June 2015 04:52:50PM 2 points [-]

See also http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/ Claimed negative examples include forms of colorblindness, foods tasting good, anosmia, dyspraxia, prosopagnosia, lust, rape, art, mouth-breathing (rather than being able to breath through a nose), various kinds of social dysfunctionality/theory-of-mind failure; and positive ones: bodily awareness, autobiographical memory, perfect pitch, inner monologues or choruses, and mostly kinds of synaesthesia.

Comment author: gwern 23 June 2015 04:36:51PM 5 points [-]

"Lives without imagery - Congenital aphantasia", Zeman et al 2015

In 2010 we reported a particularly 'pure' case of imagery generation disorder, in a 65 year old man who became unable to summon images to the mind's eye after coronary angioplasty (Zeman et al., 2010). Following a popular description of our paper (Zimmer, 2010), we were contacted by over twenty individuals who recognised themselves in the article's account of 'blind imagination', with the important difference that their imagery impairment had been lifelong. Here we describe the features of their condition, elicited by a questionnaire, and suggest a name - aphantasia - for this poorly recognised phenomenon...We explored the features of their condition with a questionnaire devised for the purpose and the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) (Marks, 1973) (see supplementary material for further details). Participants typically became aware of their condition in their teens or twenties when, through conversation or reading, they realised that most people who 'saw things in the mind's eye', unlike our participants, enjoyed a quasi-visual experience. 19/21 were male. 5/21 reported affected relatives. 10/21 told us that all modalities of imagery were affected. Our participants rating of imagery vividness was significantly lower than that of 121 controls (p<.001, Mann Whitney U test - see Figure 1). Despite their substantial (9/21) or complete (12/21) deficit in voluntary visual imagery, as judged by the VVIQ, the majority of participants described involuntary imagery. This could occur during wakefulness, usually in the form of 'flashes' (10/21) and/or during dreams (17/21)...14/21 participants reported difficulties with autobiographical memory. The same number identified compensatory strengths in verbal, mathematical and logical domains.

"The Brain: Look Deep Into the Mind's Eye; We take visual imagination for granted. But the blank inner world of a patient called MX demonstrates the rich neural processes needed to create the images in our heads." & "Picture This? Some Just Can't", describing "Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: A case of 'blind imagination'", Zeman et al 2010 (mirror):

MX agreed to a series of examinations. He proved to have a good memory for a man of his age, and he performed well on problem-solving tests. His only unusual mental feature was an inability to see mental images. Dr. Zeman and his colleagues then scanned MX's brain as he performed certain tasks. First, MX looked at faces of famous people and named them. The scientists found that certain regions of his brain became active, the same ones that become active in other people who look at faces. Then the scientists showed names to MX and asked him to picture their faces. In normal brains, some of those face-recognition regions again become active. In MX's brain, none of them did. Paradoxically, though, MX could answer questions that would seem to require a working mind's eye. He could tell the scientists the color of Tony Blair's eyes, for example, and name the letters of the alphabet that have low-hanging tails, like g and j. These tests suggested his brain used some alternate strategy to solve visual problems....When the scientists asked their [21 later surveyed] subjects to mentally count the windows in their house or apartment, 14 succeeded. They seem to share MX’s ability to use alternate strategies to get around the lack of a mind’s eye.

...Thomas Ebeyer, a 25-year-old Canadian student, discovered his condition four years ago while talking with a girlfriend. He was shocked that she could remember what a friend had been wearing a year before. She replied that she could see a picture of it in her mind. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” he said in an interview. Mr. Ebeyer was surprised to discover that everyone he knew could summon images to their minds. Last year, someone showed him my article about MX...Dr. Zeman now wonders just how common aphantasia is. “Moderately rare” is his guess, but to follow up, he has sent the questionnaire to thousands of people in Exeter. He hopes to find enough people with the condition to begin a bigger scanning study, comparing their brains with those of people who see vivid mental images. Together, they may reveal more than MX could on his own.

Comment author: gwern 23 April 2016 06:17:45PM *  1 point [-]

Blake Ross discovers he is aphantasic (HN) as is his mother* & two FB friends, and is astounded to survey 70+ friends and learn they all genuinely see things in their minds. He also doesn't seem to hear music in his head or dream much, and thinks he gets less out of literature because of the lack of visualizing.

Apparently geneticist Craig Venter is aphantasiac. Also check out Penn (of Penn and Teller) discussing his experience on his podcast (75:15) last year. His experience matches mine perfectly.

* has anyone looked into heritability of this or relatives' scores on tests of mental imagery? maybe aphantasia is the extreme of a normal distribution

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 01 April 2013 03:34:26AM *  5 points [-]

I wonder if the typical mind fallacy explains some of the varying philosophical views on personal identity.

I personally have a very strong sense of personal identity. On introspection I can definitely see that I possess certain characteristics that I consider my personal identity. I definitely think there is a "me" that persists in time.

Of course, introspection isn't very reliable, so I examined old home videos of me as a child, and things I had written when I was little. It wasn't hard at all to notice many characteristics that I still possess today. The child version of me had a similar personality, quirks, interests, values, and so on. He was obviously a "younger me," not a different person.

However, I've heard other people argue that personal identity is obviously an illusion, that you aren't the same person you were in the past. Such views seemed obviously insane to me at first, but it occurred to me that maybe other people lack the same sense of connectedness to their past self that I did. Maybe the philosophers who have argued against, or partially against personal identity (Hume, Parfit, and Giles for instance), have very weak senses of self. They mistakenly think everyone is like them and that other people are just under some sort of illusion.

What especially disturbs me about this instance of the typical mind fallacy is that some people have taken it to mean that personal identity has no moral significance. For instance, I've heard arguments that individual people don't matter, all that matters is the total quantity of pleasure, experiences, or some other fake utility function the proponent has. It seems disturbing to think a simple instance of generalizing from one example could lead to such grave moral repercussions.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 April 2013 02:28:00PM 3 points [-]

I'm curious: if someone constructed entirely forged "home videos of your childhood," using the environmental cues from your actual past (e.g. your house, your family, a child who appears to be you, etc.) but the behavioral script from some other kid's home videos, how confident are you that you would not recognize that child's behavior as that of a "younger you"?

For my part, I definitely have that sense of recognition you describe when I encounter artifacts of my childhood, but I'm pretty confident that I would equally "recognize" entirely fictitious artifacts. I wouldn't therefore say that I actually am the other kid whose modeled behavior I recognized. So I don't consider that sort of "recognition" terribly meaningful evidence about identity.

So, I wouldn't say I lack the "sense of connectedness" you describe. I just don't consider it to be especially meaningful or morally significant.

By way of analogy, I also have a sense of being at the center of the perceivable universe, but I don't consider that to describe anything important about the world other than how I perceive it.

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 02 April 2013 07:27:12PM *  0 points [-]

I'm curious: if someone constructed entirely forged "home videos of your childhood," using the environmental cues from your actual past (e.g. your house, your family, a child who appears to be you, etc.) but the behavioral script from some other kid's home videos, how confident are you that you would not recognize that child's behavior as that of a "younger you"?

I have very distinct behavior patterns and personality, so I think that if I had to determine whether a series of videos was of me, or a bunch of randomly selected children made to look like me with SFX, my success rate would be significantly greater than chance.

I wouldn't therefore say that I actually am the other kid whose modeled behavior I recognized. So I don't consider that sort of "recognition" terribly meaningful evidence about identity.

I think a good steel man of the concept of "personal identity" is "the part of your utility function that contains preferences for how your mind, personality, values, etc, will change in the future." I think this manages to contain all (or at least most) of the concepts related to personal identity that people care about, while simultaneously accounting for the fact that our brains are changing every second.

I have a very strong set of preferences for how my mind and general psychological makeup will change in the future. In order to see these preferences satisfied I am often willing to sacrifice other preferences, such as having positive experiences, feeling pleasure, etc. The very fact that I am willing to sacrifice some of my "having-experiences-related preferences" in order to avoid thwarting my "personal-identity-related" preferences is proof, that, for some people at least, personal identity is important, and that all my values cannot be reduced to the desire to have experiences.

So under my framework, saying "I am the same person as me1995" is saying "I am a person that me1995 would like to change into in the future, and me1995 is someone that I am glad changed into me."

I suspect many people are similar. For instance, many people talk about "finding themselves" or try to see "who they really are." Under my framework, what they are basically saying is "I want to determine the CEV of my personal-identity related preferences."

However, it occurs to me that there might exist some people who either lack these strong preferences about personal identity, or who are unusually bad at introspection related to them and extrapolating them. These people might assume everyone else is like them, and think that all those people talking about personal identity are irrational or something.

So, I wouldn't say I lack the "sense of connectedness" you describe. I just don't consider it to be especially meaningful or morally significant.

Since I consider that sense of connectedness to be a manifestation of my personal-identity-preferences, I consider it very morally significant, because really, it seems like the satisfaction of other people's preferences is one of the most important parts of morality. I consider the idea that our preferences can be reduced down to the desire to have experiences, irrespective of personal identity, to be the same kind of morally wrongheaded thinking as the idea that our preferences can be reduced to the desire to feel pleasure.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 April 2013 09:18:29PM *  1 point [-]

OK, thanks for clarifying.

the idea that our preferences can be reduced down to the desire to have experiences, irrespective of personal identity [..] morally wrongheaded thinking...
a good steel man of the concept of "personal identity" is "the part of your utility function that contains preferences for how your mind, personality, values, etc, will change in the future."

For my own part, I agree that our preferences can't be reduced to the desire to have experiences, but I wouldn't say that they can be reduced to (the desire to have experiences + the desire to be a certain way in the future) either. Mostly my desire-to-be-a-certain-way is instrumental.

Since I consider that sense of connectedness to be a manifestation of my personal-identity-preferences, I consider it very morally significant, because really, it seems like the satisfaction of other people's preferences is one of the most important parts of morality.

Sure, if your preferences are bound up with that sense of connectedness in a way that importantly defines your notion of morality, then that sense of connectedness will be morally significant to you. Agreed.

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 03 April 2013 04:59:58PM 1 point [-]

For my own part, I agree that our preferences can't be reduced to the desire to have experiences, but I wouldn't say that they can be reduced to (the desire to have experiences + the desire to be a certain way in the future) either.

I agree entirely, I wasn't arguing that "desire to have experiences" and "desire to be a certain way" are all of what our preferences reduce to. I was just arguing that "desire to be a certain way" is a preference that is sometimes ignored when discussing moral philosophy. Obviously we can have even more kinds of preferences than that.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2013 04:41:47PM 0 points [-]

I wasn't arguing that "desire to have experiences" and "desire to be a certain way" are all of what our preferences reduce to.

Ah, OK. I misunderstood you as equating personal identity with preferences for change.

Comment author: VincentYu 09 September 2012 06:21:10PM 7 points [-]

2. According to Galton, people incapable of forming images were overrepresented in math and science. I've since heard that this idea has been challenged, but I can't access the study.

The challenging paper: Brewer and Schommer-Aikins (2006)

Abstract:

In 1880, Galton carried out an investigation of imagery in a sample of distinguished men and a sample of nonscientists (adolescent male students). He concluded that scientists were either totally lacking in visual imagery or had “feeble” powers of mental imagery. This finding has been widely accepted in the secondary literature in psychology. A replication of Galton’s study with modern scientists and modern university undergraduates found no scientists totally lacking in visual imagery and very few with feeble visual imagery. Examination of Galton’s published data shows that his own published data do not support his claims about deficient visual imagery in scientists. The modern data for scientists and nonscientists and the 1880 data for scientists and nonscientists are in agreement in showing that all groups report substantial imagery on recollective memory tasks such as Galton’s breakfast questionnaire. We conclude that Galton’s conclusions were an example of theory-laden interpretation of data based on the initial responses from several very salient scientists who reported little or no visual imagery on Galton’s imagery questionnaire.

Conclusions:

It now appears that Galton’s strong claims were incorrect. It is not the case that most scientists show little or no mental imagery. Galton’s own data and our more recent data demonstrate that scientists show strong visual imagery in recollective memory tasks, just as nonscientist undergraduates do. The data do suggest there may be some small differences in vividness of visual imagery between scientists and undergraduates. However, these differences could easily be due to age differences (Galton, 1879, p. 432, suggested that there may be a decline in imagery with age) or to differences in style of reporting internal mental states. It seems to us that future work on these issues should not focus on imagery in recollective memory tasks such as the breakfast questionnaire. It is not obvious that this type of memory plays a special role in the work of scientists. However, we think that there might be interesting differences on various types of spatial reasoning tasks between scientists and nonscientists, and more particularly among different types of scientists (e.g., crystallographers vs. physiologists).

We also think this analysis of the reasons for the discrepancies between Galton’s claims and his data provides interesting insights into the power of top-down factors in the work of scientists. We entertained the hypothesis that the discrepancy was due to deep-seated beliefs about a hierarchy of intellectual abilities. However, we discarded that hypothesis as Galton gave a non-nativist account of his findings and was surprised by his initial finding that a few scientists reported that they had little or no mental imagery.

We conclude that Galton’s top-down interpretation of his findings was not driven by deepseated theoretical beliefs but merely by the occurrence of a few unusual individuals in his pilot sample. If our interpretation is correct, it certainly highlights the powerful role of even relatively routine top-down beliefs in the way that scientists carry out their work (cf. Brewer & Lambert, 2001).

Comment author: Delta 30 August 2012 02:03:37PM 3 points [-]

These differences of thought-process are fascinating, suggesting some attributes of a person's mental landscape can be completely different from our own. Unfortunately this makes it very difficult to properly empathise with people in very different mental states. I know someone who is anorexic and it is incredibly easy to fail to grasp the difficulties and think "just eat something" because their problem is entirely removed from my experiences. This happens despite the fact I know driven, productive people would say the same about my extreme akrasia and procrastination issues.

