All in all, while I don't feel 'robbed' of this ability to visualize things, it does seem to lob off a chunk of things which are particularly joyful to the human experience. I can't really visualize a future life for myself, let alone my current life. To discover all of this after decades of being alive is quite mind-blowing, and I'm glad it's getting the wave of media attention that it is now (or else I would not have known).
But then, perhaps, in this case, ignorance would be a bit more blissful.
So far I've boiled the side effects down to:
1. A complete and utter lack of direction. I literally get lost in suburbs surrounding my home (i'll very often take an extremely sub optimal route home from a store that is just 10 minutes from my home - a bit embarrassing tbh, gives my wife a laugh though). These are streets I've travelled for over 30 years. Apparently quite common with aphantasia.
2. An almost superhuman ability to put bad experiences behind me. People with aphantasia don't have the tendency to ruminate. I've had some traumatic experiences in my life and within a few months it's as if the experience never happened. I can recall details of it but the recollection is as if the experience happened to someone else.
Regarding no.2, photos are super important. There was a period of 10 years or so where I didn't take many photos, and that period feels like a black hole.
My sense of direction is fine to good, and as far as I can establish, it's common to visualise "metaphorically". So I'd visualise a route or 3d model as another might visualise honesty - I know what it is, I can precisely express it, but I can't picture it in technicolour. It seems to work well enough that hobbies over the years have included model engineering - including design, fell walking and geocaching. I never needed a 3d model to "see" a plan, even while drawing it, even though I cannot "see" it. Saying "I just know" seems completely inadequate, but that feels like how it works. I can pick up on potential problems where a) might interfere with b). Language gets difficult for this!
I can juggle a model but again metaphorically. I can do it quite easily and it never occurred to me in 50 years that images were an optional component for others. :)
The only other I've encountered with a similar lack of images among my friends reports just the same ability to do direction, map reading and spatial interrelation just fine, without seeing it. Just knowing seems to be enough to do the rest.
Rumination and regret is perfectly possible too - the feelings, the consequences is plenty enough to get that going. The pictures are better on radio also applies - not a literal picture but the feelings and the metaphorical. :)
Don't people misdiagnose things all the time? Unless not diagnosed, you could just not have it, and e.g. expect something super special/realistic when people talk about "seeing images" in their minds eye, which is not the case, and comparing with that.
E.g. even for us, without aphantasia it's not like what we envision with our "mind's eye" has the same richness, texture, reality etc to it as things we actually see (else, I guess, we'd had trouble knowing if we really did something or just imagined it).
It was only after that news piece I realised literally seeing images was even possible! I always just assumed anyone who spoke of "seeing" was just using a poor visual metaphor to describe something far vaguer. When I speak of visualising there is nothing I could call visual in proceedings, it's a feeling, a concept, a sensation. "I just know", and can sense and explore without seeing.
Like the commenter I replied to, having heard of this thing I had to ask a selection of friends similar questions "so you actually see a ball?". Oh. Wow. Really? So then I wanted to know how vivid, how often, how controllable etc. It also blew my mind somewhat as I just assumed visual was entirely metaphoric.
For me, it's not having a vague or ephemeral image and expecting something special or super realistic. It is being in a basement or coal mine during a power cut. Nothing. The mental cinema screen is firmly off. For all of my life.
I have never once been aware of any visual aspect to any of my imaginings or dreams. Not even a sense of light or dark, colour or even some vague, blurry outline. The sense of 3d and spatial awareness and modelling isn't - for me at least - connected with an ability to create images. I seem able to do the former just fine, and the latter not at all. Yes, it does seem strange to be able to do the spatial without any visual whatsoever, yet it's consistently worked quite easily. Describing it adequately is far, far harder... :)
This opens an interesting can of worms. :)
Whereas aphantasia concerns visual representation inside the mind alone.
If that makes any sense.
The article mentions varying ability to picture things. You may have good spatial reasoning but less visual imagination. I know that when I picture something in my mind it isn't always a clear image, often just a shadow of the thing I'm imagining. I find spatial reasoning has a different quality, it's like sensing the position of your arm but you can apply it to objects that aren't a part of you.
I seem able to do the spatial just fine, and the visualisation not at all.
> it's like sensing the position of your arm
Very good, yes it's exactly like this. I know, but I don't need to see. I can explore the model or plan, and know how the result will be, and still don't need to see!
For example, once I've heard a song enough, I can just replay it in my head, and it feels the same as actually listening to it. Is that just as weird for you as being able to see a ball?
sigh you've got to be kidding me. You can actually replay a sound in your head??
well, i'll add that to the list of things my brain can't do :(
I've also never been able to sing along with songs. It always blows me away when my wife can just start singing along with a song she's heard a few times.
I'm starting to think I might be brain damaged.
That orchestra conductor probably spent a large part of their life studying music. Part of learning music is ear training: the ability to name/write chords by hearing them, and conversely to "hear" them in one's imagination given the name (or from written music). No different than the way many people "hear" words in their head when reading.
I haven't used it personally, but from what I heard a few years ago it wasn't very accurate.
My favorite thing about sound memory is echoic memory, a very specific type of memory that is basically like a buffer or a cache. Basically perfect audio memory of the last few seconds. You can replay the sound in your mind and analyze it for that brief moment in time.
I speculate that this is almost entirely to help you properly react to things that woke you up. You were sleeping, now you are awake. But why? You still hear the sound in your head, was it something falling, or a glass window breaking, or your dog barking, or a gunshot, or just thunder? It could be very important to know.
Interestingly, I've found it super valuable when learning music by ear, especially given that I find myself able to slow down the "replay" of the sounds to better hear the individual notes, although it is also mildly entertaining to be able to hear a long sequence of sounds (e.g a car outside my window beeping repeatedly) and slow it down in my head to count the number of individual beeps.
But I don't have 'playback' memory for anything else, definitely not for visuals or touch. So if something is said around me and I didn't listen, I can replay the last couple of seconds or so, and that's usually enough. Helps with languages you're not fluent in too. But if I suddenly notice that I'm now touching something that I shouldn't, say, for example with my arm, in a crowded pub, there's just no way I can 'replay' history, not even the last moments, to figure out how that happened. Unless I actually paid attention when it happened. Same with visuals. If I didn't recognize what passed before my eyes there's no way to replay that to take a better look. Unlike with audio, where I can do precisely that.
Do you have verbal thoughts?
> I'm starting to think I might be brain damaged.
You are probably just neuroatypical. You should try to discover if your neuroatypicality gives you an edge over neurotypicals in some areas and exploit it.
You might enjoy reading experiences of someone who is neuroatypical in opposite way. "Thinking the Way Animals Do: Unique insights from a person with a singular understanding". By Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
alternate link: http://web.archive.org/web/20170219035332/https://www.grandi...
>Do you have verbal thoughts?
Not the OP, but my mind's ear is deaf just as my mind's eye is blind. I can plan a discussion in my head. I don't really hear it, I just think of what word I'm going to use, in a similar fashion to how I can think of a sphere but not actually see it. I think more about the points I'm going to make sure to make, though, than the actual phrasing. When I'm practicing a speech or something, I can feel my jaw and mouth muscles trying to move, so I think I'm sub-vocalizing it or something. That realization makes me very careful around others when I'm having private thoughts.
When I'm thinking about a solution to a programming problem, or any problem really, I sometimes "disappear" for a while and when I come back I have an idea about how to best proceed. People have commented in the past about my becoming completely still and zoning out for a period of time.
The inside of my head is a pretty quiet place usually. I just noticed that my jaw was making the movements I would use were I to speak the end of that last sentence. Weird.
Can you describe what you experience when recalling something?
For me, (it of course varies by the object of recall) it is most times imagery, although sometimes it can be emotions, sounds, etc. (I use the imagery as an 'address' after which other related memories are linked to and emerge).
It's interesting how different our experiences are. I do not think you are brain damaged, just specialized in a different way.
Unfortunately sometimes they're heavily different with extra or missing depth in certain areas, which makes the generic software that we're trying to install on them struggle to adapt (in various different ways).
