3 Things I Learned From Having Multisensory Aphantasia That Changed My Understanding Of The World

My journey understanding the cognitive profiles of aphantasia and hyperphantasia started when I learned at age 30 that most of you have a superpower I don’t.
Multisensory Aphantasia
Design by Emma Jackson, All Daigh Graphics & Designs

Can you pick a movie you’ve seen before and rewatch it in your mind in HD? Do you taste everything on a restaurant menu before choosing what to order? Can you experience an orgasm in your mind on demand?

Did you even consider that these were possible human abilities?

Maybe you can easily do these extraordinary feats yourself and assumed everyone else was the same. In that case, I’ve got news for you!

But first, let’s back up.

Hi, My Name is Steven & I’m an Aphantasic

Aphantasia is the lack of ability to see any images in your mind’s eye (also referred to as image-free thinking) and hyperphantasia is the opposite end of the spectrum, with mental imagery as vivid as real seeing.

My journey in understanding the cognitive profiles of aphantasia and hyperphantasia started when I learned at age 30 that most of you have a superpower I don’t—you can see things in your mind. Turns out you weren’t just being poetic when you spoke of picturing yourself on a beach and that “daydreaming” was a highly literal descriptor rather than just meaning you’re lost in thought.

Five years later, new realizations following from this are still common. For starters, I now know that visualization is only one aspect of my aphantasia, and there are numerous other mental senses that people have to varying degrees.

That brings me to my first major learning related to aphantasia.

1. Aphantasia is Multisensory

Research on aphantasia is new (the term was only coined in 2015), but the study of the broader multisensory domains of imagination is even newer. Research indicates that 2–3% of people have aphantasia, and about 10% have hyperphantasia. But these numbers refer only to the extremes of visual imagination. Currently, there just isn’t much data on other mental senses — something that Aphantasia Network is looking to change with the introduction of the Imagination Spectrum Questionnaire. However, Nature reports that people with aphantasia, on average have reduced ability with other mental senses, and 26% of aphantasics have “a total absence of multi-sensory imagery.” This lack of all mental senses is sometimes called “total aphantasia,” and I fit squarely in this camp.

I’ve found that this multisensory aspect is often not well understood even by people familiar with aphantasia, so I think it would be helpful to give a brief description of the full multisensory range of imagination, including a little about the range of potential within each mental sense.

When thinking about how best to describe this, I thought it would be fun to do so in the context of what a specific real person can and can’t do. So I turned to my girlfriend Meena who has hyperphantasia for nearly all of her mental senses. I had her rank the senses she could perceive and control in her mind on a subjective 10 point scale, and here’s what she said as I took notes:

Vision: 10

She gave an example of something she could effortlessly visualize that she’d never seen before: A penguin hopping on a pogo stick through the Amazon. She sees full HD video. The penguin had three little tufts of hair, she said, that were wiggling in the wind as it jumped. She could also go back and add any details she wanted, like a scarf.

Hearing: 9

She’s especially strong at remembering and replaying music (with total control over changing the tempo, pitch, instruments, etc.), but she can also clearly generate and hear distinctive voices, animals, and more. As strong as this sounded, when I questioned her, she said her mental vision was even stronger and that it took less effort with vision.

Smell: 4

She said this was her weakest mental sense, though in real life smell was her strongest sense relative to other people. She can’t smell new things in her mind that she has never smelled before (unlike with vision and hearing) or mix smells (such as lavender and fish), but she could smell some distinctive things strongly. McDonald’s french fries, for example. Still, I think her mental sense of smell is stronger than for most people since mental smell is less common to have at all.

Olfactory Hyperphantasia
Design by Emma JacksonAll Daigh Graphics & Designs

Taste: 9

She can accurately taste in her mind what a dish will taste like prior to adding a new ingredient, which sounds incredibly useful for cooking. I often ask her whether something needs more salt since she’s better than me at seasoning; apparently, her method is to add a pinch of mental salt and confirm whether that’s better. And since she can enjoy any of her favorite meals—such as her parents’ egg curry—whenever she wants, she uses her mind’s tastebuds to help with dieting. Meena ranked mental taste a nine only because it takes more effort than vision (the same is true for all the remaining nines below).

Touch: 9

She can feel in her mind the feeling of being punched or touching a hot stove, but it doesn’t hurt. She can also feel soft touches like feathers. She can look at new objects and know what they’ll feel like and can replay how objects felt in the past.

Pain (nociception): 0

When describing touch, I mentioned that Meena can feel the tactile sensations of painful things like being punched or burned in her mind, but when she does so the feeling is not accompanied by pain. It turns out she’s just lucky because the ability to imagine pain (equivalent to having mental nociceptors) is something you can find in other people. (Unfortunately, psychogenic pain can sometimes be uncontrollable and result in debilitating pain disorders.)

