I always find this question so interesting.
For most of my life, I didn’t realize that others were actually visualizing their thoughts and memories… I thought it was more as a figure of speech than a literal description of how people were thinking. I had such a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that visual representations were being created in someone’s “mind’s eye”. I still do, to be honest. How do you understand something that requires it’s experience? It’s almost like trying to explain the colour purple to someone who only sees in black and white… good luck!
It was my second year in college when my girlfriend (at the time) opened my eyes. We were talking about a mutual friend we’d just seen, and how she was wearing the same thing she was the last time we saw her a year prior. I was amazed she could remember that kind of detail… “How do you remember what she was wearing a year ago??” I asked. “Well, I can just see her in my mind”… WHAT?!
I then spent years obsessively asking everyone who’d listen about their imagination experience. Helplessly searching for “learn to visualize” or “no mind’s eye” on google only led me to sadness… how can I be missing what seems to be a vital part of the human experience? To relive memories in my mind… see the people, places, and events that meant the most to me? To “picture” what it might be like to visit a destination or “imagine” a success. All the writing I found talked about the benefits of visualizing… even today, a google search shows that it’s still heavily weighted this way.
This was years before Aphantasia was coined by Adam Zemen at Exitor. Many discussions have taken place since then and I’ve come a long way in my understanding of Aphantasia’s Strengths. I’ll be writing about those thoughts in the coming weeks and months.
How did you first discover your Blind Mind?
Hi there, firstly, a great looking website and some good looking swag, I hope you ship to the UK!
I first found conclusively that I had aphantasia in 2015. I had known I had something for a few years before that, but did not know what. Whenever I had some spare time (like today!) I used to hit google and try and find what it was, but the results always leaned towards ‘face blindness’, but I knew that wasn’t what I had because when I saw someone I recognised them, it was only when I couldn’t see them that the problems occured. How many times have I lost my wife in the aisles of a supermarket and gone looking down for her only to realise I had no idea what she was wearing.
I only put a name to it when I found an article from someone big in the tech industry (Amazon or Google or Facebook? I can’t remember now), I was so happy reading the article thinking Oh wow, this is me! Then soon after, as I wrote in my introduction on this site, I found that my daughter has it too.
Since then I have found two friends who may have aphantasia too, but they showed no interest more than ‘yeah, same here’ when I asked them to close their eyes and try to picture their wife or children.
I find the whole subject really interesting and would love to explore it more. I have done two questionaires for university studies, one here in the UK and one in US, but never heard anything much back, seemed like they just wanted to collect data, not discuss it. I am so interested in what differences it creates between us and visulisers!
I am 82 years old but just learned two weeks ago there was a name for my inability to visualize the characters or scenes in the novels I read, to arrange furniture in a room without graph paper and a tape measure, to do simple math in my head. I graduated top of my class from a major university and even though many of my generation run from using a smart phone, I love technology and would be lost without my MacBook. I’m sure this has helped me compensate and succeed in areas that I might have stumbled in because of my lack of sensory skills.
It was my inquisitive nature that led me to Google “Lack of ability to visualize” and I was shocked to find others have the same issues. I have been aware that I struggled to visualize while reading as a child. I also remember that when my mother told me to try counting sheep, I just lay there seeing how high I could count which I’m sure kept be alert more than it made me drowsy. As I have been looking for more sources of information I was surprised to see questions in the Exeter survey regarding other senses. I have always known I had extremely poor taste and smell ability (I can’t tell sweet from sour, or ginger from cilantro); I have NEVER had a melody stuck in my head, and although I do have a fair ability to recognize faces I could never adequately describe a relative to someone else – I would describe their personality not their features. I just two days ago sent a text to my adult children and grandchildren telling them what I have learned about myself – but evidently I didn’t pass it on to any of them.
I discovered that I was an aphant days ago by accident when I watched a Youtube video about Aphantism. I was actually half-listening to the vlogger’s explanation until she mentioned about reading books.
I am a bookworm but the way she explained her sides on reading hit me hard – I can’t visualize anything while reading. Maybe this explains why lengthy descriptions bore me, and why I’m good at remembering the characters, the landmarks and the story plot but not the experience like how pretty the protagonist was or how beautiful the Kingdom X was. And as a writer, it was easier for me to write dialogues ‘coz I know what to react on certain situations. But to describe my character’s feelings and their surroundings? Boy it was hard.
I am so glad that there are lots of Aphantasia articles online that answers my memory retention concerns. No wonder why I couldn’t picture-out things on my head every time I draw, or even if I have a reference image, I still need to dig some additional references because I can’t visualize what I really want to draw.
