Reading fiction with aphantasia


Well, i’ll start at the beginning which is that I figured out today that the ‘mind’s eye’ which everyone talks about is not metaphorical, as I always thought. When people told me to visualise a scene or imagine anything, I never considered the possibility that they could really see a scene when they closed their eyes! I’ve never been able to do this at all, and all I see when I close my eyes is darkness. When I told one of m friends, his first question was, then what do you see when you read? I am an avid reader and I enjoy fiction a lot. I find that though I cannot conjure up an image, I can conceptualise quite easily and imagine what it would be like in the characters shoes. I feel intensely what the character does, and I can do everything but visualise. I find I am constantly narrating my life to myself and make up for the lack of visuals with intense verbal input.  I can hear imaginary music in my head as well. All that I differ in is my lack of the mind’s eye. Am I the only one who?

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I am also an avid reader and have no problem imagining what is happening in a novel. The emotional side of the story is quite easy for me to understand. However, I have a hard time trying to describe locations and architecture when talking about what I have read. It seems, if there is no real emotional connection then it is harder for me to recall. As for narrating your life, I am much the same. My nephew is closer to hyperphantasia and we have had many discussions about what we “see.” I told him that my experience with aphantasia is like writing a book instead of watching a movie.

I’m in the same boat, but perhaps more cynical.  I’m 62 years old, and didn’t even know people actually saw images in their heads until maybe a year ago.  I thought the “imagine you are on a beach .. seeing the sunset, blah, blah, blah” was metaphorical.

Anyway, it is what it is, i conceptualize. I know what an apple looks like, and am crappy artist.  I have NEVER felt intensely about a character, because if it is fiction, it doesn’t matter. If it is non-fiction, I also don’t get involved enough to care all that much about how they felt, because it doesn’t matter to me.  (Perhaps that is my Aspergers).  I don’t bother to even try to visualize aspects of a book unless I feel it is likely to contribute to the plot.

I do enjoy a good book or movie.  I read a book like clockwork every 2 or 3 years now.  To me, books are reserved for when I am on a plane or train somewhere and I have no alternatives.  I rather spend my time interacting with the real world than reading.

In retrospect, maybe i am totally incapable of getting into a great book as much as people who don’t have aphantasia are.  I never gave it much thought.


Nope I am exactly the same!

I remember when I first saw LotR.

The scene where Gandalf gets angry at Bilbao for saying he was trying to cheat him; how that scene played out was exactly how I imagined but could never visualize.

So to see that scene and finally SEE it was very moving for me.

Lately I am begging for them to adapt the Dragonriders of Pern series because I have only ever had the book covers to visualize the world. And no matter how well detailed, I need a point of reference to imagine the world.

This is why when I see a movie I did read the book first, I am super happy to see finally the world.

And when I read a book after seeing the movie, I am super happy to have a point of reference as I read.

One fun example is “Howl’s Moving Castle”. I read the book years ago as a kid but I

Seeing the film years later, I felt like I knew the story but couldn’t place it.

The visualization of the world was completely different from the book cover and it wasn’t until I went to find the book and saw the VERY different cover that I realized I had read the story, lol!

After the first Harry Potter movie came out, my daughter said, “That was not how I imagined him.  How did you imagine him?”.  I was like, “uhhh, brown hair, glasses, lightening scar”.  I had no idea what she talking about it.  I am a fast reader but now I realize that I skim over descriptive parts.  I just want to know what happened.  I dont care what the sky looks like, or the trees, etc.  I had a friend tell me that she fell asleep while reading and it was so good that when she woke up, she forgot if she was reading a book or watching a movie for a minute. She was like, you know what I mean, and I was like No, I have no idea.  I am 100% aphantasic.  My daughter asked if I talk to myself in my head.  And although I have a constant narration going on in im head, it not a conversavation.  If I dont have narration, I am humming a song or singing just a line from a song.  But I am really bad at lyrics, it is like whatever the last thing I heard will just go on repeat.  I always wondered how my daughter would know the lyrics to a song after only hearing it a few times.  Now I know that she has the ability to replay music in her head the same as she heard it on the radio.  I mean it is the band that she hears singing the song not just a voice in her head.  Now I have known that I was a “non-visualizer” since 1984.  But since this came about in a meditation class, I always thought that people had to be really relaxed and in a “medative state” to visualize.   When I talked to my sister about this, she could not only visualize the beach and the ocean, but she could “feel the sun on her face” and hear the “ocean waves”.  People can even “taste” in their mind.  This is what I mean when I said I was 100% apantasic, I have no sensory imaging.  I sometimes wonder if this is why I have an “addiction” to food.  Most people can image what a pizza tastes like.  I have to actually eat the pizza.  I am rambling – but you are far from being alone.

I can read books and watch movies and shows over and over again.  I may remember the “jist” of what happened, but not any details.  I count that on the plus side of aphantasia.

Hi Rit Kas,

I have complete aphantasia across all senses and have been aware of it as far back as I can remember. I am a big reader. I will say that much of what I read is not fiction. I read technical stuff (I am retired from IT). I read philosophy, history, science and theology. But, I also do read a lot of fiction especially Fantasy and Science Fiction. I cannot imagine the the places, the faces etc. I do enjoy reading the descriptions, but not because I then know what the person looked like (I have no idea) but because in the description you get an idea of who that person is. If they are short and pudgy or tall and lean — I can have that idea of them without seeing them in my mind. Consequently, when I see a character I know on the big screen I can be very picky if he/she doesn’t act they way they should, but I seldom have a problem if their face or even hair color is all wrong, because I have no idea about those things. Not sure if that make any sense, but I have taken a stab at writing a fantasy novel myself and found I was terrible at descriptions! Until, after much trial and error, I realized that I could focus on the things that were important about the scene and first work out with out seeing it, what the scene was like then I found with some effort, I could actually write a fair description. I do love being able to share my experience just as I enjoy reading about others whether their experience is like mine or very different.


I also don’t have any inner monologs or audio what so ever — It’s basically like space in my mind – black and quiet!

Nope ditto. I adore reading, but I don’t see anything.  As you say I conceptualise