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Please tell me if I'm odd. - Songs of innocence and of experience [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Douglas Spencer

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Please tell me if I'm odd. [Jun. 25th, 2003|10:56 pm]
Douglas Spencer
I've just had another chat session with scarlatti.

There was an intriguing insight into part of what makes me tick. It never struck me as odd, this facet of the way my mind works -- but she's never encountered it before. Now that I've had pointed out to me that this particular bit of cognitive infrastructure might be unusual, I want to find out just how unusual it is.
There's a theory that this specific thing is bizarre, strange, totally alien from the rest of the planet's population.
I want to test this theory. I want to describe here the phenomenon I described to her in chat, and solicit comments about whether or not it's odd.

How strange am I?

It started because I didn't remember what her favourite colour is, despite having read it in a number of surveys.
My favourite colour is green. Mountains are green and purple, woods are green and brown, water is green and blue. I associate the colour with pleasant things. That's why it's my favourite colour.
scarlatti's favourite colour, apparently, is purple. I didn't remember that -- I said that it was because she'd never said why. There wasn't a hook for remembering. She said "To me, I've never heard of having a particular reason for liking one's favorite color. One just *likes* that color more than the others."

She asked me if I knew what colour her eyes are. I said "I haven't the faintest idea. I daresay you've said, I'm sure I've seen them. But I don't have a clue." I said "I know you describe your hair as strawberry blonde, but I can't visualise it's colour, even having seen it."

I'm not colourblind. I have perfect eyesight, perfect colour vision. I'm just not interested in the colour of her eyes, her hair.

And it never occurred to me that this was strange.

She asked me what colour my eyes were. I said they were brown, I knew they were brown. I'd had to fill it in on forms and stuff. But I had no idea whether they were light brown or dark brown. I'd have to go and look. But she knew. She said they were "a beautiful medium brown". I said "really, this kind of detail is simply not important. I fail totally to see what difference it makes how people look. How people feel -- that's a different matter."

A few lines later I said "I can't even visualise what Anne looks like." I lived with Anne for more than ten years, we'd been married for more than four when she died. I looked at her every day. But I can't bring her face to mind. I know her smell, the taste of her skin, its texture. The way she felt. scarlatti asked if I had photos -- I'm sure there are some, somewhere. But I don't go back and look at them. I don't have to. I can feel, taste, smell Anne without a photo, and I was never fussed what she looked like.

And it never occurred to me that this was strange.

scarlatti treasures up photos of me. She goes back and looks at them again and again. She loves to watch me on the webcam. She can picture me accurately, effortlessly, in her mind's eye.
And I don't -- I can't -- bring to mind what she looks like.

I can't picture anyone's appearance. I can't bring anyone into view in front of my mind's eye. I can describe people, how they look -- but I'm not remembering how they look. I'm remembering descriptions of how they look. And there are people who I can't describe at all, people I know very very well.

scarlatti asked me if I remembered what my Mother looked like. (I visit her frequently -- there are photos in earlier LJ entries.)
I have no idea what my mother looks like.

And it never occurred to me that this was strange.

I know what her glasses look like, because I've had to repair them. I know what shape the windscreen scars on her face are, because I was studying first-aid at the time of her accident. I know what shape her biopsy scar is, because it was me that sent her to the GP. But I can't visualise her face.
I remember bits of how she looks, because of specific reasons. But not her whole face. There's no reason why I should -- I didn't become her son by looking at her, after all.

I take photos, and I link to them in my LJ. But the captions are often to do with what people are doing, what people are thinking. Who cares what they look like? What difference does it make?

People are the people that they are because of what they do, because of how they react to each other. It doesn't make a difference how people look. Really. Really. The difference is only in how people interact.
And yet some people make decisions about how to interact based on how people look. Now that is bizarre. I'm completely, totally baffled why it makes a difference. It never did to me.

And it never occurred to me that this was strange.

Is this strange? Am I odd? Honestly, I never realised.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: mhw
2003-06-25 02:59 pm (UTC)
I don't think you're strange. I remember, and use, the words for the pictures of things, not the pictures themselves. It's very rare that something impresses me enough visually that I can summon an image of it.

