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Can you picture things in your head? Well, this guy can’t

PAUL AFLALO, CBC RADIO

Founder of The Aphantasia Network, Tom Ebeyer shares his story of discovery with aphantasia and how he sees his differentness as a source of strength in this CBC Radio podcast produced by Paul Aflalo. Ebeyer shares how it can be a difficult realization, knowing people can do something you can’t. But once he learned there is a name for the way his brain worked — aphantasia — he started to see the strengths. Dr. Adam Zeman, who gave the condition a name back in 2015, makes a guest appearance in an exclusive radio interview and aphantasic, Amanda Jacobs also joins in on the discussion.

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Why a Disney animator draws a blank on his own creations

DANIEL LAVELLE, THE GUARDIAN

Oscar-winner Glen Keane , who illustrated Ariel from The Little Mermaid, also has no visual imagery. Keane is among the 2% of the population with aphantasia, a little-known condition leaving them without mental imagery. Ed Catmull (Ex-Pixar Chief) told the BBC that aphantasia was not a barrier to creativity, pointing out that Keane’s work was proof that you do not have to be able to picture something to be able to draw it. Catmull explains; “He (Keane) is truly extraordinary, he’s one of the best animators in the history of hand-drawn animation.”

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Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says ‘my mind’s eye is blind’

JAMES GALLAGHER, BBC NEWS

You don’t need mental imagery to be creative. Just ask Former President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull who brought us Disney classics like Toy Story, Wall-e, Finding Nemo and Inside Out. Ed has aphantasia, but he is not alone. When Ed sent out the VVIQ quiz to a group of animators at Disney he was surprised to find that there are phenomenal artists on both ends of the spectrum from aphantasia, the inability to visualize in your mind’s eye to hyperphantasia, those who are extraordinarily good at it. Ed discovered, perhaps counter-intuitively, that some of the greatest talents in animation could not visualize either. The correlations are not what you would expect; “People have conflated visualization with creativity and imagination, they are not the same thing.”

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Could you have this memory disorder?

CLAUDIA HAMMOND, BBC

The BBC article Could you have this memory disorder? chronicals the experience of Susie McKinnon who has very few memories from her life and cannot remember special events nor “mentally time travel.” McKinnon first researched amnesia, but the stories of people who lost their memories as a result of illness or brain injuries didn’t seem to fit her experience. She could remember that events had happened; she just didn’t recall what it was like to be there. She sends an email to Brian Levine , a memory scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest in Toronto. The result of their communication was the identification of a new syndrome – Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory or SDAM for short. McKinnon also has aphantasia, which means she can’t picture images. Early findings suggest there may be a correlation between SDAM and aphantasia.

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The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia

JOEL PEARSON, RESEARCHGATE

For most people the use of mental imagery is pervasive in daily life, but for a small group of people, the experience of mental imagery is entirely unknown. Cognitive neuroscientist, Joel Pearson of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, conducts a study with subjectively self-diagnosed aphantasics and publishes The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia. In the study techniques like the binocular rivalry, as well as measuring their self-rated object and spatial imagery with multiple questionnaires (VVIQ, SUIS and OSIQ) are used to explore sensory imagery. Unlike, the general population, aphantasics showed almost no imagery-based rivalry priming. Aphantasic participants’ self-rated visual object imagery was significantly below average, however their spatial imagery scores were above average. The findings suggest aphantasia is a condition involving a lack of sensory and phenomenal imagery and not a lack of metacognition.

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If you can’t imagine things, how can you learn?

MO COSTANDI, THE GUARDIAN

Visualization is a powerful tool that can accelerate learning and improve performance but what If you can’t imagine things […]?. In this article posted in The Guardian, author Mo Costandi illuminates how most people rely on mental imagery for memory, daydreaming and imagination. Further, while the use of mental imagery is not directly related to measures of intelligence, vocabulary, and reading comprehension; it does play a role in how some schoolchildren acquire literacy skills from helping them remember what they read, to improving their performance on memory tasks. Mental imagery can also be used in the teaching and learning of mathematics and computer science, both of which involve an understanding of the patterns within numbers, and creating visual representations of the spatial relationships between them. From this view, aphantasia could be seen as impeding learning ability, though further systemic research on the subject is needed.

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Aphantasia: How it feels to be blind in your mind.

BLAKE ROSS, FACEBOOK

When aphantasia was first given a name by Adam Zeman back in 2015 Blake Ross , best known for his work as co-creator of Mozilla internet browser and Director of Product at Facebook, was among the originals who reported an inability to visualize in their mind. In Aphantasia: How it feels to be blind in your mind , an article posted on Facebook, Ross details his discovery of aphantasia and some of the social experiments he conducted in his quest for answers. Even though the majority of people Ross interviewed were able to create mental images, he managed to talk to some who shared a similar experience. In asking questions, Ross gained a new perspective on the human experience of aphantasics. To date, this remains among one of the most widely shared articles on aphantasia.

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My mind’s eye is blind – so what’s going on in my brain?

DUSTIN GRINNELL, NEW SCIENTIST

My mind’s eye is blind […] I couldn’t picture her face. When Dustin Grinnell and his girlfriend move to opposite sides of the US for work, Grinnell discovers he is unable to conjure up a mental image of her face. Grinnell first discovered he was aphantasic after watching a 60 minute interview with biologist Craig Venter, the creator of the first synthetic organism. In the interview, Benter attributes his academic success to an unusual way of thinking, using purely concepts with no mental imagery whatsoever. Grinnell begins investigating the condition further and discovers that science is starting to find answers.

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