How did you first discover you were Aphantasic?

DiscussionsCategory: QuestionsHow did you first discover you were Aphantasic?
Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff asked 1 year ago

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 Exeter. 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?

Gordon HallGordon Hall replied 8 months ago

Hi
Nice to see a web site for aphantasia
I first realised I had aphantasia at a life class.
While we watched the teacher asked the model to take a pose for just 30 seconds then sit down.
The teacher then blow my mind by asking us to sketch her from memory, I did not understand how this would be possible, I knew how the model had stood but I could see her in any way but everybody else in the class could.
So a google search that night led to the revelation that all of us aphants go through.
I was 60 at the time.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 8 months ago

Interesting that this came up later in life! Are you connecting dots looking back at earlier experiences? Thanks for the positive feedback, Gordon!

janet Mason replied 6 months ago

I’ve only just discovered that I’m aphantasic too – and I’m sixty five! I think the name is poor – it implies a lack of imagination or cognitive ability and it is’t. In fact, without the visual image, my brain is probably working harder and faster to produce and recall a memory and imagine a situation. In a similar situation, I can’t draw the picture once the model has moved, but if the model then poses again, I could tell if the pose was significantly different or pretty similar.

Carolina VaccaroCarolina Vaccaro replied 2 months ago

I found out last year when I was on YouTube. I saw a video of a girl talking about her experience as an artist with Aphantasia and that’s when I found out that that common phrase of “close your eyes and imagine yourself in a beach” to relax is actually true!! People do imagine themselves in places and I still think that that’s wild. I went running to my sisters bedrooms and asked them to imagine an apple on the table or on their heads and they said that they could! When I went to school I asked all my friends for I was so curious to know if it was just me from all the people that I know who have Aphantasia and then one of my friends told me that when she reads she imagines the scene and the characters and while I can think of a character being red haired I can’t see it nor I can see the scenario and I think that that’s the only thing that upsets me so much because I’ve always wanted to be able to have my own little movie in my head while I read a book.

Gary PrescottGary Prescott replied 2 months ago

i've know the term "blind imagination" which i found in a book about a french author, maybe balzac, since the early 80's. i had no idea what it entailed as there was no internet and i never came across the term again. i've discussed with a few friends and they are all very visual. today, in my 66th year, i hear the term aphantasia when listening to a cbc podcast featuring tom, i believe. as it relates to education; i had a very difficult time remembering things, tho' my memory is not too bad. i could never imagine what i wanted to do, or be. spent a few days in the late 80's trying some visualization exercises, but just ended up laughing at the futility. studied anatomy using the anatomy colouring book, which saved my bacon. once, i saw a vivid sunset in my mind and it actually shocked me! there are things i wish i could recall visually, like old friends etc. i love design and if i could have seen it in my head, i may have pursued it. i don't think it will make any difference at this point in my life, but i am going to research this for a bit. it does answer some questions, and i'm glad some information is out there. it's always been in the back of my mind! lol! love youtube by the way. now i can see how it's done… sept/2019

Mark FosterMark Foster replied 2 months ago

I heard you on CBC documentary yesterday and made the connection to my own history. I’m 56 years old and only now realize what I thought was just a memory issue is actually something more profound! It’s actually quite a relief, I always thought the fact I couldn’t picture something in my head was a sign of poor memory that would ultimately lead to early Alzheimer’s. Interesting about the emotional disconnection to past events, it’s so strange to not be able to conjure up the emotions around my mothers death, I remember being an emotional wreck at the time. Interestingly, I can conjure up a melody in my head as some others are able, so it seems to be somewhere on the spectrum with me. Anyway glad to have found this resource and other “like minded” people!