Proprioception: 9

While closing her mind’s eyes she still feels an awareness of her imagined body’s position in space. This sense continues to work realistically even when imagining having a different body shape. I asked her to imagine herself as a bird with massive wings, and she felt the constraints and position in space of her new room-spanning wings as she moved them. And when she imagined herself as a puppy trying to boop its own nose while closing its eyes, she worried about her dog nails scratching herself as her paws got closer. This awareness of the position of her mental body in mental space felt true to life without having to see herself in her imagination.

Motor Simulation & Balance: 9

She could mentally simulate moving in the ways I asked, including doing a high kick, the splits, and diving (none of which she can actually do). For mental weightlifting, she could even give herself weaker or stronger imaginary muscles and simulate the effect this had on her movements. I asked if she expected that practicing these movements repeatedly in her mind would give her meaningful experience that would help her pick up the corresponding sports more quickly. She said yes—that although she’d still need time to transfer this new understanding into real muscle memory and build the appropriate real-world muscles, the mind-practice nevertheless felt like it would make real-world learning easier. In fact, she said, she’d done this before when learning piano and dance.

Emotional Replay: 6 or 7

Memories of past experiences come with re-experiencing the emotions she felt at the time. Notably, emotions from sad memories decay over time for her, whereas emotions from happy memories last much longer. (A nice trait, since the opposite is true for most people.)

Must be cool to be a Meena! I’m a big fat zero on all of these, by the way. If you want to know what the experience of seeing through my mind’s eye is like, well, it’s not like having a blank computer screen in my mind. A better analogy would be not having a screen at all. I don’t see black (like when closing your eyes); I see nothing. The same goes for all other mental senses, though I’ve found that the absence of mental smell and taste is often more relatable since they’re less common than mind vision and hearing. I’m not sure how common the other things I’ve listed here are, since there’s currently much less related research and discussion of them online.

It might be fun to compare your own mental senses to Meena’s, but here’s something I’ve learned over the years that is key to keep in mind:

2. Everyone’s Thoughts & Memories Work Differently

It’s natural to think that other people’s thoughts and memories work similarly to our own. But it turns out there are so many related variables interacting with each other and affecting how things work that nearly everyone’s inner experience works at least a little differently from everyone else.

Following is a tour of some of the fascinating terrain of differing mental approaches and abilities, and the numerous dimensions that can vary within them:

  • Turns out there’s a huge range in visualization ability and (as already discussed) some people have none at all. If you do visualize, do you see video or only still images? Are they vivid and high resolution or dim and vague? Full color or black and gray? Outlines only? Are your visualizations heightened when thinking about certain kinds of things, like people, places, or objects? How much effort does visualization take, and how long can you hold the images? Can you see things you’ve never seen before, or only things from your memories? Can you project your imagination into the real world and change what your eyes are seeing (prophantasia), or does it remain an inner experience? If you don’t visualize during waking hours, how about when you’re dreaming?
  • Do you have an inner monologue? Some people have words running all the time, some experience it in a limited way or during certain moods, and others have none at all and would be confused by the question of what language their thoughts are in. If you have an inner monologue, do you actually hear the words? See them? Maybe neither, and you just know the words even though they’re voiceless? Do you hear them in your own voice, somebody else’s, or does it vary? Do you feel like there are multiple dialogs in your head that have independent thoughts and ideas?
  • Do you have mental hearing, smell, taste, touch, pain, motor simulation, etc.? If so, how strong is each and how much do they influence your everyday thought processes and emotions? Can you project them into the world—e.g., changing the taste of what you’re eating? How might it change your real-world behaviors and thought processes if, e.g., thinking about certain ideas triggered imaginary pain, or if you were able to meaningfully practice activities in your mind (a common practice among pro athletes)?
  • Does remembering something come with the ability to mentally time travel and re-experience it in first person? Can you emotionally replay your feelings from past moments? Is this whole concept bizarre because your memories are composed only of plot points or concepts? How might these differences orient you to focus more or less on the past, present, and future?
  • Independent of the mental senses available to you, what is your cognitive style? Some people are more visually oriented, some are language oriented even if they can visualize, some incorporate spatial locations into their thought processing, some think more abstractly or conceptually, some are logic oriented, and others are oriented around emotions. There’s a range of thinking styles and strategies even for people with the same mental senses.
  • There are more than 70 known forms of synesthesia (an area more widely known than aphantasia even though it affects similar numbers of people), including forms that involuntarily connect sounds with colors, letters with personalities/genders, or certain words with tastes (so, for example, the word “basketball” might taste like waffles).
Gustatory Hyperphantasia
Design by Emma JacksonAll Daigh Graphics & Designs

These are only some of the many aspects of the normal range of human differences in thought, memory, imagination, and learning that form your invisible cognitive profile and make you unique. Generally, none of these differences interfere with normal daily functioning (hence none of these are “disorders”), and people typically find ways to play to their strengths and use different strategies for accomplishing the same mental tasks. But these differences can certainly influence your interests, strengths, career choices, and real-world behavior (e.g., research indicates aphantasics are more likely to end up in STEM fields, and hyperphantasics are more drawn to artistic fields than average).

