What is aphantasia?
Aphantasia is a newly defined condition to describe people who are born without a “mind’s eye”.
Cognitive neurologist Professor Adam Zeman, at the University of Exeter Medical School, published a paper which led to the labelling of aphantasia.
How do I know if I'm aphantasic?
Researchers into visual imagery use the following questions which are answered on a scale shown;
1 No image at all
2 Vague and dim
3 Moderately clear
4 Reasonably clear
5 As vivid as real life
People with aphantasia typically will answer 'No image at all' to all questions.
1. Conjure up an image of a friend or relative who you frequently see; how clearly can you see the contours of their face, head, shoulders and body?
2. Still imagining that friend or relative, how strongly can you see the characteristic poses of their head and body?
3. How well can you envision the way that friend or relative walks, the length of their step, for example?
4. Rate how vivid the colours of that person's clothes look in your mind?
5. Visualise a rising sun and look carefully at the details of that mental picture; how clearly do you see that sun rising above the horizon in a hazy sky?
6. Imagine the sky clearing and surrounding the sun with blueness, how vivid is that image?
7. Clouds appear in your sky and a lightning storm erupts - how well can you see it?
8. A rainbow appears in your sky, how clearly can you make it out?
What is total aphantasia?
Some people (like me) are unable to create any images, sounds, tastes, smells or touch within their mind. This is known as Total Aphantasia.
What is it like to have aphantasia?
This is the question I'm asked most often. My answer - normal! I don't know any different, this is how my brain works. What do my thoughts look like? Nothing! Blackness. Emptiness. Nothing.
I'm fascinated that you can probably read this 'aloud' in your head in different voices. I can't hear voices in my head 😂 I read a lot of books and can only hear voices if I actually read aloud. I know what I'm reading and think about the words without hearing them. I get ear worms just like you except completely differently. I don't hear my earworm it's as if my thoughts are trapped in a loop and I repetitively think those words again and again.
When I discovered that some people (at the opposite end of the scale from total aphantasia) can imagine a strawberry and in their mind they can see it, feel the texture, taste it and smell it. Wow! I can do none of those. How do you get anything done?
I've had a few experiences where I thought that I was about to die and not once have I had my life flashing before my eyes. I now realise that people mean this literally I did have a rush of thoughts, mainly telling my loved ones how important they are, and maybe that's a good thing as it makes it easier to deal with?
When I start a conversation about aphantasia I'm usually met with disbelief. Those that are aphantasic don't believe people can do all of those things and vice versa. The brain is an incredible organ that we still know relatively little about.