The inability to imagine minds other than our own may also be why well-meaning people mistake significant differences like homosexuality for something superficial one can just "stop" being (see HaveYouTriedNotBeingAMonster on TV Tropes). They have difficulty with the idea something so different could exist at all.

This disconnect presumably combined with humans' general fear of difference or the unknown must make it considerably more problematic to have thought processes that differ from what is assumed to the norm.

Comment author: slartibartfastibast 15 March 2012 05:33:12PM 3 points [-]

My theory is that the women in this case are committing a Typical Psyche Fallacy. The women I ask about this are not even remotely close to being a representative sample of all women. They're the kind of women whom a shy and somewhat geeky guy knows and talks about psychology with. Likewise, the type of women who publish strong opinions about this on the Internet aren't close to a representative sample. They're well-educated women who have strong opinions about gender issues and post about them on blogs.

This might apply to all "writer phenotypes" in general. Perhaps there are other romanticized ideas about human nature that stem from a bias of this sort?

Comment author: Prismattic 21 January 2012 07:00:19PM *  11 points [-]

It struck me that I think you can still see the imagination debate playing out today. Consider the following conversation, which most people will have encountered a variant of at least once+:

-- Mr. Highbrow: It is better to read books than watch movies based on them. The movies limit you to someone else's perspective on the material, but the book gives maximum reign to your imagination.

-- Mr. Lowbrow: What are you smoking? The movie is an immersive experience that makes me feel like I'm really in the story. The book is just somebody else's description of the story.

Having thought about it, my highest-probability hypothesis is now that Mr. HB has more vivid mental imagery than does Mr. LB. Further introspection led me to realize that when I read fiction, I often have very specific images of places and scenery, but usually only vague impressions of faces. When I watch film adaptions, I'm often struck that the setting is "wrong," but rarely have that feeling about the appearance of people (unless the actors are grossly divergent from the description of them in the book).++

+The correct response to this

++ I considered putting this in the "How is your mind different" thread, but I don't know how typical or atypical I am. Which is, I suppose, the point.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 January 2012 07:57:24PM 5 points [-]

My mental visual imagery tends to be vague if it happens at all. Nonetheless, I like books much better than movies.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 January 2012 07:18:35PM 2 points [-]

Reminds me of the debate 'books-vs-video games', some people claiming books are better for children because they encourage imagination, others saying that video games are better because they're interactive and thus encourage creativity. As for myself...I don't think it's a valid question. There are good books and bad books, and there are good video games and bad video games. Being more immersive, a violent video game might be more likely to de-sensitize children to violence than a violent book, but I don't know, and I have no idea if it's been studied before.

Comment author: Prismattic 21 January 2012 07:30:59PM *  0 points [-]

This is a bit tangential, but since the subject came up. I'm reading this free e-book on game design. One of the essays in their makes the point that:

Since the industrial revolution and the commodity culture it brought to bear, games have increasingly been treated as media products like books, movies, or songs. The business models and patterns of consumption relating to books, magazines, movies, and music are all based on a short cycle of release, consume, and move on. It is into this model of consumer culture that videogames have positioned themselves, and in the process became a form of ephermera -- quickly consumed with little or no expectation of lasting effect. But games are ever-changing, culturally shaped practices that have more in common with square dancing, and, as Frank Lantz has pointed out, butterfly collecting than they do with passively consumed entertainment products. And so the more we try to treat games like media, the less game-like they are. (Kindle location 2298 of 3810)

I haven't decided how much I agree with this, but it does sort of seem to explain why some of the trends in videogames have largely turned me off them and back toward tabletop games. In any case, it is a data point in favor of "don't compare books and videogames".

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 January 2012 07:30:36PM 2 points [-]

That doesn't make it an invalid question. There are tall women and short women, and there are tall men and short men, but asking whether women as a class are taller than men is a perfectly valid question, made no less so by my not happening to know the answer.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 21 January 2012 10:28:22PM 4 points [-]

Sure, it's a valid question, but an ambiguous one. It isn't at all clear that the only right way to answer "Are class X taller than class Y?" is to compare the mean height of members of X and Y. There are other metrics — for certain purposes, you might want to compare the maxima, the 95th percentiles, or the medians. Depending on why you're asking the question, any of these (or others) could be the right answer to comparing populations.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 January 2012 07:52:07PM -1 points [-]

I agree with your immediate point: however, height is something which is easily measurable and easily compared between both sexes. I don't know if there's a quality of books and video games which is equally easy to measure and compare. Reading books teaches kids to be better at reading (and probably writing too, or at least it did so for me), and exposes them to a range of ideas, concepts, and role model characters. Some books are well written, some badly written...some characters are useful role models for children, others aren't. As for video games, I've been told that they improve information processing and reaction times. In fact, my taekwondo instructor says that likely one of the reasons I'm slow is because I never played video games as a kid. Different people have told me that video games encourage creative and out-of-the-box thinking. These are all good things, and books don't have an effect on them, I would assume.

I guess, in theory, you could ask "are children raised solely on books better adapted and more successful than children raised solely on video games"? Still, 'success' is such a broad category and depends on so many factors that I don't know if the answer could be measured even in theory.

Comment author: CuSithBell 21 January 2012 07:38:52PM 0 points [-]

Outside of the airy realms of theory, though, the question probably translates to something like "which gender should be solely allowed to pick apples, and which should be solely allowed to dig potatoes?"

(Or, perhaps more likely, "which one is the Bad Gender?")

Comment author: k4ntico 28 November 2011 06:03:23AM -1 points [-]

Probably from being born twin I've long entertained a strong intuition that may be written down as "suppose is typical your choice together with what determines it, and take responsibility for the result". There is a temptation to relate it to Kant's imperative, but there are problems (typically) illustrated by the fact that is obvious the relationship of my version to the topic of this page, while not Kant's.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 22 September 2011 10:06:29PM 0 points [-]

And I thought this was going to be an article on "fine tuning" arguments.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 22 September 2011 09:57:28PM 2 points [-]

What strikes me is the complete lack of reference to studies with falsifiable measurements in the bazillion responses. I would have thought that with all the compulsive analyzers on the list, someone would know about more serious studies. Is it possible that such studies really haven't been done?

Galton asked people what they saw, but reading the paper briefly, it seemed that he relied on self reported descriptions of scenes, but didn't require any evidence that the descriptions were true. Experiments would seem straightforward enough. Show a picture. Test recall at varying level of detail, and varying level of delay.

This kind of testing could be used for training as well. Visual. Auditory. Gustatory. Olfactory. Acceleration. Touch. Time. It would be very interesting to know the distribution of capabilities of mental imaging in all sense modalities. Has this work really not been done?

It looks like some work has been done. The following paper refers to some: Mental Imagery and Creative Thought - David G. Pearson http://www.proc.britac.ac.uk/tfiles//147p187.pdf

And I remember some books by Michael Gelb on thinking like DaVinci, and someone else's book on thinking like Einstein, advocating similar training and practice in mental imagery.

Comment author: juliawise 06 September 2011 04:30:36PM 10 points [-]

The women I ask about this are not even remotely close to being a representative sample of all women. They're the kind of women whom a shy and somewhat geeky guy knows and talks about psychology with.

This is why I find pickup theory so incomprehensible. It all seems to be aimed at people looking for sex in bars. I don't know anyone who does this (at least to my knowledge), so I have no mental model for how it works. I'm pretty sure the methods advocated would not work on me or most people I know, but I trust pickup artists to be right about how it works on people who hang out in bars.

Comment author: MarcTheEngineer 09 September 2011 08:42:05PM 7 points [-]

You are mistaking all pickup theory for a subset of pickup theory that happens to be very effective at picking up at bars. Due to the nature of the beast (picking up in bars) it also tends to be the pickup theory that is the least politically correct... and therefore receives the most attention outside of the pickup community.

If you don't go to clubs you are probably right that the routines in the Mystery Method probably wouldn't work on you... they make sense in the club where they don't seem out of place and are congruent with the general atmosphere. Those same methods attempted in some situations would seem incongruent... like the guy has no social awareness. A lack of social awareness being unattractive is as close to a universal rule of attraction as you can get.

Read pickup theory related to social situations that you generally find yourself in - You'll probably find that guys that you have found yourself attracted to in the past acted at least partly in accordance with that theory.

Comment author: juliawise 09 September 2011 10:29:15PM 3 points [-]

As far as I know, there's not pickup literature for the folk dance scene.

Yes, in a general way, I find confidence and social competence attractive in any environment. But at least consciously, my strategy was to look for nerdy boys who weren't overconfident - because desperate boys would value me more. Devotion alone doesn't make for a good relationship, so the trick was to find one who was both devoted and interesting. (And a folk dancer.)

Comment author: MarcTheEngineer 20 October 2011 03:47:20PM *  2 points [-]

Are you on "The Pill" - Recent scientific studies have indicated that taking birth control hormones actually affects a woman's attraction triggers. Essentially the pill causes a woman to more highly value masculine traits that indicate stability (because it tricks the body into believing its pregnant, the body decides it wants to mate with a male who will take care of it, rather than the best possible sperm).

There is some discussion that the pill could be in part responsible for the increase in divorce rates as women come off the pill after marriage and suddenly find themselves no longer attracted to their husbands.

While there isn't any literature specific to folk dancing, there is significant literature on the subject of using Niche Hobbies for pickup... As well, while "appearing desperate" is certainly advised against in basically any pickup literature, there is a significant body of work on the subject of appearing interesting (breakdowns on how to structure your conversation with someone new so that you can appear to have common interests... essentially how to make a cold read on someone).

I would be surprised if you don't find real desperation a complete turn-off... guys who are actually desperate are almost universally despised by women and are generally called "creepy".

On a side note - Pickup Theory asserts (This is even part of Mystery's work) that showing vulnerability mixed in with confidence is an effective method in demonstrating your Long Term potential if your cold read of your target indicates that she is looking for an LTR.

Comment author: juliawise 20 October 2011 04:42:27PM 2 points [-]

I wasn't on the pill when I was looking for a mate. True, pure desperation is not attractive, but I was looking for a medium value between cockiness and desperation.

Comment author: Jack 09 September 2011 10:55:39PM 5 points [-]

I think it is fair to say looking for desperation is an unusual dating strategy for young women (though if desperation isn't a turn-off for you, clearly a winning one).

Comment author: Arepo 23 September 2011 02:49:30PM 4 points [-]

Hitting on desperate boys(/girls) is an unusual strategy by definition...

Comment author: wedrifid 23 September 2011 03:18:06PM 3 points [-]

(Nitpick: This is not technically by definition.)

Comment author: dlthomas 20 October 2011 05:14:03PM 5 points [-]

By the definition of desperate including "not frequently hit on"?

Comment author: Jones 29 May 2011 12:37:33PM 4 points [-]

Could you please reference this. "There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery1 to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images." The footnotes contain no references, and in my mind is the most extraordinary claim of the article.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 09 September 2011 10:04:16PM *  2 points [-]

I just thought that was what Galton had found. A quick Google gives me this. I haven't read it thoroughly enough to verify the figures are there, but it certainly appears to be the correct topic.

Comment author: Peterdjones 19 April 2011 02:38:20PM *  2 points [-]

Isn't there an example on Less Wrong? Yudkowsky assumed that, given a few clues, people would come by their own efforts to his "solution" to Free Will, a form of compatibilism. But they didn't and he was "forced to write it out in full". Presumably they didn't match his expectation because they had whatever values and intutiions that regularly make people choose other "solutions" such as scepticism and incompatibilist indeterminism. He assumed they would think similarly and they didn't.

Comment author: Confringus 01 April 2011 11:37:20PM 4 points [-]

As a teenager dealing with the already weighty bias against arguments originating in youth, the typical mind fallacy has proved a constant and grating annoyance. Nothing in my (admittedly short) life is quite as frustrating as trying to explain a concept to someone who doesn't understand how it is that I understand the concept in the first place. In future I intend to refer my friends and instructors to this and other articles with the hope of clarification, so for that I thank you.

Comment author: cathwrynn 14 March 2011 09:50:37AM 0 points [-]

Hi, I am new here. Great find. Mental differences interest me greatly. As does variety in emotional experience and processing- since we relate not only as mental beings. Much personal reflection for the last while on interpersonal dynamics, and POV and understanding others. It seems to me that the psychological equivilant of this "one example is all" mentality is the current pop psych fashion of "projection"- express pretty much any relational difficulty and someone will offer the brilliant insight that projection is at play.

Comment author: cathwrynn 14 March 2011 09:50:17AM 0 points [-]

Hi, I am new here. Great find. Mental differences interest me greatly. As does variety in emotional experience and processing- since we relate not only as mental beings. Much personal reflection for the last while on interpersonal dynamics, and POV and understanding others. It seems to me that the psychological equivilant of this "one example is all" mentality is the current pop psych fashion of "projection"- express pretty much any relational difficulty and someone will offer the brilliant insight that projection is at play.

Comment author: cathwrynn 14 March 2011 09:21:37AM 1 point [-]

Hi, I am new here. Great find. Mental differences interest me greatly. As does variety in emotional experience and processing- since we relate not only as mental beings. Much personal reflection for the last while on interpersonal dynamics, and POV and understanding others. It seems to me that the psychological equivilant of this "one example is all" mentality is the current pop psych fashion of "projection"- express pretty much any relational difficulty and someone will offer the brilliant insight that projection is at play.