These differences might also be contributing to why it can be so hard to communicate effectively. When we communicate, we’re often trying to map each other’s internal systems of thinking onto our own via language, but this is a highly imperfect process and we can get a slightly or even wildly different understanding due in part to the differences in our internal translation schemes and underlying modes of thinking.

That leads me to my third major realization.

3. Invisible Neurodiversity is Extremely Non-Intuitive, So We Should Talk About it More

If our core processes of thought and memory work so differently, why don’t people talk more often about these interpersonal differences? Ever since learning about aphantasia I’ve wondered why people (including myself prior to learning about it) almost never compare how their memory and thoughts work. It seems to be at least a little different for everyone, and it seems to be an interesting subject for most people. And yet, people don’t talk about it without prompting. Even with prompting, most people don’t think about how they think, and struggle to describe it.

Yes, there are sometimes more recognizable symptoms of neurodiversity in conditions such as autism and other mental disorders. But even then, it’s common for people to have limited understanding and empathy compared to more visible and physical disabilities. Millions of people suffering from depression, OCD, and other mental challenges can attest to this.

When it comes to neurodiversity that doesn’t have observable characteristics and doesn’t mess with daily activity in obvious ways, it seems that most people are capable of going their entire lives without noticing their differences. As evidence, consider that the term aphantasia was only coined in 2015, and that the typical experience of someone learning they have aphantasia is to stumble onto the knowledge that most other people see pictures in their heads well into their adult lives. In my case I was 30, but it’s common to hear of people being much older.

Even after learning about aphantasia, most people (including myself) don’t automatically take this further and consider that imagination might extend beyond the visual sense into other sensory domains. And when you learn about that, you still don’t automatically question other methods of thought like the presence or absence of an internal monologue. I could go on. But the point is that it seems to be extremely difficult to realize that others might be thinking using different methods than yourself. In fact, some people don’t believe you when you tell them about aphantasia or get weirdly defensive. This phenomenon even made the early days of aphantasia research more challenging since some scientists were skeptical of the idea that people were incapable of visualizing and tried to explain people’s self-reports of never having visualized anything since birth simply as poor metacognition. Fortunately, these days we’ve moved past that, thanks to the great work of researchers like Joel Pearson, Adam Zeman, and others. (There’s even an objective test for aphantasia now that examines the effect of perceptual priming on binocular rivalry.)

So why do we naturally underestimate mental variability? Here are a few guesses:

  • Most people don’t like to feel different.
  • We’re less likely to question differences we can’t see.
  • The methods we use to think are so core to our understanding of thought that we near-universally assume it must be the same for everyone and simply ignore the symptoms of differences (e.g., when others use different words to describe thought).
  • We take the fact that people can get to similar ideas and outcomes (even if we use completely different mental strategies to get there) to build our strong intuitions that everyone thinks using the same methods.

Starting to break through these barriers could be incredibly important. I think better understanding these invisible differences could be the start of a profound shift in focus and awareness.

What if a much better understanding of human cognitive profiles could, over time, lead to a reduction in the primacy of more visual differences that society often focuses on and the clashes of identity politics that result? What if greater cognitive empathy and appreciation for the invisible universe of differences in our heads could rework some of the core foundations of our identities?

Maybe we’re onto something big.

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Total Comments (18)

Steven – this is Stephen from UK. It’s taken me 70 years to identify that I’m also multisensory aphantasic and another 3 years of not understanding it (which is like trying to understand what everybody else has that I can’t see/sense) Just last night I launched into this rabbit hole again and I can’t imagine (pun intended) where it will take me.
It would take pages of typing to speculate what I’m missing – I just don’t know.
Your article above – with the close cooperation of Meena has opened up new realms of thought. My wife and family always seem so creative – BUT I can figure things out far better than them = ‘imagining’ tech/mech solutions and options.
I’m going to re-read your article about what ‘society might gain’ from your insights and extrapolations.
Above competent at maths and sciences – with zero ability to recall moments/events/places from my past personal life – even if my memory is jogged by others with word perfect recall.
My response is to sigh and shrug but it doesn’t frustrate me.
I figure out how to fix cars – but don’t remember for next time – grrr
My art side is nil – painting, music, song recall, but now you add other senses then, yep I’m also missing imagination and/or memories of taste, hearing, touch, smell.
I’m forever analysing things – structure, faults, methods of working – but not from an ability to ‘perceive’ a better product.
The more I’m pondering the whole subject the more that I feel that I’m sucking on dry

Thank you for this very interesting article. I’m revisiting it again and discussing it with my Aphant friends (all in STEM). 

