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Jennifer McDougall

Co-founder, Aphantasia Network

Jennifer McDougall's Activity

It's hard to imagine what it's like not to visualize
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Question
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Discovering that your imagination works differently than most other people; That your inner world of imaginative experiences is not, in fact, the norm; can come as a bit of a shock! 

Especially so, for people without sensory imagination who experience aphantasia, but also for those who might find themselves more on the opposite side of the imagination spectrum

When you experience hyperphantasia, or extremely vivid sensory imagination across all or most of your senses, it’s all too easy to go about regular life thinking and believing that everyone imagines the same. When in fact, we all imagine differently.

Are you just realizing you have hyperphantasia?  Did some small part of you intuitively know, think or question your experience might be different than others growing up? When did this occur? Where were you? Who were you with? What was your initial reaction? How has your thinking changed or evolved since the discovery?

Share you discovery story with hyperphantasia below.

Question
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People with aphantasia often get asked the question: Do you dream?

According to new research, the majority of aphantasics dream visually but are unable to do so while awake. Others will dream with the knowledge they’re experiencing something, but without mental pictures or sound.

What are your dreams like?

General
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Inspired by a post from reddit re: starting a public list of famous people with aphantasia. Here’s who we know so far:

  1. Blake Ross, Software Engineer, Founder of Mozilla FireFox Internet Browser. Shared perspectives on how it feels to be blind in your mind in Facebook Article.
  2. Craig Venter, Biochemist/Geneticist (known for leading the first draft sequence of the human genome)
  3. Ed Catmull, Computer Scientist, Former President of Pixar (known for his work on Toy Story, Bugs Life, Finding Nemo, Inside Out & many more). Shared perspectives on ‘my mind’s eye is blind’ in BBC News.
  4. Brian Froud, Fantasy Illustrator (conceptual designer for the Jim Henson films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth)
  5. John Wood Campbell Jr, Science Fiction Writer and Editor (known for Astounding Science Fiction later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact).
  6. Oliver Sacks, Neurologist, Naturalist, Historian of Science and Author (known for Awakenings, Mind’s Eye, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). Talks about his lack of mental imagery in this Youtube video..
  7. William James, Philosopher and Psychologist. In his book ‘Principles of Psychology‘, James describes “I can seldom call to mind even a single letter of the alphabet in purely retinal terms. I must trace the letter by running my mental eye over its contour in order that the image of it shall have any distinctness at all.”
  8. Mark Lawrence, Novelist, who wrote The Broken Empire trilogy of fantasy books. Wrote piece for The Guardian describing what it’s like be an author with no mind’s eye.
Question
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There’s so much we have yet to discover about what it means to “learn with aphantasia.”

Here’s a thought-provoking post from 2016, which makes the case for why leaners with aphantasia are likely to experience difficulties with learning; “as mental imagery seems to be especially important for reading comprehension and learning word meanings, and according to at least one theory, is a cornerstone for literacy.” In contrast, this post from 2019 states that while a learner’s ability to create images in their mind is linked to various improvements in learning, the absence of this ability may lead to alternative strategies that enhance rather than hinder learning.

What’s your experience learning with aphantasia? We’d love to learn more about what’s worked/hasn’t worked for you.

General
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Whether you visualize – or not – it doesn’t define you, nor does it link with the quality of what you can produce. There are extraordinarily talented artists on both ends of the spectrum from aphantasia, inability to visualize in the mind’s eye, to hyperphantasia or hyper-vivid, almost lifelike imagination. Not convinced?

Ed Catmull, founder and former CEO of Pixar who created some of our favourite Disney classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Inside Out; happens to be blind in his mind’s eye. A BBC News article featuring his story has illuminated several assumptions we make about creativity. Catmull is quoted here saying; “People have conflated visualization with creativity and imagination, but they are not the same thing.”

Catmull reminds us that we are capable of great work, regardless of our neuro-differences. We just go about the creative process in different ways!

Are you aphantasic or hyperphantasic? Tell us more about your creative process.

Question
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Some aphantasics prefer non-fiction over fiction or fantasy novels, as they cannot create mental images of scenes or characters. What’s your preference?

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