It's super interesting how memory works. Like, I can remember the content of songs because they have rhyme and rhythm and pleasantness, but I can't remember anything else word-for-word. I'm the king of paraphrasing jokes and quotes, because I can never remember how they originally went.
edit to add: I'm just kidding about the brain damage thing, but seriously, I very much don't like the idea of presenting this as "aphantasia" as though it is a lack of something. I think it's (probably) just a different system that's optimized for different kinds of behaviors.
I do also suspect that the mental visualization could be learned. I feel like when I played Legos as a kid I was incidentally practicing my visualization, perhaps the only reason I'm good at it now is an aggregate of those kind of coincidences.
hehe sure sounds like it :)
This isn't always pleasant, to be honest, and since I first noticed it a few years ago I've wondered how common it is and whether training can stop it. No luck so far.
I have an almost pathological hatred of silence on the outside - because when there is, there's also silence on the inside. Unless I actively think about a tune, or decide to hum or whistle a song, there's no radio. So I'll only hum/whistle or sing a few bars or a chorus and distract to thinking about something else.
So sitting in silence quickly becomes wearing. I have to keep thinking of stuff, and music, to fill it.
Now if I go fell walking or find myself in a forest or on a deserted beach, there's always enough sounds of nature that it doesn't feel silent. Not like a house, class or exam room or office can. It's only that which quickly gets oppressive.
Several times i did listen the sound of instruments as if real, but it happened only before falling into sleep, and just thinking about that would wake me up enough to bring the human voice back.
never. although that sounds like a blessing :)
I see it more as tradeoffs that make us different. For example you may have noticed that you are better than average at folding paper in your head and other spatial tasks. You have your aphantasia to thank for that.
Part of the reason why I didn't realise that others are literal about being able to 'see' with their eyes closed is that I can tell you spatial relationships more precisely than most people I know.
I know and can recall where things are in relation to each other with ease.
E.g if you asked me to sketch rooms in my house, I would be able to reproduce it in a huge amount of detail even though I can't 'see' them,by walking through what is where in relation to what and plot it out.
If I draw from memory rather than from sight or imagination, however, - something I learned as a child without connecting the dots - was that I do tend to draw in a much more 'sanitized' style. Clean lines etc. As if I'm drawing a diagram.
And the closest I get to auditory recall is internally humming the music - I can recall e.g. operatic arias that I have no hope in hell of reproducing with any accuracy out loud, but I can hum them out internally with a lot greater precision, but I can't hear them in any other voice than my own (and I can sense muscles around my mouth twitching as if I'm vocalizing while doing so)
I have enjoyed exploring and comparing my inner experience with other people since I discovered I was aphantasic (my ex was an artist and very visual, and first I thought she was the odd one). Now I usually do a little informal psychometric test session with people when the subject comes up. Asking them to imagine standing outside the house where they grew up, then walking to the kitchen and pouring a glass of milk. I have them rate their inner experience on a hand-to-hand scale for: color, sharpness, detail, focus area size, opacity/transparency. It's interesting how much people vary
My inner experience as aphantasic is:
- Closing my eyes I generally see black. Sometimes I can see vague, morphing images, blurry and colorless, if I'm falling asleep into a dream. On high doses of marijuana or normal-to-high doses of LSD I get some stronger visuals, but it still seems a far cry from many others sober-state visual imagination
- This was my next surprise after discovering I had visual aphantasia. That other people apparently hear themselves talking in their head. I have an inner monologue (and dialogues), but there is no real sound quality to it. Same thing if I imagine a song or a melody. I know how it goes, I can sing along in my head. I'm a songwriter, so I also make up melodies all the time, but I don't 'hear' anything in my head. This is a more confusing concept to convey than the abstract spatial awareness.
Taste / Smell:
- Again, apparently it's common to be able to imagine eating this or that food, and actually smelling and tasting it. I lack this ability too. I can get an idea of whether something will taste good with something else, but there's no sensation of taste
- My dreams are actually very vivid, and after experimenting with lucid dreaming before, my dream recall is generally good too (though dream recall works like other memories, so it's all abstracted into spatial positions, dialogues and knowledge about location and details)
Also agree with some other things that some people have written here:
- I've always found it hard to pursuse long-term goals or imagined futures. I tend to gravitate to what I find most interesting at the moment and follow that impulse
- I find it fairly easy to get over bad experiences
- I don't 'miss' people much, even if I really like it when I spend time with someone close. I imagine getting over a breakup would be a lot harder if you kept having vivid memories of times you spent with them. My memories are a lot more abstract and vague.
- Photos are a memory aid. Should take more of them
- I'm bad at recognizing faces, especially if it's someone I don't know well and they've changed their hairstyle, or they look similar to someone else. I easily mix up characters in films/series, or fail to notice that some character is played by [famous actor I know] until the credits roll
- I generally enjoy reading non-fiction much more than fiction. Though I have read a lot of fiction books in my life. Knowing what my experience of reading fiction is, and comparing that with what it can be for people who are not aphantasic, I do feel a bit envious
Since I discovered aphantasia, I've at times felt like I'm lacking something, and missing out on part of the human experience. However, after talking to people at the other end of the scale, I actually appreciate that I can close my eyes and all I see is black, and that silence is actually silence. If you have no control over the images and sounds that appear in your mind, I feel that it could be both exhausting and anxiety-inducing depending on the content and intensity
On the other hand my mind is not graphical. I'm a programmer but I'm utterly useless with graphical/diagram design tools. My mind is actually very visual when I think about program design, it's just different in some way. It's not pictures. It can't be drawn on a piece of paper, or a computer screen.. very hard to explain. But still it feels visual, just in some other kind of dimension.
The graphics bit is interesting. I was into drawing comic strips when I was a kid, and in my teens I got really into making cars for the first Grand Theft Auto game. My early attempts looked terrible, but towards the end of that period, I was rated as one of the best in that little scene. I've worked a bit with graphic design in other periods, and I still enjoy some UI design, though I'm mainly focused on coding (mobile apps/games) now. Now, having worked with some great designers & illustrators, I know they're in a completely different league than I could ever hope to be. Thinking about the creative process is interesting though, as I clearly have some idea of what I want the end result to be, without being able to mentally picture it in any way that would make sense to non-aphantasiacs
Any chance that someone from the old GTA scene is hanging about here btw? :D
Can a mind really focus equally well on the forest and the trees? I have my doubts.
But I will never see the tree - that's for sure. Fortunately I've found beauty in forests.
A suggestion: Add in motion.
I'm decent enough at most of your list, but am almost entirely unable to visualize motion or (I believe related to that) living beings. In your example scenario, I had a point of view but no limbs - my visualization jumped between fridge -> gallon of milk -> poured glass, with almost no fluidity between the steps.
I am not sure if I have any meaningful anecdotes regarding reading fiction. I do not believe I have seen or otherwise visually imagined the events in either fiction or non-fiction most of the time unless reading it made me recall something that I remember. It might be possible if I were actively trying to do that, but I can say that whatever experience I am extracting from reading fiction is not primarily due to being able to see it. If people are really imagining that sort of thing automatically, I feel pretty envious of that myself.
When it comes to sounds though, I am something of a captive in my own mind. For the majority of the period that I am awake and not highly focused, my mind is using approximately 98% of its resources to replay, construct, combine, and modify music. This is usually much more interesting than what I am hearing and what most people have to say to me, and it can require conscious effort to hear the latter. Unlike the images, this sound is of high quality and is not at all consensual. I have been told that this is not quite normal. In hindsight, this could have been a useful trait had I worked with it instead of worked through it.
*Assuming that these memories are not brought on through involuntary means, such as some drugs and trauma-induced flashbacks.
It's terribly easy for me to acquire earworms (aka "stuck song syndrome"), and I have to avoid listening to certain kinds of music too late in the afternoon/evening - otherwise I can't sleep for music turning in my mind.
I actually ripped out the stereo from my car years ago. I don't need it. If I want to listen to some music I just let the head play it. Same thing.
Which leads me to the surprise my wife gave me one day - she told me that the daughter said a strange thing to her, she (my wife) had asked what she was doing - she was just sitting there - and the reply was "I'm listening to music in my mind". That was astonishing for my wife because she didn't know it was possible to replay music in the mind. She had never heard about such a thing. Which sounds awfully like aphantasia for audio - although I think it would be limited to just music. It's hard to imagine not being able to 'hear' a sentence in your mind.
The funny thing is that my wife is an amateur musician, and her ear is very good. Better than mine, I think.
But I have experienced other things as well. Since I was a kid I play this game when I'm bored... let's call it "visualising". But not for images, for other sensory input. For example, I try to imagine really hard the taste and texture of a cake, the smell of coffee or a perfume, touching something fluffy with my hand, feeling hot or cold... It works, although I don't feel it physically in my body per se, it's just like... a very vivid memory of it. As if an invisible limb was experiencing this feeling again.
What if they just define their thoughts differently? When I say "I can't see a ball", I mean that while I can reproduce how it would vaguely feel like to see a ball (like the difference between tasting something and recalling a taste), and kind of trace its outline, I can't have a picture in my mind with a similar accuracy as actually looking at a ball.
Someone else might say "I can see a ball" even if internally they experience the same as me, because they might set their bar lower. Could it be that people with aphantasia are just more demanding for what they count as "seeing"?
It's incredible what friends, family and coworkers have told me they're able to do with visual imagery. A large portion of them could overlay imaginary objects over the real world. My wife, who may be hyperphantasic, can spend hours watching TV shows/cartoons she's created in her head. She has no idea what it's like to think without visualization.
I'm extremely jealous of their abilities to replay memories, old or contemporary, as films in their head. I can tell you basic facts about what happened in my life, I can't re-see those experiences.
Yeah maybe. How could we ever really know though? I guess we have to take them at their word. I would like to be able to visualise my son's face while I'm at work, but I get nothing just black, thank goodness for photos :)
I also wouldn't describe myself as able to let go of things easily. When I remember traumatic experiences I don't visualize them, I remember the feeling, the shame or the guilt or the embarrassment.
I completely agree with the photo thing though.
I, too, have a good sense of direction and am often relied upon to be the guide on hikes or backpacking trips in places that we've never been before. I know how to read maps and use a compass and orient myself but that is less visualize than it is analytical, IMO.
But! I also have the black hole effect that the GP described. I have an almost uncanny ability to just get beyond trauma and bad experiences and I'm seeing now that that is probably due to this black hole memory effect. I don't carry memories with me the way that other people do, but I've known that about myself for a while. It's caused some strife in my life, and it continues to do so, but I've taken to keeping a physical journal and making frequent notes about things that happen throughout each day. The act of writing this stuff down seems to force these things into my memory. I learned recently that my father operated similarly in his career, using a single sheet of A12 folded into quarters where he'd divide each quarter into an hour of work, with 8 folds in total representing the average day. When he worked 12/16 hour shifts, he'd add additional folds.
And, so... I guess that in light of this, I've always wondered if I'll have dementia or Alzheimer's late in my life. My paternal great grandmother lived well into her 90s, but my paternal grandmother succumbed to dementia in her mid 80s. My maternal family has some folks in their 90s, as well, and everyone there seems to have their memory in tact. But, my father has had his struggles and I've personally noticed that my mother is starting to struggle with conversational memory recall today.
I can still picture things in my head, but with huge gaps and difficulty; when I was a kid, I used to replay a 17km road to my grandparents with exquisite details in my head: the bus, the driver, walking down the isle, seating myself, the initial jolt, watching the road turn, every unique house, porch,bench, tree, telephone wires and so on and all without a conscious efort "what happens next" .
If I try real hard and ask myself questions like "ok, so now picture grandpa's mustache, now his hair, now his neck" then maybe I get a glimpse of his whole face.
My sister and I used to play a game as teenagers: one of us would closd his eyes, the other would narate a scene, it was pretty great.
In the 7th grade I was a 6/10 student at math, then trigonometry came and I was a 10/10 at trigonometry and 6/10 at algebra, because trigonometry made absolute sense because I could draw everything in my head; I needed tutoring with algebra, but never with trigonometry.
I also almost never remember any dreams; my rem and deep sleep are toast anyway, according to fitbit.
As opposed to my childhood when I woke up exactly once per night to drink water from the cup my grandma left beside the bed -- the rest of the night I had great adventures, I'd be chased my demons, fly across the clouds, escape some trap my grandfather told stories about.
Nowadays I get about 1 hour of tossing and turning througout the night, and depending on my anxiety I sometimes get completely wake for 1-2 hours at about 4AM; only about 1h of rem and 1h of deep sleep, the rest is just light sleep according to fitbit.
Just like he says in the article, and other posters are saying, for decades I didn't even realize because I didn't think people were being literal about "seeing pictures" in their head. I thought it was simply a label for remembering.
It was only when doing the course "Learning how to Learn" and getting frustrated with the memory techniques that I found out that people really do see with their mind's eye.
Same with algorithms on data structures- I would imagine a toy data structure and play around with how algorithm would interact with it.
The compulsory first year Math papers on the other hand were impossibly hard to follow, even with a lecturer who happened to specialize in mathematics education I was always lost about 20 mins into a lecture and always struggling to catch up.
I don’t feel like I can picture things as clearly as some people describe in this thread, but it’s not a total blackout either. Something in between.
I have not yet tried journalling as a coping mechanism; I may have to give that a go.
E.g an example I often used is that I remember pieces of code by how they look on screen to the extent that the syntax and formatting is something I'm unusually obsessed with because it affects my recall, and that I remember pages from papers I read 25+ years ago by visual appearance and layout.
But I can't see them, even though I can recall them to the point that I know what they would have looked like had I been able to see them.
That's interesting. I wonder how your mind has learned to compensate. Maps are such visual things, you must be tapping into some other brain areas to store/retrieve this information.
> When I remember traumatic experiences I don't visualize them, I remember the feeling, the shame or the guilt or the embarrassment.
hmm, interesting. Maybe this part of my personality isn't related to the aphantasia.
Basically, aphantasiacs tend to do just as well at spatial reasoning tasks as people with imagery, but tend to be somewhat slower and do not exhibit the gender gap that has been identified in the broader population.
I'm aphantasiac as well, and can identify with some of the experiences you've mentioned in this thread, and not at all with others. My spatial reasoning is great, and I'm a singer who has no problem at all with singing along to songs - if they're sufficiently regularly structured, even singing along with the chorus the second time it happens in a song I've never heard before. However, like you, I cannot replay sounds in my head. Memories are easily put behind me.
We're clearly very early in understanding what impact aphantasia has on people. It's a fascinating topic, and always interesting to teach people about.
When I look at a map, I rarely try to remember what it looks like (I couldn't visualise it anyway) - I remember directions and distances relative to other places.
Dealing with the trauma has opened up a richness inside my head that I didn’t realize I had. I can visualize almost anything I imagine, and I’ve began drawing. I’ve always had very good spatial reasoning, sense of direction and audible memory.
I’m still working on being fully present, though.
Are you sure? I am not a psych(atr|olog)ist, but that sounds consistent with some sort of dissociation. People can even be impacted by traumas that they do not remember at all.
I think psychiatrologist is my new favourite word.
Edit: Or maybe psycologiatrist.
* shrug * no idea tbh. others with aphantasia don't seem to share the same effect, so maybe it's some kind of other dysfunction.
I've had very few traumatic events in my life, but when I hear people talk about flashbacks or reliving trauma, it confuses me utterly. I understand theoretically how it could happen, now that I finally know about visual memory, but the practical effect is still completely outside my experience.
My wife had long been envious of my "superhuman ability" to stay in the present, neither lingering in the past nor staring off towards the future. Once we realized I was aphantasiac it made more sense, as memory and fantasy simply don't exist for me in remotely compelling or seductive ways. It's all just abstract word-forms (and occasionally sounds).
As a programmer, writer, musician, and occasional photographer/painter, I've long insisted that when making art "There is only implementation."
I still think there's a lot of truth in that, but I do now realize that most people can meaningfully "see" their work before incarnating it.
1.While I do not experience visual images in my mind, I do 'form' what I can only explain as proprioceptive relationships between things. I can mentally rotate objects or my environment, but have no visual experience of it. This is a long-winded way of saying I have very good spacial understanding, direction and concept of how things relate to each other - I'm a hang glider pilot, motorcyclist, loves driving and hiking around, and never get lost.
2. I do relate with having a superhuman ability to put bad experiences behind me. I don't dwell on the bad for long, and tend to forget the bad experiences pretty quickly.
My memory of accidents are also more proprioception and relation to things in my environment than visual.
No 1 I never connected it to this, but yes, I have terrible sense of direction. I do okay if there are physical landmarks (Like lake to the west or hills to the east) and numbered streets help too, but I still regularly make wrong turns and don't realize it in cities I've lived for a long time.
No 2 I don't feel. I ruminate a lot. My memory is weak, but I still manage to ruminate on things.
I can relate to the lack of interest in fiction books others have written on this thread. I struggle to visualise what's going on with the characters/scenes so get bored (and frustrated) very quickly.
Oddly I can relate strongly to your point 2. My father is the same - emotions get switched off and practical mode kicks in. He's working on a solution to one of the problems as a result of whatever's happening around us, be it financial, logistical, or anything which could "help" in his eyes. It's not so much put bad experiences behind me, but rather put them in a mental box (ironically, I can't imagine) and not worrying about it.
For example. If I was told to imagine a barn, the first image to pop up is the barn. For no apparent reason, the barn is red.
How many windows does the barn have? No clue, didn't even realize that the barn had some windows. I can then sort of materialize the windows into a concrete amount (two for example). But do note that before I thought about the windows the 3D model of the barn existed in a state that can only be conjured by the imagination. The barn literally had an unknown amount of windows, not no windows or some windows, but I just wasn't thinking about the windows. The other weird part of this is that we don't consciously realize that the model is incomplete, yet if we took this incomplete model of the barn and put it in the real world we can then instantly identify this inconsistency and weirdness.
Also for no apparent reason the barn is sitting on a grass field and it's dusk.
If you can dream, the image is exactly the same as your dream. Blurry three dimensional objects that can materialize in greater detail as you focus.
There are some differences I can think of with my dreams. One is that of course it really does feel like you're there in a dream. When I imagine something while awake, it's more like a little model surrounded by nothingness in my head.
Another is that in dreams things are often strange, proportions all wrong, just general weirdness. Imagining while awake, you have control over the form.
There are people in this thread saying that they can essentially replace their reality with imagination while awake, "projecting" the scene in front of them. I can't do that, but I can imagine a scene well enough to get by. Maybe there's not so much Normal vs. Aphantasia at all, but a whole spectrum between the two extremes.
In dreams I enjoy the contradictory nature of things/people, like someone in the dream is themselves fully and also someone else; or a barn say is painted red and made of wood whilst simultaneously being entirely constructed of windows, and the windows can't be looked out of ...
I also voraciously read fiction, so I doubt you not liking it has anything to do with aphantasia, but find overly descriptive portions of text boring and will often skip them.
Also, you can almost certainly learn to visualize with your mind's eye, very few people have actual incurable aphantasia from what I've read. I did some exercises, image streaming, and it was starting to work. After a week or so I started seeing images. I had too much on my plate, so parked it for now.
If you told me to not picture a welsh corgi barking at a ball, my mind would instantly picture it. There is no control over this reflex. Literally if you had a mind reading machine and a gun pointed to my head and told me not to picture that corgi or you'd shoot me, it would be mind blowingly hard and near impossible. It's similar to the reflex that allows you to understand language. "Do not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth..." not possible.
Thus in knowing that we have limited control over it you should know that at least for some people the mind wanders... if we don't direct the mechanism to picture a flame or a sphere it will proceed to picture other things, it can't be turned off insomuch as your general ability to understand english can't be turned off. Therefore meditation is easier for you.
Also you can't get songs stuck in your head. Sometimes that part of your brain that builds these virtual scenes just decides to sing that one catchy song all the time.
As should be clear from this thread, aphantasia is a highly varied condition. It manifests in people in different ways. The fact that you read a lot does not mean that there is no association between aphantasia and not liking fictional books.
I've only ever experienced visualization once on a drunken night and thought my drink had been spiked.
Then moved on to image streaming but it didn't add that much more:
There's still a lot of mumbo-jumbo feeling to it and the videos and writing, but it does work. 10 minutes a day, a little over a week, and I started to see things. I found it a lot easier to do just as I was going to sleep, first time it happened I'd forgotten to do it in the scheduled slot so did it just after I went to bed without the recorder. The recorder is useful to begin with to remind you to carry on speaking out loud.
It is frustrating to begin with.
A bit off-topic perhaps, but: how? When a thought comes into my head, that means I'm no longer thinking of tapping...
That's true. But at some point, you realize you are thinking of x when you should just be focusing on the sound (or whatever object/idea you chose). When that happens, you tap. Even if you were daydreaming for 6 minutes, you eventually realize you were straying.
You can substitute physical tapping with mental notes or whatever as well.
There are forms of mindfulness and meditation practice that don't require visualization, and in fact are quite the opposite. A typical exercise is to pay focused attention to a particular body part, sensation, or environmental aspect.
Keeping the eyes half-open during meditation is a common way of preventing falling asleep.
I'm utterly unable to visualise for the most part except for one experience that was totally revelatory to me during meditation years ago, which I after learning about aphantasia realises must be what most people experience all the time.. But the inability to get my minds eye to work has never been a hindrance to my meditation as far as I can tell. If anything I do not get distracted by visuals, yet there are more than enough other distractions so I'm mostly happy about that during meditation.
(I grew up with mediation, have tried many kinds many times and it does nothing for me so this kind of irks me. It's one of those real "if it doesn't work for you you're doing it wrong / not using enough of it" things.)
His experiences are very similar to yours. I want ask you about its advantages (if I may): Is it something about Aphantasia (absence of fantasy?) that could help with being better at HCI? Or, any other positives you see come out of it that helps you professionally?
Especially this comment:
> I had aphantasia starting at 17 years old that resolved recently by taking vitamins and supplements. Specifically, big doses of B12, B6, Vitamin C, and Omega oils.
(I found it by searching for "B6". I took this vitamin for a while in its P5P form, and noticed that, even though I don't have aphantasia, it made my dreams much more lively. When reading your story, I immediately made the connection. DISCLAIMER: Do your own research and don't take medical advice from strangers on the internet; B6 in high doses can have lasting side effects such as neuropathy; B12, vitamin C are relatively safe)
Do you happen to use photos and written word more than others to try and make up for it? Is that even a remedy?
Aprantly the rest of the world goes around hallucinating 24/7. I find that frightening.
Edit: here is the introductory paragraph of Hallucination from Wikipedia :
A hallucination is a perception in the absence of external stimulus that has qualities of real perception. Hallucinations are vivid, substantial, and are perceived to be located in external objective space. They are distinguishable from several related phenomena, such as dreaming, which does not involve wakefulness; pseudohallucination, which does not mimic real perception, and is accurately perceived as unreal; illusion, which involves distorted or misinterpreted real perception; and imagery, which does not mimic real perception and is under voluntary control. Hallucinations also differ from "delusional perceptions", in which a correctly sensed and interpreted stimulus (i.e., a real perception) is given some additional (and typically absurd) significance.
I have the same opinion of people's purported "mind's eye" and visual imagination. Like, I'm able to recall things that I've seen, but they come back to me as grab-bag of feelings, abstract concepts, and an enumeration of qualities and characteristics. Not a reconstruction of a picture or anything like that, or a movie playing in my mind's eye or whatever.
This has never really been a handicap for me, except in art class which I was never any good at (Art teacher: "Just focus your mind on your subject while looking at the canvas, then just paint what you see. It's easy!" Me: "... wtf are you smoking?") Or when I went to pick up my fiancé from the airport after I first prolonged separation, and I got worried because I honestly couldn't remember what her face looked like.
But back to the analogy, it seems as if nearly everyone around me goes around life with an imaginary friend that only they can see, and I'm the only one who finds this weird. Like how can you even trust your senses if you're able to conjure up full sensual experiences in your imagination? I find this scary because it counteracts my own certainty: if my mind is seeing something or hearing something, IT'S REAL.
Wow, this is fascinating, and it's incredibly hard to describe something you've just taken for granted!
When I'm writing this down, I can "hear" my own voice narrating what I'm writing, sometimes talking ahead as my typing catches up, sometimes the other way around. But I have no difficulty separating "real" sounds that have gone through my ears, from the sound of my mind's voice, if that makes sense. If I were to open my mouth and talk along with my mind's voice, it would become quiet, because there's now real sounds taking its place.
Visualizing things work sort of the same way, if someone says "think about a dog playing fetch!", I start seeing fragments/glimpses/moving images of my memories of dogs playing fetch, but it's more like having a movie screen in front of your eyes, I don't see the dog in the world as I see it, the mind's eye "sees" things on top of/in parallel to existing visual input. And staring at something that is visually boring, or closing your eyes, helps you see your mind's eye more clearly, since there's no overlap. The more visually interesting the real world is, the harder it is to clearly picture something in your mind. And just like with the mind's voice, you just know that what you're imagining isn't real.
So to answer your question: Actual hallucinations are what happens when you're unable to distinguish between the two, normally you have absolutely no problem doing so.
You have abstract thoughts, they just seem to lack a conscious visual component, but that's all the "mind's eye" is, thoughts. There's a distinct difference between your thinking and your physical experience.
>I'm able to recall things that I've seen, but they come back to me as grab-bag of feelings, abstract concepts, and an enumeration of qualities and characteristics.
Me too, and there's also "photographs" in there as well.
Can you experience/imagine music (or any sound) without hearing it? Like a song which is stuck in your ear. Or if I ask you to imagine the Star Wars melody, could you hum it in your mind?
Do you not dream?
Drawing from imagination is actually drawing from memory. In my case, even though I'm unable to visualize the object I'm about to draw, I can recall facts about its features, then rely on spatial and analytical thinking to "reason about" their forms, proportions, perspective, light, shade etc. From there, the visualization process happens and gets refined directly on the paper/canvas.
I have tried some exercises that started helping me with mental visualizations. I've seen gotten quite busy with other stuff, but I think that if I had pursued those exercises, it had the potential to help. One exercise is called "image streaming", and although I'm skeptical it helps with general intelligence as some people claim, I have heard some fairly convincing stories of people with aphantasia learning to visualize: http://www.winwenger.com/ebooks/guaran4.htm
Edit: I'm now reading a lot of skeptical takes on the image streaming I describe above. So I'm no longer as optimistic that it would be helpful.
I can picture things to some extent, like I can imagine the Mona Lisa, but not really the full image, just more like a sense of the painting, with a myriad of elements of the painting floating like words in a word cloud. I can't see it in the setting of the Louvre really, indeed it's struck me all my mental imagery is basically black, like an edge detect effect - I can imagine a bit of white wall if I try, so perhaps I just need to practice.
I've been painting for some time, but always use imagery to paint from - so many times I've said something like "when you try to think of a rabbit you just can't remember what one looks like" and no one has ever said "can't you just picture it?"; but it strikes me that I can't.
I do have a relatively good ability to make up stories, and have always loved fiction books. My memories aren't really pictorial though; so I guess I can fantasise about being in a situation in the same way as I can recall being in one.
How do you think this compares to those who don't have aphantasia? How do they imagine the Mona Lisa?
People make it sound like they are able to see the same with their eyes closed as they can see with their eyes open. Like, I obviously can't see things as well in my mind as with my real eyes, it's very very "hazy" and I can't really imagine any colours. If I imagine a street right now, not a real one, just try to make up one in my mind, I can kind of feel/sense the outlines of the street and that there are houses around, but I don't actually see anything.
Compared to how some people describe them imagining things in their mind it sounds like I'm severely lacking. But the more I read about this, the more I think people are overestimating what other people see in their mind based on what they write. I think most people that claim to have aphantasia don't, while of course I believe some people really do.
If I wanted to see a rabbit, I didn't have to consciously recall facts about rabbit anatomy, behaviour and movement patterns like I would today (only to end up with most of them wrong); I just thought: "let there be rabbit" and with no effort at all there it was. Not a rabbit-like creature you would expect from a child's drawing, but an actual, realistic, anatomically correct rabbit hopping about the way rabbits do.
This ability started to gradually disappear around the time I went to school. I remember my frustration when I realized it was getting harder and harder to picture things and the quality of those pictures was getting lower and lower. Eventually I ended up not being able to visualize anything at all.
I've been wondering about this lost childhood superpower of mine for years, way before I even heard the term "aphantasia". When I say I'm aphantastic, I don't compare myself to some idea of how other people's minds work. I compare myself to what my own mind used to be capable of.
It's a spectrum of vividness. At one extreme, a few per cent of people are classified as aphantasics. At the other extreme, people have a photo realistic mind's eye. Most people sit somewhere inbetween.
I don't think people are necessarily overestimating. Some people just imagine the world very clearly.
I would say that I can see objects in my mind with something close to photo realism. The only time that things become hazy is if I imagine the entire city in which I live. I fly round imagining every street and I can see familiar areas very clearly, but if I stop and examine a street I don't know so well, I can't remember which exact shop is where. But that seems to be a problem of memory, not visualisation.
Think of a red circle. A green triangle? A blue square? Do those objects have colour to you?
I have four coworkers sitting behind me, they've been working around me for the past 5 hours and I can remember roughly how they're clothed, but I can't recall any colours of their clothes.
But yes, I can imagine colour, so my bad.
It can be, but it isn't really. Most folks can do a landscape or a general person from memories of what earth and people look like, in general. Few people can put their mother in a surrealist scene working from memory, though.
The imaginative part does depend on memory and experience and a good knowledge base. But once you have the idea, you might want to actually do research and work from reference photos.
But you might want to look up what a snake looks like if you want to make it look like a realistic snake. Same for other animals - there is a limit to the details humans tend to remember. You'll remember more if you specialise.
For example, these are mine. The first used numerous reference photos, the second many different koi photos, and the last, an onion.
On a tangential note: there's more to creating believable art than accurate re-creation of proportions and details (which is why sites like deviantart are full of completely lifeless art that immediately reads as copies of photos). I'm aphantastic and only a have a very general idea of what a bear looks like, but I'm pretty sure I could draw a move convincing one "from my head" than someone untrained spending all day at the zoo would, because I have a good knowledge (or memory, if you will) of dogs and cats musculoskeletal anatomy I can extrapolate from, and I understand how forms in space and light work.
However I know precisely where in relation to each other the window frames in my bedroom are, for example, and how they are shaped, and their colour, and how the panes are separated, and what colour the curtains are and how to reproduce the brushed appearance of the curtain rod, and so on.
I can't see it. But I know exactly where very small details are in relation to each other, so I can reconstruct it piece by piece mentally and put it to paper.
I've mentioned elsewhere that prior to realising most people are literal about seeing things in their mind, I saw myself as a very visual thinker because of that. My spatial recall is well above average.
Imagine a blind person knowing where everything around them in places they are familiar with, I guess, except I have the benefit of being able to learn the spatial relationships through sight, and can also recall e.g colours though I can't see them.
I now realise I have not actually been able to visualise in my mind's eye (I can see vague shapes/colour but can't bring it into focus) and have to constantly measure or 'guess' at drawings. I've been wondering why many artists seems to be able to draw 'on the fly' or copy things so quickly where it takes me many checks and measures (which is improving in speed over time with practice).
It has left me feeling like I have no creativity or inspiration, but not being able to visualise explains a lot and gives me an avenue of focus to work on.
Can anyone provide good resources for developing visualisation capability? It appears from comments here it might be a condition that is treatable?
It actually gives me more reward from drawing than most people, because what I access when drawing (seeing what I imagine with my eye) most people can do without the hard part of learning how to draw. For me drawing is the only way, my sketches are the only existence of some of these things I've thought of.
But no, I can't draw or paint or sculpt anything, but that never bothered me, and has rarely impeded my career in computing.
Maybe, or maybe not. It could be a post-fact explanation.
What I'm getting at is a huge numbers of us feel "isolation" and "distance" (perhaps close to a majority), with or without aphantasia, so it might not be it at all that's the cause...
