Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

APHANTASIA, LIFE WITH NO MIND’S EYE

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All my life people around me have talked about visualizing things and the mind’s eye. I remember in a college class we were all told to visualize a lovely lake surrounded by forest. It was a meditation exercise (Hey, it was the 70s.) Then and every other time I just assumed “visualize this” was simply a figure of speech for “think about.” Because when I close my eyes I see … my eyelids. IE nothing. Or reddish nothing if the lights are bright. Recently I came to understand that that’s not normal, apparently most people can close their eyes and see pretty much anything they want. I can’t imagine what that’s like, because I have no mind’s eye. I have what psychologists call aphantasia.

When I mentioned this to some friends, they were quite surprised. As if they had suddenly discovered one of my limbs was missing. I guess being able to visualize stuff is taken for granted by people who can visualize stuff. They were curious about  what it’s like, so here I am blogging about aphantasia to the world. Or my select collection of readers, most of the world has never heard of me. Probably a good thing.

The first question that always gets asked, do I dream? Yes, yes I do. Quite vividly and lucidly at times. Though I can’t really control the dream environment even when lucid. And in a hypnagogic state (nearly asleep) I can watch beautiful things, often lovely fountains and pools decorated with gems. In fact in this state I sometimes try to control what I am seeing, or figure out how I’m doing it so I can learn how to visualize things. No dice so far.

And while writing this, keep in mind I’m writing about an ability I simply don’t have, so I could easily be describing it wrong. Like a psychopath trying to describe feelings. Well, something like that, I don’t know. Moving right along, I’m also asked if I can recognize faces. Yes, though I’m not great at it when I first meet someone. If I spend enough time with someone their face gets very familiar and I can easily spot them in a crowd. I couldn’t describe their face beyond vague generalities, and I certainly couldn’t draw it. I’ve always wondered how people could draw such accurate lifelike faces, maybe visualization is involved? Beats me.

I’m not disabled me in any way I know of. Aside from having to fake it in meditation class I suppose. I work in the trades and can build or assemble complicated things. Though I often make or look at drawings. Hell, I used to paint watercolor landscapes. I loved to draw and paint as a kid. I can’t think of a single way this has ever been an issue for me. No doubt why I never realized I was missing something.

I joined an Aphantasia support group on Facebook. It really didn’t do much for me. What’s to say other than, hey, I too have aphantasia. And some of the people in the group did feel they were disadvantaged somehow. I guess. I never missed my mind’s eye until I found out it was missing. That huge numbers of people have had aphantasia throughout history without anyone ever really noticing argues to me that it’s not a handicap in any real way.

Aphantasia was first described and named in 1880, but was essentially forgotten until a study in 2015 brought it back into scientific currency. A few more studies have been done, scientists suspect what part of the brain isn’t working right. At least one book has been written, and the Wikipedia article links to various articles and studies. In the original study the article describes I would have scored 16. IE for any of 16 objects I was asked to visualize, my answer would be “no image at all, you only know that you are thinking of the object.” At least I’m consistent.

On the plus side, and I suspect it’s related to aphantasia, I don’t get earworms. A clear evolutionary advantage in the modern age. Have a great week everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A lake surrounded by forest. Credit: Snappygoat image, public domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

August 26, 2019 at 4:40 am

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