Thinking about thoughts (and memories) [split from chat]

Originally sent in Off-Topic Discussion

Question. How do most of you perceive memories & thoughts?

Like Sohpia mentioned she's an aphantasiac (memories & thoughts through words).

I have that, but only in memories. And it's not exactly words. And I can't remember ANYTHING - Sight? no. Sound? no. Feel? nope. Smell? nuh-uh. Taste? no way.

Just facts of what happened

So if you ask me to recall "exactly what happened", I'm not your guy.

But current imagination (things that haven't happened exactly)? I have an image. Nothing like real life, but still an image. I'll be able to hear things, sort of. The rest of it, nope!

I have a dyslexic friend who says because of the dyslexia, he can remember and think in 3D. What about you guys? How do you remember/imagine?


Copying this from chat:

I have enormous difficulty imagining faces I know. I remember being upset because in college I had trouble picturing my mom’s face


I might have the opposite of aphantasia.
I can see, smell, hear and taste memories like they happened yesterday.
The smell of fresh cut grass, absolutely. Cotton candy and other treats from the State Fair, oh yes.
My Dad had a certain smell, I can still remember it, he’s been dead for forty some years now.

I think my good memory is why I am bad at taking photos - like, I never photograph anything. I don’t regret that either. It is still vivid in my head - whatever it was I should have been photographing, that is.
My kids hate it because we don’t have a lot of baby pictures of them. Sorry kids!
I can remember their baby smells, too. Fond memories.

I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, however.


Holy crap, I could have written this. Same for me. All senses in play while remembering. And I also never take photos and I think this is why. And I also can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

But I often filter memories through words, too. I like to tell myself the story of a memory, especially to put myself to sleep. I’ll then embellish it and spin a story that never happened from it.


As Max mentioned, I have aphantasia, as well as prosopagnosia. So I don’t visualize things, and I can’t really recognize faces. I have extremely poor scores on tests of visuo-spatial ability, such as free rotation of objects, or pattern extending/recognition, or even simple tasks like orientating one’s self appropriately with regards to cardinal directions, or my left and right side. Very badly physically coordinated as well.

I compensate for this inability to identify people by their face by having a keen ear for people’s voices, and noticing small details about them that I can hopefully try to puzzle together to identify them correctly. Big ones are voices, gait, hair style, perfume/cologne, and clothing choices- the weight and draping of fabric, for example, or if someone wears a signature item often. The constant mental cataloguing of facts about people makes for easy material to pick from while writing, but you also notice trends that can sometimes deeply unsettle people: like when I surprised Pinkz with the rhubarb pie anecdote.

Back when I was in highschool, dad would come to pick me up sometimes- driving the same car he always had. I was always careful to look for it- it was an old, modded out (dropped low) car that stood out like a sore thumb against the backdrops of soccer mom SUVs and gleaming pick up trucks. But if I didn’t see it, and he parked a little further down the street, I wouldn’t recognize him even if he was the only man walking towards me, in broad daylight and full view, until he opened his mouth to call for me. I could recognize his voice anywhere- but even looking at him dead on, I was never quite sure if it was him until he spoke. He thought I was daydreaming, most of the time, though once he realized I literally did not know who he was, he made it a habit to play one of his favourite songs and to call for me by name instead of just jogging and waving an arm to flag me down.

The thing that trips up some people is the fact that I don’t… see anything, when asked to visualize. But I still know like, stuff about things. I can’t see an apple, but I could describe one fairly well enough, because instead of a picture, it’s a bit like a museum plate or tag listing off a description. (I don’t see the text. But I just know that like, apples are usually red, and have smooth skin, and sometimes mealy pale flesh, if they’re not particularly good. And so on.) This impacts my art, too, since I’m a visual artist: I need to use a lot of references, build up muscle memory, and also sometimes still do strange things like fully render pieces but shear off fingers, place thumbs on backwards, or completely mangle symmetry because I don’t notice it looks weird. Also makes me pretty prone to same face syndrome for my characters. But I can paint very, very well from life studies, because I never struggled with the issue some artists have of ‘drawing what they think they see, rather than what they see.’ I just don’t often do them because I find it a bit boring.

