Gauging the conscious experience of LessWrong

by VermillionStuka1 min read20th Dec 202045 comments


SurveysTypical Mind FallacyCommunityRationality

Yesterday I discovered I had been a victim of the Typical Mind Fallacy thanks to accidentally finding out that someone very close to me doesn’t have an internal monologue, doesn’t think in words and has a visual photographic memory. Despite knowing that such people existed I thought I would know if someone close to me was one. As a result I thought it would be an interesting and fun exercise to gauge the conscious perceptions of the community. 

The below questions are judged on a 0-99 scale (they are not binary or predictions, the embedded Elicit formatting was just too great to not use), they attempt to find where the reader sits on a series of common mental metrics. 


How vivid is your visual imagination?



How vivid is your sound imagination?



How vivid is your taste imagination?



How vivid is your smell imagination?



How vivid is your touch imagination?



Do you have an internal monologue?



How frequently do you think in words?



How good is your memory?



How much control do you have over your mind? (For example, the ability to stop all thoughts on command)



Do you have a type of Synaesthesia? (0 = none, 100 = very intense and encompassing)




If anybody has an unusual mental experience (or normal one!) please share it with us in the comments. If you do, don’t leave out the obvious, try to avoid the illusion of transparency.

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Some more details on each of the categories in order:

Visual - I don't really see things, I just get some weird topological-ish representation. E.g. if I try to imagine a cube, it's more like the grid of a cube / wireframe instead of a real object, and it's really stretchy-bendy and can sometimes wobble around or deform on its own. And attributes like red / a letter printed on a side etc. are not necessarily part of the face but often just floating "labels" connected by a (different kind of) line that goes "sideways" out of 3-space? o.O Even real objects like a tree are abstracted (and it depends on what I focus on), e. g. it's more like a cylinder with a "fuzzy sphere" on top and a "fuzzy cone" below. Or maybe I focus on the bark, then that gets more detail but everything else becomes even less defined. Or maybe it's just general "tree-ness", then there's just some elongated blob and I can't even query whether it has sharp corners/edges or not without it changing shape to become more defined (and then it could end up either way, so no clue).)

Sound - sometimes, I get runaway "earworms" ("stuck tune" doesn't really fit) that morph over time and evolve away from the source material. Sometimes there's two of them at the same time, fighting each other or working in harmony. (If that's (the illusion of) two full orchestras, it can get quite exhausting...) I lack the music education / knowledge to write down or play what I hear.

Taste - negligible, mostly on the "floating tags" level. "Here be salty."

Smell - was on the same level, but getting a lot better now that I consciously care about smell in real life.

Touch - mostly negligible but sometimes I can cook up scary real stuff. (Like imagining a friend biting my neck and hairs raising up and also noticing how the muscles around that spot would move if that were real, even if I didn't consciously follow that before, and then later validating the memory of that against the real thing. That was so surprising that I still remember it.) I find it a lot harder to imagine touch on extremities than the torso. E.g. I can't really imagine a stubbed toe, the feeling of walking across carpet, grabbing a cabbage with my hand, but I can vividly imagine a drop of water running down my chest or a spider crawling across it. (Lower resolution is easier to fake?)

Internal monologue / thinking in words - I can't imagine how that would be. Even when talking, I don't really know (on the word level) what I'm going to say before I actually say it. I generally don't think in words and have a hard time translating back and forth from words into my internal representation and back out. There's lots of concepts that I use that I can't really describe because they're several abstraction levels up from stuff that maps to known external words, so I'd have to explain/translate several layers of wordless stuff before I could even describe the perspective from which these concepts arise. (And the "floating tags" mentioned above also aren't words but just "nodes" that somehow represent the stuff.)

Memory - no clue how to assess that, I don't have a baseline to compare against. Some stuff gets regularly forgotten (names, anyone? .), other stuff (like small random details) just sticks around far longer than justified. (I also tend to notice lots of weird details.)

Another potentially notable thing about memory: I can't randomly access or scan memories, but if I have a specific query I tend to get results, including context (e.g. why this memory is probably trustworthy, stuff that helps locate it in space/time etc. etc.)

Mind control - I can't stop an ongoing battle of two orchestras or other things that make themselves hard to ignore, but for stuff that's not as overpowering, I can mostly just ignore it and it's gone?

Synesthesia - I think sometimes I get whiffs of it, like 3 smelling slightly cake-y and 7 rather bloody / putting a metallic taste in the back of my mouth, but it's rare / hard to notice. (Might be imagined, but the associations are consistent.) I also get some angle-dependent coloration on narrow grids, not sure what that is. (I know that you can supposedly trigger that effect by looking at training images and it'll persist for a long time, but I didn't (knowingly) look at any similar images, and also it's doing a full 360° / full color cycle for me vs. that effect only getting you like 2 or 3 colors IIRC?)