For me its: Vision=0, Sound =0, Smell = 0, Taste = 0, Pain = 6, Proprioception = 10, Motor simulation = 10, Emotion = 2. 

Does this mean you can watch embarrassing videos, romantic scenes or violence and not feel or perceive anything from them?
I seem to have a much higher sensitivity to stories about painful accidents than average. I remember passing out at school when the Physical Education teacher was trying to entertain the class with gruesome tales of broken femurs. I feel that perhaps my motor simulation or proprioception imagination is very high. I ended up switching classes and getting the top grade in the world for that subject.    


Hi Diane. Your comments on loved ones passing resonates with me. I went to a funeral today, and reflecting on that I realised how delighted I was to see family members I rarely see in person in the same place. At the same time I now know why I also hate funerals because I can’t imagine the deceased’s face or picture being with them in memories.


Thanks for your well-thought-out posting.  I have had a few a-ha’s since I figured out I have aphantasia. 

There are a few areas in business I wanted to point out:

I have taken a few cognitive tests for employment that include visualizing the next figures or drawings in a sequence.  Luckily for me, there are other portions where I can use vocabulary or reading comprehension problem-solving skills. They are timed tests and I believe that I lost time because I had to relook at the original drawings over and over to compare possible answers.  I feel that can be attributed to the fact that I don’t remember the originals visually. 

I also meet many people and I cannot remember their faces at a second or third meeting, which sometimes is very embarrassing.  Of course, I could tell you where they live, where they work, and what their dog’s name is, but I am often caught off guard when someone remembers me and says hello when I can’t conjure up any visual memory.

I always knew I was different because as a kid I read cartoons but often didn’t look at the pictures since they seemed superfluous. I attributed it to being a nerd.  I also have less inclination to laugh at a visual joke but one that I read can have me in stitches. 

Sadly, I can’t visualize the faces of those who have died:  parents, friends, dogs, or colleagues. I have to rely on photos that have no motion and don’t capture the essence of the people.  I don’t have visual memories of people which really detracts from the ability to hold them in your heart post-death and for that I feel cheated. 

I am one of the people who see nothing, only black/gray depending on how much light is on my closed eyes.  I am anxious to learn more about this. 

On the plus side, I read all the time, consider myself creative (although it may manifest as critical thinking and problem solving), and have an unusual ability to determine patterns in situations and recognize big picture impacts whereas others may get stuck on the visual memories or constructs of the problem.

My two cents. 





I am 77 years old and just realized I have aphantasia.  A few years ago I discovered that I probably also have Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM).  I just thought I had a “bad memory”.  My greatest challenge is convincing family that this is a real thing.  It is  comforting to now that others share these conditions.

I know somewhere around 2-3% of the population has aphantasia and you said of those, around 26% have total aphantasia (like myself) and as lonely and isolated as I already felt.. does that mean only .005% of the population has total aphantasia 🙁 I’m not so good at math (and I’m also kind of awesome at it, at times) so I’m hoping I’m wrong. It’s always been bothersome knowing people can remember how I looked and what I was doing, wearing, saying, etc at any given time but somehow learning I’m THAT alone… just created more void in a brain that was already large and empty…. 

The more I think about it, the more I believe that having aphantasia (although not an extreme version) has impacted on my life in many different ways.

I am sure there is a link between visual images and holding onto memories in general and that this links to my lack of memory of my past – I remember almost nothing that wasn’t either captured in photographs, or associated with some kind of emotional issue.

I am also convinced that the inability to visually ‘map’ my environment is the reason why I have no sense of direction and cannot easily navigate between places in my local area, unless they are well-trod routes. I can’t map the interiors of buildings either, so get lost in a strange space almost immediately I turn a corner (or go into a loo for instance).

I also realise that aphantasia is the reason I could never do mentally arithmetic, despite being pretty good at maths. I can’t see the sums in my head. Same reason why I can’t really play chess – it’s hopeless if you can’t visualise future moves, because you can only think about one or two moves ahead before it’s all a mush.

I am also a visual artist, who never understood how other artists claimed to paint from memory. All my work is very ‘in the present’ and I specialise in urban sketching – capturing life, from life, ‘live’ as it happens. When I’m in the studio, I paint abstracts, which are purely instinctive expressions of mark-making and have no recourse to past life experiences, because I cannot summon the images to work with.