Frank GrationFrank Gration replied 2 months ago

Same as Mark. I heard you on cbc today and instantly knew. Im 41 and just thought i had a bad memory. When i think about trying to count sheep as a kid, it all make sence now

Terri GrayTerri Gray replied 2 months ago

Wow, I feel a great weight off my shoulders after listening to your CBC doc. For years I would get so frustrated when someone would go on and on about the importance of reading and never understand how I didn’t enjoy it, I can only assume if I could make the mental picture in my head it would be much more enjoyable. I have tried Yoga and meditation but always get frustrated never being able to focus and relax, always thinking perhaps I was more ADD as my mind wandered from thought to thought. If I think about it now it also makes sense that I can’t read comic’s where imagery is used, by the end I haven’t been able to retain anything, and I guess that is why I will never be able to fantasize Brad Pitt is in bed with me and have to settle with keeping my eyes open. Thanks for great Documentary.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Thank you for all your comments! Welcome to the community. Your stories all resonate with me and I hope this new discovery brings some new clarity/insight!

keith Inschokeith Inscho replied 2 months ago

Same here. I knew I didn’t visualize like other people, but didn’t know it was a real thing until I heard the CBC story. I can visualize things in flashes of pictures that pop up for a millisecond then fade away. I can’t picture something and tell you any details as the ‘pictures’ are only there as a flash, then other things (usually clouds or swirly things or whatever) crowd over.
When I lay down to go to sleep, I get no pictures on the back of my eyelids, but light shows and swirly smoke, and radar sweep type visuals.

Anna PostnikovaAnna Postnikova replied 3 weeks ago

I'm 26 and found out 5days agoi came across the word and wondered what it meant… one quick google search and several websites later here i am. Ive always kinda figured all the phrases to do with mental images were figures of speach. Go figure

Jessica EalesJessica Eales replied 2 days ago

Im 24 and today I was studying for an exam I have coming up and had stressed myself out over a question I couldn’t get the hang of. In an attempt to calm myself down I thought I would imagine myself on a beach, I’ve never done it before and thought that it might help. When I couldn’t see the beach I asked myself why on earth anyone would do this to calm themselves down. Then something clicked and I realised that maybe other people could see the beach. I then asked my family if they could see the beach and they all said they could. I was astonished. How could I have gone 24 years without realising this. Honestly I fell a bit cheated haha. I have been told by an education psychologist that I cannot read properly but I recognise the words instead, for example I cannot read a new word I have never heard of before. I wonder if that’s connected in any way.

37 Answers
Max BarberMax Barber answered 9 months ago

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!

Jennifer McDougallJennifer McDougall Staff replied 9 months ago

Hello Max, thanks for sharing your experiences! Was the individual in the tech industry Blake Ross? https://www.facebook.com/notes/blake-ross/aphantasia-how-it-feels-to-be-blind-in-your-mind/10156834777480504/

Max BarberMax Barber replied 8 months ago

Hi Jennifer, I think that is the one, although I thought I read it in 2015, but maybe I am wrong as I have googled it again and I cannot find anything else that rings a bell.

Shirley MuellerShirley Mueller answered 8 months ago

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.

Shirley

shirleyann.mueller@gmail.com

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 8 months ago

Thank you for your comments, Shirley!

Your description is very similar to many of us with Aphantasia; no melody stuck in our head, a difficult time describing facial features, etc.

What subject did you study at University?

We’re exploring the possibility that this is hereditary, so thank you for sharing your experience. It’s inconclusive if aphantasia is something that gets passed on or not.

Welcome to the network!

Shirley MuellerShirley Mueller replied 8 months ago

Thanks, Tom, for your response. I graduated from Pepperdine University with by degree in Business Administration. I am finding your website much more helpful, even though it is just getting started, than the forums I looked at previously.

Nachum PereferkovichNachum Pereferkovich replied 2 months ago

This is an interesting fact – aphants with poor auditory memory. I just thought that ear memory compensates for the lack of eye memory; so it is with me. This is a strange situation: a musician who is completely unable to draw ( unlike my children).

CJ EstrellaCJ Estrella answered 7 months ago

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.

Trevor DavisTrevor Davis answered 7 months ago

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.

Kat KaneKat Williams replied 5 months ago

“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.”