Some other stuff:

I can feel even pretty small heat sources across fairly large distances, I notice the exaggerated impression / it presents as a tingling sensation on my face, or my hands if I'm searching with them (in which case I also notice it along my arms unless they're covered). E.g. I can locate a small desk lamp that's 8°C above room temperature from the other side of the room with my eyes closed and after the lamp was turned off (so I don't react to any stray light), or notice on what side of a sofa a human has been sitting on.

Several years ago I did an experiment where I tried to do as much as possible with my eyes closed for the better part of a week. That seriously improved my ability to navigate with eyes closed. I unlearned a lot of that, but I still like to e. g. shower with eyes closed because it reduces the amount of sensory data coming in. Sometimes, when I'm stressed / close to sensory overload, closing my eyes doesn't help and the falling drops of water create a fairly stable "image" of the bathtub / wall / curtain. (It's like every drop's impact creates a small gray circle that fades over ~0.2-0.5 seconds and that's approximately aligned with the normal of the surface. Together, from all the drops, I get something resembling a picture of the surroundings. The dots are relative to my head, not the external world, so if I move my head, they move along and I get garbage until the old dots fade and things stabilize again. Aaaaaaaaaa exhausting.)

I generally have trouble navigating unknown areas, but if I reserve a few brain cycles to manually track "north" (or any direction really), that persists and I can navigate relative to that. (The marker that I use is like an "arrowless arrow", a "shapeless shape"? It's really weird trying to describe it. It's pointy and has a clear designated "pointy end" but it's not really "physical" (even in mind space). It generally floats above my head and can turn really quickly - I can jump around, whirl in place, ... and it just stays glued to the target.) However, as soon as I forget to keep it active (even just for a moment) it comes loose and no longer updates relative to my movements. "Keeping it active" isn't "thinking at it" but just observing it do its thing, don't really know how to describe that. It also doesn't work when I'm being moved (cars, trains, ...), it seems like my guts (body location-wise) do the tracking and they don't get (all) slow rotations.

When I do mathematical proofs, I don't really think, I just "feel" my way through the tree of possible derivations, pick a step, see where I end up, repeat. If that doesn't work, I get stuck. I lack the experience with manually/consciously enumerating the top layers (or this combinatorial stuff is just really exhausting for me?), and so I can basically just wait a few days and try again until I get some progress.

The same "either it works intuitively or not at all" applies to a lot of things that I do, from other technical stuff like coding to things like cooking. Usually whatever I cook tastes good to great, but sometimes it comes out weird and then I have no clue how to fix it. (That's getting better, I'm slowly accumulating things to check / try - like aim for 0.5-1% salt (saliva is around 0.4% and anything below tends to taste weird), check if it needs more acid, add a bit of sugar, etc., but there's still a big difference between things just working and something being not quite right.)

Visual—I don’t really see things, I just get some weird topological-ish representation.

My visual imagination matches your whole paragraph exactly. Great description.

I think the rest of my responses are typical: reasonable sound imagination, minimal taste&touch&smell imagination. Thinking is a mix of abstract stuff and words and images. Little mind control, no synesthesia. Strong internal monologue: at the extreme, most everything I think is backed by the monologue in some way, and the monologue is nearly continuous; at the other extreme if I've been meditating a lot in the past month there's much less monologue.

My memory is worse than average, I think. I don't remember a whole lot after a year has passed. I get the impression that many people associate many of their long term memories with time (like, what month it was or what season it was). I don't, at all. I'll remember something that happened during undergrad, but have to reason from context about whether it would have been the first year or last year (which is usually easy to figure out, but that knowledge is not attached to the memory).

All of this is super interesting to me! Especially where we differ.

I can't really imagine a stubbed toe, the feeling of walking across carpet, grabbing a cabbage with my hand, but I can vividly imagine a drop of water running down my chest or a spider crawling across it. (Lower resolution is easier to fake?)

I can imagine all of these extremely vividly. Even multiple different types of carpets, and walking on carpets in different shoes. Could you imagine the feeling of lying on a carpet without a shirt on (ie the feeling of a carpet on your torso) ? What about a spider crawling across your hand ?

I am very jealous of your ability to ignore your thoughts and track north. I am terrible with directions, navigating familiar places only by landmarks. 

Not to get too speculative, but you mention doing mathematical proofs, which I've never done in my life. Even learning syntax for linguistics (expressed as binary branching trees) was very difficult for me. I'm studying French literature and anything to do with words comes very easily to me. I wonder if there's any tangible overlap between brain function and fields of interest.

Could you imagine the feeling of lying on a carpet without a shirt on (ie the feeling of a carpet on your torso) ?