Such an interesting read Steven and also the people who commented before me, thank you all so much for sharing! I’m also a multisensory aphantasic, as I recently discovered at the age of 36. Through an Instagram post of someone I followed; if she wouldn’t have mentioned having this, I would never have realized “it’s a thing”. I might want to find better ways to meditate, now I know that my annoyance with visualizations has an actual valid reason. And I’m also wondering what my first hypnotherapy session next week will bring me. Oh, the sweet path of self discovery! Oh and I’ll definitely have discussions about this later with my now toddler, curious to find out how she experiences the world 🙂

I’m so blown away right now! I only learned aphantasia was a thing with a name and that I clearly have it about a year ago – in my 50s! It explains so darn much. I’m still learning and coming to terms with this and what it means (and has meant) in my life. It helps to have a name and reference to give when I try to explain that I can’t “visualize a babbling brook” in order to relax. And I did not truly understand what it meant to people who can! Like you say, we tend to believe our minds all work in the same way. But until I read this, I had no idea at all that there were other sensory perceptions people can bring to their minds (except music)! I can’t quite get my head around it!! Incredible! And I wonder if the fact I had no idea this exists expands my aphantasia into the multi sensory arena! Wow. Just wow.

At the ripe old age of 48 I learned about Aphantasia from a youtube video made by a graphic designer (of all things). I was gobsmacked. I always thought that my seventh grade gym teacher was full of shit when he said “Bobby, I want you to visualize making the winning basket as time expires.”

Unlike you, Steve, I can get brief bits of music and can change the instruments (though not for long). I (literally) cannot imaging hyperphantasia.

Has it affected my life. I’m sure it has. Negatively and positively. In business, it helps to have vision. It’s impossible to rise to the next level without it. I’ve been doing variations of the same thing throughout my professional career. No career advancement into management or strategy work at all. When I am asked to do strategy, I steal liberally from other sources, add my own flavor, and call it done. If I didn’t have the ability to research other’s ideas and crib from them, I’d be pushing a broom.

I. Am. Legitimately. Shook. About all of this…

I found out about my Aphantasia maybe a year ago. It was a HUGE deal to me, but it didn’t seem to be to anyone else (except my therapist, lol), but after a month or two of me incessantly talking about it, I finally took a bite of the “imaginary apple” that is “we, Aphantasics, simply experience life differently”. I mean, I had made it this far in my 42 years on this planet, so I thought “it is what it is” and moved on not giving it much thought thereafter. Until now…

From the age of 11 (until about a year or two ago) I worked in the legal field along with the mortgage banking industry. They were family businesses, so I started as the copyboy at our Mortgage Company and remained there, increasing my duties, all the way through college, at which point I was managing the Mortgage Company and I had a pretty significant role in our Family’s Law Firm. I ultimately became an Attorney (which I never wanted to do, but I could never figure out anything else to do), specializing in Real Estate Transactions, both Residential and Commercial, and my business and I flourished, adding employees, pushing closing after closing and transaction after transaction, exceeding expectation after expectation and winning award after award. I was like a phenom, well respected, and made a TON of money. But I hated it. And after practicing law for 15 years (and working in the same building for 30 of my 42 years in this life) I could no longer take it and pretty abruptly I just quit, let my entire staff go, and burned every bridge I could in the process so I could never go back.

Stupid? Perhaps. However, I had to get out. Had I stayed I was going to (a) end up in jail or disbarred (l because I refused to conform, I never fit what the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deemed to be a “normal” Attorney, and my mouth doesn’t stop, especially then, so not was a matter of time before they disbarred me on some technicality, as they were starting to get all over me for things that I couldn’t have done wrong)…so, I disbarred myself first lol) or (b) that job was going to kill me medically from a heart attack or something. I was simply PERPETUALLY angry and just a mean person…and the sleep deprivation! There were literally weeks that I worked 100 hours…I documented them, it was pure utter insanity. 

(I will try and be as concise as possible for the remainder of this, but since adjectives and descriptions are the pictures that I “see” in my head, brevity is not a strong point for me (but at least I know why FINALLY)). 

Now, as I stated above, I never wanted to be a Lawyer. I had a scholarship to PittLaw but I never showed up my first year. I took a year off and moved to LA to be an actor. That didn’t work out so I started at PittLaw the year after Undergrad (they held my scholarship, so that was dope). Then I quit law school after the first semester. Then I tried to go back and quit again. Then I finally went back 2 years later and finished and then came back home to start my Practice.