I always believed that what I saw in my MIND (Black emptiness} was what all people saw. I thought they just exaggerated what they saw and that they had really good memories for the small detail.
I was always very poor in art class because it was always "Draw something" never "draw this or that" or "Draw this object". Again I thought it was a lacking that I had.
When in Primary School, aged 4 or 5, the teachers told my mother that at the age of 7 I would need to go to a school for Special Needs because I just wasn’t learning anything. At age 5 or 6 when we began to be taught NUMBERS I , within 6 months, went from being the class fool to being top of the class.
I successfully went on to do a BSc. in Mathematics and Computing.
BUT it wasn’t until recently, while listening to the radio that I heard a discussion about Aphantasia and then it all fell into place, for 57 years I thought I was different, lacking a good memory. People said I didn’t care about things and that was why I didn’t remember the details. NOW I can hold my head up because I know it isn’t me.
I’m delighted to have found this website. I can’t remember the fist time I realized that my inner experience was so different from everyone else’s. I have a number of memories that stand out, but I couldn’t tell you which was the first one. But I do recall that I immediately started surveying my family members and I am the only one who can’t actually see an apple when someone says "picture an apple." I felt sad and kind of ripped off about that. I sure as heck was surprised! It might have been when my partner said that she could remember things by picturing the book she read it in and just reading it off. And she can spell aloud quickly because she can picture the word and just read off the letters. Really?!?!?! Then she started asking me about my experience and it was really hard to talk about. How do I remember things? Most puzzling is that I have a really good sense of direction and she doesn’t. I can "picture" what’s on a certain street corner and find my way back there, but I don’t see anything. I can best say that it’s kinesthetic and descriptive. If I try to picture an apple I may draw it in the blackness behind my closed eyes, and I’ll think of the shape and colour of a delicious apple (one I don’t particularly like), or a granny smith apple (which was my favourite at one time, but is not too acidic for me), but I don’t see anything. I’m just sort of flipping through memories of apples.
I like doing visualizations. Sometimes really interesting ideas come. I can have an experience of what’s being described. I can think about the sound of the water, and the sunshine on my face and I can generate, in the present, something of the feeling I have had in the past in the sunshine by water. Once I had such a powerful experience / idea come up in a guided visualization that I immediately wanted to draw what I "saw" because I wanted to really see it.
I can get emotionally involved in a story and have an experience of the story, even if I’ve never had that experience before. I can be "moved" by it, but I don’t see anything.
Now, in just my short exposure to this website which isn’t much beyond scanning one article and looking at this thread, I’ve had a new realization. It extends to sound. But unlike some of the other folks, I do regularly get a tune stuck in my head. But I sing. I love to sing. So the tune I get stuck in my head is always in my own voice, even though I’m not actually making noise. I have a friend who can write harmonies and she says she can just hear harmonies in her head. I thought she was just a weird anomaly. Wow, you must be like Beethoven or something. Some weird freak of nature. But just now I figured out, it’s my aphantasia.
I write songs, but I have to do it. I just now tried to make up a tune in my head…. absolutely can’t do it. Who knew? And frankly it’s a bit disturbing. I guess it’s only sad to me because now I know that others can. Bummer! Somehow it was easier believing that those who could were outliers with unusual abilities rather than thinking that I have an unusual deficit. Wow. What lessons can I draw from that?!? Comparisons are odious!
Interestingly I do sometimes have vivid dreams in my sleep. And occasionally, in the early stages of sleep where I still think I am awake, I am aware of seeing images. Even in those guided visualizations, if I am approaching a meditative state, I may get a flash of something like I would experience in a dream. More often I get a "vivid idea" of something that is almost a picture… more like an impression.
I do wonder if my aphantasia is protective in my line of work. I am a psychotherapist. I have heard some stories that are quite ghastly; "unimaginable" cruelty. And some do haunt me a bit. How much harder it must be to push such memories away if they come with the full spectrum of sensations. When I think of this, I am tremendously grateful for my "deficit."
Thanks for putting website together.