Somewhat... it's too diffuse. I can imagine the effect at single spots, the whole thing at once doesn't really work. (I get "glitchy partials", brief impressions flickering and jumping around, but it's not forming anything consistent / stable.)

What about a spider crawling across your hand ?

Back of the hand is manageable (it's "only" tracking of 9 points - 8 legs plus occasional abdomen contact) and it can even become "independent" and surprise me with what direction it will move in next, front is basically impossible. (Glitchy partials again.)

I am very jealous of your ability to ignore your thoughts[.]

If there's usually not much happening that reaches the conscious level, that's really not that hard. I've talked at length with people who have a near-constant internal monologue and I get that that's much harder. I just notice that it's also relatively easy for me to ignore other constant or near-constant things like loud buzzing noise (server fans?), most extreme smells (rotting/feces) where others flinch away, etc. but basically impossible to ignore constantly changing impressions. (I currently have a construction site in front of the house and I can't work at all while they're active, even with earplugs.)

[I am very jealous of your ability to] track north.

Again, I have to constantly keep an "inner eye" on that or it comes loose and then it's broken / de-synced. A question from someone that makes me think just a little bit too much can be enough to break it, unless I remember to explicitly save the current heading and reinstate the thing afterwards. (I suspect you can do/imagine something similar and it'll get less costly and more precise over time of using it.)

I wonder if there's any tangible overlap between brain function and fields of interest.

Probably - you're more likely to do stuff that's easier for you, which makes it easier... But I expect that to be fairly weak / to have lots of noise on top. (External expectations, stuff that you don't even know exists, etc. etc.)

I guess what also plays a big role is how you approach your brain / how you model it & yourself / what expectations you place on it. I treat mine as a substrate that can spawn lots of independent processes of varying size and with more or less expressive interfaces, and "I" just happen to be one that's fairly big and stable. So making that arrow pointing north is basically just me spawning yet another small process on that substrate that subsequently does its own thing (unless swapped out because of capacity constraints), likewise the imagined spider can become independent and choose its own direction, because I fully expect it to be an independent process and not something that I have to manually control.

(Treating your brain as some sort of "expectation realizer" seems to be a powerful model/perspective, but totally expect really weird "replies" when you try to apply that to external stuff. (Like weird feelings, sudden anxiety, strange preferences, etc. guiding you in the direction that your brain thinks is best - be careful (and keep track of) what you wish for.) Internal seems to be relatively safe compared to that.)

Great descriptions!

FYI I didn't respond to most of these because it was really unclear to me what the scale meant, i.e. what would count as a 25, 50, or 75. But I like the innovative use of the embedded predictions!

I had in mind a scale like 0 would be so non-vivid it didn’t exist in any degree, 100 bordering on reality (It doesn’t map to the memory question well though, and the control over your mind question could be interpreted in more than one way). Ultimately the precision isn’t high for individual estimates, the real utility comes from finding trends from many responses.

At the moment of writing this comment, there are more people reporting vivid sound imagination than there are people reporting vivid vision imagination. That's surprising to me. I had assumed that vision would be most people's primary sense, and that people would have the most vivid imagination for what their primary sense was.

Perhaps people are answering with figures for vividity relative to expectations in some sense.

[EDITED to add:] A specific sense of "relative to expectations" that I think is probably the main thing that's going on here: Vision is an extremely high-bandwidth sense, hearing decidedly less so. If there's limited bandwidth / processing available for synthesizing imaginary/remembered sense experiences, then we should expect visual experiences to fall further short than auditory ones.

(Of course that's an oversimplification. E.g., just how high that bandwidth would need to be may depend on what "level of processing" the imagined/remembered experiences get fed in at; we may be constructing fine details on demand and not notice; etc.)

My sound imagination seems a lot more like real sound than my visual imagination seems like seeing.

I suspect I do a lot more visual thinking than verbal thinking, but the verbal thinking is mostly at a conscious level, and the visual thinking is mostly subconscious.

Other things it might be interesting to ask about:

  • How well can you visualize abstractions?
  • How well can you visualize n-dimensional mathematical objects?
  • How easy/hard is it for you to move through a room when the lights have just been turned off? (i.e. you saw the positions of all of the objects, but you can't see them at the time when you're moving)
  • Testing different kinds of memory – e.g., memorizing arbitrary strings such as phone numbers vs strings with a logical structure such as proofs or poems; or how well you're able to recall a melody you've only heard once

I honestly wasn't sure how to answer the memory question, because although I remember lots of things well, they don't seem to be organized or attached to each other the way they seem to be for other people around me. A person's name, face, and story might all be things I know, but I don't easily link them to each other. I remember the (complicated) names of characters from hundreds of fantasy and sci-fi novels I read 10-20 years ago, and have near-photographic memory of the location of every item in my refrigerator (yes, refrigerator specifically, not the pantry cabinets around it), but routinely forget where I put my keys/phone/wallet/mug/etc. The other night I was talking about a bunch of similar places I've been along a route, and I remembered images of each one, and the set of street names they were all on, but had no idea which was which, or where they were geographically in relation to each other. 

