Having tea with my mum the other day, and she mentioned listening to a podcast discussing a small number of people who cannot visually imagine objects.
So, for example, if you are asked to close your eyes and imagine a red apple. OK…Got it?
Well, mum said, some people just cannot see a picture of the apple.
HANG ON A FLIPPING SECOND. You mean most people actually see the image of an apple….like a picture image?
I turned to Kelly. So, when you close your eyes you see a real image of an apple, like a movie?
She closed her eyes. Of course. Doesn’t everyone?
This was a minor epiphany for me. I have never been able to see an actual image like this. And I thought that was normal.
When someone says they are imagining their favourite beach in their minds eye, I always thought they were being metaphorical.
I always assumed that like me, they actually sort of vaguely construct fragmented ideas of a beach (mostly using an internal thinking narrative) but without any solid visual display.
I know I am thinking about the beach (I can even imagine hearing the waves and smelling the salt air). But I don’t actually see any beach. It’s just dark.
Turns out this inability to see pictures in your minds eye has a name.
It is thought that between 3 and 5 percent of people have Aphantasia.
Wikipedia defines it as:
…the inability to visualize mental images, that is, not being able to picture something in one’s mind. Many people with aphantasia are also unable to recall sounds, smells, or sensations of touch. Some also report prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces.
Some have suggested that the problem is not that people with Aphantasia are really unable to visualise things but are unable to process (metacognition) the images the same way as the general population. However recent study has found that not to be the case.
Aphantastics (as I will now call myself) lack any sense of sensory or phenomenal imagery.
I just cannot believe I have lived this long without realising that I was unusual in this way (as is my mum)!
Slightly different to full Aphantasia where there is often no access to any of the senses in the imagination, I do seem to be able to experience an imagination of touch, sound, and smell (in fact these seem very strong to me).
Even so….I am astonished.
It is important to note that Aphantasia is not considered a disorder, but rather a normal variation in human experience.
Think you might have Aphantasia? Take the quiz.
You can take this short Vividness of Visual Imagery Quiz that measures your own ability to see pictures in your mind. https://aphantasia.com/vviq/
Or you can watch this short video to learn more: