Tag Archives: Concepts Associated With Visual Memories of Scenes

A memory walk through Cottesloe of the past

I never miss reading Robert Drewe’s column The Other Side in the Westweekend liftout of Saturday’s West Australian newspaper every week, because I have come to love the city that I grew up in and live in, and Drew’s pieces either provide a good laugh or an insight into the history of Perth, often both.

I couldn’t help noticing that in last week’s piece (June 13th 2015), Drewe describes some experiences that are a version of the method of loci memory technique. He writes of experiencing visual memories of past scenes of now-demolished Perth landmarks as he travels past the locations where they once served the people of Perth. Hamburger vendors on Mounts Bay Road and the Cottesloe foreshore are some examples given. I’m sure such experiences are common, and this is why anyone is able to exploit this type of memory experience using this ancient technique for memorizing a sequence of items encoded as visual memories. I have a special interest in the method of loci as I was I believe the first to describe, at this blog, a spontaneous experience experienced by myself and synaesthete kin in which we spontanously encode synaesthesia-like associations between concepts and visual memories of scenes, in a way that is similar to, but not the same as, the method of loci. My theory is that us synaesthetes have a greater tendency to memorize than most people, to the degree that we encode very robust long-term memories unintentionally and spontanously, just from being a passenger in a moving vehicle vacantly looking at passing scenery while listening to interesting news or stories on the car radio.

Drewe’s column unearths lost memories for readers week after week, which accounts for it’s appeal, so it is no surprise that his writing strikes a resonance with a piece that I wrote for this blog a while ago, detailing my inner visions of past year’s displays overlaying the current year’s display at specific well-used display sites at the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe Beach. Like Drewe, I can’t be at that spot on the Cottesloe foreshore without “seeing” Van Eileen’s hamburger joint, with the semi-circular deeply sandy and untidy carpark area surrounding it. The odd thing is that my memory of how that spot is currently landscaped does not come to mind with any ease. Even if I was there, at that very spot, right now, I suspect that the green and well-tended vista would not seem quite as real as the memory, with associated sand in my shoes. It isn’t the real Cottesloe.

If dyslexia isn’t a visual problem, then what is it?

Forget colour overlays – dyslexia is not a vision problem. by Clare Wilson

New Scientist. 25 May 2015.

Do you want to know my theory about dyslexia? I think dyslexia is a lack of synaesthesia, for two very good reasons. Firstly, if you break the act of reading down into its most basic element (phonics or translating graphemes into phonemes), it is basically synaesthesia in which visual symbols as a visual stimuli evoke an experience of language sounds. Reading is basically hearing symbols, and that experience of language sounds further triggers the experience of concepts being triggered by language sounds. I know that things as complex as concepts can be synaesthesia concurrents because I myself experience a number of varieties of synaesthesia in which quite sophisticated concepts are the concurrents. I think the reason why some people are poor at reading or slower to pick up the skill is identical with the normal genetic variation in the degree which people are more or less syanesthete. There is debate about how much evidence has been found by researchers about brain structure and syanesthesia, but I still think it likely that syanesthesia is the result of a hyper-connected brain, and I think the opposite is true of dyslexics, and I believe the theory of dyslexia and hypoconnectivity is nothing new in dyslexia research.

The second reason why I think dyslexia can be regarded as the opposite of synaesthesia (even though I’m open to the possibility that there could be some individuals who have both conditions for reasons unknown) is that in my family of blood relatives we have a pedigree of generations who have a profession that primarily deals with the written word or have scored in academic selection tests in the highest levels of percentiles in reading, writing and general literacy skills, even though their results in other academic areas are above average but not exceptional, and most of these people appear to be grapheme-colour synaesthetes. I believe this association is not random, but such a relationship can only be proven by studies done by researchers on large numbers of people, and if any researcher would like to put my theory to the test and publish the results I would expect that I would be appropriately credited in their research paper.