As far as unusual mental experience, I went through a years-long period of depression without realizing it had happened. I gradually lost most emotions and didn't notice. I lost much of my senses of smell and taste. I lost a lot of my ability to distinguish specific sounds and visual features in my environment (I'd look right at a field and not see the bright red flowers, or in one notable instance, the tree that had fallen into a house). At its worst I thought I had had a stroke, because one day my reaction time slowed by at least a factor of 2-3, I had trouble doing basic tasks like paying at the grocery store, and when people spoke to me I sometimes heard the individual sounds but they didn't form words in my head. That part lasted about a week. All of those symptoms went away in one moment three days after I started taking antidepressants, and since I got the dosage right, they've never been back for more than a few hours at times when I missed a dose and am extremely stressed or tired. Also in that first month on antidepressants I reread Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and made more progress in my meditation practice than I ever had before or since (extremely clear experiences of what he describes as all eight jhanas and all the stages leading up to stream entry), like I cleared a blockage and released a flood of potential I'd been building up for years.

As for mental imagery: I can create visual objects in my mind, rotate them, move them, but it's hard to give them a clear, persistent color.

Faces are super interesting: It seems completely random to me which faces I can create a mental image of and of which faces I can't: people I last saw years ago are sometimes easy, and very good friends are sometimes really hard.

Vision: Gauging my visual imagination is tricky. My visual experience of the world is different from my experience of a photograph (I think my visual experience is linked to my strong kinesthetic sense, which doesn't really come through for a photo). My imagination/memory is somewhat similar to looking at a photo, but it can take a long time to fill in details in my mind, although there isn't really anything lacking visually.

Sound: I have an almost-photographic auditory memory, but it doesn't work while I'm dreaming. For many years I thought that I didn't experience sound at all in my dreams because I didn't have the vivid memories that I did of waking sound. At some point I had the distinct experience of noticing that I was hearing sound in a dream, realizing that it was a dream, and remembering I had previously decided that I probably didn't hear sound in dreams.

I don't have an aversion to musical dissonance in the way that it seems many people do. I'm not tone-deaf, but basically anything "sounds right".

Taste: I have approximately zero taste imagination. I can barely imagine the experience of tasting pure salt or something metallic. Nothing beyond that.

Smell/Touch: Both of these are very close to full conscious experience for me.

My spatial awareness/kinesthesia is also very strong, but spinning even 3-4 times gives me motion sickness that can sometimes take hours to fully dissipate.

I have a strong sense that Left is "better" than Right. I find 'Xx' to be more balanced than 'xX'. Left is associated with darkness, weight, stability, and low pitch. I prefer to start walking with my left foot or start a tapping rhythm with my left hand. I would rather walk an anticlockwise direction around a path or obstacle. (I am right-hand-dominant, but left-eye-dominant.)

In my childhood, I had an OCD-like need to balance the number of times I touched things with each finger. (This conflicted with my preference to touch with my left hand first and resulted in me independently discovering the Thue–Morse sequence.)

Monologue/words: There's almost always a monologue, but most of my thinking doesn't translate directly to words.

Memory: I don't associate past experiences with the time at which they occurred. I basically have order-of-magnitude-sized buckets "today" "last week" "within a month or two" "this year" "this decade" unless there's something in the context that lets me narrow it down more precisely.

In college I hardly ever had to study for tests. I would either remember what I needed or rederive it from what I did remember.

A lot of concepts in my head are rather vague and abstract. I imagine the concept as something like a lumpy, high-dimensional clay blob. Incorporating new information looks something like throwing the small new blob at the big one and seeing how it sticks. Retrieving information looks something like taking a cross section or shadow projection and interpreting the result. (Like I said, most of this doesn't translate to words.)

Here are two things you probably haven't heard of:

  1. All my life, in low-light situations (and recently in all lightning) I've been able to see a persistent "visual noise" in my visual field, if you open your phone camera and point it towards a very low light place, you'll see the same effect that I have. Recently I found out that apparently not everyone has this (though all my family does), I always thought that the visual noise was just a fundamental property of a finite eye, just as it is for a camera lens, but apparently some people's brains filter it out and they just see a completely solid blob of colour.
  2. If I keep my eyes locked on a particular point for some time, the objects in the periphery kind of stop being differentiated and they all just become a sort of uniform fuzzy vibrating luminosity, this effect is accentuated for me during psychedelic mushroom trips, but it happens in daily life all the time (like literally right now). Apparently not everyone has this.

