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28 August 2015 @ 08:19 pm
so the visualization thing is called aphantasia  

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…!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

dancinghorsedancinghorse on August 28th, 2015 08:08 pm (UTC)
I can run operas in my head, but the visual thing...yeah. Faces are hard. Colors are feelings and a sense that's almost tactile, and visuals are more like those Chinese paintings with the brushstrokes that hint at a line or a shape.

You mean people really do that 3-D thing? Wow.

I hate comics btw. Used to read them but now I find the pictures crazy-making. I want the words. Then I'll feel the colors and thes shapes and we're good. And hear the voices which is weird in light of my disability, but what can I say?
M. C. A. Hogarth: presenthaikujaguar on August 28th, 2015 08:14 pm (UTC)
I can't do that 3D thing either, and I'm an artist! It's actually one of the reasons I'm not a great artist. I was trained to naturalistic/realistic painting, but I don't have the perception of depth and volume to compose effective works. If someone had trained me initially in 2D/abstract principles, I'd have become a far stronger artist than I am, because 2d visuals I can do. It's conceiving those things as real objects that I have trouble with.

I have this trouble with the real world, too, though. I am bad at knowing where things are in space. (But excellent at navigation, because it requires snapshots of intersections/decision points.)
dancinghorsedancinghorse on August 28th, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
Yes! Yes! I'm an ace navigator. Give me a 2D map, I'll get you there.

I did a school battery of testing once that included spatial relations. 99th percentile for everything else. 67th for that.

With time I did get better. Riding horses made a big difference. They're spatial-relations geniuses, and I can, if I try, and if I shut off all the words, feel the shapes in space that they're transcribing as they move. But it's like an alien brain transplant.
Fighting Crime with a Giant Dandelion Since 2013: Libellula juliapameladean on August 28th, 2015 08:29 pm (UTC)
My brain works a lot more like yours than like the others' described. I do not see a movie in my head, and I really really really do not want to do so. Words make images, but the words are always primary. I don't actually see very many movies and have to be careful in selection, because even a bad one will stay with me viscerally for a long time, and horrible scenes actually do show up behind my eyes, and it's unnatural and I hate it.

kitmizkit on August 29th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
I don't get what could possibly be considered lingering visuals from movies, but seeing part of some (possibly Christopher Lee) Dracula movie when I was about eight (and other horror movies I've accidentally seen, for that matter) left me with a very similar kind of sick visceral reaction in my head (and gut) that trying to visualize did.

Brains are amazing. O.O
Brienzebrienze on August 28th, 2015 08:30 pm (UTC)
Interesting topic, and interesting comments so far! I can hear music fully (am not a musician) and picture well-known faces in 3D (but cannot draw, something about not being able to break down the forms and lighting that make 3D 3D).

I have a hard time with new faces IRL, and never ever picture character faces when I read, even when the author describes what they look like. My experience of books is almost kinesthetic (and so is my rare recall of things I dream) - I can place myself as the viewpoint character in the negative space of their surroundings, whether that's fancy ballrooms or crowded marketplaces or whatever, and place other characters as clothes-with-character-voices-in-them. I can only read comics now that I can use the frame-by-frame viewers to isolate a picture and figure out what it's showing, along with reading the text. A whole page of that is way too much info that I don't process well.

tl;dr my mind-camera is like masking people with a cranked-up depth-of-field, and adding clarity and vibrancy boosts to their/my surroundings.
-peartreealley on August 28th, 2015 08:50 pm (UTC)
I saw this article yesterday and thought of the conversation you and I had on LJ about this some years back (i also don't see images in my head). I'm amused to see it hit your blog, too, but not terribly surprised ^_^
Kes Yocumkesmun on August 28th, 2015 09:12 pm (UTC)
I wonder if visualization is linked at all to lucid dreaming. I have vivid visualizations, though they may not be completely realized all the time, but there's usually a lot more going on in my head than there is out in front of me.

I also have vivid lucid dreams, usually as a character in a book I'm reading or one of my WoW characters. I also frequently have dreams where I'm in a school of some sort and living in a dorm, though those are becoming less frequent. To me, life without the rich pictures in my head would be dull and flat.
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Sherwood Smithsartorias on August 28th, 2015 11:15 pm (UTC)
Me too. I have talks on the downside of being an intense visual writer. (The bottom line being, you write fast, but most of it is shit prose, but you don't know that because the crap words you spew act like hypertext and evoke the movie again. So learning to see what you actually wrote requires all kinds of brain bending.)
Chrysoulachrysoula on August 30th, 2015 06:04 pm (UTC)
...huh. I never considered that before.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on August 30th, 2015 08:59 pm (UTC)
Took me decades to discover how badly my ass was hanging in the wind.
Marissa Lingenmrissa on August 28th, 2015 11:57 pm (UTC)
A lot of the images I see in my head are deliberate. Like, I will think carefully about what my character would see, and I will see it too, but if I'm in a situation where she would be thinking hard or whatever, it's like when I'm thinking hard--the visual doesn't register.