Too exciting! Nobel Prize awarded for research on stuff that I’ve been writing about here

Visual recognition of places or scenes, mental navigation, a sense of place and the normal mental memory function that is the basis for the “method of loci” memory technique are some of the interesting psychological subjects that I have written about here, and it appears that my interests very much overlap with the areas of research pioneered by John O’Keefe and May-Britt and Edvard Moser, all winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Medicine. This team spent a great part of their careers doing research on rats, and their discoveries include grid cells and “place cells” which are nerve cells in the hippocampus that only activate when the rat is in a specific physical location. I’m not clear whether the grid cells and the place cells are the same thing or not. Read about their fascinating and important research here.

I’m feeling very frustrated right now as I am sure that somewhere in this blog I’ve written a description of an experience that I occasionally have while travelling in a train in unfamiliar lines or at night, in which it appears that two different mental navigational systems in my brain go “out of sync” causing a temporary sense of confusion about where I am. One of these navigational systems is based on visual perception of scenes while the other is based on a body-centred, visceral, embodied, spatial, sense of direction, and the common language “spoken” between these two systems is the visual memory of scenes, (which is of interest in my case because this function is encoded in pretty-much the same part of the brain as face memory, and I’m a super-recognizer). Normally the visual perception of scenes system informs and regularly updates the directional sense system, and the directional system accesses a sequentially-encoded system of visual memories of places and then sends predictions about expected scenery back to the visual system. Sometimes when visual scene recognition operates at the edges of ability and fails to provide input to or misinforms the directional system, the directional system works in an uncertain and speculative way, and at times is confronted with input of visual scenes that do not fit the predictions of expected scenery sent from the scene memory bank. This is the “spin-out” moment. Following this head-spinning moment of confusion is a sense of “Where the f*** are we?”, and my sense of navigation will either be reset from a combination of conscious knowledge of direction combined with visual memories of scenes or fresh comprehensible visual input. This is my interpretation of these types of experiences, which I believe are interesting and can inform us about normal mental navigation. I am very conscious of visual memories of scenes because I experience a number of types of synaesthesia in which these memories are either inducers or concurrents. I believe I am the first person in the world who has taken the time to write and publish full descriptions of these experiences, here at this blog. I have asserted that one of these types of synaesthesia is the same or very similar to the very powerful and ancient method of loci memory technique, which involves activation of a number of parts of the human brain, including the hippocampus.

Visual memory of chore – concept of true story synaesthesia

As I opened the lid of the clear plastic seed-sprouter at my kitchen sink and saw the just-sprouting greenish mung beans, the unpleasant memory of the facts of the story covered by last night’s Four Corners current affairs television show jumped into my mind unbidden. Last night I had been picking out dead brown non-sprouting mung beans from the healthy beans after they had been soaking for hours to start the sprouting process, the kind of dull and repetitive chore that I often try to make less boring by listening to the television or radio while I’m working. In the process of performing this chore last night the content of the television show that I had listened to had become wedded with the visual image of the sprouting beans laying on the tray of the seed sprouter. I think the neuroscience term for this might be “binding”. The fact that these two logically unrelated experiences had become permanently connected in my brain and my mind was unknown to me until the sight of the beans in the sprouter was seen again this afternoon, involuntarily and instantly triggering a complex concept in my mind that has nothing to do with beans or sprouting. The way this variety of synaesthesia operates has similarities with the operation of a number of other varieties of synaesthesia that I have previously written about at this blog: the Proust Phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, concepts associated with visual memories of scenes, involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM) and arguably The Strange Phenomenon. This type or a similar type of synaesthesia has been experienced by me many times in the past after the synaesthesia associations have been formed while I was doing handcrafts while listening to television shows or radio. An example would be my remembering one year’s winner of the Eurovision Song Contest when I look at the hand-made quilt on our child’s bed which I worked on while we were tuned into the song contest finals on TV. Turkey should win more often – they always make interesting music with a great beat.

