Aphantasia – A Blind Mind’s Eye

The image shows a woman with shoulder-length dark hair smiling at the camera.

I was half-listening to a podcast when my attention was caught by what I was listening to. A visual artist was telling the story of how she realized she didn’t mentally see things the same way as other people. She described her shock when she learned that people were able to picture objects when calling them to mind. That when people spoke about seeing things in their mind’s eye, they were actually seeing them.

I froze. Because I could have been the woman talking on the podcast.

That was the first time I ever heard about aphantasia – the inability to see something in the mind’s eye.

As a speaker and writer I have often used words about imagining things, or calling them to mind. What that has always meant to me is to think of the theoretical concept of the object – its size, shape, colour, and whatever sound, scent or taste it might have. But I cannot recall ever being able to actually see the object in my mind’s eye.

It never seemed strange to me. Because I thought that was how it was for everyone.

I’m still not sure if I can put into words how learning this affected me. I’m still trying to come to terms with it. I might write a separate article about my response. If I feel able to do so. But not today.

Right now, I’d like to share a few observations that I made after listening to that podcast. First, I began to research a little more about aphantasia and discovered that it is believed to be experienced by 3-5% of the world’s population, that it is not in any way related to my ocular blindness or any form of eye condition, and that it is only now really starting to be studied. I found the Aphantasia Network website a useful resource – https://aphantasia.com/what-is-aphantasia/

I need to be clear that I have not received a clinical diagnosis of aphantasia – that I’m not even sure if there is a clinical test for it. But that, in researching the condition, I resonated with much of what I was reading.

Then I began to notice a strange thing. As a total bookworm, I am a member of several book and reading related groups on social media. Suddenly I began to take note of a startling number of messages from people about how they did… and did not… visualise the action of the books they were reading. I began to see the term aphantasia repeated time after time after time on these threads. What struck me was how many people expressed an inability to mentally visualise objects, or call them to mind.

Which left me wondering exactly how common this condition is. Whether or not I, and those readers on the Facebook group, are actually living with a form of aphantasia or not, it certainly seemed that it is more common than I had expected from my research.

So, I’d love to hear from you – does any of this feel familiar to you? What do you experience when you try to call a face, an object or a scene to mind? Can you do it?

Or, like me, does your mind refuse to create that image?

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