I am telling you all of this for a specific reason. That is because in between all of those times of quitting law school or not even starting law school and all that time that I spent in between my stints in law school I was simply never ever able to find something else to do with my life. It was like I was bred for law and that was it. Like, I’m pretty smart, especially at school, so maybe I’d go back to school…but for what? Or maybe I’ll start my own business doing something creative…but what? I further stated earlier that I burned every bridge when I quit my Practice a year and a half ago…why? Because I knew I’d go back like I always did…like the burning of the bridges would FORCE me to find a new career path.

But here I sit, all these years later and all those accolades later and all that money is gone, all of my retirement and I might lose my condo now and I still cannot think of what to do next for work. Months and months passed where I was thinking that there is something wrong with my psychologically and of me having to deal with my family all looking at me like I’m crazy and “You have to find a job, Chetty” and I thought the answer would pop up at some time here…but it never did. And then, last week, it dawned on me…I always reverted back to law because I AM UNABLE TO TRAVEL A PATH THAT I HAVE NOT ALREADY EXPERIENCED. In other words, my inability to visual or imagine or whatever hindered my ability to find a career that I actually would have enjoyed. I’ve always been good at whatever it was that I was doing, but only if there was a syllabus or if the path was laid out for me, as in my family businesses. Take that away and put a fork in the road (which I never knew people could ACTUALLY VISUALIZE) and I’m simply standing at the edge of what is happening in the present moment.

I get all of the things and revelations that everyone with Aphantasia talks about…the “oh, you’re for real when you visualize stuff…it’s not a metaphor or euphemistic”. And that was a shock…but no one (that I have seen yet, at least) discusses HOW THEY MAY HAVE DONE THINGS DIFFERENTLY had they known that almost EVERYONE in society experiences life differently than we do. I liken being able to see images and to foretell through visual experiences how certain actions one takes will or could end up as a superpower. Fore, had I been able to FORESEE losing my Condo in a literal sense, maybe I wouldn’t have made the decision to quit to abruptly or to burn all the bridges.

Don’t get me wrong, I KNEW that if I couldn’t pay my mortgage I would lose my house…but I had never EXPERIENCED it before so it wasn’t that real to me. FURTHER, had I KNOWN that I was going to feel the same way (directionless) still at 42 as I did when I was 18, I wouldn’t have done those things or acted (as others would tell me, and which I didn’t understand until now) as reckless or cavalier in my decision making. The fact that I couldn’t see or imagine other avenues or trajectories for me to travel for a career AND THE FACT THAT OTHERS COULD AND CAN would have changed everything about my life.

I have never regretted a moment in my life…I am a poster child for only looking forward and from learning from things in the past, but had I had ANY idea that I was being hindered so intensely with an inability to foresee or imagine or whatever, I would have sought counsel or understood WHY I thought I had to be a lawyer. I mean, I wouldn’t have ever even applied to law school in the first place. I felt so dumb for not being able to see another career path. I tried and I tried and I always boomeranged back to law.

Now I up that creek…I’ll figure it out…I always do, and I’m blessed to see how my Aphantasia affected how the first 42 years of my life panned out…and I’m further blessed for all of the great fortunes I have been given in this life, but my sole purpose for writing this epistle on your page (sorry, this is where this landed haha), is to raise awareness so that other people that experience life the way we do can UNDERSTAND that other people can visualize things they have never experienced. And from that visualization they can make a somewhat “educated” guess as to whether or not they should “decide” to go that route or not. I always thought I just didn’t want a family or kids…it never dawned on me that just because I couldn’t SEE IT in my future doesn’t mean that I necessarily don’t want it! I just wasn’t able to see all the joy children bring to a parent because I never experienced it.

That you for listening or reading if you even made it this far. I’m doing my best to accept this and get passed it, but it’s going to take me a minute, but I just don’t want someone else to get stuck in a lifelong rut because they didn’t realize that other people have something they don’t have…a mind’s eye. I literally probably would have done everything different had I only known. At least I know now…

I’m also multi sensory aphantastic. 

I’m very interested to see where study in this field goes – I imagine (but without images! Ahh language is so telling isn’t it) that this could influence education – or at least ‘should’!  My first memory of not having pictures was a teacher explaining how to do math by writing the long division on the chalk board in your mind. And then not believing me when I said I didn’t have one XD

also interesting is the fact that throughout the test I just did my body chemistry responded to the imaginative scenarios  – so I got a small bit of the pleasure rush I experience in warm sun even though absolutely no picture or feeling of warm sun. 

our bodies are incredible. 

I am 70 years old and just discovering I am a multisensory apthanasic.  I learned a couple of years ago about visual aphantasia and thought it strange that people were not just being metaphorical  when talking about seeing; and now I am finding they can literally experience all other senses at will.  Damn I feel so deprived.  

