What is aphantasia?

Aphantasia is the inability to visualize. Otherwise known as image-free thinking.

Confused? Let's break it down.

Think of a horse...

What do you see?

You might see 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, 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?

There are remarkable, often unsuspected invisible differences in our imaginative experiences ranging from aphantasia (no mental imagery) to hyperphantasia (extremely vivid imagery) 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.

Aristotle first described this sixth sense‘ as “phantasia”; the “a” in aphantasia denotes its absence.

An estimated ~3-5% of the population have aphantasia, yet this variation in human experience has only just begun to be studied.

Fact: Aphantasics can be richly imaginative

Imagery extremes, aphantasia and hyperphantasia are revealing new insights into what it means to imagine and create. Evidently, being imaginative is far more complex than the ability or inability to visualize.

‘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 creative process differently.

Not having a mind's eye leads to an alternative way of thinking.

People have described feeling isolated and alone after discovering that other people can create sensory experiences in their imagination and they can not.

It’s okay to feel this way; this is an entirely normal reaction. But the important thing to understand is 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 impact your life and work often in unimaginable ways. Literally

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’s lots to learn about aphantasia.

Check out these topics to learn more.

VVIQ is a proven psychometric often used by researchers to identify aphantasia

New discoveries into the extremes are revealing how our imagination’s shape the world we perceive

History of extreme imagination started way before the term “aphantasia” came to be

There’s so much we have yet to learn and discover about our unique invisible differences