I think mostly in my own voice, as if I were narrating everything in my head. No visualizations. I can, however, ‘think thoughts’ with other people’s voices: particularly if I’m reading messages from them, (though the default narrator for things like books, is my own voice), or if I think about ‘well what might daddy say if I asked him about what I should do?’, then I can think of what I think he might say, and have ‘his voice’ say it. And I can conjure the memory of what things smell or tasted or felt like in pretty high fidelity: which means food cravings really hit hard, sometimes…

I was incredibly jealous when I learned that Manon and Pinkz see things when they read- a bit like movies, or television. I love reading, but I don’t get that experience: it’s just the page in front of me, my internal narration, and that’s about it. I do think this makes editing easier for me though, (apparently he often is distracted by the visuals), and makes it easier for me to remember specific phrases because I focus so much more on the language. I also don’t have a visual image of like, an idealized form of what I’m trying to draw, so I don’t feel the emotional despair of dissonance between what you’re trying to draw, and what you can draw, that apparently plagues a lot of artists. I think not having to deal with that emotional hurdle made it a lot easier for me to pick up painting. And it definitely forced me to learn how to use words to describe things, which is why despite not being able to visualize, my writing is so full of visual comparisons and imagery.


Somehow I have problem remembering faces, and use your various techniques as well, but I have no problem visualizing things. I can also manipulate my vision, such as with AR glasses, without actually using the glasses.

My special skill is that I can see things that aren’t there, such as missing functionality. As I understand it, it’s very difficult for people to do that.


I think in

  • words,
  • images
  • and even without words and images.

While reading this thread I noticed that I have some savant abilities and disabilities. I won’t go into too many details, only these two:

  • I can comprehend subconsciously text. For example I can read sometimes even 10 words at once. And when playing Sudoku I directly see what number is missing in a row. I also can readout aloud and still understand/visualize what I’m reading. People I know told me they can’t do this.
  • Often I have an incredibly strong urge to not greet people I know. I want to turn away from them. This has destroyed many friendly relationships.

I don’t think I possess anything of note when it comes to how I recall memories (though I don’t recall much of my schooling – perhaps grade school was torture and I blocked it out :wink:), but this topic does raise a curious question in my mind…

For those who have unique memory traits, how apt are you to remember your dreams? And is there anything interesting about how you recall your dreams?

Personally, I don’t remember my dreams very much. Maybe only a handful of times a year, to be honest. I also don’t remember my wife asking me to do the dishes most nights, but I’m told that is selective hearing and has nothing to do with memory. :grin:


If you want to remember your dreams, keep a notepad/recorder by the bed, and as you wake up, record your dream. You have about 2 minutes before the memory fades away as you go from sleep state to awake state.

I tried it for awhile, and I lost the ability to tell the difference between being in real-life and being in dream. Since I was driving a lot, that was dangerous, and I stopped the practice. I do retain the ability to remember a specific part of the dream, should I choose to.

For example, at one time, I want to wake up early. So I did. Check the truck out. Ready to drive, and I wake up from the dream.

Incredibly, that happened 4 times, with the fourth being that I decided to just sleep in no matter what, thus ending the repetition.


Nearly every morning, I tell my husband what my dreams were about. He is very jealous because he only remembers bad dreams that wake him up.
I often dream about work and sometimes solve actual problems I’ve been having at work in my dreams. Seriously! I just need to figure out how to do the work in my dreams so I don’t have to go to work. :wink: Now that would be money.


on sensory memory, I have an excellent memory for taste, but I suspect that literally comes with territory…

Anyway, I sometimes have issues associating faces with names, a really mild one, happens with people whose I meet once or twice, but when I’m acquainted the nameface association is burned forever.

On dreams, I often remember dreams, w/o effort. especially those meant to be remembered.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


I love this topic, because it’s fascinating how different brains can be, and realizing it makes it easier to appreciate that people are not all the same as us! I only found out a few years ago that most people actually picture objects and scenes in their heads—it seems like a superpower to me. I just imagine the idea of shapes and functions in space, rather than the objects themselves. This probably contributes to my not great memory, and forgetting important details (real-life example: forgetting to put stairs in a basement while writing a game). I think my aphantasia is just visual though, because I can play back songs in my head pretty accurately, which I hear not everyone can do.

