A Blind Mind’s Eye my Aphantasia

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A few people cannot conjure up any sound, texture, taste, smell, emotion, or any imagery from their past using their mind's eye. Mind's eye blindness is now called aphantasia.

In 2015, I saw something online that asked me to apply for a study. I took several surveys and online interviews with Exeter University in the UK. The study was the first to identify and describe what was later called aphantasia as a distinct condition. People with aphantasia cannot visualize things in their mind's eye, and this condition is unrelated to other cognitive or neurological impairments. People with aphantasia have difficulty with tasks that require mental imagery, such as recalling visual details of a scene or imagining future events. The study raised awareness of aphantasia, labeling it a distinct condition and sparking further research.

A few houses down from where I lived in the second grade, two classmates, twins, blind from birth, walked with their mother back and forth to school every day. I frequently tagged along and asked questions I wouldn't have been able to ask in class. When asked what I saw when I closed my eyes, I said nothing but black. Their mom thanked me for being kind, and I had no idea what she meant. I don't see anything with my eyes closed. My congenital aphantasia is complete. I have no experiences stored in memory. I know what a lemon tastes like, but no experience occurs when remembering one other than "knowing" what a lemon is. It is the same for touch, smell, and sound. Songs don't get stuck in my head. When a song I have not heard in decades plays, I will know every word. When it stops, I can't remember the title, the singer, and only a few words of the song.

Aphantasia is a condition where an individual cannot form mental images in their mind's eye. They cannot visualize anything in their imagination, such as faces, objects, or scenes. People with aphantasia may still have memories of these things but cannot see them in their mind's eye. Aphantasia is not a disorder or a disease but rather a variation in how the brain processes information. It can be congenital or acquired, affecting people to varying degrees. Some people with aphantasia have difficulty with tasks that require mental imagery, such as reading comprehension or spatial reasoning. I am better at both items than most people who visualize, however.

"As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–-a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that 'w-a-t-e-r' meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away." – Helen Keller.

According to my report cards, repeating kindergarten was called for if my Dad hadn't been part of the school system. Getting glasses and learning to read in the first grade abruptly changed my behavior in school and my grades. They place disrupters in the back of the class. Sitting in the front with glasses on, I could see the board! I remember it was reading that made the difference. Suddenly, I understood what people were saying AFTER I read the word. Reading become my favorite pastime.

"Once I knew only darkness and stillness… my life was without past or future… but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."
– Helen Keller.

The percentage of people with congenital total aphantasia needs more research as this topic is still in its early stages. However, some studies suggest it's rare, with fewer than 1% of the population endowed. Aphantasia exists on a spectrum, and some people have varying degrees of the condition. Additionally, acquired aphantasia can occur due to brain injury or other neurological conditions, and the prevalence of this type of aphantasia is also not well established.

I see [humor intended] a clear advantage in having complete aphantasia, my superpower. Still, this condition is not well understood, and research is ongoing. People with aphantasia have reported that they are less prone to distraction and can focus on tasks requiring attention to detail, two of my better attributes. Additionally, some people with aphantasia have reported that they are less likely to experience intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, which can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, these are anecdotal reports, and further research is needed to determine whether there are any consistent advantages to having complete aphantasia. I don't need the research to know. It explains my inability to find mood-altering or hallucinogenics interesting, as I usually found nothing of anything that happened. Who would pay for something that did nothing?

In the early 1980s, I was interested in a theory that claimed after we survive incidents and traumatic happenings, the decisions we used to succeed become our go-to solutions whenever triggered by something similar. I had issues, like when a fly would start a state of panic, me being out of control, or nearly so. It was exhausting. Others found it funny, however. I met a couple who claimed they could solve the triggers. They used something then called Rebirthing. A form of breathing while hypnotized to return to the most recent incident. When I was Rebirthing, I had visual full-color dreams when sleeping and a few in black and white, waking up remembering them. I cannot remember dreaming this way before and have not since.

It took many sessions, well past twenty, to eventually get to a memory of the birth canal, a warm and tingling black experience. Each session was a complete, full-color sight, sound, smell, and feeling of the incident in real time. I re-experienced the memory completely while watching as an observer from the present. I could see how and why I arrived at the reasoning for the incident and, in the present, unhook from the trauma, getting solely the reality. Suddenly, the problem disappeared! Only a few of the memories stayed without drama. The rest are gone. All of the registers of visual memory of incidents are gone. No visual cues are involved in the birth canal, and I stopped having visual dreams. Ten years later, a new friend, a Rebirthing practitioner, and I did the Rebirthing experience. No incident happened, and I was back to the warm and tingling squeeze of birth.

Not every upset is a trauma. I used those trips to create a practice around upsets. I realized that all annoyance, upset, anger, and disappointment have an expectation attached to how I BELIEVE and KNOW it should be. Initially, I just changed the expectations to align with the outcome, but eventually, I learned to let it go, giving up any emotional attachment. Along the way, I had a few precious commitments that allowed me to be righteous in my indignation. Only this past week have I realized how to let all of them go.

I saw how emotionally attached I am to everything I like or want, especially what I have labeled good, perfect, and working. When I unhooked the emotional attachment to being present, being present opened, the house became a three-dimensional path, pictures jumped out of the wall crying 'see me,' and the experience lasted while wanting and liking was gone. A new world to explore! That afternoon's dog walk was incredible and all in 3D, too. No thought stuck to me, nor did I notice anything but the present.

I can be triggered only when mind-doodling outside of the present. A mood moves in, and I fail to notice that the world is a flat-screen, two-dimensional opportunity for upset, and one happens. I resort to my time-tested bad habits, good habits, habitual thinking, and reacting. This insight is exciting for me now. The world occurring is totally up to me!

"Stop trying to change yourself. Stop trying to put properties inside of yourself. Stop trying to get yourself to do the right thing. Alter the way the world occurs for you, and your actions will naturally alter." – Werner Erhard.

I have aphantasia, and most people do not. But I suspect most of us, enamored with our memories, however they appear, use them to have difficulty stepping into the present moment. NOT letting go of any memory appears to block now.

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