If we are talking about the elephant, close your eyes and look at the elephant’s head.
i won’t. No matter how descriptive the image, story, or text, I can’t create any image in my head. 2% of people can’t do it either. This inability to see is called aphasia.
I never knew this lack of mental imagery was a thing until my daughter pointed out that she and I were missing something that my husband and another daughter had. Ask us to imagine a rainbow or a sunset and we’ll see nothing. We cannot create pictures in our heads of things, people, places or experiences. Where others can visualize these things, we cannot. Not for people, memories or images of the past or future. I think that’s a turn of phrase when people tell me to picture this in your mind. I now realize that other people were seeing something in their heads.
If you want to see what aphantasia looks like, look at the image of the apple. Now close your eyes and try to visualize the apple in your mind’s eye. If you see nothing, you may have aphantasia.
See Visual Image Query Clarity for a more detailed test.
(I’m realizing that[the train of thought]wasn’t just metaphorical when people said they could hear the sound of their own voice in their head. But my mind was silent.)
My reaction to learning that most people can create visuals was “huh”. All my life I’ve lived under the assumption that the word “see” meant “think about what this means,” but I couldn’t “see.” Reading that other people see images in their heads is like learning that there is another feeling that many people feel like I’m missing. I’ve spent my whole life seeing the world in black and white, and I’m saddened to find that other people see the world in color. (The exception to this is that I often wake up remembering images from my dreams.)
Disability or property?
Not being able to visualize doesn’t seem to dampen my mind or creativity. I’m constantly thinking about new things – I don’t see them (or hear them) as paintings.
I’m not sure what it is, I can’t do what others can do. Maybe I can blame my failure in sports on him? Or not being able to sing or dance? When my wife asks me what someone wears or what their house looks like, it probably explains why I come up blank. Or more to the point, why I couldn’t imagine the expressive language in poetry or fiction.
The amazing thing is that losing something that everyone seems to be able to do can explain how we think, communicate, and process information. Maybe this explains how I go about the creative process. When I want to describe an event, I don’t take visual pictures of what the places or people look like. Rather, my stories are what I remember about the facts/information/discussions surrounding the event.
It might also explain why pattern recognition and abstract thinking (the ability to think about principles and ideas that don’t exist physically) come easy to me. Maybe I’m not distracted by the visuals associated with the information that others see. I only see raw data.
To create complex ideas, I often sketch ideas and concepts (but don’t draw pictures of things.) I break down ideas and concepts into simpler steps by drawing each part. This helps me simplify ideas so that I can explain them first to myself and then to others. Then I translate the diagram into words.
Sometimes the results make more of a difference than I do.
The way I’m wired has been a drag for me (and probably other founders and those in other fields). So, how can others aphantasia knowingly Embrace that? And is there anything you can learn from those of us who don’t see pictures in your head?
(If this had been discovered earlier, I suppose I could have benefited from a revised classroom curriculum. Or taught how to visualize. But what would have been lost?)
Pluses and Minuses
When I first heard about Aphantasia, I thought that those of us with him could excel in certain areas and stay away from others. I was surprised to learn that someone had already done a study showing that people with low or no visual acuity are more likely to work in scientific and mathematical industries. And the presence of hyperphantasia (people with the opposite state – having an extremely clear mental image) motivates people to work in art. It makes me think that the response and recovery from trauma/PTSD has something to do with the ability to see those memories with strangers. (Here’s a great future study area for the Veterans Administration.)
We are just at the beginning of understanding
This recent recognition of aphantasia as a neurological variant is a decade or more old (although references in the literature go back to the 1890s.) My bet is that as science continues to explore neurodiversity (brain differences between people), we will gain. A broader understanding of how people experience, interact with, and interpret the world in different ways. And understanding how it leads to different strengths, in pattern recognition and problem solving. We may get more contacts.
I’m curious if anyone else can’t see pictures in their head.
let me know.
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