I also didn’t realize until fairly recently that “the voice in your head” is not just a metaphor. I guess it’s not quite as widespread as having a “mind’s eye,” but it was still surprising. Having an internal monologue sounds less like a superpower, though.

Oh, maybe this is why I’m an editor! It never occurred to me that people would have distracting imagery popping up while they read. That does sound cool, though.

I remember my dreams most days, and they can get pretty detailed and off-the-wall. They’re mostly spatial/conceptual instead of visual, but I’ve had two or three super vivid ones that felt like magic when I woke up. And most people can do that all the time on a whim?? Amazing.


I also suffer from Aphantasia. I first recognised it about 30 years ago although there wasn’t a word for it then. It started when I bought an NLP book that began with a visualisation exercise of a circle and I was flummoxed. But it’s a very difficult thing to talk to others about because the experience is so subjective. My visual imagination is like looking for a white cat in a snow storm… mostly noise but occasionally something appears, likely at the edge of my “vision” and the act of trying to “see” scares it away.

It’s maybe odd that my Dad has borderline eidetic memory although black & white and without sound. A former girlfriend had a proper eidetic memory. It lead to some great arguments because she couldn’t believe I remembered almost nothing!

Also I remember dreams exceptionally rarely although I do have at least one that is vivid and remains with me and I have had one experience of lucid dreaming which was all too short. I was walking in a field and the sun began to come up and I remember recognising it was a dream and I made the sun rise in an instant. I think I was so surprised that it worked that it woke me up. Sadly I have never repeated this experience.


While I don’t have perfect recall, I can imagine complex systems. If I visualize an apple, I can zoom in and travel long the surface and notice the red/green/yellow splotches of colour and micro texture of the skin, the semi-gloss of the wax or dull, matte finish of a thoroughly washed apple. I can travel into the divot to the stem and notice the grain texture and dusty dirt around the base of it, leading up to the broken, micro wood fibres/splinters where it was plucked, but it too has dried a bit over time. If someone took a bite out of it, the skin slightly curves in on the edge of the exposed core due to the pressure of the bite. I get a thought of a crisp crunch sound. The white core starts to brown in places as it’s exposed to the air. I could go on and on… but the one thing I do have that not many people I’ve met have is attention to detail.

Which is why everything I do is never good enough.

No, not most people. I do remember a co-worker who could lucid dream almost every night though. He was actually excited to go to sleep at night because it was like, what’s going to happen in this episode of my “dream life”? He also said he had “dream sex” a lot. Lucky guy. :wink:


It seems that it’s a bit unusual here for people who have difficulty visualizing to also be able to lucid dream? I practiced it extensively when I was young, and still can- though I’m a bit ‘slow’ to catch up to the fact I am dreaming, and most often recognize I am when I interact with a person in my dreams. The people always have something egregiously wrong with them. My influence is mostly in altering the setting or forcing myself to wake up these days, which is a nice emergency failsafe- I very rarely dream. I mostly just have the same handful of nightmares on loop, or night terrors related to the accident.

One of my most common dreams is it being absolutely pitch dark- not even the stars or city lights breaking through. It’s the kind of darkness where you might as well be looking at the back of your own eyelids, because even straining to see with them open yields nothing. The winds are howling. My hair is whipping into my face. Rain is falling- heavy, cold drops, the sort that hurt when they hit your skin. I’m walking on a steel girder, the sort you see on construction sites: a blind walk of faith. My stomach’s twisted in knots- the nauseating free fall when you’re on an amusement park ride, or an elevator drops. There’s nothing but the wind, and the rain, and tentative steps. Sometimes I lower myself down carefully, and sit- and wait until I wake up. The storm never ends. Very rarely, there’s a flash of lightning, and the roll of thunder. When I wake up from this particular dream, I find that I’ve been crying in my sleep, usually.