I’va always had trouble drawing, improvising, and quite frankly just truning off at the end of the day. I use to draw a lot as a kid using references but I could never draw anything original. So, because of this, I quit drawing for years out of sheer frustration that whatever I wanted to draw just wouldn’t go onto the page. After a few years i decided to start drawing again to help cope with my depression and my anxiety. I knew I wasn’t able to do original work so I started drawing other works to build up some muscle memory to do my own things. A few months pass and I finally feel like I am ready to try something original. I had the idea of what I wanted to draw and I knew some characteristics that it would have so i started to draw. I spent about 2 hours attempting to draw this idea and nothing was coming from it. I spent 2 hours drawing and erasing and nothing was comingout right. I was visibly frustrated so my boyfriend asked to visualize what I was trying to draw and I thought I had been I mean I knew what I wanted to draw thats all I need right? It was only then when I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t actually see what I wanted to draw that he looked at me strange. He said that he watched an artist on youtube that has something called aphantasia and that I might have the same problem. At first I dismissed it because I didn’t think it would be possible. So, reluctantly I watched the video with him and she asked us to close our eyes and picture an apple in our minds and describe what we see. For me i saw abslutely nothing which was normal for me, but then my boyfriend starts describing what he saw which was extremely detailed. So, that’s when I discovered aphantasia and it made a lot of sense why I don’t daydream or have a difficult time drawing original works.
Like a number of you, I realized later in life, in my early 40s, that I processed things differently in my head. A friend of mine who is a great fan of graphic novels was trying to get me to read them. While I am a voracious reader, graphic novels do not appeal to me in the least. After reading three or four, I told her I did not want to read any more. She asked me what about graphic novels I did not like. My response was that the pictures get in the way of the story. This lead to a discussion of visualization where, much to my amazement, I learned that other people really can create pictures in their head and that when people are told to picture something in their mind it is not just a figure of speech. I also do not experience visual dreams. Visualization seems to be the only area where I experience aphantasia. I was pleased to learn that there are other people who, like me, are unable to visualize.
I would have to say today… I just read an article about the mind’s eye and how a man without one was asked to think of a capital letter A and then say what shape is in the enclosed part of it. He said triangle but only after imagining tracing the letter, sort of drawing it like when you write it down. I had done exactly the same thing when I thought about the problem. If it is true, and other people can actually "see" things then it feels very unfair 🙁 I have vivid dreams though and infrequently, just before dropping off to sleep, I may get a flash of something. I certainly think of seeing things and that is enough to remember stuff, but actually seeing them would be amazing if you could just do it at will!
My daughter asked me years ago if i could see anything in my head i said no and she couldnt either. So we both thought it was normal. We only discovered that others could when my daughter went to uni.
It was like a light bulb moment. It explained why i could never do meditation at school they just said that i wasnt concentrating enough. Also as a child i loved buying postcards of the places i visited and i got a camera at an early age so that i could take photographs. As a child My photographs were very important to me and I realise why now. I still love taking photograhs to help me remember.
Also i never could understand people saying i cant get that song out of my head.
Im a total aphantasic and discovered that a lot of my work colleagues also have aphantasia.
So i dont feel alone but i do feel some loss (now that i know others can visualise) that i cant see my dad (who is no longer with us)
unless i look at his photographs.
Hi, I am super excited to hear about this. I was listening to the show on CBC radio. I had always just thought that I wasn’t creative or wasn’t observant. I didn’t realize that this was a "thing". My most dreaded and torurous class through schooll was always art class. When the teacher would let us have some "fun" and do our own thing was the worst ever! I cannot come up with ideas for my home, or type of car I want, or style or colour of clothes. I can only visually see and decide if I like it or not. I don’t remember what someone wore or the colour of a house or visual details from a show. It’s amazing to know that there are others out there who get it. I feel so blessed that I heard Tom today. I never considered it wierd, just me, lacking total creativity and me that notices nothing, just me….
So glad to hear you speaking of your experience on the CBC doc project. I like you am a total aphantasiac. I have known for about 4 years now that I have aphantasia. I was at a yoga class at the Vancouver YMCA and the instructor was leading a guided meditation. Her intent was to paint a vivd image of a walk in the forest. I think she was just particularly bad at describing it, because instead of relaxing to the cadence and sound of her voice, I started wondering what the point of this was.
No one can see this anyway I thought to myself. Why would people keep using guided imagery if no one could use it. I started thinking about my Grandma who often says: "put yourself on the corner of X Avenue and Y Street". I thought of common saying’s like counting sheep, and "picturing other people" during sex. It kept eating away at me that maybe I was doing something wrong.
So, when I got home, I Googled "can other people actually visualize things", and down the rabbit hole I went. Blake Ross’ article put a name to it for me. I identified with almost everything. Then I started, almost obsessively, pestering friends and colleagues about their mind’s eye and visual imagery experiences. I had colleagues with photo-realistic descriptions, friends who could replay memories with visuals, sounds, and smells. I felt like I was missing a basic, joyful, human experience. It felt very isolating because people would just challenge it and say I was crazy – or get tired of me trying to explain something I couldn’t quite grasp yet.
