Think of a horse...
What do you “see” in your mind?
You might imagine a lifelike image of a horse in your mind, while your friend might only see a dim or vague one. Some will find it easy to visualize a horse in all its colours, 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 will have some variation of this quasi-perceptual picture-it system.
People with aphantasia don’t create any images of familiar objects, people, or places in their mind’s eye, not for thoughts, memories, or pictures of the future.
We lack this visual system completely.
It’s not just the visual system,
it can impact all sensory experiences.
Can you hear the horse neigh? Imagine what it would feel like to travel on horseback?
Imagination is a spectrum – and not just for our visual imagery but across all our senses! There exist remarkable, often unsuspected invisible differences in our sensory imagination ranging from absence (aphantasia) to extremely vivid (hyperphantasia), and everything in-between.
To put it simply, we all imagine differently.
Aphantasia is a unique variation in human experience.
Imagination is a cognitive process that typically involves creating mental representations of people, places or things in their absence. Without any input from our physical 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, hyperphantasia.
There are many things we know about Aphantasia...
Aphantasia can impact our ability to recollect events and facts from our past experiences (autobiographical memory).
Evidence also points to a connection to other aspects of human experience, impacting everything from education and career choices to reduced 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 of aphantasia research.
Fact: Aphantasics can be richly imaginative
Being imaginative is far more complex than the (in)ability to imagine sensory experiences in your mind.
‘Imaginative’ means having or showing creativity or inventiveness. Creativity involves a whole network of brain activities from integrating past events and identities to thinking about the future and navigating different pathways toward desired goals to invent novel things.
Aphantasics can still do all these things! We simply go about the creative process differently.
Not having a mind's eye, nose, ear, etc., can lead to an alternative way of thinking.
Aphantasia is a variation in human experience. It is not a disability, disorder, or 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, work, and wellbeing 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 dimensions of sensory imagination, the actual prevalence of multi-sensory aphantasia and hyperphantasia remains unknown.
Something we hope the New! Full-Spectrum Imagination Spectrum Assessment will help us discover 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, and well-being in so many different ways.
Many we’re just beginning to uncover!