Comment author: Alicorn 14 March 2011 03:52:29PM 3 points [-]

You seem to have posted this comment three times. Please delete the other two instances by clicking the "Delete" link under their text.

Comment author: free_rip 26 January 2011 10:51:56AM 1 point [-]

I am reminded strongly of this comic

Comment author: TheRev 10 January 2011 08:34:54AM 0 points [-]

When I read the percentage who had cheated on an exam, I started to call BS in my mind, knowing that if I, being among the smartest in my class back in high school, had cheated, surely the rest of the bell curve had too (After all, the only way of getting this data is unreliable self-report surveys.), but then I realized what a perfect example of this fallacy I was making.

Comment author: lucidfox 28 November 2010 03:21:45PM 6 points [-]

My theory is that the women in this case are committing a Typical Psyche Fallacy. The women I ask about this are not even remotely close to being a representative sample of all women. They're the kind of women whom a shy and somewhat geeky guy knows and talks about psychology with. Likewise, the type of women who publish strong opinions about this on the Internet aren't close to a representative sample. They're well-educated women who have strong opinions about gender issues and post about them on blogs.

What statistical evidence do you have for this claim? It seems to me that this is a True Scotsman fallacy: either women behave the way the men in question ascribe to them, or they are "educated and opinionated" and thus don't count.

There are valid reasons why the discussion between "jerks" and "nice guys" turns the way it usually does. For example, both camps tend to see womens as goals to be conquered, like, I don't know, video game NPCs who respond to certain key phrases - as opposed to complex people like themselves. These so called "nice guys", as opposed to genuinely nice guys, think that if they treat a woman nicely, she's somehow obligated to fall in love with him. Reality, alas, does not work that way.

Comment author: MondSemmel 20 January 2014 01:24:07PM 1 point [-]

The delicious irony of Yvain (alias Scott) possibly committing a True Scotsman fallacy...

Comment author: Desrtopa 28 November 2010 04:05:04PM 12 points [-]

This explains the poor luck of "nice guys," but if Yvain knows the acquaintances in question to be actual nice guys, then it resolves nothing.

When people think about "Nice guys who can't get a date," they tend to recall self proclaimed nice guys publicly railing against the unfairness, rather than thinking of all the legitimately nice people they know, and thinking if they've ever known them to go on dates. This doesn't mean that "nice guys" actually outnumber genuinely nice dateless guys.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 12:56:43AM 8 points [-]

Privileging "women secretly want jerks" as a hypothesis seems rather absurd given the evidence presented.

"Yvain says he has nice but dateless friends" is incredibly easy to explain without assuming "women only date jerks". For one, it's entirely possible that Yvain isn't a very good judge of character here, or is falling victim to the "Halo effect" (they are, after all, his friends).

Amongst other things, I get the impression that he's male, and I'd wager none of these nice friends has attempted to start a relationship with him, so he presumably doesn't have a ton of direct experience with their methods, with the experiences of a female dealing with relationships, etc..

(Obvious disclaimer: I don't know Yvain, or his friends. It's entirely possible they're genuinely nice! :))

Comment author: [deleted] 21 July 2010 06:15:35AM *  0 points [-]

"Who as far as I can tell are with few exceptions the sort of people who are extreme outliers on every psychometric test ever invented."

I perform at the SD 1 level on IQ tests, and I enjoy this website very much. An example of the "typical less-wronger" fallacy, perhaps? Edit: "with few exceptions" is a caveat, but likely not a large enough one. There are surely many people like me lurking here, because are many more SD 1 performers in the population than there are outliers.


When I close my eyes, even if I happen to be in a perfectly dark room, my visual field contains fuzzy patches of colour, sort of like an afterimage of a christmas tree without the tree, and persistent. Sometimes the fuzzy patches are blue other times they are orange. I used to think this must be universal, but now I have significant doubts about that.

Also, if I stare at the walls of a dimly lit room for long enough, especially when I am tired, the room seems to 'shift' or shake around me somehow. This is only a rough description, because the words to precisely describe the 'transformation' of the walls around don't really exist in English.
Does anyone else experience these things?

Comment author: CronoDAS 21 July 2010 06:25:17AM 0 points [-]

When I close my eyes, even if I happen to be in a perfectly dark room, my visual field contains fuzzy patches of colour, sort of like an afterimage of a christmas tree without the tree, and persistent. Sometimes the fuzzy patches are blue other times they are orange. I used to think this must be universal, but now I have significant doubts about that.

Yes, I see things like that, too.

Also, if I stare at the walls of a dimly lit room for long enough, especially when I am tired, the room seems to 'shift' or shake around me somehow. This is only a rough description, because the words to precisely describe the 'transformation' of the walls around don't really exist in English.

Yeah, I think I've felt something like that, although it's pretty rare for me to experience it. It's a little like when you're feeling dizzy because you've been spinning...

Comment author: nitknight 11 June 2010 10:38:31AM 0 points [-]

Never knew that this is an actual phenomena. I just made up a fictitious world to put my point in my blog below: http://ponderingsofanidlephilosopher.blogspot.com/2010/01/your-red-my-green.html

Comment author: Houshalter 27 May 2010 09:48:51PM 1 point [-]

"three percent of people completely unable to form mental images" I don't have photographic memory or anything, but I find it hard to believe some people don't actually have immaginations. How could they even go through every day life? Somethings got to be wrong here. Kind of reminds me of those people that can't dream in color. Weird.

Comment author: lindagert 05 August 2011 02:08:16AM 18 points [-]

I am 100% bereft of mental imagery in a waking state of consciousness (I have fully sensory dreams when I sleep). It is dark and quiet in my mind all the time. Thoughts take the form of silently talking to myself. There are only words. No visual memory, no imagination -- I don't know what these things are, they are only words. Seeing things in the mind, hearing things, re-experiencing, exploring non-physical possibilities via imagination: these all sound like paranormal or supernatural experiences to me, literally, because what is normal and natural for me is the dark and quiet mind.

I find it fascinating how the Typical Mind Fallacy works both ways here: many mentally blind people say that they had no idea that other people could actually see pictures in the mind -- this sounds so preposterous to us that, until some point when we break through our denial, we believe that people are speaking metaphorically about the "mind's eye" or "picturing" something... because obviously it's impossible! And the scientific community is largely unaware of the existence of non-imagers, because whenever they show up as research subjects, their self-reports of mental blindness tend to get discounted or ignored -- again, because the researchers are committing the Typical Mind Fallacy -- that can't be true!

So I am writing a book about mental blindness. The book, tentatively titled "Mental Blindness and the Typical Mind Fallacy" will present the history of the non-study of non-imagery (due to the TMF), and characteristics of non-imagers, including some of the emotional and psychological aspects of living with this kind of cognition.

I’ve created a research survey to collect information from others who are non-imagers, or nearly so. To take the survey, click on this link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RQXHZZQ

You are invited to participate in this survey if you fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Non-Imager: you never experience any visual mental imagery in a waking state of consciousness; your mind is always dark, there is nothing picture-like that happens in your mind, either willed or unwilled. You have no sense of having a “mind’s eye.”

  2. Weak-Imager: if there is any visual imagery, it is so vague or fleeting that you do not make use of it in purposeful, constructive thought processes: you do not use imagery for problem solving, memories are not visual, there is no visual component to imagining or daydreaming or planning. You experience a “mind’s eye,” but yours is more or less “legally blind.”

many thanks Linda

Comment author: hargup 19 January 2015 06:33:31PM 2 points [-]

It has more than three years from the date you commented. What is the status on the book? Is it in print now?

Comment author: Ubiquity 07 October 2011 11:51:33PM 0 points [-]

"Thoughts take the form of silently talking to myself."

Is that not a form of "mental imagery"?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 August 2011 12:03:51PM 5 points [-]

I wonder what would happen if you took hallucinogens. Have you ever tried any?

Comment author: lindagert 29 August 2011 04:43:36AM 8 points [-]

That's the really sad part: no mental imagery with hallucinogens! Peyote, ayahuasca: nada, my hopes were dashed. The only effects with peyote, in meetings of the Native American Church, were a sense of connection and surrender, but there was nothing in terms of enhanced cognition. With ayahuasca, with a Huni Kuin shaman in Brazil, my mind dissolved into a state of bliss, but there was no imagery whatsoever -- my mind was as dark as always.

My first ayahuasca ceremony was a personal healing for me, to rewire my brain and activate the missing part of my mind. I felt like there were psychedelic shapes coming into my head but I couldn't see them; it was like knowing that something is there in the dark. It reminds me of when I gave a massage to a deaf client, who told me that she could feel the music during the massage and almost thought she was hearing it, but she couldn't actually hear it. It gave my brain something to work with, it was the start of the rewiring process. I could feel the brain working hard to learn how to see, but it didn't happen. No sense of journeying, just sitting in a state of nothingness.

My second ayahuasca experience, the following day with the same shaman, was a group ceremony. Here's an excerpt from my journal from that ceremony:

"Ayahuasca told me that I am such an adept Buddhist and such an efficiency expert that I developed a method of staying glued to the present: I limited my neurological functioning in a way that prevents distraction of memory or other cognitive distractions. I am so devoted to the growth of my consciousness that I disabled the ability to recall past experiences or project myself into the future, or entertain myself with pictures or noises in my head. An evolutionary neurological mechanism to guarantee total focus! Because all experience of memory, all visualization, etc. is a distraction from present consciousness, and it is unnecessary! A brilliant spiritual solution that I devised for myself in this lifetime to learn presence. Bliss is the only thing that is real; all else is illusion and distraction. Even when Ayahuasca is activated in me, I don't journey to other places, I don't watch psychedelic video, I just remain present in the experience. What an extraordinary gift I have given to myself."

But even so, i continue to feel that something essential is missing from my experience as a human being, and I continue to search for activation of mental imagery.

Comment author: Ubiquity 08 October 2011 12:07:33AM 0 points [-]

Wow, the part you quote is fascinating. I would suggest what is missing is simply an ability to understand that the "present" you remain in is you alone, sharply defined. Once you let go or are forced to let go, you will be us. Perhaps I have been reading too much Christian de Quincey though......

Comment author: Incorrect 05 August 2011 05:39:22AM *  4 points [-]

If you will pardon the digression I'd love to ask you a few questions.

Can you still experience sensory information for a moment after the source is no longer present? For example, if you focus on an object and suddenly close your eyes, can you still perceive the object for fractions of a second?

If you don't hear things in your mind does that mean you never have a song stuck in your head?

For me, a really useful purpose for visualization is for triggering related memories. For example, if I am trying to remember what groceries I need to buy, I will picture my refrigerator and mentally scan over the shelves to help myself recall what items usually reside there. What would you do in a situation like this?

Can you visualize spaces with object shapes and positions as distinct from images where you have to worry about color and more precise details of perspective? For me this is much easier than visualizing images.

You say your thoughts take the form of "silently talking to myself. There are only words. " Don't you ever sometimes think with concepts in place of words?

You may be interested that some people dream in black and white.

Comment author: lindagert 05 August 2011 11:55:33PM 5 points [-]

No, no lingering sensory information after the stimulus is gone. It's like the mental sensory display mechanism is turned off: in the absence of a physical stimulus for physical sensory perception, there is no way to experience anything sensory in the mind.

I can get a song stuck in my mind, kind of, but it is not auditory -- it is silent! And it's not really stuck, I don't think -- it's something that I find so compelling that some part of me wants to continue repeating it. Another part of me can stop it. It is not auditory, it is just words, and it is the same mental mechanism that is used for any other thought processes. And it cannot multitask, so if I start thinking about something other than the song (with my silent word thinking), then I can't be singing the words to a song. Both my normal thinking and thinking a song are like conversations that I am having with myself, and I can't talk about two things at once. They are not using any sensory channel, they only use the silent verbal channel, and that channel can only be occupied by one train of thought at a time.

About visualizing spaces with object shapes and positions: there is no visualization whatsoever, so no. People talk about seeing things on a "screen" in the mind's eye. I have no sense even of there being a screen, much less anything on it. It is like a TV that is turned off.

I don't believe that I have any way of thinking in concepts instead of words. There needs to be some vehicle for the concept, and silent words are the only vehicle that I have. When I am not thinking in words, the mind is empty.

About grocery shopping: I stand in my kitchen, look in the fridge and make a list before I go out. Otherwise I am screwed! If I don't have a list, I'll walk through the aisles looking at everything, wondering, is there anything I need? Or I might try to think about what i would like to eat, and wonder whether I have all the ingredients, and buy something that I'm not sure of. I might wonder if I'm missing anything for my morning smoothie, and remember that I used my last banana, but that is not any kind of an experiential memory -- it is the memory, in words, of saying the words to myself "I need to buy more bananas" ... because words and words alone are the fabric of my memory, as they are the fabric of all of my thought processes.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 August 2011 12:00:48AM 3 points [-]

Have you ever experienced anything from a dream? Remembered words from it, or woken up afraid, so you know you were probably having one, or anything?

Comment author: lindagert 06 August 2011 02:15:59AM 4 points [-]

Yes, but very infrequently. Usually I wake up and know that I was dreaming, but have no way of latching on to any dream content, because my mind can't re-experience any trace from a dream experience. The only traces that I have from dreams upon waking are either mental notes in the form of words, or emotional reactions in my body, e.g. heart pounding or solar plexus in a knot. Mental notes take the form of words spoken in the dream that were extremely compelling. So, for example, I know that I have visual dreams because once I woke up with these words lingering in my head from a dream: "Look, there's a tornado coming this way!" I have no visual recall of seeing a tornado, because my mind doesn't display visuals.