And when I'm reading a book, I do not generate a movie. Movies are movies, books are not.
pgwfolcpgwfolc on August 29th, 2015 03:07 am (UTC)
Just dropping by to complain about the site you linked. IFLS is terrible. They steal content (both pictures and sometimes entire text posts) without ever giving credit, use deceptive (and sometimes outright false) clickbait headlines, promote junk science, refer to the preliminary results of single small studies as if they were definitive results, and more. It used to be good because they promoted public interest in science, but the bigger it's gotten the steeper it's gone downhill.
wyld_dandelyon: musical kittywyld_dandelyon on August 29th, 2015 04:44 am (UTC)
It really fascinates me how very differently people experience the world.

As for me, I can visualize some things in 3D, but not faces. Remembering faces is hard! So is connecting them to names. Going places is kinesthetic, not visual or audible. On the other hand, minor seventh chords taste like dark chocolate. And the hearing music thing? I'd be so sad if I stopped being able to do that.
Aberdeenaberdeen on August 29th, 2015 04:56 am (UTC)
I refer to flavors as having directions. Chocolate is a horizontal flavor, though a good dark chocolate will have some vertical notes. Most fruit flavors are vertical. (;

Kes Yocumkesmun on August 29th, 2015 07:37 pm (UTC)
I'm also fascinated by the different ways people experience the world.

Sounds like you've got a little bit of mild synesthesia there. I think most many people do.

I have a pretty constant soundtrack going, too. I'd be devastated if I never heard music in my head again.

Edited at 2015-08-29 07:42 pm (UTC)
lokifanlokifan on August 29th, 2015 03:39 pm (UTC)
Wow! I had no idea people NOT visualising was so common, especially for writers or artists! *boggled* When I'm reading I see pictures most of the time - occasionally the pictures fade out to evoke something else or when I'm very focussed on the words themselves, but not usually.

And the music thing is even crazier to me!
T. Revst_rev on August 29th, 2015 11:13 pm (UTC)
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.

Oh yes. In detail, broken into components, skipping forward or back, repeating bits. I'm not great at picking apart harmonies or chords, but beyond that, yeah, I hear the whole band/orchestra.

Unfortunately I don't play an instrument and if I sing a note it drives all the music out of my head. So it's a pretty useless talent.
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The Green Knight: Blackbirdgreen_knight on September 2nd, 2015 09:52 pm (UTC)
<waves to fellow kinesthete>
Nathaliespacedlaw on August 31st, 2015 05:54 am (UTC)
Yep. Hippos in tutus all the way.
Douglas Milewskidacuteturtle on August 31st, 2015 02:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can spin object in 3D in my brain. I can also listen to the radio in my head. The coolest bit is that I get a character talking and they just talk to me, filling in their dialog. Although sometimes odd things happen, like having completely different people songs that I know well, in their own style.

Right now, my head is making a puppet sing Mr. Tambourine Man while another puppet is busy cracking jokes at the same time. In character. (Okay, it's Faffa and Mario from Glove and Boots. Look them up on YouTube.)
Herefoxherefox on August 31st, 2015 04:08 pm (UTC)
Even being an artist I don't tend to see things in my head very well (and I think I would be a much better artist if I could do it on demand) Oddly if I spend a lot of time working on something trying to get it right and struggling if I go to sleep not too long after THEN my brain will start throwing the thing up and spinning it 3-d but if I try to get up and use that to correct the drawing it goes away. Maddening.

I do hear music in my head almost all the time though, and I would miss it if it were gone though it can be pretty maddening when you get a snippet stuck. Again, it's not particularly useful because as soon as I try to sing WITH the music in my head it goes away and leaves me flapping in the wind trying to remember the tune half of the time.
Valerie - Postmodern Pollyanna: sopranowiliqueen on September 1st, 2015 02:00 am (UTC)
I was an adult before I managed to process (and still only in an intellectual way) that other people don't play back full recordings of familiar music in their heads. (Usually accompanied by some idea of the physical arrangement of the orchestra/band/whatever. Which can drive me crazy if I don't know what a particular instrument is, or if it turns out to be something other than what I thought.)

Visualization is less precise (unless I'm mentally building something I plan to make, as opposed to, say, a scene I'm reading), but still definitely there in the way you're describing.

Brains are weird. And fun. :-)

Edited at 2015-09-01 02:03 am (UTC)
Karenklwilliams on September 3rd, 2015 02:40 am (UTC)
One of my childhood friends developed the idea that everyone else could read minds, and that we were all reading his. That wasn't the problem, though. The problem was that he would think some normal, dismissive thought about some random person, like a complaint that a guy was in his way, or a comment in his own mind that a woman was fat, then feel incredibly guilty that the person had heard the thought. (The fancy word for this was schizophrenia, unfortunately.)