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Internal monologues and visual memory

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While contemplating why the tv-series Dexter is so appealing to me, I figured it has to do with the personality of Dexter himself, as I strongly identify with parts of it. He's very private, organized, introverted (INTJ, no doubt), and almost consistently has an internal monologue with himself, making observations and reflecting on events or life in general.

I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on internal monologues. When I asked a very extroverted friend about this, he told me that the internal monologue in Dexter is just for storytelling purposes (obviously one reason), and that he [my friend] doesn't think in that way.

1) Do you often think in "internal monologue mode"? If so, do you use clearly defined phrases, so that your thoughts would make perfect grammatical sense to someone else if you had spoken them out loud?

I'd also be interested in hearing some thoughs on "thinking in pictures". I don't believe I do this very much, and despite a high IQ I'm usually horrible at remembering the faces of people I've only met a few times. I've been using the brain training games at Lumosity and get top scores in all categories (90% +) except for visual memory, where I'm at a paltry 48%.

2) Do you yourself think in both words and pictures interchangeably? This is this related to whether you're using the left or right part of the brain, I believe. Is thinking in words and pictures interchangeably something which can be trained/improved, and if you have done so, do you have any good techniques to recommend?

Thanks, I'm looking forward to reading some insight on this.

Edited by JMartins
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This is interesting to me because my girlfriend is always talking about how she thinks in pictures. I sometimes have pictures running through my mind but that is usually when I am distracted. I think when I am focusing on something I also have an internal dialogue running where I am basically talking to myself in my head.

One other thing that reminds me of is that I have a fairly hard time forming mental images from descriptions For example when Annelise tells me about how she wants to make something, and describes how all the parts would look, it's almost impossible for me to mentally form an image of it to see what that'd look like without actually having to see it (or something so similar that I can just change the color/shapes a little in my head and that'd substitute). She can do that extremely easily, it seems. I am usually telling her that I really would have to see first before I can tell whether I'd like it or not. At the same time, pretty much anything explained as an idea or concept is much, much easier for me to understand, and I am usually the first one to grasp the implications of a new concept. It is mostly in constructing mental images that my mind is not as proficient, but I wonder if that is simply due to lack of practice. I know I haven;'t really done that many things where I really needed to do that, and I think you can probably train this skill (at least to the point where it's pretty average).

Does anyone else recognize that at all?

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Interesting conversation...

I do a little of both. For racing, I really need to think in pictures. Visual cues on the track: curbs, trees, cracks, markers, etc. Can't really be dot to dot as you'd loose time in seeing then recognizing pieces and putting them all together. You kind of have to visually feel for them all at the same time and place yourself in the picture.

For PR stuff for racing, well, then I gotta think in phrases, etc. I will think through phrases and all after riding though too when I'm looking to pick up some time on the track.

I think individuals are just different in how they "think". When I taught my racing schools, sometimes I had to explain a concept three different ways to get it through the individual. Some, you can draw a picture. Some need some kind of engineering type explanation of force, traction, etc. Others need a vote of confidence from me that it can be done and that they just need to "do it".

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I have pretty much always thought in images. It is really easy for me to visualize almost anything, and I turn descriptions into pictures with no problem at all. I can grasp words and concepts just fine, but even then I sometimes turn it into a "picture" to understand it more clearly.

For example, I was recently listening to Peikoff explain how force is anti-life. It was brought up that force makes you do something you would otherwise not, and that you wouldn't choose it yourself, and that one's mind is one's basic means of survival. In my head, I had all three of those ideas in separate groups, or "rectangles," at the "top" of my thoughts in my head. When he finally explained that force is anti-life because it makes choice irrelevent, that was the unifying idea I needed, and I placed it automatically in another "rectangle" or area beneath the first three. And that is how it comes back up in my mind. When I relate it to other ideas I know later on, the visualization will link to those visualizations, too. If I would discover more to the idea of force being anti-life, I would add to the picture I already have. *

With things more obviously visual, like imagining a room spacially, or a building, or puting together clothes, or whatever, that's even easier. Also, SD26 mentioned racing. Driving is very enjoyable for me, and I do it with ease. I drive with a "third eye" that tells me where everything is that I can't actually see. I imagine the motion of everything on the road that isn't visible, pretty accurately.

EDIT: *Another example is economics. When I think of economics the first thing that I imagine is a map of the United States. Then I think of the major business transactions that take place every day, and I place the business locations on a map. Sometimes I draw lines like a plane jetting across the country, which represent the business transactions. Then, I rotate the earth around and see China, and sometimes other major business areas in the world, and I either draw more lines or just remember that the lines are there. If I need to be more specific that day for some reason, I zoom in on any part of the globe and see businss trucks taking this product here, or a restaurant serving these customers there, or whatever.

Also, if I am going to learn something new, I learn about 50 times faster and more thoroughly if I can just watch it being done.

And, my "internal monologue" is in linked pictures, too. I seldom speak in words in my head.

Edited by JASKN
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I would say that I go back and forth between thinking in pictures and words. I am poor at learning audially(sp?), because I seem to have a tendency to think in words when someone is speaking, rather than translating the content into manageable pieces or shapes like Jaskn said above. To compensate, I've developed a habit of not looking at the speaker and playing with an object, which seems to help me stay in a more integrating mode of thinking.