I remember watching a Steven Pinker lecture a few years ago, where he was refluting a claim that words came before thought, and brought out how that was logically impossible.  And I followed his logic and it was sound, but I know, that for me, I cannot think without words.

I don’t hear the words I am thinking, but all of my thoughts come to me in word structure. 

I feel strangely at a loss here.  I did not know I was such an alien.

Wow, I have learnt so much about myself! I have nothing profound to add but I always struggled to imagine a sunset or other relaxing ‘scene’ when listening to a guided mediation video or if I needed to ‘picture’ what a new piece of furniture looked like in a room. I don’t know about others but if I imagine my front door, I have to sort of ‘draw’ it in my mind and even then there is zero detail- but I know what it looks like obviously. Argh- this stuff is so interesting.

I would love to know more about how I can have some really vivid dreams sometimes- I wonder if these are similar areas of the brain?

I took the test at work and was talking to my work mates, they can hear things and smell things in their mind which blows my mind- I can’t even imagine (HAHA). Can’t wait to read more about this! 

Your findings match what I was able to piece together quite well.

My situation is a bit different from what seems to be your experience as a full aphant.

I have had a couple of experiences with visualizations in my childhood and now as an adult with some practice. They were even prophantasic. So I have first-hand experience with what they are like.

I at the time didn’t know what was happening but in retrospect, it is now clear.

I clearly recall performing a “Kamehameha” from Dragonball as a teenager and actually seeing a blue flame coming from my hands. Even told my friends about it because I didn’t understand that imagery could produce these kinds of effects and thought it was sooo cool.

Also what you said about people without inner monologue thinking more in emotions I get too. I have a silent inner monologue. This means that I do “talk” to myself but there is no sensation of audio. But a couple of years ago with quite a bit of meditation training, I was able to completely remove this inner self-talk. For about three months there was absolute silence inside me. The only thing I experienced and thought of was emotions. Absolutely incredible. For instance usually, when I watch movies I’m more of a viewer that is questioning what is happening and trying to understand what is happening. But while without an inner monologue there was no questioning but instead the modality to understand what was happening was experiencing the emotions of the characters on screen. I remember watching “man of steel” on an airplane and crying the whole time because I was feeling this separation between superman and the humans. I was feeling how he was desperately trying to be good and hurt by people being afraid of him.

I have met and read now about quite a few ways people think and it is fascinating. One I still can’t wrap my head around was someone on Reddit explaining that his thought process functions as a talk show with different anchors. Each with their own opinions and knowledge. If he is faced with a decision the panels discuss it among themself and the consensus is what is put forth. Reading this just blew my mind.

There is also something I’m quite worried about. Psychology seems to be extremely undereducated on the subject. During my interviews, I noticed something quite striking. Pych students have had an extreme overrepresentation of aphants. If this does turn out to be not just a fluke there needs to be a lot more education on the topic because they need to be aware that others do not experience imagination like us. I even had one girl who was strongly prophantasic who was undergoing therapy because she was told that her prophantasia was her having schizophrenic hallucinations. Seconds later her friends joined us and almost all of them had the same or close to the same ability. She never thought that others were like her. I even had a psychologist tell me that Phantasia would not exist and what I was describing was impossible… I’m afraid that there might be people out there who believe themself to have a mental illness but are actually just normal. At the same time, I believe that there is huge potential in imagery for therapeutic treatment.


Ps. Would be nice if you had an email list. I moved on from RSS and can’t sub to your site like this.

That’s fascinating, Christoph — thank you!

Elsewhere, a reader questioned why I put emotional memory in the same category of things like visualization. It might be helpful to share my response here:

Since I’m a multisensory aphantasic too, I understand how strange it sounds to lump emotion into this. As a result, in the article, I only touched on “emotional replay” (since the article was long enough), and I didn’t go into emotional imagination more generally. To someone like me, the concept of imaginary emotion is so bizarre that it’s hard to wrap my head around it. Sure, I can conceptualize physical vs mental vision (even if I’ve never experienced the mental side of it outside of dreams), but… isn’t all emotion mental?

Let me try to explain why I think emotion is similar to other modalities of thought, memory, and imagination (just like visual or motor).

For people without aphantasia, memories are often experienced as reliving the event in the first person, using all the modalities of memory available to them (visual, auditory, olfactory, emotional, etc.). They re-see, re-hear, and re-experience the emotions they lived through at the time. This is quite different from remembering the emotion you felt at the time as a plot point (rather than as an emotional experience) like I do. For me, my memories may in some cases lead to new feelings similar to what I felt at the time of the event I’m remembering, but the new feelings are not replaying as part of the memory itself.