My favorite dreams were several that I've had in the past couple of years with this theme: in the dream, I have my eyes closed, and I see something in my mind! This is incredibly exciting to me. I wake up thinking the words that I spoke in the dream: I'm seeing something inside my head! It's a picture of a woman! It's in my mind's eye! -- but I don't know anything more than that, because those were the only words that I spoke about the mind picture; I don't know whether it was a still snapshot or a video of a woman, whether she was riding a bike or sitting down, etc. Once or twice I've had a dream in which, with my eyes closed, the mind's eye was seeing what I would have been seeing if my eyes were open -- only I was seeing it with my mind, not with my physical eyes.

Comment author: christina 05 August 2011 05:17:33AM *  1 point [-]

Hi, Linda.

That's interesting. You're pretty much the opposite of me, then. I experience a wide variety of mental images, sounds, etc. I get a lot out of visual images of things, and I imagine written stories as if they are movies in my head. However, if there is a very technical idea that I can't visualize either directly or indirectly, I usually struggle to understand it. For example, I am very interested in math and science and also have reason to use them on a daily basis (I am a software engineer who has a lot of scientific hobbies). But I almost always try to understand these topics through charts, graphs, geometry, tree structures, and other types of visualizations of the concepts. I posted a little on the topic how my thought processes work in this article, if you're curious.

I'm curious about how you process information internally. What methods do you find most effective for learning new material? And for recreation, what is your experience of reading a novel vs seeing a movie? Also, feel free to use those questions on your survey if you're also interested in other people's answers to them (I realize the first one is related to a question you ask on your survey, although asking about it from a slightly different angle.

Comment author: lindagert 06 August 2011 12:29:27AM 15 points [-]

Hi Christina, I learn by memorizing words about things: verbal descriptions, procedures, narratives. There are a lot of things that I don't try to learn because my mind can't accommodate them effectively in words, e.g. abstract subjects like biochemistry and physics. There are a lot of things that I have to relearn from scratch again and again, such as medicinal properties of herbs, or the names and locations and characteristics of acupressure points. If a procedure is very complicated or hard to describe in words (too many words to memorize), I just don't have a way to learn it. I am much more effective at learning hands-on things than learning about things that I can't see (which is why I am a massage therapist and not a physicist!)

There is some motor memory, but only when I have performed an action often enough for it to become automatic, e.g. riding a bike. As a massage therapist, I studied Esalen massage, where the therapist is not working in a premeditated way -- there is no sequence of moves like Swedish massage, rather exploring and listening and responding to the body in a fairly ad hoc way. There is one Esalen massage procedure that I would love to do but could never learn, because it involves a specific sequence of several very exact moves, to flip the body from a prone to supine position without the client falling off the massage table :-) I was never in a position to write down all the moves while observing it in class, so I could never practice it or duplicate it on my own.

Reading a novel or watching a movie is a lot like other things in my life: I am only engaging in the current moment of it mentally, the preceding parts are gone, because there is no way to hold on to them mentally. In order to watch a movie or read a novel, I make the effort the keep a running memorization going of a few key plot points in order to process the story. As soon as the movie is over or I've put the book down, it's basically gone from my consciousness, unless I try to think about it or talk about it, and then I only have access to those points that I memorized in order to keep up with the plot, which is a very bare-bones summary.

I often have this sort of experience: I remember that I last night I read maybe a hundred pages of a book that I was enjoying a lot, so I want to finish the book tonight. Hmmm, I wonder, before I walk into the bedroom to retrieve the book, I wonder what I was reading? It was a story about... about... rats, I have no idea what it was, I'll just have to go see!

While watching a movie, I have a hard time keeping characters straight unless they are actors that I recognize. I can remember -- the blonde woman is the husband's sister... then in the next scene, if there is a blonde woman, I think: she's blonde, is she the sister or she someone else who is blonde? So I have to memorize words describing enough distinct visual characteristics in order to know for sure who's who. It gets to be tedious sometimes, until enough of the movie has gone by that some recognition may kick in. There have been some movies that I've watched where there are, say, three main characters that are women, and they are all blond, thin, pretty. I can't find any words to distinguish them, so for the entire movie, I have no idea who's who. (unless there are some consistent, distinctive behavioral characteristics, like the pretty thin blonde who is angry and sarcastic. but then, through the magic of character growth, if she becomes nice, I don't know who she is!)

I was shocked to learn several years ago that other people have visuals while reading. A friend asked me, "How can you read literature?" and it made me sad, because I love literature and never realized that there could be a whole extra dimension to it. I don't actually know what imagination is like, so I can't imagine what one might imagine while reading a novel! For me it's just words and plot points.

Comment author: christina 06 August 2011 09:06:40AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for your detailed response! And upvoted since it gave me a lot to think about in regards to variations on how the mind works.

Comment author: Garth 01 July 2010 04:34:55PM 28 points [-]

Hi, new here.

I am utterly incapable of forming voluntary mental images, and experience very faint involuntary ones only occasionally, during the hypnagogic state when falling asleep. (I used to practice at manipulating these, but made no headway.) I do experience afterimages, and I must be encoding information in a 'visual format' somewhere, because I can rotate molecular models (for example) in my mind with no problem, and get a very faint disturbance in my visual field when I do so.

Yet I do dream, sometimes quite vividly. Dreams are pretty much the only time I see something purely in my mind. I once experienced bizarre visual hallucinations due to a side-effect of medication, and they struck me as being quite dreamlike.

I suspect that my incapacity for mental imagery was strongly influenced by the fact I was born blind, and had no usable vision until the age of three. However, so far as I know, that doesn't explain my incapacity for other kinds of sensory imagination.

I am a fairly skilled singer, with a good pitch sense, yet I would not say I can 'hear a tune in my head'. Rather my experience is that I 'just know' what intervals sound like, how the tune flows. I can hum or sing it for you from memory, but I cannot 'play it back' in my mind. When I try, what I really end up doing is making motions in my mouth and throat as if I were singing very faintly. It's as if the information is encoded somewhere, but gets decoded only at the point of action. In much the same way, though I can't draw well, I can roughly draw complex shapes from memory - like the outline of the contiguous United States. But I am not aware of experiencing that shape in a visual way in my mind; it is somehow encoded.

I used to believe, as this excellent post says, that my experience was universal and that all talk of 'visual imagery' was metaphor, but I was convinced otherwise by deep conversation with a close friend who is an eidetic imager.

Comment author: Dmytry 18 June 2011 01:07:41PM *  2 points [-]

Hmm, that is very interesting. I'm fairly good at imagining stuff but not to the point of e.g. looking at Rubik's cube and then solving it blind.

I have a theory here. The mental imagery requires two things:

A: forming mental image somewhere in your brain - akin to how Boeing will simulate aircraft in computer. B: perceiving it consciously.
Some people might lack B but possess some form of A which they could not consciously access. I'm pretty sure that A can work without B in myself - e.g. good mechanical design can just pop in my mind, the kind of good mechanical design that absolutely requires some sort of simulation to produce. Yet I did not consciously imagine variations of that design.

The most important part of A for me is ability to imagine system and the rules and evolution of that system. For example I can even imagine configuration of conductors, and then imagine electric potential and electric field around them, from just the differential equations (i simply know how nabla squared times a looks). I can do that in 3D, and i imagine the 3D itself, not the 2D projection (which i can imagine if i need to). It's a lot like imagining soap film surface (it obeys same equations).

Comment author: alie 29 May 2011 07:02:55PM *  5 points [-]

I am also new, like Garth, and I also completely lack visual imagery.

Unlike Garth, I don't even see things when I dream--I dream in thoughts, which for me are textual or feeling-based. Afterimages are hit and miss for me. Also, unlike Garth, I was not born blind; my vision is completely fine and corrected to normal with glasses, which I wear all the time. I am also a fairly skilled singer and have good pitch sense, however this is a skill that has developed from practice. My experience in this is similar to Garth's, as is my experience in drawing.

I am extremely bad with directions to get somewhere, but have no problem navigating to a place once I've learnt the way. I think this may indicate the difference between imagery and procedural memory. Interestingly, I have /fantastic/ semantic memory. As a recent example, I crammed/studied for a test over the course of 2 hours after missing 8 or so hours of lecture. I got a 85/100 on the test, simply by remembering which answers fit textually.

Comment author: Confringus 01 April 2011 11:45:28PM 3 points [-]

I have to admit, I was skeptical about the existence of those without visual imagination, but after reading your post it seems that that skepticism was derived from a lack of understanding. I couldn't comprehend the vehicle by which thoughts would be transmitted without a visual component, but your description has gone a long way towards clearing that up. Thank you for your excellent contribution.

Comment author: thomblake 01 July 2010 04:50:14PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: KristyLynn 11 May 2010 01:30:46PM 0 points [-]

After reading this last week I myself have a typical mind fallacy problem. I hadn't realized that other people really didn't do everything the way that I did, but after becoming aware that they might I realized that, indeed, I was much more different than others.

Comment author: simplicio 12 March 2010 02:41:42PM 8 points [-]

"There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images."

Yesterday I was surprised to learn that my wife can barely see afterimages. I was watching a lecture where the green, yellow & black American flag appears, you stare at it, and then it goes away and an afterimage of the real red white & blue one appears. She couldn't see it after 4 tries. Then I told her to stare at a lightbulb for several seconds and look away. She still didn't see anything. Staring at it even longer produced a weak afterimage that she could only just barely see if she closed her eyes.

Comment author: Aurini 17 March 2010 07:30:22PM 4 points [-]

Whenever I wear polarized lenses I can see patterns in safety-glass, and more bands on rainbows than would regularly be there; most other people I've met are similar.

One day, on a long car trip, I was talking to the guy sitting next to me and he was able to see these things with his eyes uncovered. I haven't the faintest clue whether this is a hardware or a software difference, either seem feasible.

Comment author: Dmytry 18 June 2011 12:49:49PM 0 points [-]

Anyone can see those things if looking at reflection of blue sky. Blue sky's light is polarized. Ditto if looking at a reflection. But most people wouldn't notice that, the effect is fairly faint. The person who could detect polarized light would notice that LCD displays are polarized and could tell you some are polarized other way than others.

Comment author: simplicio 02 September 2010 12:50:22AM 5 points [-]

Related: ever seen Haidinger's brush?

It's very cool, but because it's on the threshold of perception it also requires a good deal of discipline not to fall into an N-ray style state of mind when attempting to view them.

Comment author: LebensWert 02 September 2010 12:33:48AM *  2 points [-]

Maybe the people who can see those things with their eyes uncovered lack stereo vision?

Since I was a child I found that when I close one eye, light sources (against a sufficiently dark surroundings) change their appearance... Similar to a lensflare effect. Works with each eye individually, but with both eyes open these artifacts disappear. I always figured these are optical phenomena which will be identified as such by the brain by comparison between both eyes and therefore eliminated.

So if someone lacks stereo vision, or has a significant impairment of the stereo vision system, this might explain this polarizing phenomenon. However, maybe I'm in error and those two phenomena are apples and oranges.

Comment author: jasey 12 December 2010 08:03:33AM 1 point [-]

Hm, I don't think it's likely a function of basic differences in visual perception - I have normal vision as far as I'm concerned, but I have very vivid mental imagery. I also have very vivid dreamscapes, and every dream I have is a new scape - I've never had the same one twice. (Unrelatedly or relatedly, I dream A LOT, even when I doze off for 5-10 minutes.) In any case, I can be physically looking at something in the real world, but be "looking" at something completely different in my mind's eye, but there is a definite shift in attention that facilitates how much information I can get from either the current sensory input or the mental image.

Comment author: JGWeissman 06 April 2010 05:08:05PM 1 point [-]

This is more likely to be caused by a hardware difference than a software differnce, but both of these explanations seems really unlikely compared to the theory that this person's self report was confused. If in a controlled experiment, he can reliably differentiate between patterns of light polarization, then I will worry about explaining this.

Comment author: Strange7 06 April 2010 04:47:13PM 1 point [-]

I would think hardware. Polarization isn't something you can reconstruct from just color, but naturally-polarized lenses occur in nature and thus could have been produced by a mutation.

Comment author: orbenn 08 March 2011 05:32:59PM 3 points [-]

You're thinking about this all wrong. It's biological so the hardware IS the software.

A better question would be: is the difference in the eye or the brain? This you could test by taking some blue-detecting cones from the retinas of people who can and cannot detect Haidinger's brush and see if they respond differently to changes in polarization.

Comment author: Tem42 14 June 2015 10:51:21PM 1 point [-]

My understanding is that all humans have the 'hardware' to see polarized light, but that most of us filter it out -- that is, it is a software issue. However, you could also phrase this as 'the eyes register the light, but the brain discards the information'.

Comment author: kpreid 17 March 2010 07:52:06PM 2 points [-]

Have you read about Haidinger's brush?

Comment author: RobinZ 04 March 2010 09:35:29PM *  3 points [-]

Relating to the quotation: bearing in mind that the character and author are not the same, it might be more accurate to write (judging by my secret sources, and following the TV Tropes quoting convention):

Vlad Taltos: "I'm generalizing from one example, here, but everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do."

-- Stephen Brust, Issola

Edit: It seems that one or two people agree - I'm PMing Yvain now.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 05 March 2010 02:13:07AM 0 points [-]

I very strongly disagree.

Comment author: FAWS 05 March 2010 02:16:34AM 3 points [-]

Why? The current form suggests Stephen Brust as the referent of "I", which is misleading.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 05 March 2010 07:13:47AM 0 points [-]

It is conventional to do quotes this way, so I reject the claim that it is misleading. We attribute to Andrew Marvell the lines "But at my back I always hear / Time's winged chariot hurrying near" without any confusion. It is a little misleading, since it makes Brust look like a stand-up comic, rather than a novelist, but that is a rather trivial matter.

