I’ve been talking about this topic for years (whether you see pictures in your head when you, say, read), ever since a conversation with a friend and Ted and the friend said something about the radio drama in her head, and Ted said “You only get a radio drama?” and she said “Oh no! I get the whole movie!” and I said “wait what?”
After some incredulous back-and-forthing, we found that they saw pictures in their heads when they read (or called up memories, or DAYDREAMED, WHAT THE HELL!!!), and I didn’t. (“How can you possibly make such great pictures in MY head when YOU don’t see them?” Ted asked in bewilderment.)
This whole astonishing conversation shed light on several scenes I’d read in books over the years that had always vaguely bothered me: the bit in EMILY CLIMBS, where a father can’t recall the face of his dead child, that he’s unable to pull up a picture in his mind like most people did; a bit in SURELY YOU’RE JOKING, MR FEYNMAN, where they’re trying to see how well people keep time in their heads and those who did it best saw a clock counting in their mind; and non-book things like, yes, counting sheep or this stupid math thing we did in school as kids where there were these color blocks we were supposed to be able to use to help do multiplication in our heads: 5 blue squares, 10 red ones, 1 green, etc, which were, I now understand, tools for people who visualized, and which I always thought were a really stupid thing to do, because as with all of the above examples, my basic reaction was and is: oh sure, WHO ACTUALLY DOES THAT?!
A lot of people, apparently, except I have to say that from my casual interrogations on the topic over the past decade+, it’s a lot more like 1 in 3 people who don’t visualize than 1 in 50. Also most (not all, but most) people who visualize strongly tend to like longer narrative poetry better than short conceptual poetry, and…loads of stuff. :)
Anyway, the whole inability to visualize thing clearly works differently for different people. I can tell you with a fair amount of accurate detail what Tom Cruise (and I use him because everybody knows who he is) looks like, but I cannot ‘see’ him in my head, whereas Ted can apparently pull up a 3D image and spin it around in his head. *boggle* I’ve had visual artist friends who say they occasionally get a flash of an image but can’t hold it (which is how I am), and if you ask me I say what’s in my head is words, but it’s not PICTURES of words. It’s just words. In the darkness. Where they belong.
Also after finding out that people could do this I started trying to develop an ability to visualize, just out of curiosity, and I got just far enough along in the exercise to start getting an idea of what it might be like and it was HORRIBLE. My head felt crowded. It was AWFUL. UGH!
People can also apparently hear music in their heads as if (and language does not explain this well) they’re listening to a radio or an orchestra or whatever in their heads. That’s happened to me like…two times in my life. Maybe three. For no more than a phrase or two of music, and it’s SHOCKING AS HELL. I earworm, but it’s…just words. With the idea of a tune in their vicinity. And my voice. Ish. Kind of. In a sort of…flattened way. Muted. Not like my voice spoken aloud. At all.
Also HOLY CRAP the idea that Fantasia is like ACTUALLY LIKE SOMETHING PEOPLE MIGHT SEE IN THEIR HEADS LISTENING TO MUSIC!? WHAT THE HELL!?!? I mean I knew that was like the *idea* behind it but I thought it was sheer fucking fancy, like, you know? It never crossed my mind that it might be LITERAL. (and oh look, ‘aphantasia’ is the opposite of ‘phantasia’, which. heh. i see what they did there.)
I love this topic. I really do. It’s SO FASCINATING to find out what happens in other peoples’ heads…!