Perhaps that's why I write.
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[User Picture]From: sbisson
2003-06-25 03:03 pm (UTC)
No, I recognise that completely.

I have very little visual memory, and don't seem to process concepts at a visual level.

I'm quite happy to relate visually to events around me - but I find it very difficult to remember them, unless I use a very detailed text-based description. I have described it to people as "narrating my universe".

That doesn't mean I don't use body language - if anything it's more important, and I find it extremely to talk to people on the phone (even family and close friends) because I won't be able to visualise how they're reacting to me...

But yues, the looks thing. I never got that, either. People are inside their skulls, surely? And isn't that what matters?
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[User Picture]From: wandra
2003-06-25 03:58 pm (UTC)
I can relate to lots of this. I rarely have any idea what colour anyone's eyes are unless I look, and even then I might not remember for long. I have "impressions" of people in my mind's eye - I might be able to recall a smile, a manner, a general shape, a bit of conversation, a particular memory of something - but I can't inspect those memories to see what colour hair anyone has or anything like that. If I consciously look at someone with a view to recording and remembering a detail I'll remember more, maybe because I've then put it into words. I am extremely bad at giving a physical description anyone unless I can actually see them

But that's exactly why, for me, things like photos are precious, because they fill in, for me, the bits I can't remember. They bring the person into sharp focus (well, depending on the picture!).

I'm not a person who has much in the way of visual preferences for people. (There *are* some looks that attract me, but they tend to be odd things - I have a bit of a thing for bulgy eyes, for instance :-)) That's not to say that looks are unimportant but it tends to be things like facial expression that make a difference. A look of comprehension, for instance, or a particular kind of twinkle, maybe. Almost always an intuitive/emotional impression, the whole effect not any of the details.

But I do care what people look like - because if people are dear to me, what they look like is dear to me as well. (Maybe thats a different kind of "care what they look like" than you're talking about though.)

If I'm asked for a description I kind of shrug and wave my arms about and say things like "I'm just not a very visual person", but that gives the impression I don't have a sense of aesthetics, which is far from being the case. I'm quite picky about what I like when it's not people I'm looking at.

And perversely, it matters to me that people close to me like the way *I* look. I get twitchy at the idea that anyone wants to interact with me *because of* how I look, because that makes *me* invisible, but it appears to matter, once I'm involved with someone, that they find me visually attractive.

So I don't think you're all that strange, no :-) Hey, maybe I'm not so strange, then, either :-)
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[User Picture]From: pickledginger
2003-06-25 04:09 pm (UTC)
People process information differently. That's part of what the BBC "Leonardo da Vinci" thinking-styles quiz that recently made the LJ rounds was about. (Though it utterly ignored the fact that one can rely upon more than one style of data acquisition and recall.)

Methods by which people learn and remember information include audio, visual (which really, I think, ought to be divided between text and images), kinaesthetic (motion-based - think of dance and athletics and cooking and surgery - even touch typing!), touch (less useful than audio or visual in an academic setting!).

Now, everybody uses all of these, to some extent. And a lot of the memory tricks out there involve the use of two or more of these kinds of memory. That gives each trick two or more chances to match up with the would-be memorizer's strong points, but also, more hooks by which to haul the memory up from the deeps, later. (Getting someone's phone number, for instance, generally involves hearing it (audio), writing it down (kinaesthetic), and seeing it written down (visual). After which, one might actually *remember* it, without needing to look it up again.)

You appear to be at the extreme "non" end of the visual-nonvisual spectrum. You don't need images, you don't make images, you don't recall images, you may not even "get" images.

It sounds as if she's at the other end of that spectrum. She may *need* an image, in order to remember things, may need to be able to develop an image, in order to grasp a new concept.

Are you strange? Are you odd?

Well, yes - but we knew that! ;-)
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[User Picture]From: lproven
2003-06-25 05:11 pm (UTC)
Damn. A feedline like that and I'm thwarted.

