Aphantasia: if Visual Imaginary Was Absent

“Everything you can imagine is real,” artist Pablo Picasso once said. But what if you were just unable to conjure images inside your head? If you can’t count sheep or visualize your friends, you could have aphantasia – or the inability to visualize images.

2.5% of the population might not be able to visualize

The newly defined condition describes people who are born without a “mind’s eye”. Visual imagery is, for the most of us, a prominent ingredient of our everyday experiences, playing a conspicuous role in memory, daydreaming and creativity. It makes it possible to experience a whole world inside the brain. Aphantasia, based on the Greek word phantasia used by Aristotele to describe the power that presents imagery to our minds, impairs one’s ability to visualize.

Aphantasia: if Visual Imaginary Was Absent - Clapway

Sir Francis Galton, a Victorian polymath, first explored the concept in 1880. Fast-forward to the 20th century and a survey suggested that this might be the case for 2.5% of the population. However, the phenomenon remains a question mark even for the scientific community.

Cognitive neurologist Professor Adam Zeman, at the University of Exeter Medical School, is now committed to finding out more about why some people are born with poor or diminished visual imagery ability.

What’s visualization?

Visualization is the result of all four of the major lobes of the brain working together. “An inability to visualize could result from an alteration of function at several points in this network,” researchers explained.

Aphantasia: Life without voluntary imaginary

Tom Ebeyer, 25, from Ontario, Canada, has a blind mind’s eye. He felt a sense of loss when he realized, at the age of 21, that his girlfriend could visually “see” things in a way he could not.

Professor Zeman said that although voluntary imaginary is mostly absent or much reduced in people with aphantasia, involuntary imagery, for example in dreams, is usually preserved.

If you lack visual imagination you can take part in the ‘Eye’s Mind’s’ research by completing the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ).

What do you think of aphantasia and the power of visualization? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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