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What do you see when you close your eyes?

Discussion in 'Chill Out Forum:' started by scotty, Mar 25, 2016.

  1. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Wasn't sure where to put this so it's in the chill bit.

    I'm just curious to what you other creatives "see when you close your eyes".
    If you think of an apple, do you see an apple in your mind or is it blank?

    Reason I ask is that about 15 years ago, I realised that I couldn't form a mental picture in my mind.
    All I see is the back of my eyelids. Black. Nothing.
    I only recognised this properly after talking on another 'Illustration' forum when someone else mentioned this an I had an epiphany moment.
    It was greeted by many of the other members with hostility and disbelief for some strange reason.
    "That's impossible, you can't be an Illustrator and have no visual imagination".
    Many psychologists agree with this as it goes against many of the teachings about cognitive thought.

    Anyhow, I was really interested as to what this was all about but until recently there was almost nothing on the web about it.

    Last year Exeter University started research into it and gave it a name "Aphantasia" which means no imagination and I'm part of their programme.
    Since then, many, many other people have found they have it without ever really knowing and here's my point:

    It's come to light that ironically, a very high number of people who have this are creatives.
    Much higher than the norm and it seems to go against logic.
    How can people that create do so with no visual imagination?

    My theory is that without a 'minds eye' you are pushed to use other things, such as paper and pencil and it starts there almost like on odd gift.
    There's loads of other spin off effects like difficulty reading novels, terrible with directions, putting names to faces. The list goes on.

    I just wondered as this is a forum for creatives, how many of you may have it without even knowing?

    Try it. Close your eyes. Think of an apple of something and what do you see?

    If there's nothing there then you have Aphantasia.
    sincetimebegan and DDDave like this.
  2. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    I kind of design 'ideas' with my eyes closed all the time but the funny thing is that I don't actually visualise a picture of what it is, it's more a case of visualising the idea of what it looks like or how it will work if you get me, think of it more along the lines of a website wireframe rather than a photoshop mockup. I suppose I'm making mental notes of elements which make the design rather than the actual design, I then put these down on paper etc when I get a chance because I seem to retain these types of designs for ages. I don't see an apple when I think of an apple but I know what it looks like if you get me.

    Always hated the need to show 'development' work during uni/college etc because that wasn't how I worked, I could/can literally develop the idea in my head, figuring out something won't work before putting it down on paper. While I was at uni the tutors/course required development drawings so we (I wasn't the only one) often spent a day at the end 'filling in the gaps' because grades were more focused on development than the idea. Annoyingly they changed this requirement to show development when we finished our course and had more focus on the idea....

    I do know that my brain is wired slightly differently due to my dyslexia and supposedly it allows me to 'visualise in 3D' when normal people can't. I know I can come up with a design and 'rotate' it in my mind while adjusting it's perspective etc which actually is really handy for my work but I don't know if it's true that someone who isn't dyslexic can't do it. I'm also really good at visualising perspective and relative scales when doing my rough sketching, always have been with inanimate objects (can't do people very well). Works great in the 'visualisation' parts of IQ tests too :)

    As to the aphantasia, sounds very similar to dyslexia, a lot of dyslexic people can't concentrate on long novels and english was/is my weakest subject in terms of education yet maths and design subjects were all pretty good. I've always struggled with remembering names quickly although I'll remember what someone looks like really easy and directions are a case of I can get to where I want easily enough, especially locally, but don't ask me the street names as I haven't got a clue most of the time, luckily we have sat nav now :)
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2016
  3. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Sounds like you may have it @Levi.
    There are varying levels from the odd, vague flash of an image or nothing at all like me.

    I'm also dyslexic and it's seem to be similar to Aphantasia as your brains wired differently.
    Only found out I had dyslexia two years ago but it explains A LOT. Especially back at school and college.

    When you think of someone/something, do you almost imagine a bullet point description or something?
    It's hard to explain. I's almost like you don't see the image, you see the code behind it if you get my drift.
    Sounds a bit Matrixy. ;)
  4. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    I was lucky with my dyslexia I had a teacher that picked me up when I was at infant school before it was widely accepted/recognised with certificates (I don't have one). I had the option of the extensions on exams but honestly never used them because I never had issues with time, I either knew the answer or I didn't and extra time wouldn't help me find an answer lol. At uni I could have had longer on course work and as I said to the tutor, no point I won't get it in the real world so don't want it now. Having said that I learn in a specific way, some ways just don't suit me (being taught maths in a rigid way by a teacher on a blackboard for example) and I pretty much self taught myself gcse maths from the course books (got an A) and adjusting to my way of processing data, the teacher was pretty useless unless you were one of his 'favourite' students anyway.

