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July 24, 2016

What is aphantasia?  It’s the opposite of phantasia, the ability to recall or imagine an image.  People with this condition are unable to form images or pictures in their mind.  Which one is normal?  It’s better to ask: what is normal?  People have a range of mental abilities, just like they have a range of physical abilities.  In the case of aphantasia, it’s extent is still unknown.

Aphantasia has been in the news recently, the result of a recent scientific study and a subsequent article that Blake Ross published on the web.  The ability to form mental images is sometimes called the mind’s eye.  The lack of this ability is sometimes described as a form of blindness.

Visualization is usually described as a powerful technique.  Imagine yourself achieving success, they say.  See yourself on top of a mountain with your arms raised above your head.  The technique fails when you are unable to form the image.  Then it’s not powerful at all but just difficult to understand or perform.

According to the descriptions, I must be one of the people who have aphantasia.  I’m certainly unable to recall an image of anyone who I know.  I also find it difficult to describe them when they are not present.  Still, I can recognize them immediately when they do appear.  Recalling their name takes a little longer, but I can generally do that easily as well.  I also don’t have the type of imagination that other people often have.  I do have difficulty imagining something that has never happened or may only happen in the future.  I do find it easy to describe something that actually did happen, even if it didn’t happen to me.

I wonder if I really have two unusual mind conditions.  Is one the cause of the other?  Am I normal?  Probably nobody is normal.  We all have a range of mental abilities.  Perhaps I’m towards one end of the normal range.  Certainly many other people share my inability to form mental images.  Certainly many other people share my type of imagination.


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