Fascinating: Aphantasia

A few weeks ago, MC came and started talking about this test. It kind of reminded me of the “what color is the dress” thing from a while back. The question was to picture a red star in our mind. Then he showed us a grid of options and we had to pick out the one we’d pictured. MC, Hubby and I were all doing this and BG was upstairs. The three of us all answered the same and with what seemed crazy obvious to us, a red 5 point typical star shape. Then MC went and asked his sister what she saw. I was absolutely stunned that she picked a blank, black square. I didn’t get it or understand it at all.

I am still trying to wrap my brain around the whole thing. Trying to understand how the hell BG can be the great student and artist that she is and not have this seemly basic function in her head. The conversations we’ve had about it have been mind blowing and interesting. Then the topic pops up in my twitter feed this week.

Turns out that there is a percentage of people (I honestly don’t know numbers) that do not have the ability to actually visualize things, images, in their minds. There is even a name for it. Aphantasia.

In the conversation thread on twitter, one of the commenters mentioned that those with Aphantasia also don’t seem to typically have internal monologues. Again. WHAT?!

There have been so many times over the years when I’m attempting to explain a creative project, like say BG’s birthday cake, and BG is “Yeah, I can’t understand what you mean, but… okay.” I’ve always thought she is just being BG and wanting me to just do my thing. It came up the other day when we were talking about the new back door and how it will work differently than our existing one and what seems super obvious and easily visualized for me just isn’t for her. She will not be able to fully understand it until she sees it.

One of the things that came up in the twitter thread was a comment about a person not enjoying reading fiction because they struggled with the ability to form images the author was creating. Again, a mind bending thing to even consider for me.

All of my learning and memories and creative ideas are built around that visualization function and it is nearly impossible for my brain to wrap around being able to function without it. Even more so when there are times that BG’s memory is so sharp, you’d think it is eidetic or something close, which goes counter to Aphantasia.

Have you heard of this before? Are you one of those that cannot visualize? This is obviously not the norm for most people, so I’m really curious as to other people’s experience or understanding of this.

Author: TJ Fox

I am a slightly sane artist, amateur photographer, book addict, wife, mom and raging introvert. I have more hobbies than I can count, so it is beyond shocking that I manage to find time to do any of them, let alone most of them and still have time to do anything else. Of all the talents I claim, writing wasn’t one of them until my muse dropped the idea for a book on my head.

16 thoughts on “Fascinating: Aphantasia”

  1. This completely freaked me out when I found out about it last year – especially the part where ANYONE of us could develop aphantasia after a head trauma (lalala you didn’t hear anything!) But anyway, I suppose it’s not the end of the world (fortunately) – I actually know a book blogger who has been like this all her life. It baffles her that I see pictures in my head. We even have almost the same taste in books – the only real difference is that for her to appreciate a book, she needs the language to be fascinating – because if she isn’t seeing pictures, that’s what drives it. And of course the plot and the story. But there have been some books she wasn’t able to enjoy because of this, and I think she struggles with very descriptive texts for the same reason. She likes books where “things happen”. Makes sense, right?

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    1. “…especially the part where ANYONE of us could develop aphantasia after a head trauma…” Holy crap! I had no clue about that! I’m learning so much about this.

      There are so many parts of this and how deeply it plays into who I am and what I do. Seeing how this impacts readers is another one of those things that is twisting my brain into knots. I love really descriptive writing (to a point) because those things are what help me to create the story in my head. Not being able to have that function has got to make it so much harder to enjoy reading. It is something that I discussed with my daughter and it does really impact how and what she likes to read.

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      1. Yeah! But it’s probably hard to share impressions on how it impacts it. Because you both speak in different languages about this, so to say – neither of you has an understanding about how it works in the other one’s head. But I’m glad to hear she still reads, from what you said 🙂

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      2. She does, but not a lot. I’m the lone wolf in my family with regards to reading, so I just always thought it was an interest thing, but it probably goes much deeper. I do think it is awesome that we are talking about it, though.

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  2. Great piece, you put it well. There is another side to the spectrum, there is also hyper-aphantasia, for the people who have i guess what they call over active imaginations, who can’t switch it off or stop the visual imagery in any way (which leads to much more thought about it all). I feel maybe a lot of writers fall into this definition? Having a brain that visualises the outcome is very important to me, but oddly, when it comes to thinking as an aphantasiac, i have to ‘imagine’ what it like to not imagine, and my brain adapts slightly and I am more helpful rather than a frustration.

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    1. I did not know about the hyper-aphantasia. Wonder if that is why I am incapable of shutting my brain down when it comes time to go to sleep.

      I want to find a better way to understand it so I can maybe find better ways to communicate with my daughter or help her when she is struggling. I do know that whenever we’ve hit one of those points where she just isn’t getting it, I can after sketch the concept out and she’s able to get a better grasp on it, but you can’t always draw a concept.

      Do you know if this has any kind of emotional impact? I’m just curious to all the different ways this impacts a person.

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      1. I know how you feel, my brain goes into hyperdrive for sleep and with weird dreams i often feel like i haven’t been to sleep at all! I believe there is an emotional impact, but i am in the process of writing something about this, and will try and do something beforehand with your daughter in mind. My husband found it really harsh when we found out, lots of things i hadn’t even considered, and some i had that he hadn’t, then when i mentioned them, it added to the feeling of being lost and having to rethink everything. I felt quite guilty about that, so now i tread a bit more carefully when asking about it or i just make it more frustrating 😦

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      2. I know that my daughter really felt weird when this all came up, like she was different or broken in some way, which is so not the case. I want to understand this as much as I can so I can help her to understand it. While I don’t think it is a huge deal for her at the moment, I do think it has a potential to become one. I look forward to what you learn and share!

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  3. I have heard of it! I can picture things, but I can’t visualize my memories (episodic memory). I have a great memory for facts, though! Doubly weird – I learn better visually (written material) than with auditory stimuli. Brains are so crazy, right?

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    1. So crazy! I have so many words and pictures in my head that the best comparison I have for this is to be mind blind. It is how I create (with the exception of photos, that’s all on Mother Nature), so trying to figure out how someone could not have those kinds of images in their heads is such a struggle for my brain to grasp. It is something that I need to understand better, I think, because it can only help my daughter.

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      1. I think it’s hard of you don’t have the same situation. But it’s great that you’re seeming knowledge and experience! That’s the best way to learn

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