What’s the Deal with Aphantasia?
Recently, folks began talking about this ominous condition called aphantasia.
Aphantasia is a term for the inability to form mental images in one’s mind. The term aphantasia, comes from the Greek word phantasia, which means ‘fantasy’ or ‘imagination’, and the prefix a-, meaning ‘without’.
For most people, imagination is as natural as speaking or writing. For you, if you suffer from aphantasia, creating mental pictures is a mystery. You can’t figure out how it’s supposed to work. You might even wonder if there’s something wrong with you. Honestly? I don’t think so.
What vexes me is that people treat aphantasia as an incurable condition. Like a missing limb or being blind.
But listen: I’ve personally cured my aphantasia (before that term was even coined). Furthermore, I’m receiving exciting emails and comments from readers who, (a) read my article on “Learning to Visualize“, (b) put the principles into action and, (c) reported they’re seeing mental images for the first time ever.
With that said, rather than letting anyone tell you that you can’t cure aphantasia, first assume visualization is skill that can be learned. And, as it is with most skills, if you aren’t a ‘natural’, discipline is your best substitute.
If I can treat aphantasia… and… if some of my readers can treat it, then there’s a chance you can do so, too.
What is the Definition of Aphantasia?
What actually is the definition of aphantasia?
As a matter of fact, aphantasia is just a fancy term for saying that you can’t create and control mental images and mental movies at will.
The symptoms of aphantasia were first described in 1880 by a British gentleman called Francis Galton.
Since then, it took more then a century until, finally, in 2015, Robert Adam Zeman and his team conducted further research on this phenomenon. He was, in fact, the person who named it like that.
What Are The
Let me give you an overview of what I’ve found out about the symptoms of aphantasia.
Inability to Review
It stands to reason that the ability to visually reexamine past events with your mind’s eye, can aid your memory.
To give you a practical example, albeit an unusual one, let me tell you about my Philippine friend:
I recall marveling over my friends outstanding reading retention. So, one day, I asked about her reading strategy. She said, “Well, I read a page only once. Later, if I need to recall any specifics, I reread them in my mind. I store the images of every page in my memory.” Her answer really floored me.
I admit, this is an extraordinary example of a visual memory.
For regular mortals who can visualize, it’s kinda like taking a Polaroid or a video clip of an occurrence (even if it might be blurry and lacking detail). Then later, at your leisure, you could peruse your visual memory archive to bring certain details back to consciousness.
In conclusion, if you suffer from aphantasia, you can’t, for instance, summon up a friend’s face when you think about him/her. Or you can’t visually revisit a place you’ve been to (like your favorite restaurant, the cinema, etc.)
Design Visual Representations
I’d like to start out, again, with an “out of this world” example.
There’s this Korean artist who’s got this uncanny ability to draft hyper-complex works of art in his mind before transferring them to a canvas. All without outlining and preliminary sketching. His name is Kim Jung Gi, and if you want to blow your mind, view him on YouTube performing in front of the camera.
Then, if you’ve watched Star Wars 3 or Transformers (or you played, f.e., Call of Duty), you’re familiar with the concept design of Feng Zhu. In one of his YouTube videos he said he doesn’t outline his ideas on paper (or screen) anymore because it’d take too much time. He now transitioned to drafting designs in his mind.
Creating mental images (and movies) voluntarily got a plethora of useful applications. And the lack thereof keeps one from using it to experiment, design, and toy with ideas in the mind-lab visually before translating them in physical form.
Check out what Nikola Tesla had to say about imagination:
I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.Nikola Tesla
Take The Aphantasia Test
How do you know you suffer from Aphantasia after all? Is there some kind of test you can do?
Yes, there is. And it’s pretty simple.
You can quickly ascertain the condition of your mind’s eye by running through the following aphantasia test below.
Before you get started, take a couple of deep breaths and shake off any tension and stress. Relaxed, you can access mental imagery more easily.
Recalling Visuals from Memory
Imagine, from your memory, a simple object (e.g., an apple, your phone, …) floating in front of you or resting on an imaginary table. Try this now both with eyes open and closed.
Then, proceed to the next test:
Replicating Visuals in Front of You
Look at an item in front of you. Preferably, take something that’s high in contrast and simple in shape (like a spoon, your phone’s display, …). Next, close your eyes attempting to keep a replica of that item on your mind’s screen. Again, try with your eyes open too.
Whatever you see (or don’t see) in the tests above determines the condition of your visualization muscle.
You’ll experience one of these three results:
1. Vivid & Stable Images
You see the object clearly, in full color, and you can keep it stable in front of you. You probably imagine things intuitively (consciously or unconsciously). In short, you don’t have aphantasia. Though, you still might want to improve the control over your imagination.
2. Blurry & Fleeting Images
To a certain extend, you see something, even if it isn’t clear, stable and vivid. No matter what you see, reaching better results is merely a matter of practice for you.
3. No Visuals
No results. You don’t see anything. If so, the part of your brain responsible for creating visuals is likely to be untrained. Chances are, with resolute training, you can get results.
Can You Cure Aphantasia?
First off, let me tell you that I am not a doctor or psychologist of any sort.
What I’m writing here is solely based upon my personal experiences, books I’ve studied, and the awesome people who emailed me and commented on my previous blog posts.
With that out of the way, let me tell you: each person is different. Obviously. And this whole matter of mental imagery is as rather intangible.
So, even though you practice to cure aphantasia religiously, there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed.
Nonetheless, If this is really important to you, find out for yourself, whether you can cure aphantasia or not. Give yourself 3-4 weeks of daily training. If then, after that time, you still didn’t make any progress, okay, maybe you’re not a visualizer (and you may have other unique abilities). But don’t let others tell you that you definitely can’t do anything about it without trying.
In fact, I’m certain that a most people who’ve been declared as mentally blind can bring their mind’s eye to life by resolutely attempting to access and invigorate it.
This whole matter is entirely intangible. The only reason I’m writing this article is because I believe that because I have treated my aphantasia, other people can do so too.
Now, for actual aphanatasia treatment exercises, refer to my initial post on “learning to visualize from scratch“.
How did you discover that you can’t visualize?
I’, really curious about you!
How did you find out about aphantasia? When was the first time you recognized that you can’t visualize? Have you done any exercises so far?
Please let me know in the comments below.