I have #1 but not #2.

My visual acuity is unusually good (or at least it used to be; 50-year-old eyes don't work as well as 25-year-old ones). I wonder whether there's a noise/resolution tradeoff here.

(Note: by "acuity" I mean something like "resolution after aberrations are corrected"; it's not the same thing as whether you need glasses/contacts, it's how well you see with whatever optical corrections you require.)

I like to say: "I can't taste good food from bad food". All coffee tastes like coffee, all wine tastes like wine, etc. Always been that way. Makes it stressful to cook for other people, but very easy to cook for myself. :-) I think my smell and taste receptors are all normal, I'm just not wired to pay very close attention to them. :-P

Like niplav, I can't form a mental image of most (or all?) people's faces, not even (or maybe "especially not") people I see every day. Like, if you ask me the eye color of my own wife, when I'm not looking at her ... OK well, I do know the answer, but only as an abstract, declarative fact. I can't just visualize her face and figure it out. I'm much better at visualizing cartoon characters' faces, teddy bears, other objects, etc. :-P

[-][anonymous]5mo 4

Re. synaesthesia: I experienced it once in a floatation tank. When my session was coming to an end, a pre-programmed soft music played and I noticed some light patterns in front of my face. I assumed some light had been turned on and reflecting off the water surface. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that it was a pity that they had turned on the light and didn't allow me to enjoy the darkness some more. After few blinks I realised that I was still seeing those patterns even with my eyelids closed, and that the patterns were changing in sync with the music.

Re. thinking in words: I used to never think to myself in words, except when recalling or imagining a dialogue, a written piece, etc. For almost all of my life I assumed that was the case with everyone and I was sure that the meaning of 'internal monologue' was much less literal than it actually is. I realised my mistake just few years ago when a coworker asked me what languages my thoughts were in (I'm multilingual), which made absolutely no sense.

Since then, I have somehow trained myself to have verbal thoughts. I assumed this would be beneficial for self-awareness and indeed, I'm much more aware of my sentiments now that they quite often surface in the form of unspoken sentences, in addition to the regular feelings. I have no idea how I did that, though. It seems as though the mere intention was enough.

Incredibly fascinating, I am opposite, only internal verbal monologue, no images at all. I can build step by step an image from simple lines and circles in my mind, but it is a conscious effort, (i.e. I am not really seeing it, if you get what I mean, as soon as I focus on a detail the rest vanishes). Basing on your anecdotal evidence I could maybe learn to imagine images that I am not really seeing with my eyes in that moment but it feels like the opposite of what my mind "is built" to do.

I have grapheme-color synesthesia, grapheme-gender associations, and color associations for a handful of other concepts. Words tend to be colored according to their first letter, though some specific words get their own colors. For instance, “Saturday” is red for some reason, even though “s” is blue. Over all, my synesthesia is pretty mild, and several letters have ambiguous or vague colors.

This year I got HPPD, so my visual field flickers constantly now. I find it difficult to describe the phenomenology in any more detail than “flickering”.

There was a weird moment once when I was reading to myself in my mind while copying a text and yet somehow misheard a letter (I think it was B instead of D). It felt as if I weren't aware of the original text in the first place and were simply writing down what someone else dictated.

Another thing is that I often remember words graphically, especially when trying to spell them correctly (e.g. in "successful" I imagine two blocks of "cc" and "ss" in my head as if I were looking at it on paper). In maths I can move symbols back and forth pretty easily in a formula and combine them with relatively simple constructions when necessary. Regarding sounds, I can reproduce short pieces in my head accurately enough to be able to transcribe them eventually, or at least to get the emotional feeling of a song, so to say.

Also one of my friends struggles with verbal thinking and thinks mostly implicitly, using concepts, if I understood that correctly, and they have a strong preference for non-verbal signs of affection (physical contact, actions, quality time etc.).

Also one of my friends struggles with verbal thinking and thinks mostly implicitly, using concepts, if I understood that correctly, and they have a strong preference for non-verbal signs of affection (physical contact, actions, quality time etc.).

Same here. Not thinking in words at all, very strong preference for touch or very simple expressions. Over the years with my SO, we basically formed a language of taps, hugs, noises, licks, sniffs, ... (E. g. shlip tongue noise - Greetings! / I like you. / ... (there are even tonal variations - rising / higher pitch is questioning, flat is affirmative), sniff-sniff noise - What's wrong? Etc. - So a possible exchange could be seeing them sitting on the sofa, looking unhappy - sniff-sniff (What's wrong?) - grumble (Bad mood.) - shlíp? (Affection?) - shlīp. (Yes.) - hug. That's much less exhausting than doing the same in words.)

