I'm not sure how common or rare this is, but the visual images I recall are stunningly lacking in detail. For example, in the case of people, even with someone I know very well, it is rare for me to be able to report so much as their hair color on the basis of the mental image I call up when I try to think of them. I don't seem to have any unusual difficulty recognizing people, or any tendency to confuse my various mental images with one another, and the mental images don't seem incomplete until I start thinking about questions like how to describe them. I'm sure I would be completely useless to a police sketch artist if I were ever a witness to a crime.

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I have 5 distinct experiences of vision. They are each qualitatively very different.

  • Seeing - When my eyes are open, I see the world around me. I believe this is the standard sense "vision".
  • Static - When my eyes are closed, my visual field is mostly colored static, not very bright. Like static on old TVs, but definitely colored.
  • Eddies and Afterimage - I can create extremely limited pictures out of Static, nothing more complex than the union of a few very simple shapes. Blobs or occasionally lines.
  • Mental Imagery - Bright images as distinct as
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2[anonymous]8yIt may be the reverse spirit of the post, but voted up for putting to words what I've best said as "I can't describe person X, but if you have them in a crowd I can find them."
6cata8yI don't know if this is fair, because it's not me, but a family member of mine credibly claims to have no conscious visual memory. For example, when she drives down a highway which she has driven many times before, she doesn't automatically recognize the different parts of the highway as I do, without effort; she has to remember specific facts about where things are (like, I take exit 102 to get to place X, which is after a radio tower and then a curve) and then apply those facts to know where she is. She cannot picture her house in her head; she recognizes it by remembering salient features of its exterior. In contrast, her semantic memory and general cognitive ability is exceptional. Some tasks, like playing games or solving problems that lean on visual and spatial imagination (e.g. the IQ test problems where you fold shapes up) are very difficult for her, although some of those can also be hacked around by remembering relationships (the dot is on the side clockwise from the square, etc.) According to her, she didn't even realize that other people had this capability in a different way until she was college-age or so. Personally, I have what I think is above-average visual and spatial imagery -- I play chess and see the pieces moving in my head, I read fiction and imagine the settings and characters, and so on. I guess it takes all sorts.

How is your mind different from everyone else's?

by Kaj_Sotala 1 min read5th Dec 2011267 comments


Partially to help reduce the typical mind fallacy and partially because I'm curious, I'm thinking about writing either an essay or a book with plenty of examples about ways by which human minds differ. From commonly known and ordinary, like differences in sexual orientation, to the rare and seemingly impossible, like motion blindness.

To do this, I need to start collecting examples. In what ways does your mind differ from what you think is the norm for most people?

I'm particularly interested in differences - small or large - that you didn't realize for a long time, automatically assuming that everyone was like you in that regard. It can even be something as trivial as always having conceptualized the passing of years as a visual timeline, and then finding out that not everyone does so. I'm also interested in links to blog posts where people talk about their own mental peculiarities, even if you didn't write them yourself. Also books and academic articles that you might think could be relevant.

Some of the content that I'm thinking about including are cultural differences in various things as recounted in the WEIRD article, differences in sexual and romantic orientation (such as mono/poly), differences in the ability to recover from setbacks, extroversion vs. introversion in terms of gaining/losing energy from social activity, differences in visualization ability, various cognitive differences ranging from autism to synesthesia to an inability to hear music in particular, differences in moral intuitions, differences in the way people think (visual vs. verbal vs. conceptual vs. something that I'm not aware of yet), differences in thinking styles (social/rational, reflectivity vs. impulsiveness) and various odd brain damage cases.

If you find this project interesting, consider spreading the link to this post or resharing my Google Plus update about it. Also, if you don't want to reply in public, feel free to send me a private message.