Comment author: mattnewport 06 March 2010 01:32:44AM *  4 points [-]

Can you back up your claim that it is conventional to attribute quotes by characters solely to the author? It doesn't seem to me that this is correct and searching Google I can't find a definitive answer, though I turned up this blog post that argues it is unethical. One of the commenters claims:

As a student of literature from college onward, I have to make this point: one must ALWAYS quote the character making the statement, AND the book and author from which it is taken. This is Literature 101.

I think the distinction is useful and can be very important information if the character is expressing views contrary to the author's own.

ETA: From About.com on Shakespeare quotes:

Attribution

No formal Shakespeare quote is complete without its attribution. For a Shakespeare quote, you need to provide the play title, followed by act, scene, and line number. It is a good practice to italicize the title of the play. Here is an example:

"He was ever precise in promise-keeping." (Measure for Measure, Act I. Sc. 2)

In order to ensure that the quote is used in the right context, it is important to reference the quote appropriately. That means, you must mention the character's name who made the statement.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 06 March 2010 05:06:01AM *  1 point [-]

Convention is what people do. The first post you cite demonstrates that TV shows don't source quotes. It implies that modern playwrights have their lines attributed to them. And despite your second source, your first endorses attribution to Shakespeare.

From the books on my shelves, Barzun is the only author who ever identifies characters, and inconsistently (and occasionally without the author at all!). I don't think he ever distinguishes narrators from the author, even when the narrator uses the first person. Like many people, he usually cites the source, so you can look it up to see if it is fiction. Many people quote without sources, but it is definitely correlated with looking like nonfiction. Robert Cialdini and Marvin Minski have many unsourced quotes. Minski quotes Asimov and Pope who are famous both for fiction and nonfiction! (I think he only quotes their nonfiction, but he attributes to Joyce the words, including "I," of Stephen Dedalus.) I think all of Cialdini's quotes are in the author's own voice, except Virgil. People don't source Juvenal, either. (ETA: Mimi Sheraton uses unsourced quotes, probably from fiction.)

Sure the Rand example is unethical, but there is always context that can be manipulated.

Comment author: Jack 06 March 2010 01:49:27PM *  4 points [-]

This is all considerably silly. Indeed, there is a convention that allows a citation of a quote to just the author without referencing the character. But doing so is informal and can be slightly unprofessional or grossly unethical depending on the context. The quote here is merely stylistic and so the decision to include additional information in the citation should just be based on whether or Yvain thinks it looks/flows better with the full cite. If Yvain wants to be more professional about it but keep the short cite he can footnote the full citation.

There. Done.

Comment author: RobinZ 06 March 2010 02:26:46PM 2 points [-]

I would disagree with you in the general case but must agree in the specific - this particular point is not of great importance.

Comment author: mattnewport 06 March 2010 10:20:30AM 0 points [-]

You have a number of unsourced examples of people not distinguishing between characters and authors. I could give you a number of examples of attribution for characters. Justifying your claim that it is conventional to ignore characters when attributing quotes requires more than a random selection of anecdotes. When I think of famous literary quotes I do not simply think Shakespeare, I think Hamlet, or Macbeth, the distinction is important.

If you have to defend a claim to 'convention' it's not really convention.

Comment author: RobinZ 05 March 2010 12:28:07PM 4 points [-]

"Conventional" is not a justification unless the convention has been justified. I have personally seen Internet denizens heap abuse upon an author (Oscar Wilde, if I recall correctly) for an outrageous quote which was said by a character in a book. I think it is valuable in terms of making proper moral judgments upon people to distinguish between what characters in their fiction say and what authors say outside their fictional works.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 05 March 2010 03:08:28PM -1 points [-]

You could use the same argument to start speaking lojban.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 05 March 2010 03:40:47PM 2 points [-]

la lojban spofu ma

(Sorry, I had to. Translation: 'What's wrong with Lojban?' or, literally, 'Lojban is not-useful (broken) for what?')

Comment author: Clippy 05 March 2010 03:44:37PM 1 point [-]

do

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 05 March 2010 03:47:36PM 0 points [-]

Well, yes, but I suspect that that's only because I'm not even close to fluent yet. And even so I find it surprisingly grokkable. :)

Comment author: RobinZ 05 March 2010 03:39:37PM 0 points [-]

You're right - but "start speaking lojban" is refuted by "the people I want to talk to wouldn't understand it". A statement which is, in fact, the justification for the convention of speaking English. Why should we quote the words of an author's character as if they are the words of the author?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 06 March 2010 01:19:18AM *  -1 points [-]

I should have noted that "Someone is wrong on the internet" back on your Wilde example.

I take the Burkean position that the innovator should justify the old system. Natural language and natural conventions work. They exist for reasons, if only because stability. Even if I grant your claim that your changes have improvements, have you looked for costs? In my experience, most artificial changes to language impede communication, and, indeed, look to me to be intended to. On another note, have you backed up and asked Why is Yvain quoting people at all?

Comment author: RobinZ 06 March 2010 01:27:01AM 0 points [-]

Your remark has me entirely confused - Burkean? What? - but for a single question:

Even if I grant your claim that your changes have improvements, have you looked for costs? In my experience, most artificial changes to language impede communication, and, indeed, look to me to be intended to.

There is no clarity cost I can see in the proposed convention - the only cost I can see is to the writer, who will have to spend a minute or two sourcing their quotes. If this cannot be done in a minute or two with an Internet connection (Wikiquote is often of help), it is probably more accurate to cite the quotation as "attributed" anyway.

Comment author: lunchbox 17 February 2010 06:50:05AM *  16 points [-]

I think clever people are especially susceptible to the belief that their perceptions are typical. Let's say you can't visualize images in your mind, but your coworker insists that he can. Since you're not a brain scientist, you can't verify whether he's right or whether he's just misinterpreted the question. However, the last few times you had a disagreement with him on a verifiable subject, you were vindicated by the facts, so you can only assume that you are right this time as well. Add to that the fact that people's stated perceptions and preferences are frequently dishonest (because of signaling), and it's very easy to mistrust them.

One useful first step to overcoming this bias is to compare one's results on a test like UVA's Moral Foundations Questionnaire here to other segments of the population.

However, it's not enough to just learn the facts about how other people perceive the world; sometimes one has to experience them firsthand. I have always been an ambitious high achiever and used to get frustrated and confused by people who were not able to follow through with their goals. However, a few years back I had an adverse reaction to a medication, and experienced for a few hours what depression must be like. From then on, it all made perfect sense.

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as a conservative, a liberal, a luddite, a woman, a blue collar worker, a depression sufferer, a jock, an artist, etc. The impact on my emotional maturity and ability to empathize would be tremendous.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:23:10AM 2 points [-]

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as...

I'd assume blue collar, artist, and depression are pretty trivial to experience, if you're curious.... Female is also eminently doable, although it'd take a lot more time and energy (and if you're set on "temporary" it's going to be even slower)

Admittedly, I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses (Indeed, I find it baffling that you haven't experienced at least a few of those!)

Comment author: Timwi 26 March 2012 01:24:11AM 4 points [-]

You seem to be using the word “experience” differently from what I understand it to mean. “To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

Note that it is not enough merely to imagine an experience. It is certainly possible to imagine oneself in a situation one has never actually been in — but the imagined experience would be a guess. It’s like imagining (assuming you are capable of visual imagery) an animal that you have never seen before from a vague description. You can only imagine what you’ve been told, but your mind fills in the details with guesses. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that you often get conflicting descriptions, because not all depressions are exactly the same.

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

Comment author: handoflixue 26 March 2012 10:35:24PM 2 points [-]

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

From my practice as an artist, I can look at a forest and talk about the shading, light angles, and color palette. From certain neurological quirks of mine, I can look at the forest and discuss it in a weird internal palette, or discuss the flavor of the trees (I have vision->taste synaesthesia). I can push the "be happy" button and sit contentedly. I can push the "ADD" button and want to bounce around and be in motion (music also triggers this - kinaesthetic and auditory senses overlap strongly for me, and make it very difficult to track visual data). I can push the "depression" button and realize I'm all alone, miles from company, and I'm going to have to WALK back and I'm ALREADY exhausted and tired and oh god I'm stupid what made me think this would be enjoyable (low blood sugar will also trigger this one, although it's actually pretty hard to put me in a bad mood if I'm walking and/or in a forest)

Basically, there's an absolutely HUGE amount of sensory information hitting me at any given point, and I'm aware that I'm only processing SOME of it. From there, there's an exponentially vaster sea of interpretations and patterns I can within that data - I can relate it to a wide variety of topics. So, I'm aware of this huge sheaf of possible observational angles, and can generally wander between them.

I seem to be more able to notice "I don't like this perspective / I'd enjoy seeing this from multiple angles". I seem more able to actually switch perception, although most intelligent people can at least follow what I'm doing and mimic my shifts. I also seem to have a much broader set to choose from.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 March 2012 08:17:40PM -1 points [-]

“To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

When I say "experience" depression, I mean I'm actually depressed. When I say "simulate" depression, I mean I can model the state without actually directly experiencing it. "Simulation" would line up with watching a TV show or reading a book - I react as though the characters were real, I suspend the knowledge that everyone will be OK at the end of each episode, and so on.

I was in fact talking about experience, not simulation, however.

If you want to experience being an artist, then take a drawing class and learn to draw. There isn't some special "artist" property, you just have to draw. If you want to experience being a good artist, you'll probably need to spend some time practicing. If you want to experience the community of art, well, there's a lot of those, but learn poetry and go to poetry jams. Learn writing and join a writing circle. Find a Google Group where painters chat and discuss technique. Follow art blogs.

Equally, if you want to experience being a "jock", then get in shape and join a gym that seems to have a lot of jocks. Learn to fit in with them.

Female is a bit trickier, but there's people on this site that have done male-to-female transitions. Most of it is reversible, and the main irreversible bit (surgery) is pretty optional unless you're interested in a VERY specific physical aspect of being female. I wouldn't recommend it casually, but if you're serious about wanting to explore new sensations and experience new mindsets, it's a pretty amazing change.

Comment author: helm 25 January 2011 03:21:34PM 0 points [-]

Optimism/Pessimism seems to operate on a pretty linear scale. I was very optimistic about my own future until I hit my early 20s, now after a few bouts of depression I regularly underperform. (to generalize from one example, I know I have a hard time believing some people can be depressed and productive at the same time)

What I can say with reasonable certainty is that liberals and conservatives build up different associations, retain different facts, etc, etc, which would make a temporary switch more difficult.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 January 2011 04:42:13PM 1 point [-]

I believe that the mood aspect of depression and the inertia aspect are almost independent from each other.

Comment author: helm 25 January 2011 06:27:05PM 0 points [-]

Interesting, I was mostly affected by the inertia aspect, which in turn spoiled my mood (from the inability to get anything done).

Comment author: Lightwave 10 November 2009 06:08:32PM *  3 points [-]

Anyone else think this post should be tagged as "other_optimizing"?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 November 2009 06:46:16PM 1 point [-]

done

Comment author: ellenjanuary 22 October 2009 08:23:21PM 2 points [-]

Synchronicity: this is one of the best things I have ever read in life, yet my life had to come to this point in order to appreciate what I was reading. Thanks muchly. :)

Comment author: kyaka 21 June 2011 01:34:26PM 1 point [-]

Forgive me for stealing the gusto of your post, but it seems I can't make a comment on an old post. I am new here, and I can't help but think that some things are being over looked here.


Maybe everyone is already thinking this, so everyone feels that no one needs to say it (but isn't that exactly the "problem" this is discussing).

I absolutely disagree that generalizing from one example is a bad thing. I do agree that people tend to make that idea permanent, rather than just taking it as a starting point.

We are human. We are living, remember, reactional beings. We are able to make quick decision because we are able to come to quick conclusions. Let me give you an example. You see someone pick up a mushroom, eat it, and then die. What do you think? "If I eat that mushroom, then I will die to." But isn't that exactly the problem you discussed? Generalizing based on one example?

So then you go on to do science and prove that this particular mushroom is bad and not ALL mushrooms; you find out that some (not all) people have allergies to some (not all) mushrooms; but in the mean time you were spared from trial by fire. It is important for people to be able to make a snap decision, it is important for them to be able to figure out what is "going on" from very limit examples. The problem is that people are stubborn; once a person makes up their mind, they stick to it so stead-fast, it takes extra-ordinary measures to change their mind - something like a 95% confidence at minimum (I jest).

Sorry if the explanation is hard to follow. I am bad a setting up / introducing my ideas, so my meaning tends to get lost.

Let me reiterate: You speak as though generalizing is bad. I disagree. You need to have a basis to get started from. You need to be able to start making intelligent decision about the world around you based on what you see. But, you cannot assume that a) you are right or b) that you have accounted for all the variables.

A) Just because you are able to act on knowledge doesn't mean that knowledge is right. It means some of it is right, but not all of it. You need to be open to situations where that knowledge is wrong, and figure out how the situations are different.

B) A good place to start is that XKCD comic that was referenced: http://xkcd.com/385/ When the main character sees the male at the board, he is able to see the male for who he is. He perceives that the male is bad at math. When the female is at the board, the main character only perceives that she is female. I could give any number of explanations for this from Freud to pheromones to National Geographic, but there is no way of know which may be right. The point is he just perceives that "she" is bad at math. And I think that is perfectly acceptable. I DO think that if the main character perceives another female who proves to be good at math, then he needs to overturn his original assumption.

Make assumptions! Do it! But be open to being wrong.

