I Learned About Aphantasia from Space Force

First-ever pop culture reference to aphantasia from Space Force on Netflix.
aphantasia from Space Force
After the base guard, Duncan Tabner, tells the Base Commander's daughter, Erin Naird, that he has Aphantasia, she asks him to close his eyes and imagine "Ronald McDonald on a surf board". From Space Force S1 Ep7

I turned 50 in March of 2020, and I had never conceived that I completely lacked a mind’s eye.

When I close my eyes, there’s nothing but black. It’s always been this way. I dream in color and I can render just about anything I see onto paper with a pencil. And, my whole life, I have been completely aware of visualization and picturing things like apples and orbs during guided meditations–including counting sheep if you cannot sleep–and I always thought they were figurative, metaphorical, or poetic.

I knew that a few, especially bright, friends bragged of having exceptionally good memories that included the ability to take pictures and store them in their permanent memory. I assumed that the majority of people were more like me than like them. I mean, the world is endlessly fascinated by people who have genius IQs or eidetic memories.

But, I guess 96%-98% of humans have some access to being able to make or retrieve images in their mind’s eye. I am an aphant, according to some casual research, and that means I have aphantasia.

I had wondered on my lack of ability to manifest orbs or apples or shiny brass bells during guided meditations or at the beginning of sundry TED talks; then, while watching season 1, episode 7 of Space Force, that something called Aphantasia was mentioned by a guileless and charming southern Space Force base guard named Duncan Tabner during a conversation he had with Erin Naird, the snarky teenage daughter of the Base Commander, 4-Star General Naird, about Duncan’s lack of imagination. “It’s an actual condition,” he quips.

I finally had a name for a condition that I am pretty sure I am experiencing. When I close my eyes, all I see (all I ever see) is black. That’s not true: when I close my eyes with my face pointed at the sun or light, I see the red or pink of the light filtering through my lids.

The first thing I thought when I learned the powerful tools that everyone outside of only 2%-4% of the population possesses was, “How can there be any low-IQ or low-performing people who struggle to get into college or even high school if they have access to at least some form of 3D VR and AR that they have constant, easy, access to? If everyone has their own heads-up display all the time, why isn’t that so much more a part of popular culture?

I understand that aphantasia is a spectrum condition, so I must assume that phantasia is also a spectrum condition and not everyone has such profound, ready access to 3D, real-time, imaginative visualization of the sort that my buddy Mark purports to have.

Forgive me if you all can do this effortlessly, but Mark told me how he could, for example, visualize a Porsche 911 Targa completely. And not just pull up an image of it, either. He can render it down to a pocket-sized Hotwheels toy car and then scale it up to full-size. Then, he can step into the driver’s seat and look at the wheel and see the gear shift and all these other things–even though he’s never really spent any time in them. He takes the seed of what he knows about Porsche 911 Targas (from the 70s? From the 2000s? From now?) and, I guess, his imagination, that I bet whatever he sees really must be an extremely imprecise mess.

Is that what imagination is? A dream world of wildly imprecise attempts at winging it into something that looks enough like what it should look like that it just passes personal muster or, more likely, is good enough based on how much attention, patience, or shits you have to give. Mark even mentioned that when he looks through his mind’s eye at things he’s only lightly exposed to (or, more likely, really has never been interested enough in something to give it a good look at any point: like purses or women’s shoes or anything else that doesn’t interest him).

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I just found out in the last few weeks that I have aphantasia, and I’m going to be 61 in May 2022.

I’ve been asking friends and family if they can see things in their minds…and they can. I’m still having trouble believing that people can picture things. All I can do is describe things with words. I have lots of memories of my life, but they aren’t pictures…they’re more of a feeling…along with words to describe them.

I have ear worms pretty much all the time unless I’m watching TV or listening to music. I’ve even occasionally had two songs stuck in my head at the same time. I know the tune and lyrics of nearly every song I’ve heard more than a few times. I’m wondering if that’s instead of pictures. It doesn’t seem to be as useful.

I have extreme issues recognizing people, even my family. I generally recognize people by hair colour, hair type, hair style, height, whether they wear glasses, but again, these are all just words. I’ve only figured out one bonus: every movie I’ve ever watched that was based on a book I had read looked exactly right.

Maggie Badior

I learned about aphantasia from an article in the NYTimes that I stumbled across within the last couple of years. I was a teacher, recently retired, who taught art and now am actively creating art and co-own a small, local gallery.