> But then, perhaps, in this case, ignorance would be a bit more blissful.
I'm not sure how I feel about this right now, but it's not going to be bothering me for a while...
While working on lucid dreaming, I noticed that I could see hypnagogic images as I was falling asleep, or after I woke up. Not having this ability normally, I focused on it quite a bit and have had some really vivid images, some in motion. Not amazing to most of humanity, admittedly, but it was like magic to me.
If anyone is wondering, I use the SSILD method of inducing lucid dreams. I haven't been into it as much lately, but for a short while I was having three a week or so.
Edit. For a condition which supposedly affects only a few percent, the reaction to this article here and on Twitter contains a suspiciously high rate of people being surprised to find out they've got this and shocked that everyone else hasn't.
The more I read about this the more I feel that the variety in reported inner experience is more to do with the variety in reporting than of the experience itself.
I find myself able to relate to descriptions from both sufferers and non sufferers alike, but then again could often take extracts from each and be hard pressed to say who was claiming to be which.
I can recall memories or visualize things that have never happened. I'm not sure if my recall is reproducing what I actual saw, or reimagining it from something more schematic. I suppose mostly the latter, maybe with a little of the former.
I can do the same thing with imaginary sound, far more easily. I'm not sure if people with aphantasia have difficulty here, too.
And with great difficulty the other senses.
Fairly often, these sensory reconstructions happen involuntarily. Which is basically what "daydreaming" is to me.
As a side note, it can be really odd to read something like: 'She saw two doors in the room. She took the one on the left wall.' And my flow is broken and I have to stop and reimagine the room, because I saw the two doors on the wall ahead - what is the author going on about? Maybe they should not be so exact about a tiny detail.
For example when doing some shadowboxing I actually put fantasized people in front of myself which fight me and react to my moves, and I can see them as I see a real person until I remain focused. I often change also the location and the background to suite better my fantasy.
It's like shutting partially your eye system and making your mind go in full control.
edit: I said this to explain how much I can push it. But to make a simpler example, I _Very_ often fantasized at night, before bad and with eyes closed, of having an adventure in a post apocalyptic world and I can see everything in first person in my mind like I am really there and everything is real
I recently read Clarke's The City and the Stars. His description of the city of Diaspar is so strong that I feel like I have literally been there in exactly the same way as I have been to Yellowstone. I know I can't get on a plane to go back there, but if I open the book again I will be there again.
Another favorite book of mine is The Good Earth. I have experienced Wang Lung's life in almost the exact same way as Picard experienced another man's life in The Inner Light. I read that book in a single uninterrupted sitting because the experience of living someone else's life from beginning to end was so enthralling that I could not stop.
If you want to know why Harry Potter fans are so obsessive, it's because the books are very easy to visualize. Millions of people have a "lived experience" of being Harry throughout 7 years of wizard school and that experience leaves a mark on you. When I saw the movies it was a bit odd because I'd already seen a different set of "movies" in my mind and they got some details wrong.
I now take portraits as a side business. When I schedule photoshoots with models and think of locations, I'm constantly visualizing in my head the scene, their poses, the lighting, etc. In my head these aren't still images or snapshots, but I'm on set with the model and I'm able to move around and interact with the model to try different angles and figure out the ones I like and don't like. I never take written notes about the shots I want to try and get, I just spend the few days leading up to the shoot mulling over ideas in my head and by the day of I know exactly what shots I want and how to get them.
I also noticed as a kid that when I would read fantasy books that I would sometimes get so engrossed in the imagery and descriptions of the scenes that I would stop processing the words on the page. When I would "break out of it" I would be able to remember exactly the movie scene that had been happening in my head, but I wouldn't be able to tell you the last few sentences I had read even though they perfectly described the scene I had been experiencing. This visualization of novels made me fall in love with reading as a kid.
Idk if you know but Aphantasia technically covers all senses. For example I can hear music in my head. It's kinda faint and fuzzy but it's there and well defined. Meanwhile I can't imagine a simple green triangle. Maybe you have it in some ways and not others? You should think about it - kinda blew my mind.
Maybe there's a similar vector I could explore for improved visualization. eye-movements or subtle pen-strokes with the hand or something.
Then I read a Reddit thread like this: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/b8eojm/when_some...
It's totally foreign to me to think about "picturing" something in that detail. I can describe the physical attributes of an object if I think about it, and most of the time I just equate that to "visualizing" or "picturing" it. The thing that stands out to me in that Reddit thread (and other descriptions of how "normal" people visualize things) is that there is extra context. That's not something I understand at all, and so I'm convinced there is actually a fundamental difference.
If I write fiction I start to create the scenes and people in my mind as if I'm staging a play or building a level in a 3d engine. The words I write down are then a description of what I'm seeing, as if I'm writing a review of the play I just staged.
A further interesting line of thought: Can you re-hear sounds from memory? Can you re-feel touch? Re-smell? Re-taste? Can you re-experience emotions? With a bit of focus I can do all of those things, though it helps if the original memory is strong. My "inner ear" is especially strong, maybe even stronger than my "inner eye."
I definitely can't re-feel, re-smell, or re-taste. That's not the least bit ambiguous in my brain, I just have no idea what that even means. Re-hearing? I'm not sure... I can think "words", but there's nothing especially "audible" about it.
If I want to hear a guitar I'll hear it with all the clarity of a real guitar. I hear the echo of the vibration. The sound of phantom fingers moving along the frets. Tiny metallic sounds as dry calluses squeak across the strings. And my chest will swell in excitement at the rich sound that I heard but didn't hear.
To test this I played the first ~30 seconds of The General by Dispatch in my head, then compared it to a Youtube video. I haven't heard the song for about a month, but I'd say my memory of it was about 95% correct with only a few notes out of place and a small number of missing/added aural details. In fact the sound memory was even more emotionally intense than the recording, like the difference between hearing a song live vs. a recording.
I can only imagine how crazy this must sound from your perspective. I am a productive member of society and not some kind of crystal spiritualist.
Nah, just sounds like a thing I would love to be able to do.
For me, I can picture whatever you might think of, enough to be able to copy what I imagine on paper or sculpture. However, this does not overlay with what I am seeing with my eyes as other people have described happens to them. What I see with my eyes, and what I imagine in my mind are in two different places. When I dream it can be very very realistic, as high detail as real life, and I can think it is real life (if you cannot visualize in your mind, what are your dreams like?). But when I wake up and open my eyes, there is no longer confusion. This is real life.
I also very very frequently can remember someone's face, how they act, what they do, and not remember their name. I can remember a whole conversation with them in video and not remember their name. But it feels like this type of visualization is different than picturing a sphere or some imaginary thing. It is a memory, a memory that I can manipulate, but based on reality.
Something I have always wondered about others, when you speak, is it just your thoughts in your language that you voice? Like, is your thought in language? I must translate my thoughts into language, and it is sometimes very difficult even though I am good at expressing myself. I do not usually think in language, unless it is some basic thing I am repeating to myself. It feels like some other people actually think with words.
Visualizations are "ghostly", have few details, like 0.1 - 10% of what I usually see. Detail level depends on amount of attention allocated to internal imagery. Picture is always moving, changing, in flow. It takes considerable effort to pin a scene and stabilize it though it increases resolution. I've asked around and some people report having sequence of static, very high-resolution, almost real life quality pictures, either from real experience or synthesized. And images flip, replacing one another. Other people say that they have very fast low-res flowing "movies" like me, often consisting of several independent streams in different "parts" of awareness, typically with only one if focus. It's not that imaginary stream is overlayed on real sensory stream, it's more like they are different kinds of perception, like seeing and hearing is, though visual imagery is closer to seeing because objects it deals with have similar perceptive qualities, like having spatial component and colors.
In my case imagined sounds are more detailed. When I'm remembering or simulating a conversation, voices are rather close to that of real people. Music can be recalled quite well too, maybe up to 20% detail level of original. On several occasions a had some excerpts playing unvoluntary playing in my head with like 90% detail level of original. Quite often I got some music stuck in my head. When I'm underslept it's usually some bad quality pop music from 80s-90s that I haven't heard since my childhood.