There was a fairly successful book written on ADHD titled, “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Crazy or Stupid?!” I have no doubt that, over time, that same kind of satire will be applied to the way many of us were treated in school, because of the impacts our aphantasia had. The “not living up to her potential” may have been partly the ADHD’s doing, but I know now it was more than just that. I couldn’t draw a picture of a photo that was sitting directly in front of me, with any degree of clarity, and I got tons of grief in school for that – and my inability to recognize many states or countries by their shape, my inability to connect reading sheet music to playing or singing a note, my inability to retain formulas in both chemistry and geometry and especially how lousy I am at mental math, despite having been quite good at algebra. It’s clear to me now, that people use visual memory to do a lot more than they realize, and that a lack of visual memory (not to mention auditory, tactile, etc.) can impact learning and memory retention far more than anyone has fully explored – especially for those of us at the far end of the aphantasia spectrum. Even many mnemonic devices are based around visualizing the things you’re trying to remember, in particular the Roman Room device, which uses both visual and spatial memory.

Aphantasia may not broadly be a learning disability on par with dyslexia, but depending on the degree of each, in individual cases it can be.

Kristin KumpfKristin Kumpf answered 7 months ago

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.

Kat KaneKat Williams replied 5 months ago

“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!”

I’m a writer, and have been since I was a young child. But I’ve always struggled to get past the good stage, to anywhere near great, and one day I realized that one of the biggest obstacles has been my need to speak what I’m writing out loud – and how rarely I’m in a place where I can freely do that. I determined that how little actual privacy I’ve had, over the course of my entire life, got in the way of developing my fiction-writing skills. And the reason I need the privacy to be able to speak what I’m writing, especially when it’s dialog, is that my 65WPM typing can’t keep up with how quickly I’ll forget a line I’ve just thought of, or entirely lose the thread of a fictional conversation I was crafting. If I can say the words, I can retain them longer – just as I’m sure I could retain them longer, if I could hear them in my head. And yes, I often feel a certain resentment that this simple lack of ability has impacted how well I do something I love so dearly.

And while I’ve certainly heard others express that trauma can be dampened by lack of explicit sensory memory, I also think that the lack of vivid memory can make it harder to move past trauma and process negative experiences. When your autobiographical memory is so sparse, it can make dealing with the emotional repercussions of those experiences more complicated, because you might remember only what you felt and not what actually happened. And I think CBT is inherently flawed if its not an aphant-aware form. I’m also convinced that my subconscious finally ‘realized’ a few years ago, that no suppressed emotions were being addressed through dreams, if I couldn’t actually see, hear, smell, etc. what was happening. Because now, when I start to have certain forms of night terrors some part of my mind immediately steers the narrative in another direction and effectively ends the part of the dream that would’ve otherwise had me crying in my sleep or waking up in terror. It’s been about 3 years since I’ve had a nightmare involving claustrophobia, acrophobia or zombies – dreams which used to plague me weekly – and I have full recall of several times those dreams started to manifest and then suddenly the story went another way. Not that I remember all my dreams, mind you, but thanks to severe sleep apnea that I’m not currently able to treat, I remember a lot of them – at least for the first few hours after I wake up.

So, there are definitely negative psychological repercussions too.

C CChristopher Cousins replied 2 months ago

I just put my own experience in this thread but then scrolled up and read yours. The vivid dreams and getting little “flashes” of imagery just before getting to sleep are exactly the same as what I have. When you describe about the apple, that is precisely what I do, I imagine it and sort of draw it and flip through the memories, but I’m not ever *seeing* the apple.

Zoe AguirreZoe Aguirre answered 2 months ago

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.

Nachum PereferkovichNachum Pereferkovich replied 2 months ago

I have a similar story with drawing; at the age of 12, I realized that despite the fact that I liked to draw from the age 5 , the level of drawings was stuck in the age of 9 years; and I completely stopped drawing a for ever (I’m 74 years old). But I love improvisations – musical; and it has become my life profession. Not only did I completely stop drawing, but also play games that require visual memory: checkers, chess, card games; when I realized that it was a waste of time .

Susan BrewsterSusan Brewster answered 2 months ago

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.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Very interesting! I’ve never been a fan of a graphic novel (or fiction in general) and this is obviously the reason. My sister is a big fan and I always thought is was kind of weird… @Kate Ebeyer

C CChristopher Cousins answered 2 months ago

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!

