Friday, January 31, 2020

Reading without a mind's eye (aphantasia)

A couple days ago I learned something that has got me totally shook - most people can see images in their mind. Not like actual photographs, but they can imagine things visually. More importantly, I found out that I'm one of 2% of people who can't do this.

It would seem I have aphantasia, which means that I'm unable to create visual images in my mind's eye. I don't have daydreams, I can't visualize a picture Pennywise even though I've seen the movie multiple times. I've been doing guided meditation for years and always thought "picture yourself on a beach" was metaphorical so imagine how absolutely blown my mind has been!

Since I found out about this and have started bringing it up to people, I've been asked multiple times, "what do you see when you read?" This is a truly bizarre question for me and it made me realize how fundamentally different my reading experience is from what yours probably is. I've thought about it as much as I can in a couple days and here's my answer:

When I'm reading a book I do not visualize what I'm reading. I don't see the snowy landscape or the swoony love interest walking towards the MC. I don't see it like a movie playing in my mind like several people have told me they do. I can't literally picture the setting, although I've said that I could in some reviews, which really got me thinking.

For me, "picturing" a setting is more of a feeling rather than actually seeing it. When an author does a particularly good job of creating atmosphere I can feel it, I just can't see it. That's probably why I prefer fantasy books so much more than contemporary - the worlds are so much more incredible and easier to "feel!"

I also think this lack of being able to visualize explains a lot about why I don't like flowery descriptions. Although I like when a world is atmospheric, I can't visualize the details. So, when an author spends a full page detailing what a room or a dress looks like in flowery language, it adds nothing to the story. I do wonder if that is also the reason I prefer YA to fantasy - less flowery descriptions.

I don't necessarily feel like I'm missing out on anything because I don't have anything else to compare it to, but it's certainly got me questioning my entire life! (Okay, not really though.) It's so fascinating to me that we can all read the same book and have such different experiences.

Can you visualize images?
Do books play like movies in your head?
Let me know in the comments!