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Aphantasia: Or, how does your imagination work

One of my friends recently read an article about aphantasia, the inability to visualize mental images, and realized he had it. It first was described in 1880, but hasn’t really been studied until the last year or so. Since reading that article, he has been posting a lot about it, and I realized I might have it too, at least to a certain degree. There is a quiz here about it. I also had the realization that not everybody “imagines” things like I do, which totally makes sense, but I’d never really thought about it.

But, there are definite degrees of it. Like, with my friend, if you asked him to imagine a sandcastle and describe it, he couldn’t do it. He could tell you the traits of sandcastles, but he couldn’t actually just imagine a sandcastle. For me, I could imagine a sand castle, I could describe to you how many turrents it had, what color the flag sticking out of the top tower was, and about the sound of the seagulls. But, if you were to take a picture of what I was literally seeing in my minds eye, it would all be black. Like, I know what I’m “seeing”....but there isn’t anything to see. So, that is why it blew my mind when I realized that there are some people that when asked to imagine a sandcastle actually “see” a full color image, almost like a photograph, in their head.

I do differ from my friend in that I do have visual, full-color dreams, while people with full aphantasia don’t.


It could also explain why I have difficulties with remembering people’s faces. I can envision and sandcastle, but if you asked me to describe my co-worker that I see almost every day, I can picture her clothes, but her face is just sort of a blur. I could pick her out of a police line-up, but couldn’t describe her to a sketch artist.

And, my learning style makes more sense. I can’t really learn something just by reading a description of it. At minimum I need pictures, but a video or somebody showing me is even better. I just can’t visualize what the instructions are trying to tell me.

But, I feel like it has some advantages too. Whenever there is casting for a movie based on a book, it doesn’t usually bother me that actor doesn’t look how I pictured the character, or the setting isn’t exactly how I imagined....because I literally didn’t imagine anything as I was reading the description.

So, have you heard of this before? What do you “see” in your mind if I ask you to visualize a sand castle? Do you actually picture people and places as you read a book?

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