Comment author: aleiby 22 October 2009 05:42:33AM 5 points [-]

Does anyone know if those incapable of forming mental images are also unable to have dreams while sleeping? Do they not hallucinate under sensory deprivation? It seems like anyone capable of vision, should have no problem stimulating those same neurons in reverse (thinking about the neocortex as presented by Hawkins). I recognize I'm exhibiting the very bias presented here, but find it hard to believe this isn't a learnable skill that can be developed through practice.

I feel similarly about noise tolerance. I spent many afternoons reading in a busy coffee shop where highschool "punk" bands would often hold "concerts". I did this intentionally to build up my tolerance to noise and ability to focus in the face of extraordinary distraction. Of course, now it just makes me annoyed at people who lack similar tolerances. How ironic.

Comment author: Blueberry 17 November 2009 01:54:33AM 5 points [-]

I can't consciously form mental images, but I have no problem daydreaming images which seem to come to my mind randomly, and I do sometimes have vivid dreams.

I'm sure that forming mental images can be improved with practice. For instance, people who play a lot of chess or Go can visualize the board in their head and the relationship between the pieces, to the point where they can play a game entirely in their head.

When I try to visualize a mental image, the pieces of the image just don't stay there. For instance, say I try to visualize a house with flowers and a porch and trees and children playing in the yard, and so forth. (I just tried this now to see what happens in my mind.) When I put the porch down, and then try to put some trees in and visualize all the details, the porch "disappears" and I have to remember how I built it. I just don't understand how anyone has a good enough memory to construct a persistent mental image. To me, it's like holding ten phone numbers in your mind.

Comment author: aausch 31 December 2009 05:35:31PM 1 point [-]

For instance, people who play a lot of chess or Go can visualize the board in their head and the relationship between the pieces, to the point where they can play a game entirely in their head.

I would imagine go and chess playing select for these kinds of people. I'm willing to bet that if you can't make good mental images, chances are you'll give up at the game before you've had enough practice to make a noticeable difference.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 November 2009 03:48:23AM 4 points [-]

I'm sure that forming mental images can be improved with practice. For instance, people who play a lot of chess or Go can visualize the board in their head and the relationship between the pieces, to the point where they can play a game entirely in their head.

Something is being improved with practice, but don't jump to too many conclusions about what is inside people's heads. Playing a game in the head doesn't guarantee visual modality.

Comment author: lindagert 06 August 2011 09:22:28AM 5 points [-]

I am completely mentally blind, no activity in the mind's eye at all -- I have no concept of a mind's eye. Chess is a good example of how I committed the Typical Mind Fallacy for years, enabling me to maintain denial about other people's mental imagery. I was so determined to not know that a big part of my mind was missing, that I consistently glossed over anything that other people told me about their own mental imagery... including this:

My oldest son and his father are both expert chess players. They would sit in the car and call out moves to each other. Then afterwards, they could both write down a list of all the moves, compare notes and demonstrate that they had played the same game of chess in their heads. When asked how they performed this magic trick, they told me that they simply visualized the board and moved the pieces!

Now this should be undeniable evidence of mental imagery, but I continued to maintain my denial about that so-called mind's eye -- because as I was to find out later, after breaking through the denial, the denial was a defense mechanism that was protecting me from the emotional devastation of when I discovered the truth about what was missing from my mind.

Comment author: FAWS 06 August 2011 09:39:54AM *  0 points [-]

My oldest son and his father

Ah. Linda Gert.

I'm curious though. How do you experience memories/knowledge of visual things? For example if you remember that someone has long black hair I assume this is more similar to reading about a character with long black hair in a book rather than seeing someone with your own eyes? Or is it completely different from both?

EDIT: Sorry, I just saw you already talked about things like that elsewhere in this thread.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2010 09:20:33PM 12 points [-]

Playing a game in the head doesn't guarantee visual modality.

Right. In fact, chess is the perfect example here.

Many chess grandmasters are famous for being able to recall perfectly games and board positions from years or decades ago, but there are also (somewhat) famous studies to the effect that their recall drops to normal when given random board positions. If their recall is due to a 'mental image', the mental image is certainly not a 64x64 pixelized grid but something quite different.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 June 2010 09:36:31PM *  3 points [-]

Many chess grandmasters are famous for being able to recall perfectly games and board positions from years or decades ago, but there are also (somewhat) famous studies to the effect that their recall drops to normal when given random board positions. If their recall is due to a 'mental image', the mental image is certainly not a 64x64 pixelized grid but something quite different.

(Well, the recall drops back to moderate improvement over normal, with diminishing returns for level of expertise rather than being downright astounding.)

Comment author: Dmytry 21 June 2011 09:51:08PM *  1 point [-]

The reason's obvious for anyone who played chess. You see that knight is threatening this pawn, which is protected by this bishop, etc. You (well, me at least) literally see such relations when playing the chess, i.e. you train to see it at higher level just as we all train to see a 3d cube as a 3d cube rather than as shaded faces of said cubes. Someone who can't do that, chances are, won't be a good chess player.

Comment author: SilasBarta 21 June 2011 10:56:01PM 3 points [-]

I suck at chess. I have trouble keeping all those relationships in mind. So my strategy is always to do a bunch of capture exchanges so the board is simpler and my disadvantage is somewhat reduced. :-)

Comment author: wedrifid 21 June 2011 11:19:45PM 1 point [-]

So my strategy is always to do a bunch of capture exchanges so the board is simpler and my disadvantage is somewhat reduced. :-)

I love that strategy too! Charge!

Comment author: wedrifid 21 June 2011 10:46:56PM 3 points [-]

Exactly, and chess is such a good model for studying the general phenomenon of this kind of expertise. A concentrated focus on building an enormous database of significant patterns and the development of the ability to use long term memory with almost the same malleability that we commonly use working memory but confined to that domain limited problem.

Someone who can't do that, chances are, won't be a good chess player.

I would also say that someone who can't do that is not yet a good chess player. This is a core human skill. With some work everyone (who does not have some cognitive disability) will develop the skills you are talking about. They may still be terrible at at the strategic side of the game but the pattern matching is nigh inevitable.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 17 November 2009 02:07:50AM *  15 points [-]

I can't consciously form mental images, but I have no problem daydreaming images which seem to come to my mind randomly, and I do sometimes have vivid dreams.

I have something like this experience. I can visualize schematic or geometrical images pretty well. But when it comes to textural detail, one thing slips away when I try to visualize the next. I can visualize a wagon wheel spinning in space, but if I try to add the grain of the wood or gradients in the lighting, it doesn't work. I can visualize a green lawn as seen from high above, but if I try to visualize the different blades of grass as they'd appear at standing height, I can't hold onto the details.

But all this changes when I'm dreaming or about to fall asleep. In fact, one way I can tell that I'm about to fall asleep is that I find myself able to visualize that lawn, or many pebbles at the bottom of a clear brook, or other such texture-rich visual tableaux.

ETA: In the couple nights since I wrote this comment, I decided to try inducing sleep by forcing myself to visualize things like grass and pebbles in detail. It seems to work remarkably well. I've stopped taking the melatonin pills that I'd been relying on.

Comment author: AlexU 30 April 2009 01:53:23PM *  6 points [-]

Isn't there an equally well-known bias toward thinking we'll react differently to future events (or behave differently) than most people? That is, we observe that most people don't become happier when they become rich, but we convince ourselves that we're "different" enough that we nonetheless will? I think Dan Gilbert wrote pretty extensively on this in of those recent "happiness studies" books. Anyway, it seems like there's an obvious tension between the two tendencies.

Comment author: bigjeff5 27 January 2011 04:05:19AM 2 points [-]

That sounds like either the optimism bias or the positive outcome bias. They are related, but I think the optimism bias fits best.

People tend to over-estimate their chances of success, and under-estimate their chances of failure. If 90% percent of people eventually go broke after winning the lottery, chances are more than half of them were certain it wouldn't happen to them.

The UK government has special procedures in place to help avoid project failures due to the optimism bias.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 29 April 2009 07:20:05PM 3 points [-]

Interesting.

How did the surveys work, though? ie, just wondering what sorts of questions were asked that actually helped Galton figure out to what extent they had visual imagination. (as opposed to whether they just thought they did)

Comment author: Tem42 15 June 2015 03:54:25PM 0 points [-]

The study already given above includes some detail: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/238511/papers/2006-brewer.pdf

Comment author: steven0461 29 April 2009 05:53:39PM *  7 points [-]

Good post; as another example, I read recently that many people never experience an emotion that some other people conceptualize as romantic love. Don't know if it's true though.

ETA: changed "the" to "an" after Phil's reply.

Comment author: Hayashi 27 March 2012 12:08:48AM 0 points [-]

The funny thing is that after reading it I realise the article you mentioned may also lead to generalising from one example. In my case there's someone in my life whom the author would probably consider as my limerent object, based on the 'outward signs' that someone would be able to pick up as mentioned. However, to me I personally don't really care so much as to whether it's reciprocated, and also in a way don't really have a way to stop it from my end. That is, I cannot will myself to stop caring. I can also perceive in quite a balanced manner the person's attributes, but can never apply this to more than one person at a time, and it also causes me to leave other concerns in the background.

Essentially, a state that is a mix of both the elements described as love and limerence.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that they're collapsing a spectrum into two concepts at the extremes, whereas in human experience it's quite likely that there are many feelings in between.

Comment author: christina 06 August 2011 11:06:04AM 0 points [-]

It is true, at least for me (don't know how many other people have this experience). I have never experienced romantic love. I am in my late twenties, so this is not a result of youth. I do experience platonic love. I'm the only one in my family I know of who is like this. I have no desire to experience romantic love personally. However, I am glad for others when their romantic relationships work out, and can still enjoy romantic elements in a story, etc.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:33:15AM 4 points [-]

I recently experienced that - or rather, realized I hadn't experienced that. I just assumed people were exaggerating, and then, wham, blindsided by love! It's been very jarring ^^;

(My experience of "love" doesn't line up exactly with limerence, but was a very substantial shift from what I'd previously labelled "love".)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 April 2009 11:29:34PM 6 points [-]

I'd be surprised if there is one single "emotion that some other people conceptualize as romantic love".

Comment author: taw 29 April 2009 05:50:00PM 3 points [-]

Re footnote 3: My guesses were 95% and 50%. I accept the figure for shop-lifting but I'm still completely sure one third of students never cheating is untrue.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 April 2009 11:31:07PM 0 points [-]

95%? That boggles my mind. Where did you go to school?

Just 1/3 of students never cheating seems low to me.

Comment author: mwengler 28 June 2010 05:04:59PM 1 point [-]

I think of myself as someone who "never cheated." But I did. I was always in the smart kid gifted classes with the other smart kids. We had an 8th grade social studies teacher who almost seemed to want us to cheat: he would set very difficult essay tests and then leave the room for nearly the entire class period. People discussed the answers. 10th grade french, I remember some people suggesting cheating on a test because it would be easy and at the time I went along. Also I remember someone suggesting I read "L'etranger" in English translation and I did that, it was way easier.

My point: if 1/3 I believe it more likely that people will mistakenly report they didn't cheat when they did than vice versa. And I believe it is easy for people to "forget" they cheated.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 05:22:13PM 2 points [-]

We had an 8th grade social studies teacher who almost seemed to want us to cheat: he would set very difficult essay tests and then leave the room for nearly the entire class period. People discussed the answers.

I don't call that cheating. I call it 'cooperation'. Calling it cheating would be an insult to the term.

10th grade french, I remember some people suggesting cheating on a test because it would be easy and at the time I went along.

Yes, cheating.

Also I remember someone suggesting I read "L'etranger" in English translation and I did that, it was way easier.

Mere common sense. If a test in no way distinguishes between knowledge gained by different methods it has no right to call one method 'cheating', no matter what it may claim.

My point: if 1/3 I believe it more likely that people will mistakenly report they didn't cheat when they did than vice versa. And I believe it is easy for people to "forget" they cheated.

Absolutely. This particularly applies to sexual 'cheating'. I am referring explicitly to reports that are genuinely mistaken, not deliberate lies. This is having sex with someone who is not your partner. That's not something that isn't a big enough deal to remember. But people can compartmentalize this knowledge. There are also people that "don't count". When talking to friends who have their confidence it is not unheard for people to say "I've never cheated". When prompted with the example the genuine response is a double take and the impulse to say "Oh, but he doesn't count!"

Comment author: Timwi 26 March 2012 12:23:16AM 0 points [-]

If a test in no way distinguishes between knowledge gained by different methods it has no right to call one method 'cheating', no matter what it may claim.

Surely by that argument there is no such thing as cheating. If I gained the knowledge necessary to pass the test by brekaing into the headmaster’s office and taking a photocopy of the questions and their answers before the exam, by your criterion that isn’t cheating.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 March 2012 05:05:41AM 0 points [-]

If a test in no way distinguishes between knowledge gained by different methods it has no right to call one method 'cheating', no matter what it may claim.

Surely by that argument there is no such thing as cheating. If I gained the knowledge necessary to pass the test by brekaing into the headmaster’s office and taking a photocopy of the questions and their answers before the exam, by your criterion that isn’t cheating.

I would agree that the wording is not robust against hostile interpretation, but not much more than that. While "breaking into the headmaster's office and stealing the questions and answers" and "reading the English translation of a book" are both methods of gaining "knowledge" most people would consider the kind of 'knowledge' gained to be sufficiently different that they would not equivocate between the two.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:35:26AM *  1 point [-]

"Oh, but he doesn't count!"

and

I don't call that cheating. I call it 'cooperation'.

I am amused :)

Comment author: taw 30 April 2009 07:47:32AM 3 points [-]

It's funny that you asked an inside view question. It was a Polish high school of the supposedly very good kind.

