Visual or all senses?

Tom Ebeyer Staff asked 2 years ago
3570 views 25 comments

Aphantasia isn’t limited to just visual imagination, it can impact all sensory imagery in the mind.

For example, when most people go to the restaurant and they see something on the menu they enjoy, they can (kind of) smell and taste it. Or if you think of your favourite song, you can hear the sounds of the instrument in your mind. Think of ‘famous words’ one of your parents or teachers said to you growing up, can you hear these words in their voice?

According to new research, aphantasia can impact all sensory experience. A study on the cognitive profile of people with aphantasia was conducted by the UNSW Future Minds Lab and found that the majority of aphantasics report decreased imagery in all other sensory domains – auditory, olfactory, gustatory & more – although not all will experience a complete lack of multi-sensory imagery.

Tell us more about your unique imaginative experience. Visual or all senses?

Luc Jeanneau September 18, 2019 02:58 am

My experience is exactly the same Tom. There’s just nothing. I feel like a computer just spitting out data. I have the idea of something or know the facts of something and can just recall that. There’s no visual analysis – it’s like it gets done subconciously. When people describe more context around a memory or situation, sometimes that helps me retireve more facts.

I can recognize a tune like it’s nobody’s business, but songs don’t get stuck in my head. At least not the way it would with a mind’s ear. It’s more like my inner monolgue, the one that does the thinking and constant narration, will hum or sing the tune. This is hard to describe. Basically my inner monolgue can carry a tune, but I don’t experience the tune in any auditory sense. I just "know" that my inner voice is hitting the different notes. More often than not, a line or two will occupy my mind on repeat, especially if there isn’t a lot of sensory input or cognition required in the present moment.

Smell. Never had it. Don’t have anything remotely like it. I wonder if they’ve linked this to the emotional detachment.

The closest I would say I get to anything is a kinesthetic sense. If I think about my arm crossing my body to hit a backhand shot in tennis, I can feel my heart rate change and my breath shorten. But that’s about it. It’s like I am motor planning, but the only feedback I get that anything is happening is from my major two organs, and that’s a stretch at best.

Cherylturner1963 replied 4 months ago

this sounds very familiar, i appreciate the clear verbalization of your experience. im a total blank and your narrator description is exactly what is happening in my head. constant verbal dialogue to take the place of those other senses. eye opening.

Dax replied 3 months ago

that is pretty close to me. none of the 5 senses, especially not smell, which so many people is a strong trigger.
im very good at kinestetics, can remember where things are just by position. my sister has poor eyesight and will open the fridge to find something and i can say “middle shelf on the right”, which ive remembered by “feel” and then translate that into a description. Can be tricky as i might not remember how many shelves, but can imagine how much i need to bend and position my hand to get it. Also excellent at navigation, especially good at backtracking. Most people seem to struggle as things can look quite different driving out than in. But i remember a sense of position and turns and can just reverse that. Even if i get it wrong, I can adjust and just know where i am and where i need to be. So my spacial strengths is not just body feedback.
I get tunes stuck in my head, usually me saying the lyrics and some vague amount of rhythm and melody. Like you my recognising skills are great.

Miranda Bass September 20, 2019 06:38 pm

I would say not all of my sense are affected. I can "hear" in my head but I can’t taste, or smell and for sure see. I also have emotional responses. I wish that I could not have the emotional response.

Aimee Seaver September 25, 2019 02:46 am

Partial aphantasia

I have a physical imagination, like having a hundred tiny hands touching a thing. Or I can imagine what it feels like to be a cat, or a palm tree blowing in the wind.

I can imagine my voice in my head, but no other sounds.

No visuals, tastes, or smells.

ANIKA BRKIC September 28, 2019 01:34 pm

For me, it extends to all five senses. I think there’s a spectrum, so for some it might only be some of the senses.

