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I wonder the same sometimes. If I want to build up a visual idea of what an in-book character looks like, I have to stop immersion and instead sit and meticulously mentally model as I go through phrase by phrase. I'd never do that when reading for pleasure - it takes effort and slows me down and I don't tend to feel I gain much from it, because I'll forget it again right afterwards.

What I do remember tends to be abstractions of concepts, not imagery. That's the case even for memories of things I've done.

I took my girlfriend to Nice last year, for example, and have strong memories of sitting at a beach bar with her one evening as the sun went down, but I can't picture it for the life of me. I could "model" the scene from my memory of it, but it'd be more like recreating it step by step in my memory. It'd be precise in many ways as I can recall lots of details down to irrelevant bits like the construction of the furniture, but I'm also very much aware that when I visualise memories it's more like constructing a diorama with props and dolls whose appearance are a synthesis of multiple memories, not necessarily what it looked like that specific moment.

It's interesting, because on one hand I do rely a lot on visual impressions - I remember code by appearance on screen, for example, and so care extraordinarily much about syntax because it affect visual patterns that affect how easily I make connections between them. But I conceptualise it in the abstract based on those visual impressions rather than visualise how it actually looks.

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