    In regards to the way I visualise things, I don't see an image of the finished product I see the idea and 'layout' so say for example I'm modelling a room in 3D I can take the 2D plan and wireframe/outline extrude it up in my mind (I can sort of see what I've seen before if you get me), my eyes literally draw up from the floor plan to give me guidelines (which I can rotate around) and then I sort of go this goes here, that goes there, that colour on there but I don't really go past that initial wireframe in terms of mental imagery and visualise a 'finished scene', it's more a case of that will work here that will work there based on experiences rather than purely artistic/creative stuff.

    I can 'visualise' if things, say a sofa and a coffee table, will work together but at the same time I don't see the objects together or the actual products together. I have a pretty good memory for products I've seen but always remember what the product looked like, just the 'deisgn' vibe it gave off. I can remember the Eames chair (the walnut/black leather one near the window) from Frasier really well, I can sketch it out without any major issues but at the same time I can't really get a mental image of it if I close my eyes.

    If I go with a green apple I know what shape and colour it is from memory/training but at most I will see the 2D outline of it but it's not clear unless I 'trace it' with my eyes closed and I can then rotate that 2D image into a 3D outline.

    When I think about it you could say I'm using my eyelids as paper and using my eyes to 'draw' the ideas rather than just picturing it in my head.

    It's a really weird and hard thing to explain and I wouldn't put it past me to have automatically adapted if I do have Aphantasia due to needing to adapt my methodologies and work processes because of my dyslexia, I know I do some things differently to others.
  5. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    I don't have a "certificate" either.
    £300 - £600 for a bit of paper is a bit steep to me.
    My son has it too.

    From what you say, drawing on the back of your eyelids with your eyes is a common thing with Aphantasia and I sometimes do it unconsciously with my finger.
    Must look like I'm conducting.;)

    I can draw without reference but I tend to do it from a kind of description in my mind in the same way as you said with the Eames chair.
    I know what it looks like from a kind of list and I'd just make it from that.

    People do adapt because they don't know they have it and we unconsciously come up with bypass techniques to overcome it.
    We do things differently. ;)
  6. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member

    I find this fascinating. Please excuse my ignorance but I also find this a tad hard to believe, it sounds like people (or myself) are a bit confused as to how the imagination works, or can work. Sure people may imagining things differently, but we all imagine in some way or form. Has this "Aphantasia" actually been scientifically proven as a condition?

    I would say I am a very imaginative person, I pretty much live in my imagination more than the real world (it's a nicer place). I wouldn't say I have any problems imagining anything, in any way, whether it be 2D or 3D, real, or completely made up from my imagination. Funny enough, I rarely close my eyes when I imagine something, I can of just zone out for a bit and stare at nothing in particular, as I am no longer using my actual eyes (even though they are open), I am completely focused using my 'minds eye' as it were. So when you suggested to visualise a green apple, that image instantly popped into my mind before I even closed my eyes.

    I'm no expert, but I honestly believe everyone is capable of imagining in some form of capacity and I'm thinking maybe you need to kind of 'retrain' your mind, and stop thinking you can't do something, when you actually can and probably do without realising it, just maybe in your own unique way. For example, you said when you close your eyes all you see is the black, back of your eyelids, not the green apple. That is perfectly normal. But what you are doing is expecting to see things too literally. When I close my eyes and imagine a green apple, I see the green apple in my minds eye, with my actual physical eyes I also see the back, blackness of the back of my eyelids. Now, if I focus on the apple, I don't notice the back of my eyelids as much, even though it is always there. This is simply because i am choosing to hone in on the green apple I am imagining and not the back of my eye lids. What I suspect you are doing is the other way round, to the point where you are completely ignoring the green apple and so thinking you cannot imagine it. You are focusing on what you can physically see with your eyes, as opposed to what you want to see in your head (minds eye). Again, please excuse my ignorance, I could be completely wrong.

    Surely, it would be impossible for you to be able to draw without reference otherwise. I also believe that our imagination has a close subconscious connection to our memory. For example, if I said think of a red bus, what do you see? While if I said, think of a 'Stupidasaurus Rex' what do you see? Obviously, one exists and you probably pictured it quite easily, while the other I made up but gave reference to something familiar from your memory, so you may have possibly imagined your own dopey, dinosaur-like creature? Using your imagination.
  7. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    I have the same thoughts when I think of people that can see things in their mind. Hard to imagine being able to do it.
    Many Psychologists would agree that it's impossible as being able to visualise is a corner stone to cognitive thought.
    Research has started into it recently and a while back it became a bit of a news thing.