From the outside view, why wouldn't they? Students care about grades, risk of getting caught is tiny, and respect for school among them is really really low.

The only student who wouldn't cheat would be one that: doesn't care about grades/passing at all (but student like that would just fail the school), or is naturally great at everything (but many subjects require plenty of rote memorization, won't work), has unusually high level of respect for the school system (I don't find it terribly likely), or has unusually high level of fear of getting caught.

OK, perhaps more than 5% then, I can see many kids being unreasonably afraid of getting caught.

Comment author: Hayashi 27 March 2012 12:00:06AM 0 points [-]

I agree that 1/3 is too low a number that has never cheated. I'd say that of the people I study with, and we are at a remarkably high level of education in a profession with a fiduciary role, about 90+% of them cheat.

I'm one of those who don't cheat, for the reason you gave that I don't care about grades. However, I study in order to improve myself to be better at fulfilling my chosen role in society and for the knowledge's sake. Cheating in no way improves understanding or knowledge, and is thusly completely useless to me. However, I not only do not fail school, but conversely am one of the top scorers in the school (and by extension because of the school's position, one of the top students in the nation), because I achieve higher levels of understanding than almost everyone else, who use rote learning instead, as it is effective enough for examinations' purposes.

I take opposition to your assertion that one must care about grades to get good grades.

Comment author: Technologos 02 January 2010 05:31:35PM 0 points [-]

For what it's worth, at my high school the incidence of (recurrent and/or obvious) cheating was closer to 50%, and even then the majority of the cheating was on homework, where some of it may not technically have been cheating at all.

This may have been due to an unusually high probability of getting caught (private school, small classes, and engaged teachers) and unusually strong punishments, up to and including expulsion.

Comment author: aausch 31 December 2009 06:00:38PM 0 points [-]

Maybe at a more difficult highschool, cheating will be more prevalent. I bet that at average schools, though, it's just as easy to coast without cheating.

Comment author: taw 02 January 2010 03:41:07PM 0 points [-]

I'm confused - all schools in large geographical areas tend to have pretty much the same curricula and standards, so what are "easy" and "difficult" schools?

Comment author: Bo102010 02 January 2010 04:18:51PM *  0 points [-]

[Public] Schools in my metropolitan area vary wildly - typically the quality (and difficulty) of a school varies directly with the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood where it's located.

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:16:27PM 5 points [-]

The only student who wouldn't cheat would be one that:

The reason I never cheated was because I thought it was wrong. This has nothing to do with respect for the school system.

The other reason was because I knew it wouldn't help me learn anything. This has more to do with respect for the school system than my previous reason.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:38:05AM 3 points [-]

I've found that learning how to cheat was one of the more valuable skills I gained from school. Admittedly I work in reverse engineering, so my mindset isn't necessarily entirely standard :)

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 05:52:18PM 0 points [-]

Is it possible you have an overly broad definition of cheating?

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:40:06AM 0 points [-]

I considered the confusion to be one of frequency: "Do you cheat" vs "Have you ever cheated" vs "Did you cheat within the last year". I find 2/3rds suspiciously low for the latter. Then again, my friends in school wouldn't believe me that I'd really never shoplifted :)

Comment author: taw 29 April 2009 06:11:37PM 7 points [-]

Or alternatively self-reporters have overly narrow definition of cheating.

By the way I don't remember a single case where I cheated, but from my clear memory of my total lack of concern for "academic integrity" in high school, I infer that I'm extremely likely to have done so. It might sound weird, applying an outside view to own past, but my memory of things like that is extremely bad.

Comment author: gworley 29 April 2009 05:47:44PM 2 points [-]

Fantastic post. I think this one may be something of an instant classic. And, perhaps most importantly, a guide post we can point ourselves to when writing posts for LW and say "hey, now let's make sure I didn't do that".

Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 29 April 2009 04:54:57PM 4 points [-]

My automatic assumption is actually the opposite. Assume other people do not think the same way I do and that I cannot model them by tweaking a self-model. I then sometimes need to weaken this assumption if my other models aren't up to the task.

Which, oddly enough, makes the Typical Mind Fallacy an instance of itself.

Comment author: Swimmy 29 April 2009 04:45:07PM 2 points [-]

Or to summarize, as one blogger aptly put it, "your model of the individual is very likely based on you." Her extrapolation is that people should be very up front in their arguments about how they model other people. Unfortunately for the philosophers, this is harder to do the more nuanced the debate.

Comment author: Annoyance 29 April 2009 03:53:17PM 0 points [-]

I don't think there are any implications about qualia; the concept there is incoherent, whereas 'mental images' aren't.

Even so, I don't think the concept is very useful. What's the difference between forming a mental image, and forming the concept of what properties an image would have in great detail?

With the tiger example: are the 'eidetic imagers' really generating a picture (or the neurological equivalent of such), or is it just that their minds fill out the properties of what they're asked to imagine in far more detail than was requested?

If I ask you to imagine a man, and then ask what color shoelaces he was wearing, is answering rapidly and without hesitation evidence that you've formed an image or merely that you generated a lot of detail that wasn't specified?

Comment author: AndyCossyleon 25 August 2010 05:28:41PM 0 points [-]

Also, how does the capacity for eidetic imagery correlate with ability to count visual objects? I can't instantaneously count more than about six things (e.g. marbles) at once or up to a dozen or so depending how they're arranged. If you asked an eidetic imager to imagine a bar code, and then asked them how many lines there were, would they be able to respond quickly?

Eidetic imagery seems to be more a matter of degree. If asked to imagine a table, I can tell you instantly the number of chairs around it, but I would fail the tiger test. So perhaps passing the tiger test has more to do fast counting than vivid imagining.

Comment author: thomblake 30 April 2009 12:59:07PM 0 points [-]

Let's not forget - 'qualia' is said in many ways. One definition is that qualia of X means "what it's like to experience X". A qualia-believer thus hears a qualia-denier saying "there's no qualia" and responds, "Do you really not think there's anything it's like to see the color red?" - thus, the parallel.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:49:41PM 0 points [-]

Haha, I just had a funny thought about how we can accidently generalize this fallacy from itself and try applying it to everything. The only example I could think of was noticing that I am different from you and jumping to the conclusion that my surprise was because I was falling for the Typical Psyche Fallacy when all I have is one example. So, I guess, there will be cases where there you are smack in the middle-average of things?

Anyway, I thought it was interesting. Can anyone come up with a better example? Am I just babbling to myself?

Comment author: abigailgem 29 April 2009 11:49:22AM 6 points [-]

I have no ability to create images in a "mind's eye". I read of a Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique, which suggested that one try to imagine a very simple image, such as a cloudless sky, the sea (no ships or other coastline) and a beach. So, two lines, the shore and the horizon. I tried this without success.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 02:56:41PM *  -1 points [-]

suggested that one try to imagine a very simple image, such as a cloudless sky, the sea (no ships or other coastline) and a beach. So, two lines, the shore and the horizon. I tried this without success.

Have you ever been to the beach? If so, do you remember what it looked like? If so, you're done at that point, whether you actually "see" the beach or not.

Imagination is really just a form of memory, and vice versa; some people have difficulty with it simply because they try to create an image from scratch in their mind, having no idea how to go about it and nothing to start from.

In general, when any self-help book tells you to imagine or visualize something, you're better off asking yourself if you can remember something like that, or asking yourself what something like that would look like. You don't need to consciously attempt to manipulate imagery - you just ask yourself questions that presuppose you can see something, whether you feel you can "actually" see them or not.

The underlying assumption here is that your brain is absolutely capable of manipulating visual information -- otherwise, there are a wide variety of things you simply wouldn't be able to do. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can consciously perceive that information, without practice at observing it. In other words, your brain can visualize, but you may not be able to see that visualization without practice.

Another common block to visualization is a conceptual one: the objection that you're not "really" seeing things because they're "not real". (e.g. someone who gets told as a kid that the things they imagine aren't real and to stop it).

Anyway, not saying that you necessarily can visualize consciously or that any of these issues is yours; just pointing out that there are a lot of reasons why a person can be able to visualize in principle while not being able to perform it in practice.

Practice is actually important, too. As a computer programmer, I have considerable practice doing black-and-white visualization of boxes and lines representing data structures, but less practice at vivid color images or anything panoramic. However, if I look at something and close my eyes, I can retain the full image for a short while, because that's something I used to practice as a kid, trying to develop a "photographic memory".

Comment author: janos 01 May 2009 03:32:42PM 1 point [-]

Interesting. My internal experience of programming is quite different; I don't see boxes and lines. Data structures for me are more like people who answer questions, although of course with no personality or voice; the voice is mine as I ask them a question, and they respond in a "written" form, i.e. with a silent indication. So the diagrams people like to draw for databases and such don't make direct sense to me per se; they're just a way of organizing written information.

I am finding it quite difficult to coherently and correctly describe such things; no part of this do I have any certainty of, except that I know I don't imagine black-and-white box diagrams.

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:34:34PM 0 points [-]

Have you ever been to the beach? If so, do you remember what it looked like? If so, you're done at that point, whether you actually "see" the beach or not.

I think the odds of someone living and having never seen the sky are relatively low, so that may be a better place to start.

Comment author: dclayh 29 April 2009 08:19:08PM *  1 point [-]

you're done at that point, whether you actually "see" the beach or not. The underlying assumption here is that your brain is absolutely capable of manipulating visual information -- otherwise, there are a wide variety of things you simply wouldn't be able to do. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can consciously perceive that information, without practice at observing it.

Surely the 3x3 letter grid example above shows that conscious perception can be a useful skill.

Also I find this assertion

Another common block to visualization is a conceptual one: the objection that you're not "really" seeing things because they're "not real". (e.g. someone who gets told as a kid that the things they imagine aren't real and to stop it).

highly implausible; do you have any evidence for it?

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 09:31:08PM 2 points [-]

Surely the 3x3 letter grid example above shows that conscious perception can be a useful skill.

You don't have to consciously "see" an image to know what's in it. Weird, yes, but true. (Or possibly a quirk of subjective language.)

do you have any evidence for it?

Only that I've had students who say they "can't really visualize", and on further investigating, it turns out that they do see images, but insist that "they're not really there, even though I can see them".

This seems to be a separate phenomenon from those who claim that they don't see pictures, even though they're really there! (My wife, for example, can physically point out lots of things about these pictures she can't "see", and always knows precisely where in space they are, how large, and other things about them, despite "not really seeing" them.)

I have no idea what any of that really means, except that it seems to me that everybody has the ability to process visual images in some way, regardless of whether they describe it as seeing things that aren't there, not seeing things that are there, or seeing things that are also there!

However, I have not yet encountered someone who only did not see things that were also not there. ;-)

(I have encountered people who claim this, of course, but with a little bit of questioning, it's relatively easy to show that they can remember colors, spatial relationships, and other things that require some sort of visual processing, even if they don't consciously "see" anything, or don't call the experience "seeing".)

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:44:51PM 1 point [-]

(I have encountered people who claim this, of course, but with a little bit of questioning, it's relatively easy to show that they can remember colors, spatial relationships, and other things that require some sort of visual processing, even if they don't consciously "see" anything, or don't call the experience "seeing".)

Remembering is not visualizing. I happen to have a very visual memory to the degree that when I do math in my head I do it visually. I visualize the numbers and add them like I did in grade school. If the math is simple enough I can skip the visual process and just "remember" it. Remembering colors, spatial relationships, and other things that required visual processing the first time may not require imaginative processing when recalling the information.

I can remember the layout of a building by thinking about it in my head and "looking" at the floor plan as I "walk" through the "building". When I toy around with a Rubik's Cube I "see" the other sides while working on one side. Someone incapable of imagining the Rubik's Cube or a floor plan would not be able to recall the information in the same way.

I do not see why someone like this could not recall the information about a picture without activating any visual processing.

Comment author: pjeby 30 April 2009 02:41:38PM 0 points [-]

I do not see why someone like this could not recall the information about a picture without activating any visual processing.

It seems to me you could test this by giving someone IQ-test questions that require visual processing steps. A lot of IQ tests do in fact require such abilities.

Comment author: cousin_it 29 April 2009 09:40:03AM *  29 points [-]

Regarding differences in mental imagery: only this winter did I really understand that good musicians have vivid aural imagination, while I couldn't hear any sounds in my head, period. Immediately after this realization I started exercising. By now I can hear complete monophonic melodies, and (on good days) imagine two notes sounding at the same time. Classically trained conductors can imagine a complete orchestral sound while reading sheet music. I don't see any reason why visual imagination can't be similarly trained.

Comment author: solipsist 20 October 2013 06:20:21PM 7 points [-]

Even after reading the article, this comment completely blew my mind. I knew intellectually that some people might have eidetic imagery, but didn't emotionally believe that people's visual imagination could really feel as vivid as life.

Unlike sounds, which obviously can be imagined as exactly as when you hear them.

Does this Futurama joke work for you? Do you get songs stuck in your head? I'm expecting a "yes", but am prepared to be shocked.

Comment author: fburnaby 13 April 2010 05:30:07PM 7 points [-]

My ex-girfriend's exceptional ability to draw realistic, well-proportioned humans in detailed scenes tipped me off to this phenomenon in much the same way.

I have very little ability to visualize a scene the way that must be required in order to do this. If I were attempting to draw (a pursuit I've long given up on, though I commend your attempt at overcoming the gap in your own abilities with music), I would have to draw an outline of the scene, and then come back and gradually fill in details, relying on my previous low-resolution version of the drawing for input as to how to draw the next iteration.