Since then I’ve given talks about it and have come to recognize the strengths it provides. Though I am able to recall certain happy loving moments in my life, they often come with a lack of emotional attachement and detail. I wish I could step back into the sights and sounds of my travel – but this inability has bred a love for creative endeavours like photography, that create snapshots I can relive. I find myself using trial and error problem-solving in my work, as I can visualize a solution or conjure and emotional or sensory reaction my interventions might have.
You may all find this ironic, as I primarily do sensory processing work with children.
Anyway, I am glad to read about others experiences and to grow my knowledge and involvement in this small community. If there is any way I can help or get involved, I would love to. If anyone wants to go for coffee in Vancouver, I’d love to hear your stories and experience.
I was watching an artist in Victoria British Columbia do an absolutely life like "dot" portrait of a woman from memory about 15 years ago. We sat around and talked for around 30 minutes and I was absolutely blown away that he was "just copying what was in his mind". He was stunned and couldn’t understand that I didn’t have the ability to "close my eyes and just picture it". I only just found out that there is a name for it today and that other people have the same issue.
I figured picturing it in ones “mind’s eye” was one of those quirks that let artists be artists, and since I’m an engineer – I’m built differently. I had no idea that almost everyone else could picture something in their mind and actually "see" it to some degree.
I find it strange that I’m a Professional Electrical Engineer who can recall facts, figures, dates, codes and perform some pretty advanced math, but can’t picture a horse in my mind’s eye. I know intuitively it has eyes, ears, a mane, and what each piece “should” look like, but I can’t picture it standing there.
I’m wondering if anyone else has trouble reciting the words to songs as they play, or is that just something unique to me? Again, I have no issues with memorizing facts, figures and could memorize the lines to a song, but there is no way I could recall them in time to sing them as the music plays.
I heard the CBC documentary too and was interested to find there is now a name for Aphantasia and a bit more awareness.
I am 40 now but was an 18 year old psychology major in a class of undergraduates completing the VVIQ when I realized that I had Aphantasia (not yet termed). I kept asking my psych professor for clarification and finally I just said to him that from the instructions I didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t rating themselves as 0 for imagery. What was with these students who were claiming to create pictures in their heads!
MY professor at the time had done a lot of research which included visual imagery so he was highly intrigued. He indicated that he had only ever met one other person with this inability to visualize. We spent a lot of time discussing this and we did some additional assessments.
One of the things we discussed was dreaming. My professor asked if I saw pictures when I was sleeping. I answered that I thought I did. And I do. But at the time, I needed to check. For a long time after that I would wake up just as I was starting to drift into dreamimg and would sit up in bed and say “I saw a picture”!
I’m still highly intrigued as to why I can see pics in my head when I’m asleep but not when I’m awake. Are the neuropathways different? I’ll have to explore this site and see if there is any discussion on this topic or maybe post a discussion myself!
Similar to many others here, this is a new realization over the past few weeks since I stumbled across an article on the topic. All of the same manifestations that others mention, most of which get offset by having a very strong overall memory. For example, I’ve learned to "remember" a lot of facts about what someone looks like – hair colour, eye colour, hair style, memorable features, etc so that I can give some semblance of describing them verbally. However, have no image that I’m drawing upon, and if someone asked me to draw a picture, it would look like a 4-yr old drawing (I’m 48) and I would have no idea how to make it better.
The "picture a horse" exercise makes me think of several times over the years trying to draw a bicycle. I know that it has two wheels and bars that go between them, but I would draw ridiculous shapes because I had no memory of how the bars connect and no image to draw upon.
Interestingly, I have a math degree, very mentally adept with numbers and a strong memory of facts and figures – perhaps compensating for the lack of visual memory?
I found out a couple of years ago. My husband had read an article about it and came to the kitchen where I was meal preping and told me the story and was like "can you image?" My response, "Baby no one can see images with their mind, thats just a expression." Lets just say that the conversation was a bit of a explosion for both of us. I have been conducting informal questions on my family, friends and co-workers since and I have found two people like me. My old admin assistant and one of my friends. Its amazing watching the people who have it freak out because you don’t. Its also interesting finding people who do have it. They get so excited to know that we are different when we just always thought people were speaking in methaphor. I have had some responses that annoy me, including my Bosses, bosses, boss telling me she felt sorry for me. I always thought that if you actually saw images that you were hallucinating.