I’ll go first: I am constantly hearing my own voice in my head narrating in first person, I can hear the voice vividly and clearly, while typing this sentence I think/hear each syllable at the speed of my trying. The voice doesn’t narrate automatic actions like where to click my mouse but could if I wanted it to. The words for the running monologue seeming get plucked out of a Black box formed of pure concepts, which I have limited access too most of the time. I can also listen to music in my own head, hearing the vocals and instruments clearly, only a few steps down from reality in vividness.

When I picture imagery, it is almost totally conceptual and ‘fake’, for example I couldn’t count the points on an imaginary star, which seems to be Aphantasia.  I also have Ideasthesia (Like Synaesthesia but with concepts evoking perception-like sensory experiences) which causes me to strongly associate concepts with places, for example when reading the Game of Thrones series, I’m forced to constantly think about a particular spot in my old high school. Between 20-40% of concepts get linked to a place. 

And I hesitate to mention it but my psychedelic experiences have been visually extremely vivid and intense despite my lack of visual imagination. I have heard anecdotal evidence that not everybody has vivid imagery on LSD.

Interesting - I can’t count the points on a star either (my imagination insists on zooming way in on one point when I try to count it, so zoomed-in that the other points are no longer in “sight”). But I consider myself a pretty visual thinker, and rarely do things I imagine seem fake. One of my big accomplishments this year has been learning a lot more math, and that learning started being really successful when I began trying to visually picture as many concepts as I could (like probability regions in 2d and 3d, for example).

There've been a couple isolated instances where I had unusually vivid imagined experiences – the first was a dream with really lifelike sensory input (specifically touch), and the second was that I heard a voice so clearly that I could almost have convinced myself I was hearing it. These highlight to me how very unlifelike my usual inner life is. I can think of sounds, get songs stuck in my head, find notes without vocalizing, and even sometimes combine a harmony line with a melody line in my head, but it's not really anything like the experience of hearing. Similarly, the experience of visual imagination is really not anything like the experience of seeing. 

I always knew that other people had different inner lives from me since my sister's brain is completely different from mine and we fought about it a lot growing up. But it's hard to imagine what other people's inner lives are like – probably related to the fact that it's hard to describe my own.

Yesterday I discovered I had been a victim of the Mind Projection Fallacy thanks to accidentally finding out that someone very close to me doesn’t have an internal monologue, doesn’t think in words and has a visual photographic memory.

I don't think this is the Mind Projection Fallacy. The Mind Projection Fallacy happens when you take properties of your own mind and project them out onto the external world.

Like how in the OP, beauty is a property of your own mind, you perceive someone as beautiful. They don't possess the property of beauty. But the fallacy occurs when you take that thing in your mind (beauty) and project it out into the external world, assuming it is a property of the woman.

Here, having an internal monologue isn't a property of your own mind in the same way that something like beauty is, so I don't think it is the Mind Projection Fallacy that is occurring.

(I know this is a little tangential to the main point of this post, but it still seems worth mentioning.)

It's the Typical Mind Fallacy. See e.g. Generalizing From One Example, which is actually about this very topic (diversity of internal sensory experiences).

Right! I couldn't remember the term Typical Mind Fallacy and was searching around looking for it, but couldn't find it. Thanks.

I have corrected the post, thanks :)

Here's one thing I've always found puzzling:

Everyone seems to knows what it means when a music teacher describes a passage as 'flowing' or 'full of energy' or 'treacly', or describes a note to be 'hard' or 'soft' or 'bright' or 'split'. Yet some people say that they don't have synaesthesia and there are even people who say they have no imagery at all.

Are there people who instinctively know what a 'bright sound' is yet don't automatically visualise such sounds as being brightly coloured? Or who instinctively know what a 'hammering note' is without feeling any physical pain when they hear one?

Are there people who instinctively know what a 'bright sound' is yet don't automatically visualise such sounds as being brightly coloured? Or who instinctively know what a 'hammering note' is without feeling any physical pain when they hear one?

Yes, I am an example of both such types of people. However, this is not because I think of those words as arbitrary, but because I associate those words with different concepts. I'll elaborate on that.

But first, I'll say the difficulty I have with your question: I'm not sure where to draw the line between "having synesthesia" and "being able to understand metaphors". For example, think of the non-musical metaphors "sweet" to describe someone who is kind (rather than a sugary flavor) or "tortuous" to describe an indirect chain of logic (rather than a winding river). Does one need synesthesia to understand those metaphors?

Perhaps the difference between synesthesia and metaphors is whether the relation is arbitrary. If that's the case, I would call all of those terms metaphor, not synesthesia: I can define all those terms you mentioned with reasoning by analogy about properties of the waveform.

For some reason, the terms about passages you listed make me think harder to understand, just like when a work of literature uses a metaphor, while the terms about notes you mentioned (except for "split") seem so common that I've mentally added them as an alternative meaning in my dictionary.

My definitions of those terms about passages:

  • "Flowing": I find myself thinking of a river that keeps flowing. Matching this to passages my music teachers have described as "flowing", I define "flowing" music as music where notes are constantly played at a fairly regular pace, without long pauses or sudden volume changes.
  • "Full of energy": to me, this means music that would take a lot of energy to play on instruments, or music that builds energy in the listener. Loud music with a hard beat would count, as would music with many notes played quickly.
  • "Treacly": I haven't heard this used to describe music before, but I can quickly guess the intent: music with notes played slowly and without sudden volume changes. This is by analogy to a high-viscosity liquid being poured out of a container.

My definitions of those terms about notes:

  • "Hard": with a quick attack on the note's envelope. By analogy, when touching a hard surface, you feel resistance quickly.
  • "Soft": with a slow attack. The inverse reasoning as for "hard".
  • "Bright": sounds made up of mostly high frequencies (treble). High notes are more easily distinguishable to the ear than low notes, just like bright lights are more easily distinguishable to the eye than dim lights. But in my mind, I don't think of bright lights when this term is used; I immediately think of a high-pitched note.
  • "Split": that's a new term to me. But I could imagine it meaning a note split across two or more frequencies, so the note sounds like a chord -- in other words, a note with an overtone. Another possible meaning could be a note that cuts off and then plays again quickly, as if someone drew a rectangle for note on a digital piano roll and then split the rectangle into two pieces.
  • "Hammering": as a piano player, this makes me think of the felt-wrapped hammers inside a piano. So I think of those hammers "hammering" the strings of the piano quickly, producing a repeated note. I suppose the meaning of "hammering" as hitting repeatedly rather than hitting once is arbitrary, and is derived from the same arbitrary meaning of "hammering" as "using a construction hammer to hit repeatedly".

All but three of your definitions are exactly the same as the definitions that I would give.

Split notes are what novice brass players produce. To hammer a note is to play a note that is loud and sudden and short. Music is flowing if every note feels like it is the natural continuation of the notes before it. So an unanticipated discord or pause or change in volume will break the flow, but if it feels like the music is building up to a sudden change then the flow will be broken by not having this sudden change.

I endorse all these, and also all of roryokane's that you haven't taken issue with, except that to me "bright" doesn't just mean high notes but also notes whose timbre includes a lot of energy at high frequencies. Also, "soft" is ambiguous between something like Rory's meaning and simply "quiet". (It maybe also suggests to me the opposite of "bright".)

I have never understood what music teachers mean when they say things like this. I'm not a professional musician by any means, but in the before-times I was usually in 1-3 choirs at my university. One of the conductors would describe sounds as "round" or "purple" and then everyone would nod as if they agreed...but I was always utterly lost. I swear they're making it up, but maybe I'm even less of a synesthete than the average non-synesthete.

I also think there's some degree of consistency. If I was forced to imagine a "purple" sound I would probably imagine something medium-loud, orchestral, and "full;" something regal, because that's what I associate with the color purple. But simply played a music sample and asked what "color" it is, and I would probably be making things up. Synesthesia is usually thought of as an unintentional or automatic association. People can often come up with colors to associate with letters when asked, but for non-synesthetes it's more of an intellectual exercise than a particular fact about a letter.

I have never understood what music teachers mean when they say things like this.

Maybe you will find my definitions, which relate to the physical properties of the sound, helpful.

As for your two other terms, those are harder to define. "Round" I would have trouble understanding too... but I think in the context of a choir, it might mean a note sung by holding your mouth in a round 'O' shape rather than by stretching it vertically or horizontally. The shape of your mouth changes the overtones, even when you're singing the same note.

As for "purple", even though I was able to define all the other terms, I have no idea what that should mean such that every choir member would nod at hearing it. The only physical connection I can imagine is that violet is the highest-frequency spectrum of light... yet I doubt that "purple" would simply describe high-pitched sounds. Either the other students were just pretending to understand the term, or this is my own limitation.

I'm trying to find out which associations are or aren't universal.

Do you associate higher pitched sounds with paler colours and feel them more in your extremities? Do you associate lower pitched sounds with darker colours and feel them more in your core?

When you look at a visually cluttered scene, does your inner speech get louder in order to compete for your attention? If not, how would you make sense of the metaphor 'a loud shirt'?

Would you be more likely to associate thickly textured music with the sensation of being under a duvet than thinly textured music?

Do you automatically associate some sounds with roughness and some sounds with smoothness?

When people talk about something having a 'clear sound', do you imagine it being translucent?

When you hear a very loud and discordant chord, is the pain localised to a particular part of your body depending on the pitch and timbre of the note, do you experience pain that is not really localised anywhere, or is it not painful at all?