So that’s “emotional replay.” Limiting phantasia to mental reproductions of physical senses doesn’t make much sense to me when you consider that there are no mental sense organs. Each of these things (sight, sound, emotion, balance, etc.) are modalities of thought and memory that may or may not be available for a given person to use.

Now consider imaginary emotion in the present. Try to follow my prompts below:

Imagine feeling nostalgic.
Imagine feeling angry.
Imagine feeling happy.

More specifically, I don’t mean to conceptualize these feelings without actually experiencing the emotions in your mind. I also don’t mean to steer yourself into experiencing these emotions directly by e.g. recalling something that will make you actually feel these ways (in a way you then wouldn’t be able to just switch back out of on-demand).

To me, these prompts are nearly nonsensical. But not so for people with emotional phantasia!

It also wouldn’t be surprising if these two things (emotional replay and imaginary emotion, for lack of better terms) are separable. E.g., some visual phantasics can only see things from their memories; not new things they’ve never previously seen with their eyes (e.g., they can visualize a beach they’ve visited, but not a different beach). Phantasic capabilities don’t seem to consistently apply to the past, present, and future for everyone equally.

This is all hard to make sense of for people who, like me, experience emotions as outputs only. But some people access/use emotions as modalities of thought — emotional states on their own that don’t need to be conjured. Some people even describe thinking in emotion, rather than in words or images. This is more common to hear from people who do not have an inner monologue.

I’m eager to learn more about this myself, and it’s very likely my understanding and descriptions can improve. But keep in mind that different modes of thinking are just extremely non-intuitive in general since we all seem to assume by default that other people’s methods of thought work the same as our own.

Sure, Steven.

2019 I was mostly focusing on visual abilities. I planned to focus more on the other senses in 2020+ but covid crossed those plans.

So for visuals:

Removing objects. This means looking at a scene and removing an object/person from their vision effectively making it invisible. “Imagine” it as a mental photoshop. For example, I have a colleague who has a grudge against an ex-colleague and told me he automatically removes that person from pictures where he is present. I tested this ability with my participants and it is extremely common. Not universal but I would say most people with prophantaisa can do it. 

Now instead of removing objects some not all (would need to look at my data for percentages so I will stick to abilities in general) were also able to replace. I generally let people replace me with someone else. Exchanging me completely or partly with someone else they know. Sometimes with really funny results when people replaced me with a girl and had trouble removing my at the time lush beard xD Now you know what some women refer to when they say “You were thinking of someone else while having sex” …

Adding objects and persons to a scene is also not a big problem. People will have full-on conversations with these imagined people too. Some being able to hear, touch and smell them as well.

Modification is also not uncommon. I usually have them change the color of my clothing. I had one person tell me that he disliked green. So he replaced all green with shades of purple.

This also extends to moving objects. I asked them to let me float a little. 

Change of perspective. See we as aphants are quite locked to our own perspective but “Try to imagine yourself out of their eyes” is also meant literal. I ask them to imagine looking at us from a floating point in the air. Think GTA. They can do that. Just because they might be looking at you with their eyes does not mean that they are looking from that perspective. Eyes are just one source of input for the creation of their “mind space”. They can choose to move in that space.

Last but definitely not least stopping time… Yes sound strange but they can. Sure time continues but not for them. They can like a camera slow down what they see and experience it like that. They can also zoom in and out, using mental models to get close to an object. Think standing at the foot of an ant. Seeing it tower ower them.

Now I would say in general that if you can say it they can imagine it and then experience it. It might take some time and effort but they mostly can. The only thing I have found they can’t imagine is not being able to imagine. Most of the time it is more a lack of having thought of something and less that they can’t do it. Like the time stopping. Quite a few had never tried doing it before and were impressed and thought it to be really cool. 

What I found quite curious is that my numbers regarding aphantasia and hyperphantaisa are way different from what currently is reported. I don’t know why but I found that here where I live around ~11% of people I asked(739 in total. I had more but only had records on those) had a form of aphantaisa. Also, another ~10% were almost aphants and only had visual imagination while reading books but nowhere else. On the other hand, I had around 35% of people who actually were prophantaisics. That is quite a big difference from the 2% number I have now read quite often. No idea why I get such different numbers. My only suspicion is that the VVIQ can be quite confusing for people without having someone explain to them what the questions are actually asking. When I tried to answer them I could clearly spot questions that someone with aphantasia could be confused about and answer differently from what the question is actually asking.
What was also quite stunning was the sex difference. Men were almost 10% more likely to have aphantasia (m 15,68% vs w 6,42%). This difference was only really noticeable at the ends of the spectrum with men being about 5% less likely to have prophantaisa.

I hope covid will get a bit more under control and I can again do my in-person research. One of if not the best summers of my life.