I was sitting in class about two weeks ago and my teacher decided to do a mindfulness activity. We were told to close our eyes and visualise a beach, feel the sand between our toes and smell the salty air. I didn’t participate because I thought that no-one could ACTUALLY see the beach, feel the sand and smell the air. Afterwards the teacher pulled me aside and asked me why I didn’t participate. I said "It seems pointless to me. When you close your eyes you can’t see a beach. You just see black." And she told me that actually people can see stuff in their mind like images. I got very confused and started researching and I realised that although I could hear things in my mind (songs etc.) and taste stuff in my mind I couldn’t see, smell or feel in my mind. I kept researching and saw it described as Aphantasia. I have an identical twin sister and she can visualise perfectly with a 8-9 clarity so I have no idea why I can’t.
I found out by watching a video from a youtuber called AmyRightMeow. She talked about her experience with aphantasia, and I realized that I had it too.
Some number of months ago, my boxing coach told me that I should visualize an opponent in front of me when shadowboxing. He seemed to be talking about something that could almost be seen but I had no idea how to do that. That was the first inkling I had that something was up.
The thought that I might be somehow different kept rolling around in my head for a while until a couple of weeks ago when the word "aphantasia" first appeared on my radar. I started looking into it and from what I could read online, it sounded like that might describe my experiences pretty well. I very recently purchased Alan Kendle’s book and on opening and skimming it, found my own life pouring out of its pages through the words of people who experience what I experience.
I’m a pretty introspective person but I feel like I’m just on the edge of a significant chunk of self-discovery, a better understanding of why I am like I am.
I first heard the term on a prosopagnosia mailing list a couple of years ago. Before that, it never occurred to me that there was a difference like this.
My first thought was that of course I can visualize things. To me, visualizing a ship in the water was more of a knowing that it would be silly to find a ship not in the water (ignoring drydocks). It never occurred to me that people could actually see a ship in the water in their minds.
Until tonight, I never even thought about about it also affecting things like sounds and smells. I can kind of "aurialize" sounds, but it is very faint and is of music such as The Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkle, Yesterday by the Beatles, … , and sometimes of voices. Even then, it doesn’t really sound like I’m hearing it.
As for smell, I sat back and thought about different smells such as cooking various foods and I get nothing. If I think of a hamburger cooking, the smell is probably the least thing that comes to mind. If I was cooking a hamburger and it didn’t smell like a hamburger cooking, I would probably never notice the change.
I recently learned about Aphantasia from a reddit post and it has explained a lot. I am a 53 year old software backend/algorithm guy and process improvement expert. I hate "user friendly" graphical user interfaces (Windows and the like) and have been saying for years I would still be happy with just DOS. I can imagine and empathize with end-users and recognize what works well and what does not. I am horrible at the layouts of User Interfaces and Reports in visual pleasing formats. I am awesome at many areas of Trivia. I have a garbage pit mind that can remember anything I read or write but very little of what I see or hear. I had learning difficulties with this until I figured out that if I take notes during a lecture I remember it all with never reading that note again. I hate Computer Based Training and YouTube how to videos. I would much rather read a new car manual than have the salesperson give an in person demonstration of my cars features.
Artistically I am a mess. I can draw and paint well but only from a still-life setup or from a picture or from detailed knowledge (maps, fractals, engineering diagrams). I can remember lyrics if I have read them but i cant hear a song in my head to get started on singing right. I sang lullabies to my children, but the tune and and pitch would be different every time I sang. We now have a car DVD player and I am finding I enjoy the movies better without the distraction of the video.
My life is changing and I am trying to find ways to change my habits and processes to take advantage of my new found insight.
I came across the term ‘aphantasia’ a few years ago thanks to the BBC. I’m a mechanical engineer by training, in management now. The family joke was always that I could navigate really well, but never remember people. I ended up re-introducing myself to a colleage I’d worked with for a long time at a Christmas party because they had changed their hair, clothing style, etc. I used to think I had prosopagnosia, but it didn’t quite fit. Now, I’m sure it’s aphantasia. The VVIQ test confirmed it.
I’m a voracious bookworm and prefer reading or listening to watching. I’m able to recognize pictures or shapes, but unable to draw, even my stick people look bad. I’m also poor at other creative skills for art, drama and writing. I don’t dream in pictures, but I do dream in words. I’ve been listening to audiobooks to go to sleep for decades now as counting sheep doesn’t work. I’m very good with maps and directions, although I think of it as a series of steps. i.e. go double the distance then turn twice. Right and left are very confusing, I’ve trained my family to give driving directions as ‘driver side’ and ‘passenger side’.
One oddity in my visual memory, while I can’t "picture a horse", given something to see I can colour match with something that is not present. Somehow I have a good colour sense. I’m not mentally ‘seeing’ the colour, but I can look and something and decide if the colour matches. The mental memory I do have is for music. I can hear how an artist sung something, but when I try to duplicate it, I’m tone deaf. Taste, smell, etc don’t have much memory from me either.
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