I'm not as extreme as you. For example, hair colour matters to me, but I can't call people's faces to mind. I can picture the body of every one of my girlfriends in quite considerable detail, but I cannot picture faces - my memory doesn't store them. In my youth, I had a near-eidetic memory for faces; I would talk to people I'd once been in a bus queue with, 5y earlier, until I learned this freaked them out. But I can't hold that image in my mind's eye.

But most other things, yes. I can point to the bit of a page where a much-loved passage in a book fell, years later; recall a view exactly, or a scene. Just not faces.

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[User Picture]From: slsweets
2003-06-25 05:42 pm (UTC)
Actually:
People process things in different ways. We have five senses, of which your sense of sight as a memory key, just doesn't click things for you.
I key things to smell and sound. Sight keys are things like smiles... the sight of my whole family (brothers, sister, her hubby, all our kids, my dad and step-mom) soaked down from a huge water fight (hoses, buckets, water guns). But I can't tell you what color anybody wore, aside from blue jeans for most of the adults (not my sis or stepmom); We had a ball though; we laughed and shrieked and giggled and I recall the smell in the air was of water and mud (soaked the lawn through).

We remember what is important.
The color fo my eyes? I'd rather my sweetheart remembered the warmth of my arms.. and maybe the smell of a good dinner I'd cooked.. the cologne I wear...
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[User Picture]From: sparktastic
2003-06-25 10:23 pm (UTC)

Hm.

I can't picture faces.
I can picture buildings, streets, furniture, text in a book, even the rest of a person's body, like the shape of their toes, or the way they walk, but faces?
Nup.
Frustrating, really.
Sometimes I can picture a photograph, like I'm looking at a two dimensional image. But to imagine a person's face? Can't hardly do it at all.
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[User Picture]From: nardobd
2003-06-25 11:05 pm (UTC)
I have the same problem... both in remembering others' appearance and in describing my own... I can generally remember hair colour, but that's about it! I prefer to remember personalities and characters.. that is what is important to me. Each to their own, i suppose.
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From: girl_thing
2003-06-26 12:55 am (UTC)
I was thinking on Saturday. Trying to imagine my ex. And I couldn't.

I don't think it's weird, I just think you worry more about the mental as time goes on and forget the physical.
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[User Picture]From: ninneviane
2003-06-26 03:05 am (UTC)
No you're not strange, for all the reaons everyone else here has stated :)
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[User Picture]From: hawkida
2003-06-26 03:34 am (UTC)
I'm fairly visual in my memory. Unfortunately I have a good imagination as well and when I forget details I can replace them with other details that are just as convincing but not necessarily right. I think this is mostly just with colours, though. I can remember shapes fairly well but I can switch in alternative colours. And that's not just with faces. Like, if you asked me what colours used to underline the BBC logo I couldn't say - I know there were colours but they could have been anything. Same with the old channel 4 logo - the yellow, I remember in the vertical of the 4 but the rest... I'm fairly sure there was red in it and probably blue, but where? I couldn't say. And that T shirt you bought recently with "Mashed" on it - was it black? Dark blue? Or maybe it was an army green colour cos that'd fit with the theme of it. But I don't know, I can visualise it in all those colours. I can also imagine it in brighter colours like yellow or orange, but I'm fairly sure it didn't actually look like that.
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[User Picture]From: scarlatti
2003-06-26 04:26 am (UTC)
Yikes.... Now I'm starting to worry that *I'm* the odd one here!

No, really, I figured it was the case that different people are just wired in different ways as far as information processing and memory and such. No doubt I've met plenty of "nonvisual" people before now, but I'd never had an opportunity to explore the phenomenon in any depth before last night's chat.

It was utterly fascinating to me, learning about a way of experiencing the world that is so very different from my own. :)
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[User Picture]From: elfy
2003-06-26 09:26 am (UTC)
I'm also more the visual type. I remember things/peoples buy their looks. Don't nesseccarily judge them by this, thou! Problem for me is remembering names, I'm really bad at that. I have bad memory in general. For example my ex can tell me what I said a year ago and I can often just anser 'yeah, maybe, don't know anymore'...
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