Unless you’re a pilot, flight engineer or airplane enthusiast, you’ll probably find it difficult to clearly visualise a plane. You know it’s got wings, landing gear, cockpit etc but if I asked you to draw a plane without looking at a picture of one, you’d probably end up missing a lot of detail out.

Why is it so difficult to visualise something you’ve seen many times? We’ve all seen planes in films, TV shows, on the news and of course most of us have seen them in real life too. It’s not just objects that we’ve seen before a few times, even things we see every single day will cause us problems when we’re asked to visualise or draw them.

If you go outside and try to picture each room in your house, you’ll find yourself thinking of an overall image, you won’t be able to picture every little detail or see the exact colour and pattern of things. You’ll have a rough idea of where objects are placed in the room but you’ll still miss out a lot of details and even some objects.

You may have heard that there are people in this world who are lucky enough to have a photographic memory or an eidetic memory. Although there has been small pieces of evidence to support the existence of these special talents within some people, it is believed that these talents don’t actually exist. There have been a small number of people who have managed to train their mind to hold into an image of something they’ve just looked at for a few seconds, however when recalling the image, even these people aren’t 100% accurate.

I believe that we do have the capacity to remember every detail of everything we’ve seen aswell as remember every single day of our lives. In fact there is some evidence that all of us remember pretty much everything, we just can’t access the memories in our normal conscious state.

As a touring musician I’ve experienced sleep deprivation many times. It is in this state that I’ve been able to access memories and images that I wouldn’t normally be able to.

On one occasion, I’d been awake for around 48 hours, as I finally drifted off to sleep, I closed my eyes and saw the faces of some of the neighbours I had growing up. I hadn’t seen these people for over 20 years and yet it was like looking at a photograph of them. I then imagined painting them. Every brush stroke and every bit of detail was so vivid and clear and the end result was pretty amazing, yet in reality I can’t paint. I can’t come up with the faces of people I used to know and remember every little detail about them.

I know people might say that I only thought everything was detailed and clear because I was half asleep, but I know for sure that it really was detailed, I just can’t prove it. There have been other times where I’ve seen clear scenes from childhood in a sleep deprived state.

I’m not alone, many other people have had similar experiences when drifting off to sleep, especially if they’re sleep deprived. Other people have had these kinds of experiences after taking certain drugs, in particular hallucinogenics.

The reason why this is so strange is because it implies that we do store everything we see and experience but we’re unable to access it when we want, but why? Is our brain like a computer? would it overheat if we kept accessing all the information we have in our mind. Are dreams the equivalent of a computer playing a screen saver when it’s in power saving mode? When we’re drifting off to sleep, parts of our brain shut down, is it then possible to access memories in this state because there’s no danger of overheating?

As crazy as I sound, it’s still weird that these memories and images are locked away somewhere for possibly no reason. Maybe they’ll come in handy in the afterlife?