Diana HornDiana Horn answered 2 months ago

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.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Photographs are important to me as well, Diana!
What type of work do you do? What percentage of your colleagues, would you guess? I’m very interested to see if we can find patterns.

Nadine WellerNadine Weller answered 2 months ago

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….

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

I’m glad that my voice was somewhat helpful on CBC radio today! You’re certainly not alone 🙂

Luc JeanneauLuc Jeanneau answered 2 months ago

Hi Tom,
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.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Thank you for your story, Luc! Like you, I was quite obsessive when I first started looking at this; and people telling you that you’re crazy seems common without a simple way to describe the experience. Even then, it can be hard to wrap your mind around.

Just yesterday my family had to put down our dog, who’s been an important part of our lives for 13+ years. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I also wish I could step back into those great memories when he was a pup, weekends swimming at the cottage, etc. There’s no getting around this part of it. Instead, we focus on our strengths and find solutions that work for us. Like you, photography is a solution I’ve leaned on to help with capturing memories.

We’re thinking of starting a meetup that aphantasics can host and publish through the website. Is that something you’d be interested in? I’m in Toronto but if there’s enough interest we can organize a few across the country.

Gerry CadotteGerry Cadotte answered 2 months ago

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.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Very interesting to hear your professional background, Gerry. Shows us we can perform in high-end careers without a visual imagination. How do you think Aphantasia affects your engineering practice? Are their strengths or weakness’ you could identify?
Interesting re: music and would love to hear other thoughts. Personally, if I know the song well, I could sing along. I probably couldn’t recite the words unless the song is playing, though. Then the rhythm of the music just helps the words come out.

Carolin EbermanCarolin Eberman answered 2 months ago

Hi Tom,

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!

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Dreams are one of those interesting topics that require a lot more work. Different researchers have different perspectives on it. Personally, I don’t believe I have visual dreams.. I do recognize the visuals in my dream; ie. “look at that purple wall” will be something I say in my dream, but it’s experienced through thought and monologue, I never remember having ever seen what the “purple wall” actually looks like…. very interested to hear more about your dreaming experience, Carolin

Tim ClarkeTim Clarke answered 2 months ago

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?

Miranda BassMiranda Bass answered 2 months ago

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.

Wei SeetWei Seet answered 2 months ago

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.

Tom EbeyerTom Ebeyer Staff replied 2 months ago

Interesting to hear your identical twin sister can visualize quite well, while you cannot! One hypothesis for Aphantasia is that it’s genetic, but that obviously hasn’t been proven. Hope you find the resources here useful!

Wei SeetWei Seet replied 2 months ago

INobody in my family has Aphantasia but maybe certain types of Aphantasia are genetic. I'm not fully Aphantastic as I can taste and hear in my mind extremely well so perhaps only full Aphantasia is genetic? I have no idea I'm just theorising

ANIKA BRKICANIKA BRKIC answered 2 months ago

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.

August RodeKen Rode answered 1 month ago

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.

Eric JohnsonEric Johnson answered 1 month ago

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.

David ReedDavid Reed answered 1 month ago

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.

Elizabeth NicholsonElizabeth Nicholson answered 1 month ago

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.

Konstantine KonstantineKonstantine Konstantine answered 4 weeks ago

I’m was’nt born with it, so it was easy to understand. I lay at bed. prepairing for sleep, and at one moment I noticed… idk, emptyness in my head. I was panic a bit, try to take few integrals (3rd term student, don’t judge me) and it was OK. Tryed to recall few thing from memory – my sister face, limon taste, apple smell and… nothing. I remember facts, but not things. Tastes, sound, images – nothing. It was stressfull for me, but in few days I have adapted. So, I’m already 2 weeks without phantasia. It’s a little better with images – I can remember some things from my previous life, but it paced… above of my vision field, i can’t see anu details. And I repair my inside voice, but still can’t imagine music.

Also it hard to remind a big amount of my memories. Look like i feel it in my head, but wire memory->mind is broken. I hope my imagine will back to me, but if not… I glad i’m not alone. Thank you all

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