    For me, it's like I can see something in my mind but it's behind a black curtain. If you get my drift. Hard to explain really.
    Like looking at something in the pitch dark. I know it's there but I just can't see it.
    I know what a green apple looks like. I just can't see it in any form.
    I kind of imagine a list of its features.
    I've never had any pre-conceptions to what I should be able to see. In fact I didn't even know I had it for a long time as you don't miss what you've never had.
    Only times I had an inkling was when I tried meditation with visualising techniques which were REALY frustrating.
    I also had to see a Psychologist because I used to get a bit freaked in crowds after a car accident.
    He tried a cognitive therapy technique which is supposed to be bullet proof where I had to visualise a stressful scenario and he waved his finger back and forth.
    I couldn't visualise anything so it didn't work and the guy got more and more frustrated with me and ended up showing me the door saying "I can do nothing more for you".
    I only 'amost' see things when I'm very close to a sleep state.
    I dream incredibly vividly and also have REM Disorder which means I have waking dreams which are a bit like hallucinations where you're awake but you can see your dream.

    When you say "Imagine a red bus" I know what a red bus looks like but I don't see anything, I just think of its features.
    Big oblong vehicle, wheels on each corner, windows top and bottom with a number on front.
    When you say think of a "Stupidasaurus Rex" I think of what you wrote in the above to describe it. Not a picture.

    There are a lot of things that I struggle with which are all common to people with Aphantasia.
    I cant read a novel because I can't imagine it. I may as well be reading an instruction manual.
    I get to the end of the page and I can't remember what I've just read.
    I have a book. My favourite story which is "The Journey To The West".
    I take it on holiday every year and I've been trying to read it for ten years and I've never got to the end despite my best attempts.

    I can't remember directions as I can't visualise "the left after the church" or whatever.
    It's like trying to remember a long list of words that someone has told me.

    I find it difficult to remember people names as I can't think of their faces, neither can I remember strings of numbers which is embarrassing when I'm asked my kids date of birth
    but that may be a dyslexic thing.

    When I draw something without reference it's from something like a written description in my mind.
    I start with simple shapes and build and refine it adding it's features. More like 2D sculpting.

    In an odd way, it's like I've used illustration to get what's in my mind and make a physical image of that thing so I can see it and over the years (depending on your perspective)
    I got quite good at doing it.
    Like I said, it was on another forum (AOI) talking about different kinds of learning when another illustrator (really talented guy) said he couldn't visualise and it was a total BOOM
    moment for me and it all clicked into place.
    I searched the web for years to try and find out about it and there was almost nothing until on a Psychology site someone published an article about a guy that lost his ability to
    visualise after an operation.
    There was a comments section at the bottom and other people who had been doing the same as me started to talk about it and that's when Psychologists started to look at it and
    even consider the notion that these people might not be just confused or making it up.
    Belcher likes this.
  8. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    Funny you said that comment about how you've been using illustration to 'visualise' things. I was thinking about random stuff as you do last night and a thought popped into my head. You said that a high percentage of designers have this Aphantasia and this is what I thought about. Could it be that Aphantasia isn't about not being able to 'visualise an idea' but more about having the ability to accurately represent that idea in/on another medium.

    Think about it for a minute and you might see my logic on this :)
    Designers are paid to create designs from ideas be it ours or other peoples but we all know that 'everybody' has ideas in their heads, even people with Aphantasia, the reason we get to do work for others is because often they can't put it down via another medium, say pen and paper, where it can be used in other ways. Maybe it's this 'ability' to break down an idea (because that's what a visualisation often is) into key elements is what enables us to do the designs we do.

    @carl your stupidosaurus rex isn't really a fair thing to consider because we all have a reference for a dinosaur, the first thing I thought of when you said rex in the name was t-rex. We all know that's a 2 huge legged dino so it wouldn't be so much as visualising a new dino from scratch but compositing the ideas of 2 'other items' into a new bullet pointed list... my exact thoughts were t-rex body goofy (from cartoons) head but I didn't visualise it in pictures I referenced memory and bullet pointed it for translation to paper later where it would be 'refined'.
  9. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Hmmm? I see what you're saying @Levi.

    I've been having a discussion about haw do you describe Aphantasia to people elsewhere.
    As a kid I'd have ideas about say some crazy shark/spider creature but I couldn't imagine a picture in my mind so I'd draw it.
    I think this is what gave me an interest in making images but I didn't realise I was compensating for something I didn't have.
    I mean, I do have a very active imagination but the visual side of it is broken.
    Someone else described it as having a computer but the screen is dead.
    I kind of describe it a bit like a JPG image.
    We see a picture of a kitten but the computer sees it a string of data or code/information.