My dreams are not primarily visual. What visuals are present are rudimentary, and often bizarre- architecture that is impossible, light that obscures and emanates from things that shouldn’t be producing it, and the people. My dreams are primarily darkness- the absolute absence of sight, punctuated occasionally by items of interest: the murkily lit tiles of a subway station, or the cold outline of a wet banister. They exist more so in terms of sensation, with a little of taste and sound. The people are mostly just suggestions of shape and colour, but they never have faces.

They either turn away from me, so their back always faces me- or they’re cut off from the neck in the framing of the scene, like a movie still. Sometimes they have a suggestion of a head, with watercolour-esque blurs of colours and flat, carved in lines or gouged holes for some features: a blurred mess with a slit for a mouth, or bright white absences for eyes. Most of the time, they will cover their faces with their hands, like they’re weeping: often with the same bowed over posture, and refuse to pry their hands away.

Also, the people in my dreams always recognize me. However, they’re not friendly. I’m often met with increasing agitation- fear, mostly, though it manifests as hysterical grief or lashing out in rage, and either running away from me or towards me with an intent to hurt me. They often repeat that ‘you shouldn’t be here’ and ‘I told you not to come here again’ when they aren’t incoherently screaming or ignoring me pointedly. The most disconcerting thing is when the voices they use belong to my loved ones- I can very distinctly pick out the burr of my dad’s voice, for example. Or sometimes they’ll use my loved one’s voices and things they’ve actually said to me in an attempt to draw me away from them, and to walk further into the woods or down the backroads or into the ocean: somewhere abyssal, and dark, and stretching out for forever.

I remember my dreams acutely. Mostly because so often they’re carved in with waking up feeling terrified. Fear has a way of etching things in sharply.


I understand how you feel. It’s a bit hard to explain, but having autism means that I, more often than not, think in pictures.

So I do find it a little difficult to connect with the folks over at the CoG forum and here, since I usually have pictures and words playing inside my head like a video. The next step is to write the words down, and sometimes I don’t get my message across as intended. It’s been a few months, and, despite reviewing the entirety of IFComp '23, and throwing out scattered concepts, I still feel I have yet to truly be part of this community. It’s as if they have something that I haven’t gotten yet. It took me a lot of courage just to sign up here, as forums are, for the most part, better off avoided.


I also can’t really visualize things and think mostly in words. I do “hear” things very vividly when remembering or imagining. (Thinking about it, I also “hear” my own inner monologue.) I think that’s why I find dialogue easier to write than anything else—because I have an innate sense of whether it sounds right, whereas for visual descriptions I’m just kind of flailing around in the dark. It might also be why I prefer writing narrators with distinctive voices.

(On the other hand, it might also be why I tend to overuse italics in a first draft and then have to go back and take most of them out. I have a very specific sense of the inflections of sentences and my instinct is to try to convey that to the reader, but in most cases it doesn’t actually matter.)

I can also remember/imagine physical sensations—like, at one point in my life I was doing a bunch of guided visualizations for insomnia, and if it told me to imagine walking down a set of wooden stairs onto a beach and then going into the water, I was imagining the texture of the boards and the sand and the feeling of the hot sun and the cool water. What did the beach look like? No idea! But this one isn’t always helpful for writing because the way I experience sensations is (in many cases) different from most people, or at least most neurotypical people, and I usually write neurotypical characters.

Oddly, my dreams are visual, but I have trouble holding onto the details when awake. I do also smell and taste things in my dreams, which I’ve heard is unusual.


A lot of times, I imagine Morgan Freeman narrating my writing. It sounds so much better in his voice. Though sometimes, he can make even mundane things sound too good…

Morgan Freeman: One fish, two fish… red fish… blue fish.

Now, tell me that didn’t send chills up your spine. What a beautiful voice he has, right?. :grin:

Morgan Freeman: You don’t sound too bad yourself, HAL.

Thanks, Morgan! :wink:


Fwiw the opposite of aphantasia is hyperphantasia :slight_smile:


Whoops, I meant most people can create mental images while awake. The only times I’ve been able to visualize anything were in those few dreams. I’ve had a handful of lucid dreams, but they’re not usually so vivid. Also, I just realized this must be why I often dream that I can’t see or can’t read…

I do too! Maybe it’s related to visual aphantasia somehow.