Space Anarchist replied 1 year ago

I can get vague, subtle impressions in all five senses. What I don’t have is an alternate dimension in which to put them. I don’t have inner space or inner type. All of my impressions seem to be non-linear and non-spatial, or minimally spatial, like drawings on a piece of paper. If I try to visualize a place, I can’t actually go inside it, because it isn’t three dimensional, stable, or self-existent. It’s just like a little drawing that I make instantaneously.

Laura Flanigan October 06, 2019 06:47 am

I lack a mind’s ear, tongue, or nose as well. The idea of touch in my mind is totally alien.

I am very good with maps and directions but I don’t make a mind map. The concept of “landmark” based directions has always been difficult for me and I really need exit numbers or routes or street names to know where I am going. Once I’ve been to somewhere once I can usually get back there.

Nicole Heyes November 13, 2019 01:20 pm

I can conceptualise just fine. I can’t experience though. I can’t smell, taste, feel, hear, or see. My internal voice is different for others though. I can "hear" it singing or imitating an accent (even if I can’t do it aloud). I know how angry feels, I know when I am angry. But only epically large emotional upsets will stay relevant enough to inspire that all consuming emotion (grief, rage, love) in any given moment.

I can do maps and the rotational puzzles – to me it’s like seeing the horse upside-down. I think of the image reflected, turned, etc. I don’t often do it easily, I have to concentrate but I can do it. I used to have to turn the map around but I got better at that.

Iblis Bane November 21, 2019 07:37 pm

All senses.

Giovanni Spinotti November 25, 2019 10:30 am

I’m actually pretty good with sense of direction and orientation. I think i’m partially imagination deaf, as I can’t vividly recall a voice, I can’t recall notes (I’ve been a guitarist) in my brain, but if I move my tongue, I can recall a song. But I think that I actually have to move my tongue and throat for my brain to sort of "hear" the song.

Jeremy Holmes January 30, 2020 10:46 pm

Eh the only thing I have partial of would be sound and even then its really "hearing" it with my internal voice, that being said there is always some tune I’m internally humming to myself.

DAVID WALKER February 08, 2020 12:44 pm

I think all senses. Certainly no sound, I’ve never had a song in my head, can’t hear my wife or kids voices, in choir I can’t hear a pitch before I sing it, and I can’t hear a song in my head.

No sense of smell from imagery.

Micktaa replied 3 months ago

Is it possible for you to sing from memory?
Or say somebody says a phrase like “You’re beautiful,” “Never say never,” or a phrase from a song you are familiar with, do you recognize that there’s a song you know with that phrase and can sing it out if you want?

When I ask, it’s about when people say it, but also I’m curious about if you read a phrase and would be also connect with the song.

When I hear or think about the phrase “ain’t nobody got time for that,” I think of a sound clip and how people might use it as part of a meme.

Matthew Davis February 16, 2020 12:08 am

I have an inner monologue and that’s it. I don’t think it’s even an "audio monologue", it’s just ‘words’… that’s a terribly description but it’s all I can figure out.
This is complete internally, however I do suffer from loops of thought – getting a song stuck in your head and not actually hearing anything is beyond annoying; I think it’s a fairly normal method of release but I have to let it out, singing or humming or listening to the song, stopping what I’m doing and writing out an equation or code snippet that’s come to mind, anything to settle the thought. Addititonally I’m usually humming, mumbling, or listening to something; it’s the only single break from my inner monologue and I take it gleefully.
When trying to recall a memory I generally don’t even get specifics, ask me my favourite song and it’s like a hot spring of songs with a possitive mass of "impressions" attached, then I pick out the ones with the most before trying to recall specific impressions attached to the song – these are recalled as ‘word’, or descriptions, or perhaps a single verse or two I really liked but always in that same monologue. Taste is very similar – chicken is a generally pleasant blandness, steak is rich, juicy, and possibly a hint of smothering from the nice pepper gravy I’ve had the last few times, brocoli is a fresh crispness. Ask me to picture a colour, imagine a sound, taste, or touch? I can’t, I can remember experiencing it, but I can’t bring it to mind.