    I think that having to practice this all my live it's given me the tools and skill set to do it for others so in that way you hit the nail on the head.
    When someone describes what they what to me either verbally or written, this is very similar to how I see things anyway, just information which I've learned to turn into images.
  10. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member


    That was exactly my point. I made something up that strongly references other things to influence what you imagine. What you thought up is exactly the type of creature I wanted you to. Scotty said he didn't think or see anything (in his minds eye) until he read the rest of my description, while you got it from the name alone.

    I think I am beginning to understand Aphantasia, although I see it more as a different way of using your minds eye / imagination / visualising, as opposed to not being able to at all.
  11. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    But I didn't see it or 'imagine it' I just associated the terms with past experiences as reference points for a future refinement on paper, I didn't see a 'picture' of goofy's head (which is a 'stupid' character) on a t-rex body (2 legged dinosaur) but I had the idea that's how it would look, it really is a hard thing to explain.

    Aphantasia (my understanding of it) isn't the lack of imagination, creativity or ability to develop in your head, it's the lack of a clear visual image without any reference material when you 'close your eyes' and imagine it in your mind. Because you don't see anything or at best a limited image you then compensate with alternative approaches to storing that idea for translation onto paper like mental notes etc.

    I'll give you an example to consider. Think of an alien race called the Brunnen-G from Lexx tv show. If you haven't seen it I bet the first thought for an alien is 'little green men' or something from star wars/star trek (klingon/vulcans most likely) through association rather than knowledge.
    Now if I describe the race as last of race, called Kai, is male, has a beehive with long front side fringe hair style and is a brooding gothic assassin. What sort of image do you get, I'd bet the reference image you'll pull up from your memory is pretty much Edward Scissor Hands with a different hair style because no matter how much we try we all have 'reference material' cluttering our brains meaning it's very rare we work from a blank slate :)
  12. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member

    What I imagined was completely different to what you described. Edward Scissor Hands did not come to mind at all, until after you mentioned him.

    But again, that just goes back to what I previously said about our imagination or visualising being influenced, whether consciously or subconsciously, by our memories, experiences and what we have previously seen. Hence why nothing is truly original.
  13. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Sadly I saw nothing @CLHB.
    Just a description and @Levi couldn't have put it much better.

    It's like Levi said and if I was told to think of a generic alien, I'd reference all the stereotype aliens I've seen in film and such.
    Not by a pictorial reference but a descriptive one, pretty much as you'd write it down on here to describe one as a list of its features.
    If you said think of ET. Then I know what ET looks like but I don't see it. It's like (I assume) when you think of ET an image springs to mind like doing a search in Google Images.
    When I think of ET it's like using Wikepedia.
    It's like all the information rushes forward in one burst.

    It's so hard to explain and I'd imagine equally hard to understand.
    A bit like describing the colour orange to a blind person. Where do you begin?

    Top and bottom, our minds in a visual sense are just completely blank. Nothing at all. Always and forever.
    Also get your head around this one.
    Most of us can't imagine taste, sounds, smells or touch either.
    Until recently I had no idea that other people were capable of even doing this.

    It's like finding out that the rest of humanity can see around corners and you never knew.
  14. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    It also affects our memory.
    As you can imagine, our heads tend to be very full of information which must leak I guess.

    I can remember very little of my childhood for instance.
    This is another very common trait and quite a sad one.
    Almost nothing until I was about seven, just sketchy bits and pretty fuzzy after that.

    Before I knew what it was I knew there was something wrong as I had difficulty with memories, couldn't recall the faces of my loved ones.
    I used to think I was emotionally cold or uncaring in some way as I'd hear how other people talked of their own memories, like playing a video in their mind.
    A lot of people REALLY struggle with this aspect of Aphantasia as they feel like they've been robbed of their memories.

    For instance. I was at the birth of my two boys. A pretty big deal moment.
    I was there and I know the story but I cant watch the film.
  15. Vanessa

    Vanessa Member

    So interesting to hear your descriptions. I never see images when I close my eyes - in fact, if I'm imagining something and close my eyes I lose it all! I have to sort of daydream really - look off in to the distance but not really seeing what I'm seeing, and start sort of drawing out my idea with my eyes in my head (lines and stuff don't 'appear' I just have a memory of what I've 'drawn') ...