Something which might be fun to experiment with in regards to thinking pictorially, which I would think would improve your game a little, is to play chess with shapes. When I play, I envision the pieces as the shapes made by their potential movement. So a Bishop is an 'X', a rook is a '+', a queen or a king is an '*', a knight is a sort of 'flower', and a pawn is a small 'v.' In looking at the board, I find it much easier to see the interaction of the pieces going forward in time. "If my '+' goes forward 3 spaces, how will those lines intersect with his two 'X's?" That sort of thing but visually. The symbols are a little amorphous, because the arms sometimes stretch and contract as they move with regard to the other pieces, but more or less, those shapes remain.

It makes it much easier to glance at a board and see all of the potential interactions than going through each piece's several moves.

I like to think of it as adding a 4th dimension(in the time sense) to the game, but I suppose it would be more accurate to say I am just making units on the board a little larger, and that gains efficiency.

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I think I am primarily linguistic. I do think in pictures sometimes. I didn't notice that I was visualizing what I was reading until a few months ago. My thoughts are most definitely an inner monologue when I am not focusing on physical activity.

A few years ago I tried to think in a high-brow grammatically correct voice, enunciating every syllable clearly. It lasted for about an hour, and it actually pointed me to some grammatical errors I was making.

My mother once shared an anecdote with me about someone she met in MENSA who's inner monologue was a teleprompter. He was surprised to learn that other people didn't see script scrolling through their mind's eye. I tried to think this way a few times, with limited success, but it was too taxing. I'm not that visual a thinker.

edit- I remember a few times when I was was 10 or 11 and trying to remember a song. The memory was so clear that, for an instant, I actually thought I the song was playing on the radio. I had never remembered anything that exactly before. I've never experienced anything close with visual memory.

Edited by FeatherFall
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I think primarily in standard English, using imagery only when I am thinking about something in particular that I need extra focus for or while I'm in the midst of creating a poem, a short story, or a novel. I don't know that I would characterize it as a monologue, but rather me thinking in English. But I do have skilled imagery skills, or good recall of memory, and use it in my work, which is picture framing, a visual oriented field. For my story writing, I know I am "in the zone" if I get a clear image of what is going on, as the director of the action and having the action occur in my head as I write about it. It is hard to describe, however, because it is not as if I "turn on the machine" and then write what I'm seeing -- it happens at the same time. Same way with reading a novel; eventually I'm not consciously aware of the words and see the characters and what they are doing in my head.

But I differentiate thinking from the imagery -- the thinking is in words -- and I am thinking most of the time; so mostly it is a smooth transition from what is going on in my head and what I am writing, such as replying to this thread. I don't think imagery per se is actually thinking, unless one uses the imagery to be specific about a project that needs to be done requiring specific structures to put together. A conceptual consciousness is going to think in a specific language or possibly use some other symbolism to convey abstractions. In other words, imagining an airplane taking off to deliver goods to some far off location isn't really thinking, it is imagining. Or at least that is the way I differentiate it. I suppose for those who compose music, it may not be in explicit words, since we don't have words for all of that at this time, but I think I would still claim that it is imagination rather than thinking, similar to what I do when I imagine a scene when I am writing a story.

In other words, I wouldn't say that anything that is going on in your head is thinking -- we can also remember and imagine.

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I'm both visual and auditory, though the visual method mostly is for helping me concretecize knowledge and maintain my focus. If I'm thinking in my physically idle moments so as to clarify a thought or review an idea, then I visualize myself giving a lecture in a class to students who often conveniently ask the right question at the right time if my thinking is weak in a particular area. It may be strange considering I don't want to become a teacher, but it works well for me.

I do use a pure auditory method sometimes if I have to do some on-the-spot thinking such as price calculations at the grocery store, for I don't have time for the luxury of my imaginary lecture class, but I never use a pure visual method, not even if I'm daydreaming. If I have a thought of any sorts I have a standing order to make it clear as possible, and to me that requires putting it into grammatical sentences.

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It really depends as to what i'm doing. If i'm reading a book, i visualize the scene in my mind, where i'll often catch myself speaking aloud the dialogue of my favorite characters. When I'm visualizing one of my own stories, i often speak the dialogue aloud and move around, using my mind to visually fill in the gaps of movements (to others watching, this could be described as pacing with hand movements).

However, if i'm working through a tough issue, i'll often envision myself talking to someone and walk through my problems with this phantom person that i've created.

I guess i use visualization when pulling up memories (however, my memory always leaves out peoples faces) and an internal dialogue most of the time besides.

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Here's some food for thought:

Temple Grandin writes that she "thinks in pictures," going so far as to title her book..."Thinking in Pictures."


"Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures. Language-based thinkers often find this phenomenon difficult to understand, but in my job as an equipment designer for the livestock industry, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage."

Is this accurate, meaning, is this truly "thinking?"