Just discovered that there are psychologists who study involuntary autobiographical memories (IAMs)

Involuntary autobiographical memories are of special interest to me because I experience visual memories of scenes, a face, complete personalities of real people from my past and autobiographical memories of learning about specific concepts as synaesthesia concurrents, which means that when I encounter experiences that trigger these synaesthesias I involuntarily experience one of these types of IAMs. So, one could say that at least for me the IAM experience is just another broad category of synaesthesia that I experience. So does that mean that the IAM experiences of people thought to not be synaesthetes are in fact also synaesthesia, or are the resemblances between our experiences just superficial? At this blog I have previously described types of synaesthesia experienced by me that are triggered by performing over-learned fine motor movements (housework and grooming manual chores) which have concurrents that are visual memories of scenes of locations or learned concepts. I have also noted that my random uncontrolled thoughts become more creative and fluent with greater accessibility to concepts and memories while I am performing spatial-movement tasks such as showering or driving or walking. So I was rather astounded when I read this in a paper about IAMs from The Psychologist from a year ago:

“IAMs occur spontaneously without any deliberate intention to recall anything. In fact they are most likely to occur when individuals are engaged in regular, automatic activities that are not attentionally demanding, such as walking, driving or eating.”

Actually, these activities are attentionally demanding, but maybe not demanding on the conscious, verbal parts of the brain. I think the thing that really matters about these tasks are that they are spatial-motor tasks which activate the parietal lobe, which just also happens to be a region of the brain that plays a central role in many cases of synaesthesia. My theory is that there is a category of IAMs which are a subtype of synaesthesia in which experiences that are obviously autobiographical memories are the synaesthesia concurrents and motor-spatial processes are the synaesthesia inducers. I have also previoiusly put forward the theory that synaesthesia concurrents are actually memories of one or another type, rather than randomly and mysteriously generated experiences or sensory experiences.

I believe that IAMs cannot be studied or understood without the study and knowledge of synaesthesia, because many instances of IAMs are synaesthesia of one type or another, and the whole IAM phenomenon is very similar to synaesthesia in the way it works. Despite my observations, in the paper in The Psychologist by Bradley, Moulin and Kvavilashvili I could find no mention of synaesthesia at all. I think there is a lot of work to be done in this area of research.

Rosemary J. Bradley, Chris J.A. Moulin and Lia Kvavilashvili Involuntary autobiographical memories. Psychologist. March 2013 Volume 26 Part 3 p.190-193.


A super-recognizer moment

I’ve been looking at stuff from the WA Museum and Lost Perth on Facebook, and there was a photo of the Perth fashion designer Aurelio Costarella taken with a department store Santa Claus when Mr Costarella was seven years old. The instant I saw the photo I recognized the santa (or the Father Christmas as we would have said back then) as the same one who was in a old Santa’s knee shot taken of me when I was around ten years old. I always thought of this santa as looking a bit too much like the character Zachary Smith in the 1960s TV show Lost in Space. I think that is what we might call a super-recognizer moment. Lost Perth also featured a photo of the old Bairds department store which was in the Perth CBD. I can still remember the interior of that store like I was there yesterday, and I think that might be related to the fact that it is one of the many memories of scenes that I experience as synaesthesia concurrents evoked by thinking about specific concepts. There’s nothing like an old photo, and a sometimes-photographic memory, to bring the past alive.



Scenes, scenes, scenes, my idle thoughts are filled with scenes

While trying to get my finger into the groove on the inner side of sticks of celery to wash them properly scenes of Leederville around the area of the Luna Cinema and the Leederville TAFE or tech or whatever they call it these days flashes into my mind automatically. There is no logical or temporal connection between celery and Leederville that I know of. This is just another example of my fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia. I named it myself. As far as I know I’m the first person to ever describe this type of synaesthesia in detail. I experience it all the time, and it is such an ordinary part of my life that I barely notice it. I’ve also described other types of synaesthesia that are either triggered by seeing scenes or which have visual memories of scenes as the surprising thing that is triggered by doing things such as household manual chores or thinking about particular concepts or reading or listening to a narrative story or non-fiction account that has scenes in it.

