I have seen things you wouldn’t believe (in my mind)

When two different people perceive blue, is it the same to both of them? When two people imagine it, is it the same? Can everyone even imagine it?

If I tell you to imagine a beach, you can picture the golden sand and turquoise waves. If I ask for a red triangle, your mind gets to drawing. And mom’s face? Of course.

You experience this differently, sure. Some of you see a photorealistic beach, others a shadowy cartoon. Some of you can make it up, others only “see” a beach they’ve visited. Some of you have to work harder to paint the canvas. Some of you can’t hang onto the canvas for long. But nearly all of you have a canvas.

I don’t. I have never visualized anything in my entire life. I can’t “see” my father’s face or a bouncing blue ball, my childhood bedroom or the run I went on ten minutes ago. I thought “counting sheep” was a metaphor. I’m 30 years old and I never knew a human could do any of this. And it is blowing my goddamned mind…

I opened my Facebook chat list and hunted green dots like Pac-Man. Any friend who happened to be online received what must’ve sounded like a hideous pick-up line at 2 o’clock in the morning:
—If I ask you to imagine a beach, how would you describe what happens in your mind?
—Uhh, I imagine a beach. What?
—Like, the idea of a beach. Right?
—Well, there are waves, sand. Umbrellas. It’s a relaxing picture. You okay?
—But it’s not actually a picture? There’s no visual component?
—Yes there is, in my mind. What the hell are you talking about?
—Is it in color?
—How often do your thoughts have a visual element?
—A thousand times a day?
—Oh my God.

And so on. Read the whole thing, and this as well. How common is something like this? Judging by internet comments – very common, especially for other sensory modalities. I can visualize fine, though my imaginary ‘sense of place’ is probably stronger, but I cannot ‘imagine’ a taste or smell to save my life. I once went into a fancy cocktail bar and was asking the owner how he came up with the cocktails. He just thought about how two ingredients could taste together, he said, and then he combined them like that. Whoa, whoa, whoa, I said, you can imagine tastes? And combine them in your mind?

Who knows what others imagine in their mind? Does imagining a picture mean the same thing to different people? Is it vivid or faded, cartoonish or realistic?

When we do experiments with animals – how much are we relying on this supposed universality which, even among humans, is anything but?


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