I bring this up based on Ayn Rand's answer to the question during a Q and A at the Ford Hall Forum. She was asked:

"Is it possible to think in images, rather than with words? I have in mind the mental process in which an architect projects in his imagination a view of a particular space, and works on that image in his mind. Isn't an image like a word-a perceptual concrete that can stand for an idea?"

Her response was:

"No. The only image that can stand for an idea is a written or printed word. That's a visual symbol. But the image of a concrete has nothing to do with thinking. An image can be the OBJECT of thinking, but you can't think BY MEANS of images. What an architect or any visual artist does is much more complex, and connato, except as a metaphor, be called 'thinking in images.' It isn't thinking; it's imagination. Imagination can make use of a mix of images, sounds, and words; it's an entirely different process. But imagination, creativitly, or anything rational cannot take place unless the creator uses words....An architect isn't good if he can't translate his spatial imagination into actual words, and in effect say, "I'll build a building of such-and-such size, and put the stress on height,' and so on. He must translate his plan not only into language, but into engineering language, which is mathematical and extremely precise."

She adds that "In using concepts, words are merely arbitrary symbols. The word 'table' is not the concept

'table'; it helps one to hold that concept in mind. The word gives identify to the concept, but it isn't the concept. The concept is our understanding of what that word stands for. A concrete image cannot do that."

When I read this, it seems that Grandin isn't saying anything necessarily striking, more that she's reversing the process of turning concepts into language. It usually goes from sensation to perception to conception. A sensory experience occurs, the brain percieves it after recieving the signal, and the mind via language creates the concept. An interesting thought experiment would be to substitute thinking in images with sounds or smells.

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I have a monologue, but it's not really internal because I have a tendency to talk *out loud*--in fact, it's hard for me to organize my thoughts if I don't have some sort of existential component, either writing or speaking. I don't *think* in pictures at all, but I *remember* in a very visual manner.

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I associate many thoughts with images, but it's usually also with words. I try to think in short sentences, not drawing things out too long.

For an instance of this, I thought the way Rorschach wrote his thoughts in his journal was very accurate to my own thoughts that I would just scribble down from my head.

Edited by TheEgoist
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1. Most of my thinking is done by internal monologue. I find myself having some problems with it since I sometimes move my lips while thinking. It looks freaky to other people.

2. Yes, I do think by both words and pictures since not all things may be portrayd by pictures that easily.

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  • 11 years later...

1. I usually use an inner voice to think, in general i am in an imaginary conversation with someone and we keep exchanging thoughts arguments and we either end up polishing the thought or some kind of a paradox.

2. I also use pictures, they are not high resolution like in real life but more like a dream, it helps me imagine things that i want to think about, like a gadget for my internal monologue


  So i use them both but mostly i use my internal voice 

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I use them both, i mostly use my internal monologue because its much more instructive ( in a conversation either with myself or someone that oppeses me so we exchange arguments until we polish the main idea or end up in a dead end or a paradox) but when needed i also use my pictorial side to help out with concepts that require it like in chess as said above or at school and i really need it since im an engineering student, and they are not high definition as in real life but more like a dream but those pictures largely fullfil their duty.


is it really normal that i can use them both ? 

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Haroun Zaki, I incline to think that use of both are commonly employed, although that "image" side might be stronger in people who are attracted to engineering. Best wishes in your pursuit of that degree.

Someday you may have time and interest for these:

The Voices Within (2016)

Space to Reason (2013)



Edited by Boydstun
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  • 1 month later...

This was an interesting read. I was surprised to see people have trouble with one or the other.

For me i do abstract, auditory, internal monologue and visual. All of them i believe to be in the same level. However, i do not convert images to visual if I processed it from internal monologue or if I'm not reading something that involves a mental image. I separated internal monologue from auditory because I find that its really different when I think in melodies and harmony from me speaking to myself.

When painting or sculpting: I have to make visual cues to eyeball the correct proportions and angles. ex. draw a line in my head where, what, goes from point a to point b, or impose a triangle image.

When writing a story: I think in images, then translate them to prose.

When playing chess: I find that i combined two kinds of visual thinking, for calculations I think of the exchanges within my head. And hold the image of the final board position then check to see if I'm making any blunder, rinse and repeat. But sometimes when I find that there is some sort of tactic that involves sacrifice, I concentrate on the board and make lines. What's interesting about this is that sometimes it allows me to know if a move is a mistake and doesn't need to be calculated.

When programming: I don't really know how to describe this but when I think in programming I neither think in audio nor visual. The algorithms just pops in to my head like an abstraction. This also happens for anything if I'm trying to think really quickly. I play some esports fcg and sometimes i calculate the distance of my opponent like this (to see if they'll whiff etc). I realize that this is how I used to think back when i was a child and just developed internal monologue and visual images later on.

That said, something that i was surprised knowing that people can't do but i find that is natural to me are the following:

- Playing a song in my head completely. (from start to finish and 100% clear, which is an advantage since I can memorize a piece from 1-5x listening then transcribe them to paper)

- Thinking of the sonority of notes and being able to hum in my head what I see from sheet music.

- "Simulate" complex movements of things visually (which I always do because of a certain hobby)

Edited by Giemel Regis
added examples
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