The stuff of thought is scenes and visualizations. In my opinion the front of the brain is over-rated for importance in thought compared to the back end and the under-side of the brain, which does visual processing. I believe we need to take a new LOOK at the way the brain works.

Pictures from the past

While making a cake by hand from scratch tonight, scenes from South Fremantle and Moore River flashed into my mind’s eye. While mixing the icing scenes from years ago in Subiaco appeared. I call this phenomenon “fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia”. As far as I know I’m the first person in the world to name it and identify it a synaesthesia. It is interesting because it violates one criterion of a quite old definition of synaesthesia, that it only involves simple sensory experiences, such as simple shapes or colours but not complex visual experiences such as objects or faces or landscapes. I also very occasionally experience the appearance of a face as a synaesthesia concurrent, which is another reason why these types of synaesthesia are interesting – because they appear to be linked to my super-recognizer ability (marked superiority in face memory). Another reason why these things are interesting from a scientific point of view is that they seem to be related to a synesthesia-like experience which appears to be the involuntary operation of an ancient memorizing technique known as the method of loci. In these experiences, which other people also report experiencing, memories of concepts become accidentally connected with visual memories of particular scenes. For example, re-visiting a spot in a carpark where I spent time years ago reading a book or listening to a talk radio broadcast will automatically bring to mind the concept or thought that I got from reading or listening there years ago. It can also operate in reverse with the concept evoking a memory of the exact scene that I looked at when I first learned about it. It’s interesting.

Another example of visual memories of scenes as synaesthesia concurrents?

In this interesting post from last November at her blog, Debbie Pullinger, postgraduate university student and synaesthete, has described her experiences of what is apparently the involuntary retrieval of visual memories of a very specific scene triggered by reading a particular book, and how such apparently randomly retrieved visual memories can then become the setting for her visualization of the plot or the recounted events in the narrative of the book. Thank you Debbie for sharing your interesting observations! I have many times experienced the same type of experiences, and I am also a synaesthete. If I am re-reading a book that I have previously read while at an outdoor location, I will generally involuntarily experience a visual memory of the scene that I saw at the same time that I first read that book. Two of our synaesthete kids and I also experience a similar memory phenomenon which involuntarily links concepts with visual memories of scenes. I believe it is an interesting and scientifically undiscovered hybrid of synaesthesia and the memory technique known as the method of loci or the memory palace. I wrote about this phenomenon in this blog, naming it Involuntary Method of of Loci Memorization (IMLM). Debbie’s experiences of the involuntary visualization of memories of real scenes while visualizing scenes in fiction and non-fiction books is I think the same phenomenon which I described at this blog on April 26th of this year in my post about Heather Sellers’ autobiography. I find it quite fascinating the Debbie described her own visual experiences while reading a particular passage in an Oliver Sacks book in which Sacks visits a musician study subject at the person’s home and listens to the subject playing piano. Debbie inexplicably visualized this scene played out in an outdoor setting. When I read a similar scene in another Oliver Sacks book I involuntarily visualized it set in the small living room of the home unit of an long-dead aunt, the way it looked decades ago when she lived there. One point of difference between Debbie and myself is her assertion that Wednesday if a mottled, mossy green. I literally can’t see how this could be true, when the word Wednesday starts with a letter that is a yellowy-tan colour, and also has a dreary but sensible adult female personality.

There’s a great big unanswered question about the experiences that Ms Pullinger has described, and the many similar types of experiences that I have described, which appear to be types of synaesthesia in which visual memories of scenes are synaesthesia concurrents or inducers. Are these experiences peculiar to synaesthetes? Do “normal” people experience IMLM or similar experiences? Are these rare or atypical experiences? If only a minority of people have experiences such as involuntary visualization of memories of real or past scenes while reading books, what is the size of that minority? Have we described perfectly “normal” and commonplace experiences, or have we described something interesting and novel to science? I’ve been waiting in vain for an answer to this question from any scientist for a couple of years now. I’m not holding my breath.


What are your thoughts on Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) please?