Micktaa replied 3 months ago

Huh, reading about you gives me a better idea on how to describe my abilities. You articulate your experience well.

Audio for me is best described as “vague” kind of like how “vague” is an option on the VVIQ test. It’s enough to resemble a song but does not sound like the song. I also can get songs stuck in my head and sing them out for stress relief, however the last few years, I haven’t listened to music as often so I rarely do it nowadays. I do utter sounds for stress relief, to distract myself from a thought, or in attempt to “banish” a thought.

If I was up to practice, I could use a muscial instrument I’m familiar with to replicate a tone I’m imagining. If I’m not familiar with making that tone on an instrument, I can figure out if what is playing on the instrument is close or not.

A Dishinger February 18, 2020 08:27 pm

Just visual, I think. I have a way of coping with maps that is rather odd. I go over the entire route and I actually feel the trip from beginning to end. I memorize highway and street names as well as turns, and that way, I can navigate either without the map (if the area is more familar) or with GPS backing me up (if it isn’t).

Music — I can play almost anything by ear but cannot sing it correctly. I played in orchestras and bands for years and it is the physical act of playing and feeling the specific vibrations of the instrument and the hand positions that help me memorize music. I do get "earworms" often, songs stuck in my head, but even with extensive musical training, cannot hum or sing them well.

I’ve not thought about taste or hearing being affected. I will have to think on those!

Roberto Rojas February 25, 2020 02:51 am

All senses, but is like someone in my brain is smelling, visualizing, tasting and feeling; because I can somehow anticipate where and how something is gonna fit in a space; how should I put my furniture to look more appealing to me; what I want to eat and listen, this "internal guy" just give me the answers, doesn’t let me see, hear, etc.

Micktaa replied 3 months ago

Is there a buffer time to decide?

Say you’re figuring out where in the room to put a couch and what direction it should face, do you need to pause for a bit or does the answer just come?

Do you have to ask yourself “where would I put the couch?,” or say “hmmmm in your head?

Madeline Lipke October 06, 2020 12:39 am

I cannot for the life of me picture anything in my head and until a few months ago I thought that was normal. I can, although, remember smells and sounds very well. Sounds especailly. I can hear something once or twice and I can remember it for a very long time. Like this one show that my mom and I used to watch a lot I can remember the intro by heart without fail. My mom thinks I’m wierd for that but I like to assume that it makes up for me not being able to picture stuff. I have actually gotten in trouble for not being able to picture stuff but that is a story for another time.

johnchevin41 October 18, 2020 10:32 am

I can hear music in full detail but I’m a DJ pictures I just get a black

Lou October 20, 2020 05:21 pm

im the same i have nothing, it wasnt till recently that i realises people can actually taste food and smell smells…

Lou October 20, 2020 05:22 pm

im the same i have nothing, it wasnt till recently that i realises people can actually taste food and smell smells…

peterd November 05, 2020 01:45 am

I have long known that I am unable to access visual imagery in my mind, however I am a prolific photographer. I take yearly two-week solo drive abouts, which I have joked is like fishing for images. Interesting in talking to my wife about this that I realized, from her questions, that I also can’t call up tastes or smells.

Micktaa November 05, 2020 11:58 am

I just found out about aphantasia 2 days ago.
Visual: None. Maybe maybe maybe I can imagine a vague shape of something but this might actually be my physical imagination instead (see below)
Auditory: Comparing myself to other’s descriptions, I think I don’t have it to the level of detail that non-aphants have. However I can remember a tone and replicate it with my voice, have songs stuck in my head ALL the time, start singing songs immediately after people say distinct phrases associated with those songs in casual conversation. Through practice I also learned to tune a cello by ear, it’s just the fine tuning I have trouble with. I’m good at tuning guitars the way I want.
Gustatory: Just learned 30 minutes ago that I don’t have this, BUT similar to Luc below who talked about about a tennis backhand and its affect on heart rate, my mouth/throat/tongue react to me trying to imagine a random sweetness/sour taste/bittermelon. It affects which areas relax/tense, curl, or move. If I imagine them with intensity, I actually move my tongue/mouth/throat in reaction.
Olfactory: Nothing but my guess is I’ll get some reactions like gustatory if I try.
Tactile/Motor/Physical: I can imagine being in a different body position and my orientation to objects. I can learn by the combination of moving my arms, gesturing, and associating different spaces in the air to parts of something, e.g. the four chambers of the heart and its bloodflow directions. I can kind if imagine texture. I can apply motor learning to dance classes if I want.
Emotional: Certain things people say can trigger emotions. Also I can repeat memories over and over and imagine how I felt about something. [Edited to remove personal story here.]
Also for the most part I recognize faces fine.

