Aphantasia– a Strength, not a Handicap

I am a visual aphant. I consider myself a success– I have a good relationship with my family, have a Masters in a science related field, and make 300K+ a year. 

Because I’ve learned many people consider the inability to visualize as a handicap or a disability, I’d like to present an alternate view. Having aphantasia has never slowed me down, and indeed is likely to have contributed to my success.  Keep in mind this reflects MY experience as an aphant, and some of this is no doubt just who am I as a person. 

* I have fewer assumptions. When visualizers hear a description, they unconsciously fill in the blanks in their images, sometimes incorrectly. My brain doesn’t work like that. If you tell me “apple” I don’t automatically assume it is a red, yellow, or green apple– I just think of the concept ‘apple’. While visualizers can revise these images as new information comes in, I feel this would lead to a lot of false assumptions initially, that could impact decisions unconsciously.

* I don’t have as much trouble “letting go” of traumatic events. I remember having a song stuck in my head for three days. It was AWFUL. I can’t imagine having a visual of a tragic moment return to me without my conscious consent. I was in the military for four years– plenty of stuff I’m glad I don’t relive.  It also makes sense to me why so many people are afraid of being embarrassed.  After an ‘event’ is over, I can almost always immediately ‘let go’ of it, so I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. 

* I have weaker emotional reaction to images. I believe studies show this is a common trait in aphants. I know some ‘feelers’ who would list strong emotions as a strength. Personally, I’m a ‘thinker’ over ‘feeler’ and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can still empathize and sympathize, but I don’t want to be controlled by my emotions, and see those who are as easy to manipulate and irrational in their behavior.

* I don’t get distracted as easily. I have far more focus than my peers– is it because images aren’t randomly popping into my head?

*I live more in the moment. When I am having a conversation with you, you don’t need to wonder if I am secretly undressing you, or imagining stabbing you, or imagining I’m somewhere else, or doing something else with someone else mentally.

* I don’t waste a lot of time fantasizing. Some people promote fantasizing/visualizing to reach their goals. But as an aphant I find this behavior questionable, even ridiculous. It seems like a better use of time would be actually planning and doing the things needed to achieve your goals, rather than creating mental pictures of them. It seems visualizers images ‘help’ them somehow, but I think it also possible fantasies are a crutch to begin with, and learning how to focus the fantasy is simply a way of making them LESS of a crutch.

*I am very well organized.  Maybe this is because I naturally think in terms of concepts and connectors– my brain is a database, and my memory a series of metadata.  Or maybe it is because being well organized means I need to memorize less information. 

I’d like to hear from others: What advantages do you think many aphants have?

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I resonated with a lot of your points, and really needed to hear that. Thanks. 

It would be ridiculous to say aphants as a whole are superior to non-aphants. But to say aphantasia creates neither strengths or weaknesses is also illogical. Aphantasia clearly can have both positive and negative impacts on different aspects of life, such as memory, creativity, empathy, and mental health. My point wasn’t to say aphantasia is only a strength, but to counter-balance some of the comments in these discussion boards that lament aphantasia as if it was a disability or disease. If there was a ‘cure’ I wouldn’t take it.
As a side note: I have no first-person experience of visual fantasy. My knowledge is based entire on descriptions given by non-aphants about their experiences fantasizing/daydreaming during conversations. You don’t need to develop Biotech to gain that info, you can just google it. 🙂

All of the above to which I add:

Abstract thinking with the ability to take on big ideas, join unseen dots, conceptual leaps. 

This sounds like you’re trying to spin this into a feeling of superiority, just in the way you’ve worded things. Specifically your section of being more in the moment and the section dealing in fantasy. Without fantasy in some regard, progress would never be made. While not able to visually fantasize you specifically mention fantasies that for some reason you think other people would be having during a conversation. Unless you’ve developed some BioTech that allows you to experience someone else’s thought process, logically you make the association because you have done so yourself. You claim you could never do such a thing because of how your brain works, then how is it you could imagine that’s how others think? 
Aphantasia is neither a strength or weakness, it’s a state of function for our brain which is our sole way of experiencing the universe around us. 

I am an author. I am often (!) praised by readers for my writing of place. In fact I write in a fairly minimalist style with very little prose that actually describes a place. I tell readers to go back and add up all the pages that have descriptions on them and say that if they stick them all together they’ll find there’s really not much there.

However maybe it works because I work hard to get readers to imagine a place by choosing very specific details. I’ve thought about this a lot because I didn’t realise I was aphantasic until about half way through my writing career. Now I wonder if it helped me define my writing style in an accidental way. I wonder if my inability to call up images helped me with this. Readers have to make pictures in their minds because I don’t. 

I’ve always thought that is the trick to realism as a style. You don’t see what’s going on inside other people’s heads; you just have the phenomenological evidence – what they say, how they look. But from that evidence, the reader intuits the deeper layer of what they’re thinking. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it. 

Writing place is a little similar. If you fill the page with description, you actually crowd out the readers’ imagination. 

Similar. It took a fellow writer to point out that I never described anyone – this evoked howls of disagreement from others in the group as each had formed an image. I regarded the capacity to elicit images in the minds of others as a gift. Now I know it to be aphantasia I have stopped writing! But recently started an epic poem – but who reads those these days?

Advantages? All of the above. Other than the Masters.

My major advantage (in retrospect) was a lack of education. According to my well educated son, I would not have experienced many facets of mania during a long learning through psychosis. I could locate through triangulated sensations in my face, discover the lost, know which bet to place (temporary). Before I went off the rails of normal life I experienced a powerful dream during which I was guided around a huge round table filled with inscriptions representing all of man’s beliefs; that I would be loaned many gifts so I understood the experience but my gift was to translate the ineffable. (Looking back was I labelling myself an oxymoron?)

I knew my experiences all had a basis in the electro-magnetic field but I had not the education in physics to explain. 

Reading below – seems I have already responded but with less self exposure. 

Summing up: the lack of formal education set me on different paths. Arrived wearing Cassandra’s shoes.

Perhaps for me, there is a little of both handicap and advantage.  Educationally, I was able to do quite well with degrees in science, business, and law.  Some aspects of education were more difficult, but my ability to focus without distraction was quite helpful.

Handicaps include very poor ability to remember names and faces of people that I infrequently see and autobiographical memory impairment (probably related).

Finding out that my brain works differently has allowed me to not worry so much on how I can remember data points from my education, but I can’t remember a name of someone I met yesterday.