Tactile, smell and taste sensations can be and are emulated too.
I wonder, do people with aphantasia have dreams? Dreams are fully emulated sensory input, though I feel like they come from a bit different place then imagined input does.
Edit: actually mind's eye is not restricted with field of vision of real sight, it can encompass say 1km sphere around me with very very low level of detail. I think that kind of capacity is used automatically in daily life when you walk somewhere and you have automatically constructed knowledge of what's behind your back.
I rarely forget a face, and routinely remember random people on the subway. I don't say anything but I'm almost always the person who remembers the other person first, and it almost offends me that someone doesn't recognize/remember seeing me when I remember them. I can usually tell who people are based only on gait and body proportions. I recognized a girl once just from her hair color, and it wasn't something noticeable, just a very muted blonde almost brown/gray hair, but I only knew one person with her height and hair type.
I have incredibly powerful imagery. I woke up once after realizing in my dream after breaking a window that the glass shattered with incredible physical accuracy, both material properties, and physics. It's in dreams that I notice certain things, like how did I know water/smoke/fire/cloth reacts like that? how did I know light bounces in that way? how did I know that subway tracks looked precisely like that? Like I never took the time to study any of it, but the real world accuracy and a high level of detail is there. I can visually take objects and rotate them in my head, I think someone mentioned this and I can confirm. And I always found it suspicious people couldn't rotate something they see in a 2D picture in their head (or at least they would say something that implies they have no idea what it looks like from another angle).
Having said that, I think there are parts of my brain that is so stunted I sometimes wonder how the hell I got to where I am. I feel like I have several streams of information coming into my head, and I have to process them asynchronously. I zone out all the time because I'm having a "Doug" moment (if anyone remembers the cartoon), where I'm vividly daydreaming. The images are so strong, it seems to black out what I'm really seeing (but not really, its more like getting extreme tunnel vision and being hyper focused on your imagination). Traumatic memories are terrible. I see and pretty much re-live bad experiences over and over again. I can sit still, not move physically and play movies in my head for hours. To be fair though, I'm probably closer to the other extreme, and to me the benefits outweigh the cons.
(Edit: word choice)
My other senses are not as affected, I have perfect tactile recall, I can recall and imagine plenty of smells and tastes as well. I have elaborate tactile fantasies when I want to distract myself. No visuals.
I don't think it's actually different from aphantasics but I've had vivid dream-visuals (including being able to literally read in a dream, seeing every character, hearing every word in the low subvocalized reading-voice, being caught up in the story) and visual hallucinations.
I think there is very strong truth to this. Words get in the way when trying to share internal experiences. Also, by reporting and discussing your experiences, you affect them. Memories of past experiences, and expectations for future experiences, are both affected.
For that reason, and without having digested the scientific literature, I would recommend against labeling oneself as having (or not having) aphantasia.
But then, I feel that way about pretty much all labels, especially ones related to cognition. They're fine for communication, but not for your internal perception of self.
I've got an incredible sense of direction too and I tell people it's because I've got a little google maps in my head.
Imaging something is clearly not the same thing as actually seeing something. And yet I can imagine shape, 3D positioning, color, texture, movement, etc.. all the while NOT seeing it (and NOT hallucinating it). So do I have the condition or not?
You don't have it.
I don't think visually most of the time, but I can picture things if I want to. I can even build whole "scenarios" in my mind and play them out, visually.
It's a bit like lucid dreaming, I think.
In my case of not having Aphantasia is to be able to mentally reproduce an image with eyes open. If this image requires too much effort or has my interest for some reason, I still can see, but I am distracted by what I am visualizing at that moment.
That distraction is like when playing a videogame or watching a movie: you never see (or remember) what is around the monitor or TV because you are focused in playing/watching.
I guess it feels like being able to project holograms internally.
But I can also "move the camera" off the dash and to 3rd person over-the-shoulder like in a racing game, and continue the drive.
That's what accounts for so many people wondering if they have aphantasia.
For example, can't you picture yourself on your commute home? Like if a camera was filming you going home today?
How do you forsee things?
I can plan my whole day perfectly without getting one image in my mind.
Thinking visually is simply too slow, so I only do it when I consciously try it.
But I wouldn't call it meta. I'm not smarter or have more overview than other people.
It's more like a different datatype, one that can't be definied by my external senses.
It feels like some amorph entity that just carries meaning.
So for me as example: I listen to metal and while I don't have super high quality sound in my mind, I can for the most part play a whole song in my head even the very intricate solos. If I knew the instruments and could play that we'll I could play it off the track in my head. However I can't imagine anything visual at all. No simple geometric Shape, no colors, not even a dot on a white backdrop.
I think most people are just shocked this is a thing and theyre too quick to say they have nothing when they probably have something. I'd give detailed tests like asking to imagine a tree and ask how many branches it has or what kind it is.
Any rate in sure in a couple years well have some nice professional tests to take for a more precise understanding.
For those in the thread that can work on imagery in a visual manner, does it feel like the images are taking the same path as ones that actually hit the retina? To be more precise, could your visualizations be roughly matched by an idealized Augmented Reality headset? If that sounds close to most people's experiences thats weird to me because my vague visualizations seem to never interfere with my actual visual plane, but rather a more abstract in-brain space.
Love discussions like these, subjective experience is crazy.
I think there are generally a variety of ways things can "appear". However it's never the same as true AR. For example, with true AR, you could be fooled into seeing something that's not there. But I can't fool myself (deliberately) with my own mental images.
Having said that, it subjectively feels like the stimulus originates in a different part of the brain at a low level, but eventually both "mental visual" and "true visual" stimulus are unified to some degree.
Like yes, I can visualize a ball in my hand, but it'll always be in a different layer from my actual visual input of my hand. Like two different layers in Photoshop.
Also, beyond the AR concept, one of my favored types of visualizations is what I call "playing myself a movie". It's pretty much what you would imagine, basically watching a movie with my mind's eye. I can watch the movie and look at "real things" at the same time. Works great for falling asleep as well.
I agree, it's a super fascinating discussion.
Whenever I do visualize images, they feel as if they are positioned behind just my forehead or at the top of my head. Sometimes I imagine this as a sort of "canvas" on which I can imagine or draw images. With your example of visualizing a ball, the ball and my hand can be on the same "layer" on this canvas, but do not affect my vision at all.
What I find interesting is that I can actually move this canvas around spatially or create new ones. On each canvas for example, I can imagine a different rotating object. As well, each canvas retains its image as a form of short-term memory. So I can switch focus between different imagined images or compositions.
I'm curious - with more practice - how mental imagery can aid in memory. Recently I learned a song in a language I do not understand, and the words of the song would appear on my mind's "canvas" almost like karaoke or like reading off imaginary flashcards...
It's always interesting to read about how other people's experiences are similar or different to my own. The minds eye is endlessly interesting.
I like your description using multiple canvases.
Similarly, I described them as PIPs (Picture In Picture) but off screen canvases may be a better analogy.
This blows me away. It's absolutely stunning to me.
Really? That's so freakin' cool!
I have to distract from looking at my hand, if I try to imagine the ball in more details.
I knew I was on a bus, because the sounds and feelings maintained continuity with reality. But the details I saw were completely made up. My eyes were closed, I think, but it didn't feel like that was connected to my ability to see. Because of the swaying motion of the bus, I knew where we were, and the scene I was "watching" was based on that. I was able to move, and think normally about my day, and did not notice that I had fallen asleep.
Of course, I eventually woke up. Reality was significantly less pleasant than my dream. The dream bus had been much less crowded, and clean, and generally more atmospheric and warm-toned, even the sunlight.
Does that sound similar to what you meant by trance consciousness?
Ditto for other "visualized" things; I just have no idea whether the qualitative experience I have of "visualizing" things is anything like what other people do.
Whenever I read about this phenomenon, there doesn't seem to be a good quasi-objective metric of this subjective capability to visualize -- there's no test or questionnaire I can use to see how my abilities rate against others'.
I think there's room for some experimentation / science here and probably a viral online quiz that would get some lucky content creator a solid stream of interest for years.