Sonia Brock November 06, 2020 01:16 pm

I have Aphantasia and also lack the auditory sense in that I cannot fully hear a song I’m thinking of. My sense of smell is quite diminished and I cannot mentally taste or smell a dish I might be going to order in a restaurant.

thinman9 November 13, 2020 09:59 pm

All five senses. Until I saw this post it never occured to me that other people could conjure smells or tastes. I understood that some people could hear music in their heads, but I wasn’t sure what that meant.

[email protected] November 17, 2020 07:50 pm

In my 30s when I was rebuilding my life after a nervous breakdown I had to discuss with my first wife all sorts of inner thoughts. Suddenly I discovered that my mind didnt work like hers. She could conjure up images in her mind but I never had or even known anyone could. It was very difficult to come to terms with, because my mind was already unstable, and for a few weeks I desperately tried to look inside to find the images – but it just remained black.

Now in my late 60s I have just found the Aphantasia network and that has shown me I lack the ability to conjure up all the other sense too. Until yesterday I didnt realise anyone really heard music or voices, could taste or smell or even touch in their mind. My wife it seems is the exact opposite and has all the abilities to a high degree. Now we think we know why we so often have difficulty explaining complex concepts to each other.

I cant yet come to terms with these new omissions in my abilities, but I have tried to explain to my wife how my visual memory works. The best I can come ip with is that its how I imagine a blind person ‘sees’ the world through touch. I know the forms in a scene are there somewhere but I have to explore them bit by bit with my mind and can never grasp the whole at once or in detail. The one context where I feel there is a whole images hidden but only just out of view is when I think of a photograph I have seen of a place or person. Its almost as though that representation has lodged in my mind more forcefully than any other visual experience.

I think I have missed out on a valuable form of experience. However to make up for this I believe that the clarity of focus in thought that seems to come with aphantasia has allowed me to achieve far more in my research than I might otherwise have managed. If I could start from the beginning again I dont think I would want to give up the mental focus just to have the images.

Allie November 20, 2020 02:23 am

Just no visuals. I can use tactile and kinesthetic memory and language/concepts to compensate, but memory will never come up visually. Actually, I forgot to mention also I can remember code (like html) because it is tied kinesthetically/tactilely to speech, to writing/typing, and to language. No smells, but I can hear music in my head — but not in layers — just the themes, because, again, it is a tactile/kinesthetic modality. Visuals just seem like ungraspable things, like not being able to grasp the mist in the air.

Dave G December 15, 2020 03:50 am

I have no mental senses, neither awake nor in dreams. My memory of events in my own life is terrible, though I am able to commit poems to memory reasonably well. I can have difficulty recognizing or remembering the names of people I’ve met multiple times.

Aphantasia has not held me back professionally. In my career, I worked as an individual contributor in quant finance, and led a team of about 25 software engineers and data scientists at a tech company.

I have very poor recall of my own life, both the recent and distant past. The recent past isn’t wholly lost, but takes time and effort to recall. To not be stumped when people ask me what I did yesterday or over the weekend, I made a point of committing it to memory before going into the office (pre-Covid).

charlie1902 January 05, 2021 03:45 pm

I don’t hear, see, feel or smell anything but my internal monologue is rather loud.

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