    That's a terrible description, but when you said apple, I closed my eyes and nothing, all I could do was sort of imagine drawing the shape of an apple and leaf with my eyes, but still saw nothing, just knew how I'd want it to look if I was drawing it on paper.

    When you said imagine a red bus, I stared absentmindedly at my wall and started to remember images of red buses I had seen, then lost it all when closed my eyes! Weird!

    So I guess I very much use pen/cil and paper to visualise any imaginings. I never feel like what I have 'in my head' ever comes out properly - probably because I never really see it clearly, just ideas and references to things similar to what I've seen before. Like rough outlines / layouts sitting somewhere at the back of my mind that I can't focus on properly, just a sort of rough whole...

    Not sure this quite fits the aphantasia thingy; I don't have dyslexia but take forever to sleep and like mentioned don't really picture anything when trying - I've got so annoyed trying to meditate as can't picture anything and have resorted to just counting my breathing or counting anything (NEVER seeing those pesky jumping sheep though!)
    scotty likes this.
  16. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Sound like Aphantasia to me so welcome to the (estimated) 1-3%.

    I used to struggle with meditation because they always seem to use visualisation techniques which are a non-starter.
    Thing is, the point of meditation is to clear and quieten the mind so we're half way there.
    If you use 'Mindfulness Of Breathing' you'll find it comes really quite easily.
    We're blessed in that department at least. ;)
    Vanessa likes this.
  17. Vanessa

    Vanessa Member

    Yay I'm in the club ;) we need an emblem or something... :D
  18. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    Strong memory for 'junk' like useless facts, product info etc but useless when it comes to faces/names. My short term memory can be appalling at times to, I've had times when I've literally forgotten to do something 15-20mins later when visiting my Nan (it's for her say) but as soon as I walk in my own door I go 'beep' I forgot to do such and such ....
    I'm bad with dates in that I know something's coming up but you ask me to remember the exact date and I'll be like um.... soon.... hence why I have a calendars and notes everywhere lol

    I have to be tired to actually fall asleep, bit of an issue really when 90% of the time my brain kicks into overdrive with ideas at night when I'm about to go to bed and 'wakes me up' lol

    I wonder what the ratio of those are designers....would be an interesting diversion to the study.

    Hmm... I do/can kind of do meditation, only when needed though as I never thought of it as meditation, I've always seen it more as a 'realignment of emotions' (a dyslexia trait relates to emotions) or 'refocusing' for an annoying task. Meditation is something I've always seen as a relaxation techniques and I don't necessarily relax from what I do.

    I kind of do the 'mindfulness of breathing' but I focus more on a singular point rather than just my breathing, it was something I learnt to do when I was younger and doing martial arts as they said it helped to control 'anger' and/or clarity of thought during the session sparing etc. It doesn't normally take me long to 'refocus' either.
  19. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Ironic for someone in the creative industry to have "no imagination" (though you'd be surprised the number of Creative Directors that also suffer from it!)

    Here is a totally accurate representation of what I see when I close my eyes – darkness with coloured spots in the centre.


    I think I can form mental images with my eyes closed (never tried until just now), but this actually seems easier with my eyes open. I was always getting spotted daydreaming by the teachers at school, and still find myself slipping into imaginative thoughts when I'm sat in traffic or rocking the PS4. It also happens when I'm reading, which is why I struggle to read fiction books – my mind takes over and just replaces what I'm reading with my own thoughts.
  20. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    That was my reason for asking on here @Levi.

    There is a site that's been set up and a Facebook page and the creativity thing comes up WAY too much for a usual cross section of society.
    As I said, I found out about if from a fellow Illustrator.

    @Paul Murray. I think the direct translation of Aphantasia to mean "no imagination" is a bit of a blanket term given by someone that doesn't have it.
    I suppose it'll have to do as from reading all the above you get the picture that it's a hard thing to describe (albeit not a mental picture). ;)
    Of course we have an imagination. I have what's called 'a monkey mind' which is the reason I started meditation.

    That image is what I see which is just the back of our eyelids as the mental visualising thing doesn't kick in.
    I guess the speckles are just the small amount of light penetrating out eyelids. A physical image.

    All the things you three have said are textbook indicators of having it.
    Although people do seem to gave it in different degrees too.

    The fact that four of the regulars of the forum show signs kind of confirms my theory about creativity and Aphantasia being linked and is why I asked you,
    to try and retro trace it.
    From the people that regularly appear on here that must be a MASSIVE percentage compared to the estimated 1-3% of the general public.

    That's a good idea although I'm buggered if I can 'visualise' one. ;)
    Vanessa likes this.

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