There certainly is. The Vividness of Visual Imagery questionnaire, or VVIQ . It's been referenced in most of the recent aphantasia research I've looked at.
For me it is not like AR.
It is kinda like PIP. Picture in Picture.
If my eyes are open while while visualizing the more deeper I go into the visualization the less my true visual field is apparent. If I get really deep into a visualization my true vision fades to almost nothing unless I am jerked back to visual reality by a loud sound or if the visualization exercise is over.
It seems more like working directly with the visual models that exist in my brain.
For example when you see a ball you see the object and it's light rays hit your eye then it goes to your brain. Your brain says, "that's a ball".
To know it's a ball the brain compares the object with it's model of ball. If it matches it must be a ball.
When visualizing it's like working with the basic model of what a ball is. I can slowly increase the detail of the visualization but there is an upper bound where other details start to disappear.
Honestly, after writing this I feel "simulation" is perhaps a better description than "visualization".
It's so intense that I have to exert conscious effort in order to not get locked in a reverie. If I'm too deep in thought, I literally can't see anything. Not to confuse this with some AR type overlay, just that my focus in purely on the mental imagery to the exclusion of the outside world. Come to think of it, I wonder if this is something my brain developed as a coping mechanism, as I routinely sleep with my eyes open.
I also have absurdly vivid dreams that sometimes span multiple waking sessions; I liken them to movies.
On the other hand, and I believe a direct consequence this: I am absolutely horrible with directions -- and let's not even get started on my attention span.
I can only imagine how people with aphantasia experience the world. I wonder if they are more "present" than those without it.
It's sounds...so freakin' interesting, and it's always shocking to me that I went nearly 30 years before I found out that most people have this...cool superpower I never knew about.
I can remember or imagine voices like they're really hitting my eardrums. The more familiar I am with the voice and especially with what it says (like phrases the person commonly says), the easier it is. I used to routinely say goodbye to my mother before leaving home every day, and on the days after she passed away I would remember her voice on leaving like she was really speaking to me. As time's passed though, my memory of her voice has faded somewhat, so I can't really do that now.
I have been able to imagine visualizations like I can really see them, but for that I need to be on the brink of sleeping. Right on the point that you can dream while still being aware of reality.
Anything more than that seems to be primarily the domain of my actual visual system. I can observe things like light, shading, fine details when I'm actually looking at something but those are almost never present in "minds eye" visualization.
Maybe its because I've trained my minds eye to be a more abstract interface over the years. And by getting better at holding a complex system in spatial memory, the ties to the actual visual system are weaker.
Instead, it feels more like a background process. The more I focus on a mental image the less I "see" the visual input to my retinas. I've attempted to figure out how many visual streams I can see at the same time and I struggle to imagine more than three. If I focus very intently on all of them it seems I don't see any of them in great detail.
Certainly if I block out my visual input or focus on some unchanging imagery it becomes far easier to make my mental imagery more intense and detailed, but they can also be disrupted quite easily again by some new visual stimuli or an errant thought.
I used to know a girl who I suspect might have some kind of "hyper-phantasia." She said that when she thought back on memories it was literally like hitting the rewind button on a VCR.
It kind of goes to show you how moritifyingly behind we are in understanding and articulating our cognition. Autism was right up there until a few years ago. I believe there's a lot we still have to open up to ourselves. I'm not religious, but maybe exploration of the self and mind is more warranted than our society currently expresses. Of course, it's easy to slip into quackery, but I almost wonder if it'd be worth a few more nut jobs if we collectively self analyzed more deeply. Maybe there's a lot out there to our happiness and evolution were missing out on if it's taken this long to realize there's a sizeable number of people who can't sense internally.
Funny side note - despite having Aphantasia I have two degrees in physics. I could never follow in class (literally couldn't imagine what the prof was trying to hand model) and animated gifs made everything instantly understandable. The agony I felt in those programs seemed a little more justified after I was told about Aphantasia. A little.
If I'm thinking of a plane flying it will spin out of control, if I'm thinking of sheep jumping over a fence they will stop moving or the fence will fall over.
So imagining not only one sheep but a number of sheep on a field jumping over a fence is something I can only just barely approximate with such considerable mental effort that it even makes me feel slightly anxious. This seems entirely unlike what the exercise apparently is meant to accomplish.
I would describe myself as having essentially no mind's eye. I don't "visualize" anything, ever. If I imagine a tree (or someone asks me to visualize one) I mostly have descriptive words, but no "images".
But I can dream, and that definitely is a distinctively visual experience. Does that mean, when someone asks you to "visualize" something, you have an visual experience akin to dreaming?
I think I get what you're saying, but I'm bewildered why recommending more philosophy within society warrants insulting people who are religious, grouping religion with quackery, and grouping philosophy with quackery. I'm not religious either but this was a weird direction to go with your point.
Personally, I can imagine my apartment in detail down to the relative placements of most objects, proportions, the colors, the way the wind enters if the window is opened. I can do similar for past apartments going back 8 years as well as my parent's home. Hell, I can imagine the Reno's steakhouse from my hometown that I haven't been to in over 13 years in much the same way.
I do not consider myself to have aphantasia, however none of the "visualizations" I mentioned are hallucinations as some comments in this thread imply. I do not perceive them with any of my senses, including visual, as if I was there now. Rather it is more of a complex conceptualization in my mind.
A hallucination is a perception in the absence of external stimulus that has qualities of real perception. Hallucinations are vivid, substantial, and are perceived to be located in external objective space. They are distinguishable from several related phenomena, such as dreaming, which does not involve wakefulness; pseudohallucination, which does not mimic real perception, and is accurately perceived as unreal; illusion, which involves distorted or misinterpreted real perception; and imagery, which does not mimic real perception and is under voluntary control. Hallucinations also differ from "delusional perceptions", in which a correctly sensed and interpreted stimulus (i.e., a real perception) is given some additional (and typically absurd) significance. , from
Based on your description of your abilities, have you considered that what you're describing is spatial thinking, rather than visual imagery? It is common for people with aphantasia to retain strong spatial cognition.
It's why I tried the Augmented Reality methaphor in another comment. Something that your visual system is processing but isn't actually there.
Regardless I hope the distinction I was drawing comes across clearly.
Regarding spacial thinking, yes it seems fairly accurate however where I would expect it to break down would be recollection of colors, touch, sounds, tastes, or smells. But I don't feel I experience such a breakdown in ability to recall those either albeit in the same conceptualized not-connected-to-my-realtime-senses way.
Out of the examples given in this thread I would say faces are the most challenging object to recall. Though, depending on the distinction of the features I can also do that without much difficulty.
Could that not be explained by simply storing that information as "textual" data? As in: using spatial imagery to recall the layout of a room, and basic knowledge to recall the color of the walls.
> ...touch, sounds, tastes, or smells.
These other senses are considered separate from the topic of Aphantasia. It seems there are many people with good visual imagery, but none of the other senses... as well as people with zero visual imagery, but some or all of the other senses.
I have zero across the board, unfortunately.
Could you explain your taste or smell imagery? My recollection only goes as far as "I remember liking this dish more than most things".
In general, I think of it in the terms you might hear someone on the food network describe a dish. "High notes", "low notes", "mellow", "pungent". On Sunday I made biscuits and sawmill gravy (good southern boy that I am). Sawmill gravy has a distinct profile, it's a base of nutty/earthy from the roux and peppery. I start describing the constituent parts, however if you asked me to describe "peppery" now it's getting more difficult. The only way I would have to describe it would be how your tongue and throat burns when you taste it.
You can see I'm getting more vague and conceptual.
It's entirely possible that as you say this is just "textual" data, however that feels like a drab description of what feels to me like a more vivid experience. It feels as if there "more to it" than just recalling information.
Unrelated, but I also think it's interesting how as we start talking about other senses how entangled memory is. We aren't talking about a nondescript sphere hallucination in my visual field anymore, but rather a memory of my Sunday brunch. When I imagine the smell of beer I inevitably will recall the last time I was at the bar with some mates and the spatial/visual memory of that space as well as my emotional state, etc.
Imagination lets me recreate the scene, object or face in my mind in order to probe and ask questions, but it no longer seems linked to my senses.