She was perfectly capable of starting on one end of the scene and filling it in at near full resolution. The proportion would be right in the end, requiring only minor touch-ups and modifications. She must have some very vivid image in her head.

Comment author: stcredzero 30 April 2009 12:13:52PM 14 points [-]

My experience in my non-academic work life, is that many programmers can't visualize verbal descriptions of subsystems, but they learn how to make convincing "I got it" noises to mollify their coworkers. It's not just programmers, it's all sorts of coworkers. I have no idea how an adult can avoid this pitfall.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 April 2009 07:40:50PM 13 points [-]

At any given time, I always have some song or another playing in my head, and I can recall songs I've memorized and "play them back" at will. Usually it's just the melody, though; the harmony usually doesn't seem to get captured as easily. (I've taken piano lessons for most of my life and I'm told I'm rather talented, although I'm nowhere near as good as professional musicians.)

Sometimes, an earworm gets attached to the point where I can't tell the difference between what's in my head and what I'm hearing with my ears. This usually happens when I've been playing a video game with MIDI-like music for a long period of time. (On a side note, I must have no taste, because I find I prefer the MIDI-like sounds of the NES and SNES-era to the more elaborate music of today's video games. The FF6 soundtrack is my favorite music, ever.)

Comment author: Hayashi 27 March 2012 12:24:51AM 2 points [-]

No, some of the music of the NES and SNES era are the best music ever written. And I was born AFTER that era, so by the childhood argument my favourite music ought to be of the early Pentium games I played... I only heard the music of the SNES era more recently. They are actually THAT GOOD.

Ditto, the thing that people still listen to Mozart and Beethoven even though they've been dead for centuries.

I'd argue that music nowadays is regressing to the lowest common denominator of rhythm and losing all the melodic complexity I like. And melodic complexity is perfectly achievable using only 8-bit instruments.

On my end my visual imagery is poor, I can barely remember faces, places clearly, but it does exist somewhat.

HOWEVER

My aural imagery is nearly peerless relative to any of the people I know in real life, I can sing songs in languages I know after two passes and in languages I don't after about 10 passes, I can isolate specific instruments from my memory of a song and play them back, not just the melody; I remember music not just as a whole, but as coordinations of multiple single instruments.

The idea that aural and visual imagery must be closely linked in itself is a generalisation.

Heck, for an extreme example I'd bet that the blind from birth generally don't have visual imagery and have greatly above par aural imagery, whereas the deaf from birth generally don't have aural imagery and have greatly above par visual imagery, though there will be instances where they have neither.

Comment author: CronoDAS 27 March 2012 07:42:03PM *  6 points [-]

I'd argue that music nowadays is regressing to the lowest common denominator of rhythm and losing all the melodic complexity I like. And melodic complexity is perfectly achievable using only 8-bit instruments.

I've also read that restrictions of the systems in those days are probably why there were so many games with memorable melodies; melodic complexity was the only kind of complexity possible, so that's what we ended up with. (I agree with this theory.)

Comment author: wedrifid 27 March 2012 01:48:14AM 5 points [-]

On my end my visual imagery is poor, I can barely remember faces, places clearly, but it does exist somewhat.

HOWEVER

My aural imagery is nearly peerless relative to any of the people I know in real life, I can sing songs in languages I know after two passes and in languages I don't after about 10 passes, I can isolate specific instruments from my memory of a song and play them back, not just the melody; I remember music not just as a whole, but as coordinations of multiple single instruments.

How did you manage to develop this superpower?

Comment author: Delta 30 August 2012 09:35:45AM 0 points [-]

I think this is something that varies between people. I was very surprised to learn that my sister doesn't even listen to the lyrics of songs, whereas I do and want to learn them so I can sing along (probably very badly, but hey) and get annoyed if I come to a part where I don't know the words. Likewise if I'm fully engaged during a film I can recall almost all of it, even some time later, whereas my sister can't (or perhaps wasn't as engaged in the examples I have in mind).

I'm sure experience helps too though. When I was younger used to listen to songs from anime and memorise the words despite not knowing the language. I probably wouldn't be as good at picking up lyrics if I wasn't as obsessive about knowing them and didn't listen to the same songs a lot.

Comment author: wedrifid 27 March 2012 01:45:08AM 1 point [-]

Ditto, the thing that people still listen to Mozart and Beethoven even though they've been dead for centuries.

This point is less strong than the SNES point. Mozart and Beethoven can be (more easily) explained by simple selection. There have been a lot of pieces of music written over many centuries.... etc.

Comment author: stcredzero 30 April 2009 12:20:35PM *  9 points [-]

There's a lot of great music that's gotten into videogames. Anything that people can listen to for hours on end and not get sick of must have some merit.

(Anyhow, the only true measure of taste is what people like years hence. And even supposedly great musicians can be unreliable predictors.)

I think a lack of aural imagination explains a lot of mediocre musicians who are beginners, and who stay beginners, in traditional music. They are only trying to waggle their fingers in the right magical sequence to get the tune to somewhat come out. They're not hearing the tune in their head and letting it come out.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 09:58:14AM 1 point [-]

I don't see any reason why visual imagination can't be similarly trained.

I guess it can be trained somewhat, but not to a game-changing degree.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:06:37PM 1 point [-]

I guess it can be trained somewhat, but not to a game-changing degree.

What makes you say that?

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:20:15PM *  3 points [-]

Out of curiosity, can you back that up with a reference or really cool personal story?

(Edit) "Out of curiosity," was originally "No offense, but"

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 01:58:54PM *  0 points [-]

I'm sorry, maybe you misread my statement? I didn't assert anything extraordinary, on the contrary actually.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 02:38:00PM 2 points [-]

Well, I am not trying to say you were right or wrong, I was just wondering why you thought what you did. If the statement was merely a reaction, that is fine.

I didn't assert anything extraordinary, on the contrary actually.

Sure, I understand, but ordinary for you is extraordinary for me. My instinctive opinion is that visual imagination can be trained a significant amount. I have no real reason for believing that, however, so I thought that any input you can offer to the contrary will help me figure out the puzzle.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 02:54:56PM *  2 points [-]

The "No offence" prefix communicates a connotation that is strongly at odds with your elucidation above.

Anyway, my response was basically indicating that I'm unaware of evidence for training being able to improve visual imagination in a game-changing degree, my intuition tells that it isn't so, and so I'm surprised by cousin_it's remark. Although, strictly speaking, "I see no reason why it can't happen" communicates the same statement, but again with the opposite connotation.

Which is an example of exactly the kind of clash of overconfident beliefs resulting from different intuitive judgments that Yvain described in this article!

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 05:46:43PM 2 points [-]

The "No offence" prefix communicates a connotation that is strongly at odds with your elucidation above.

Sorry. I changed it.

Anyway, my response was basically indicating that I'm unaware of evidence for training being able to improve visual imagination in a game-changing degree, my intuition tells that it isn't so, and so I'm surprised by cousin_it's remark. Although, strictly speaking, "I see no reason why it can't happen" communicates the same statement, but again with the opposite connotation.

Which makes sense. I guess my original comment was just a ping for "Is this an opinion?" but it did it in an confusing way. But I guess I got an answer, so it eventually worked. :P

Which is an example of exactly the kind of clash of overconfident beliefs resulting from different intuitive judgments that Yvain described in this article!

Haha, good point.

Comment author: Jack 29 April 2009 09:44:14AM 2 points [-]

What were you methods for practicing? These are the sorts of practical skills that we could really experiment with and develop actual lessons and strategies for the development of certain mental abilities.

Comment author: cousin_it 29 April 2009 09:58:27AM *  10 points [-]

The Typical Psyche Fallacy says my methods won't necessarily work for everyone, but anyway...

The hardest part for me was the beginning, getting a toehold at any inner sound. Pick a note on the guitar - I started with D on the second string. Play it at a steady rhythm with rests, slowly fading away into nothing. (Might not be possible on the piano or other instruments.) At some moment the brain will start to "complete" the sound, even though by that point you're playing too softly to hear. Catch that feeling, expand on it. When you can "do" several different notes, try playing a simple melody and hearing it afterwards. After you're comfortable with that, try to hear a simple major scale without playing it immediately beforehand. Then work from unfamiliar sheet music without playing it - solfege-sing in your mind - by now I can do this quite easily. And so on.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 10:04:33AM 1 point [-]

I used to sing is a boys choir. At the time, I started to develop an ability to actually hear songs in my head, but I became afraid of this turning into uncontrollable hallucinations, so I suppressed the vividness of experience. I'm still not sure whether it's dangerous, as the issue never turned up since. But I urge you to research this risk before going deeper.

Comment author: christina 06 August 2011 10:34:00AM 3 points [-]

I have had that ability all my life. I do not experience any sort of auditory or visual hallucinations as a result (I can distinguish the difference between a sound or image from my mind and one from my eyes or ears). I guess it was alarming to you because it turned up suddenly and you had no prior expectation of it. Maybe for some people this is something to worry about, but as long as you can perceive the difference between external inputs and internal ones, this abiility is actually very useful.

Comment author: pdf23ds 30 October 2009 12:19:20AM 11 points [-]

As a trained musician with a vivid aural imagination, I find this idea to be hilarious. Totally. Risky? Really? What could possibly be risky about practicing a skill that others possess in much greater quantities, due to the same sort of practice?

Comment author: Tem42 14 June 2015 10:39:16PM 0 points [-]

It is worth noting that Musical Ear Syndrome is often framed as a condition in which 'victims' can 'suffer' from auditory hallucinations. Any intrusive mental event can occur to the point that it is negative. I have also heard some sufferers of OCD (specifically Pure O) complain of ever-present music.

However, I agree that in general, more music in your head is better :-)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 30 October 2009 12:56:18AM 6 points [-]

Remember, I had no data on this, and a priori starting to hear sound where it isn't really there seems like nothing normal. Even if you possess the knowledge to rule something hilarious, it doesn't necessarily invalidate the correctness of an a priori position. If I toss a coin without looking, you peak at it and see it's "heads", my suggestion that it might well be "tails" isn't wrong for my state of knowledge.

Comment author: pdf23ds 30 October 2009 06:42:22AM 3 points [-]

Granted, naturally.

Comment author: arundelo 30 April 2009 05:23:44AM 2 points [-]

When you say "actually hear", do you mean that the only way you could tell that the sounds weren't real was that you knew (for example) the radio was off? Or do you mean something else?

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:26:06PM 0 points [-]

When you say "actually hear", do you mean that the only way you could tell that the sounds weren't real was that you knew (for example) the radio was off? Or do you mean something else?

I would describe my related experiences as my imagination producing background noises. If I tried to concentrate on the background noises and bring them to the foreground they disappear and I only have the non-noise version left in my head. My hunch is that this latter state is more common amongst people who get songs stuck in their head: You think of words, you think of melodies, but you do not hear anything.

Another easy way to show the distinction, I never sing along with the fake audio. It is always background and as soon as I notice that I am hearing something it goes away. The experience reminds me of deja vu to an extent. I can tell something is hiccoughing in my sensory processing but instead of complaining about it I just enjoy the song as long as I can before it goes away.

Obviously, I cannot speak for Vladimir_Nesov.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:05:31PM 0 points [-]

I became afraid of this turning into uncontrollable hallucinations, so I suppressed the vividness of experience. I'm still not sure whether it's dangerous, as the issue never turned up since. But I urge you to research this risk before going deeper.

You don't need to suppress it, you just need to include something to be able to tell the difference between it and a real sound. It doesn't even need to be something auditory, it can be imagining them coming out of a pair of imaginary speakers.

Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson is said to have cured a woman of schizophrenia in the following fashion: after finding out that she couldn't tell the difference between things that actually happened and things she imagined, he hypnotized the woman's therapist and asked him how he could tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

The therapist said that he saw imagined things in a little square box like a TV set, with a black border around them. So Erickson hypnotized the woman and told her to put a square black border around everything she imagined so she'd be able to tell the difference. Subsequently, she ceased to be "crazy".

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 03:17:48PM -1 points [-]

Your reply is not even anecdotal evidence. It only tells me that you find it fitting to give this particular advice.

Is your example with curing hallucinations supposed to impart the idea that getting hallucinations is OK, since they can be cured or worked around anyway? That's bullshit.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:47:16PM 6 points [-]

Is your example with curing hallucinations supposed to impart the idea that getting hallucinations is OK, since they can be cured or worked around anyway? That's bullshit.

No, it was intended to impart the idea that the primary difference between imagination and hallucination is whether you can tell the difference between the two. NLP latched on to this distinction from Erickson's example, and have since noted that skill in a wide variety of achievements (music, baseball, golf, interior design) rely on various forms of visual or auditory hallucination, and that these hallucinations are behaviorarlly indistinguishable from the hallucinations of crazy people. (Same eye movements/focal changes, same breathing/posture/ shifts, etc.)

The only difference they've been able to find is that the crazy people don't know when they're hallucinating, but they can be taught to do so.

IOW, distinguishing imagination from reality appears to be a learned skill, just like learning to imagine things on purpose.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 04:10:19PM 0 points [-]

No, it was intended to impart the idea that the primary difference between imagination and hallucination is whether you can tell the difference between the two.

Uncontrollable imagination that you can tell from reality but can't get rid of isn't fun either. I'm pretty confident it's called 'hallucination' too, although we'd need to look that up in a diagnostic manual to resolve the question of definition.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 04:17:09PM 0 points [-]

Uncontrollable imagination that you can tell from reality but can't get rid of isn't fun either.

True. Sometimes I find it annoying when a song gets stuck in my head. I usually just replace it with a song I like better, though.

Still, it would be nice to be able to learn how to suppress auditory information like that... which sounds like something you learned to do. Any pointers?