I recently stumbled across this article, "Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind", and got kind of a kick out of it, partly because this guy's realization, astonishingly late in life, that other people's brains are doing a weird thing his doesn't is strangely hilarious, and partly because it's incredibly gratifying to be able to say, "Finally! Someone who's even worse at visualizing things than I am!"
Because I don't get pictures in my head, either. Or not much. When I try, I might get something really vague. Maybe something a bit like seeing a scene through thick, not-quite transparent glass, where you can get a sense of colors and where things are, but not actually see any details? Except even that seems like too visual a description. Once in a very, very, very great while, I might actually get something like a photograph flashing across my mind, but it's always gone in a split second before I can really look at it, and it always leaves me kind of weirded out. I can imagine colors well enough, though. It's not exactly like seeing them, but I can remember what they look like, if that makes any sense. And other senses are no problem. I can imagine smells and tastes and touches, not perfectly, but well enough. And my auditory imagination is great. I can recall or imagine voices in great detail and at will: pitch, pauses, and everything.
But visuals? I took the quiz linked to in the article, and found it immensely frustrating. OK, I might be able to come up with something vaguely resembling a mental image for some of what they're asking me for, individually -- the color and texture of storm clouds and flashes of lightning are surprisingly doable, by themselves, although the sunset they start out asking me to imagine is almost just an abstract idea of a circle on a flat horizon -- but to ask me to imagine a picture, see it in detail, focus on those details and then change them? Yeah, I'm kind of with this guy: How do the rest of you weirdos do that? (The quiz, by the way, told me I was part of only 5% of the population who sucked this bad at visualization tasks and asked me if I wanted to be part of a study when I was done. I'm not sure if I do or not.)
I do think this is at least part of why I'm not great at faces and why I'm really, really bad with directions and navigation: I don't have a good visual referent in my head to match a person or a street up with.
He also mentions people asking him about whether he's a good speller, which seemed like a weird, out-of-left-field question to me a first, but apparently, when a lot of people are trying to remember how to spell a word, they see the letters in their mind? When I need to think how to spell a word, I imagine myself either typing it or writing it, often with my fingers twitching slightly. So, like the guy says, it's muscle memory.
And now, suddenly, all I can think of is how I read that book called What We See When We Read a little while back and spent the entire time indignantly going, "Whoa there, buddy, what do you mean we?!" Speak for yourselves, you mind-picture-makers, you!