Mirages of My Mind – head-zapping, phantom debates and the Me-Camera™


I am a person who thinks in pictures. Or, to be more precise, a person whose entire reasoning is translated to mental videos. The Germans have an aphorism for this: Kopfkino, “head cinema”. I suppose that most people are able to imagine pictures, sounds and other sensory impressions that require actual stimuli from the outside world. However, in my case it’s a constant flow of mental images that appear involuntarily as I think. My “Mind’s Eye” (das geistige Auge) is never shut. Regardless of what my physical eyes register through the retinae I cannot help but to always imagine something. Images and sounds are my thoughts.

What happens is that my mind continuously generates ficticious situations, like the music visualizers in iTunes. Here are some examples:

Sometimes when I think questions through or plan something I see myself giving a speech to a group of people. The settings change. Sometimes it’s an auditorium, sometimes I am interviewed on tv, and sometimes I am a part of a movie scene or just together with a close person. Or I envision myself sitting at the desk, writing. It is impossible for me to purely think in voices.
In maybe of the cases, it’s not even me who is doing the talk. I imagine another person speaking and acting my thoughts out, in his or her language. I use this a lot for thinking in Japanese and English, I let native speakers formulate my thoughts in their languages. For that I envision small “how would it be if…”-kind of scenarios.

For example, when I think about the political situation in Myanmar, immediately the image of my Myanmarese friend John pops up, along with a map of the region, and he starts talking about his country. But it’s a phantom talk. Because it is not a memory but a situation that I make up. This enables me to have the arguments spoken out by an appropriate person and in a related setting. I would mix the image of John with pictures of Myanmar from my memory, and with fantasy images.
Another example: Let’s say I reflect on differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. I would orchestrate a debate between devout followers of both creeds before my Mind’s Eye. Maybe I would choose people that I know personally, and speculate what they would have to say about this topic. Or I pick famous persons, like the Pope and German theologian Margot Käßmann. I might actually picture it as a tv show, with a presenter and an audience. I let them phrase all my viewpoints, and it’s hard to tell to what degree I mingle my own ideas with those of that certain person. It’s a mix between “the Pope would say this” and “if I were the Pope I would say this”.
And there is one more pattern: Whenever I hear Sarah Palin, for instance, utter a controversial statement on tv, I instantly debate her in my mind – and she argue back. It is like a debating exercise, with the major catch that in real life I usually fail to lay out my points as convincingly as in my daydreams.

This process applies not only for words, but also for actions. Before going out to run some errands, I fancy myself entering the supermarket. I pick the goods, calculate, pay, and think about how painful it is to pay a certain price by detailing out the moment at the cashier. I cut all the easy moments that don’t require much attention away, but phantasize the crucial moments out to the tiniest possibilities. Before difficult decisions I replay the same scenes in my mind again and again, with different nuances. I prepare reactions until I got a plastic grasp on what might happen.

This does not function as systematic as it sounds. In fact, as I keep musing the settings and persons fluctuate with the train of thought, similar to a typical tv documentary that jumps back and forth from talking heads to historic footage to re-enacted scenes to the presenter. Sometimes random pictures get mingled in. In other words, I got a whole tv program in my head that I zap through each second. That’s what thinking is for me, a constant mental cinema, a visual simulation of everything. Thinking ahead is the same for me as remembering scenes of the past, I (re)create and (re)formulate them before my Mind’s Eye. Everything that I plan or ponder on is a film.

So, the above examples are what happens when I reflect on specific issues. But most of the time, I just see an image of myself.

There is an invisible video camera hovering in front of me or a little bit sideways and it delivers images to my brain: I see myself as I write this sentence, my facial expression, my posture, the movement of my eyes. The Me-Camera is constantly running, changing angles, feeding me with pictures. Especially when I don’t really think about something specific, or when I talk to somebody, walk down the road or lie half-asleep in my bed.
Of course, this appearance is a distortion, but there is no way I could prevent my mind from creating this mirage of myself, it is there by default.

I was seventeen when I realized that not everyone thinks the same way I do.

When I described the Me-Camera to friends and the fact that I see my own face I got questioning looks. I asked more people in more detail. Most people found my explanations to be incomprehensible. Many did not even believe me. I looked into it on the web and in literature, however, there was nothing that hit the nail.

In 2006 I moved to Kyoto. I questioned my colleagues at university. We were all students of the visual & performing arts department. And lo and behold, not only did they understand my findings, many could tell of similar or even more bizarre experiences. Midori, the dancing ace of my class, explained how there is always a second version of her present, peeking over her shoulder. As soon as she becomes aware of her, that second her becomes aware of a third Midori and the third would notice a fourth and so on, until an infinite line of mental duplicates stands behind her physical self. This is certainly different from me, but the notion of visual thinking was better understood among my (Japanese) art friends.
I also once described my observations to a psychology professor at my university. Her specialty were mental conditions such as schizophrenia. She diagnosed me with dissociative identity disorder on the spot and handed me a stack of copies. When I went through these I had to fight the notion of suffering from a severe psychic dysfuntion. Your mind can do weird, sometimes creepy things. Multiple identities… auditary hallucinations.., psychosis… But mine is fine – for the most part, I guess. I got issues with identity, that’s true. But as for the Me-Camera and the inner tv show, as long as I am not suffering, I think it’s alright….

To be continued…..