Think of a horse...
What do you “see” in your imagination?
You might imagine a lifelike image of a horse in your mind, while your friend might only see a dim or vague image. Some will find it easy to visualize a horse, while others will have to work a little harder to paint that picture. Some of us can only hold images in our minds for mere seconds, others for longer. But almost all of us have some variation of this quasi-perceptual picture-it system.
People with aphantasia don’t create images of familiar objects, people, or places in their mind’s eye. Not for thoughts, memories, or images of the future.
We lack this visual system completely.
It’s not just the visual system, it can impact all sensory experience.
Can you hear the horse neigh? Imagine what it’s like to travel on horseback?
Imagination is a spectrum – and not just for our visual imagery but across all our senses.
There exists remarkable, often unsuspected invisible differences in our imaginative experiences ranging from aphantasia (no sesnory imagination) to hyperphantasia (extremely vivid sensory imagination), and everything in-between.
Put simply, we all imagine differently.
Aphantasia is a variation in human experience.
Imagination is a cognitive process that typically involves creating mental representations of things, people or sometimes entire worlds inside our mind without any input from our senses.
Aristotle first described this ‘sixth sense‘ as “phantasia”; the “a” in a-phantasia denotes its absence.
An estimated ~3-5% of the population experience aphantasia, and another 10-15% are believed to experience the opposite phenomenon, hyperphantasia.
There are many things we know about Aphantasia...
For example, we know that many people use visual imagination and other forms of sensory imagination to vividly recollect events and experiences from their past (autobiographical memory).
Early evidence also points to a connection to other aspects of human experience, spanning from education and career choices to PTSD sensitivity and even the reliability of our eye-witness testimony.
Most of what we know so far can be found in our evolving digital library with some of the latest aphantasia research.
But let’s keep exploring…shall we?
Fact: Aphantasics can be richly imaginative
Evidently, being imaginative is far more complex than the ability or inability to imagine sensory experiences in the mind.
‘Imaginative’ means having or showing creativity or inventiveness. It involves a whole network of activities from integrating past events and identities to thinking about the future and navigating different pathways toward desired goals to create or invent novel things.
Aphantasics can still do all these things! We simply go about the process differently.
Not having a mind's eye, nose, ear, etc., can lead to an alternative way of thinking.
Aphantasia is neither a disability, nor defect. Nor is it a barrier to success.
Discovering you have aphantasia can lead to new insights into your unique way of thinking, insights that can greatly impact your life and work often in unimaginable ways.
Aphantasics are brilliant creatives, inventors, authors, musicians, scientists, entrepreneurs & more!
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and former president of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Craig Venter, biologist who first sequenced the Human Genome. Blake Ross, creator of Mozilla Firefox. Glen Keane, Disney Animator and Creator of The Little Mermaid. Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller.
All have aphantasia.
There are still many known unknowns about Aphantasia...
Since our population estimates are based solely on measures of visual imagination, and have not accounted for imagery abilities across other forms of sensory imagination, the actual prevalence of multi-sensory aphantasia and hyperphantasia remains entirely unknown.
(Something we hope our new Imagination Spectrum assessment will help to resolve with time).
... and many more unknown unknowns!
You might just now be realizing that your unique imaginative experience is exactly that, uniquely yours; That your experience of sensory imagination falls outside the norm on either end of the extremes.
Aphantasia and hyperphantasia are relatively new scientific discoveries , and these invisible differences in how we imagine impact our life, work, well-being in so many different ways.
Many we’re just beginning to uncover!