The control question is kinda weird to answer, but tired to answer based on your suggested criteria.

Touch is by far my dominant sense. Basically everything has shape, texture, and feel to it for me, and other senses often make sense to me in terms of touch. I also have really good smell and taste imagination, in that once I've smelled or tasted something I often don't need to smell or taste it again to fully recount the experience (for example, eating something I love is only slightly better than just remembering the experience).

I think in words, and also, specifically with letters. If I don't know both the spelling of someone's name and how the spelling corresponds to the pronunciation phonetically, it is MUCH harder for me to remember.

Dropping by after this closed, but I have a couple descriptions of mental experience which people have called unusual when I've tried to explain them in the psat.

I always overthink questions about vividness of imagination due to describing the experience of imagining in terms which I rarely see used. I find that subjectively, imagining something and recalling having seen or thought of its component parts feel almost identical. In the classic aphantasia test of "imagine a red apple", I grab some recent recollection of a red apple -- maybe it's clip-art of an apple that I saw online; maybe it's the apple that's sitting with some other apples on my kitchen counter. As I'm asked further questions about "the apple", it seamlessly shifts into a recollection that happens to have the answer to the question. For instance if I'm asked how "the apple" smells or tastes, I layer on a recent or particularly vivid memory of having smelled or tasted an apple.

I have yet to figure out whether I'm unusual in seeing so many memory attributions on imagined images due to others imagining without memory, others imagining with memory without keeping track of what memory each image is from, or some other explanation. This awareness of attribution doesn't hinder my ability to create novel things -- if anything, I have an easier time being confident that something I've made is quite unique, because I can compare it to similar things which it distantly resembles and point out their differences. I find it relatively easy to steer a small creative project away from being an exact replica of any particular prior art which I can recall.

I also find that I retain visual and spatial information more readily than some. I often wake from a dream and have to sketch out a map of the location where the dream took place in order to recall the events which happened on that map. This is usually handy when traveling, although I'm extra disadvantaged once I do get thoroughly lost because I get relatively little practice solving that sort of problem.

I've been curious about the phenomenon of memory, or perhaps more precisely, recall. For example, I can recall standing at the top of a granitic, sub-alpine cliff at the head of a waterfall. I can also "recall" standing near Wesley at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity.  Obviously I know that one happened to me and one didn't, but to me the two mental processes seem to be of the same catagory, and I'm suspicious that this is true of everyone but that few recognize it. I do recognize a very few "memories" that feel somewhat different - one is standing on a tropical beach with small waves lapping, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, general aroma of tropical island. One thing that seems to be key to this set is the inclusion of scent, and I speculate that it's more tightly bound to a sense of "I-ness". Even this set, however, seems less like memories of instants in time, and more like reconstructions of repeated experiences.

I think my experience of memory vs. imagination matches this.

I am autistic, which I think contributes to my memory and my sensory imagination, and have anxiety and OCD* which makes it functionally impossible to stop all thoughts on command.

WRT sensory imagination, I've thought before that I can imagine the texture of almost any surface just by looking at this, which I imagine is a combination of a strong sensory memory (autism) and a large "texture bank" to draw from. My taste/smell imagination is weaker than my other senses probably because I use it less frequently.

I can do the thing where you can think in other people's voices. When I've been listening to an audiobook my internal monologue often shifts into the voice of the narrator for a few hours at time, though I can switch into it at which. Interestingly, though, I find this much harder to do with people I'm close to. My inner monologue can carry itself out in the voice of Eneasz Brodski (narrator of the HPMOR podcast) with no issue, but I can barely replicate my girlfriend's voice at all. 

I have one or two entire movies memorized (The Incredibles and the Princess Bride, and bits and pieces of others) and I can "watch" these in my head if I really focus, though the audio is about 95% accurate and the visuals are closer to 70%. 

*Diagnosed, though I'm not entirely sure it's accurate.

I've been curious about the phenomenon of memory, or perhaps more precisely, recall. For example, I can recall standing at the top of a granitic, sub-alpine cliff at the head of a waterfall. I can also "recall" standing near Wesley at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity.  Obviously I know that one happened to me and one didn't, but to me the two mental processes seem to be of the same catagory, and I'm suspicious that this is true of everyone but that few recognize it. I do recognize a very few "memories" that feel somewhat different - one is standing on a tropical beach with small waves lapping, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, general aroma of tropical island. One thing that seems to be key to this set is the inclusion of scent, and I speculate that it's more tightly bound to a sense of "I-ness". Even this set, however, seems less like memories of instants in time, and more like reconstructions of repeated experiences.


(as an aside, my experience is that thoughts arise in a pre-lingual state as pure conceps, but are almost instantly translated into words - so quickly that if you're not paying attention it can feel like thinking in words)