I’m very grateful for the few but very interesting comments that have been made at this blog from people from all around the world describing their own interesting experiences which are similar to things that I have described (thank you again Dayna, Luis, Nick, Gentoooo… :-)). Clearly I am not the only person in the world who experiences synaesthesia-like linkages between thinking about concepts and memories of spatial locations. This much is true, but I’m still curious about how common such experiences are. Perhaps this stuff is so ordinary that it is barely worth studying, but if that is true, I’ve got to wonder why in all my reading, including a lot of reading of stuff written by scientists and psychologists, I’ve not seen such an experience described or named anywhere. In the last three months I’ve had quite a few thousands of views of this blog from all over the globe, but very little feedback from my readers, which seems like a lost opportunity, and that is why I’d appreciate it is you could spend some time letting me know what your experience is regarding mental associations between visual memories and conceptual thinking. Do you automatically visualize specific old memories of scenes when you think of particular concepts? When you revisit a particular place, do you automatically think of the concept that you learned about when you were at that location years ago? Do you experience involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM) (as described below)?

IMLM is the name that I’ve given for a phenomenon which I and some of my close relatives experience. I am wondering whether I am the first person to have ever written a published description of this type of experience, which I believe is related to synaesthesia. The basis of this memory phenomenon appears to be the long-term incidental/accidental formation of a stable neurological association between the visual image of a scene of an exact location where one was at and information absorbed through interested, attentive reading or through interested, attentive listening at a time when one was present at and looking at that exact location. If one revisits that exact location and looks at the same scene, the memory of the information absorbed at that location is automatically and involuntarily recalled, and unless one makes a conscious effort to consciously remember or record the linkage between the scene and the concept, the thought of that concept will vanish from the mind as abruptly as it arrived, when you move away from that exact location. It is as though the thought of that concept is switched on and off by some external agent (but please be reassured that I don’t suffer from any delusions about “thought control”). There does not need to be any logical link between the place or the scene and the concept. Recall of the concept can happen years later when the place is revisited. In my case the form in which the information is recalled is in conceptual form – I do not “hear” in my mind’s ear the sound of the original radio broadcast, and I do not “read” in my mind’s eye information read at that location. I just remember the gist of what was learned at that location, but I have a close relative who has reported a particular pop song being automatically recalled through this kind of phenomenon, so for other people IMLM might involve or trigger memories of music or other memories of sounds instead of concepts, or in addition to concepts.

How would you describe your experience or opinion of involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM), in a comment?

1. I’ve never heard of anything like this and have never experienced it.

2. I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced this, I’d have to check.

3. I think I might know someone else who has experienced this – I’d have to check.

4. I have never experienced this, probably because I am never exposed to the types of situations that bring it about (I never read books or listen to talk radio in novel, outdoor locations).

5. I rarely experience this, probably because I am hardly ever exposed to the types of situations that bring it about.

6. I have experienced this ocassionally.

7. I sometimes experience this type of thing.

8. I often experience this type of thing.

9. I have experienced this and I think it is perfectly normal and common, nothing out of the ordinary.

10. I and other people I know have experienced this and I think it is perfectly normal, nothing out of the ordinary.

11. I often experience this type of thing, and I have blood a relative or relatives who also experience it.

12. I often experience this type of thing, and I am also a synaesthete.

13. I often experience this type of thing, and I am definitely not a synaesthete.

14. I often experience this type of thing, and I am also a super-recognizer.

15. I often experience this type of thing, and I am not a super-recognizer.

16. I often experience this type of thing and I also have special abilities in memory.

17. I often experience this type of thing and I have no apparent special abilities in memory.

18. I experience something similar but not exactly the same.


Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that?  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/involuntary-method-of-loci-memorization-imlm-%E2%80%93-what-the-heck-is-that/

Concept -> scene synaesthesia: my experiences and others’ experiences  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/concept-scene-synaesthesia-my-experiences-and-others-experiences/

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Method of loci’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 May 2012, 09:28 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Method_of_loci&oldid=494440410> [accessed 28 May 2012]