I HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO CREATE A MENTAL IMAGE IN MY WAKING STATE and up until a few months ago I wasn’t even aware of the fact that my experience of the world is so different compared to yours and the experience of millions of other people. But I’m not alone, in fact there are thousands of people who have no mind’s eye and even more since many don’t even know – yet.
If you have never heard about Aphantasia then this post may change your life. Maybe you will appreciate your ability to create mental images more; maybe you are a leader or personal growth enthusiast and you will realise that you might have to change many of your imagination/ meditation approaches (think of guided visual meditations); or maybe you are a teacher and you used to think that all children are able to see images with their mind’s eye, not being aware of the fact that many thousands of students have difficulty taking mental pictures of what has to be learned and you might need to find new learning strategies; or maybe this post simply gives you some ideas for conversations at your next family or friends get together.
The TEDX video below sums up my personal experience so well, Tamara Alireza shares what it means to see the world without imagination:
No mind’s eye.
The TEDX video linked above sums up my personal experience so well.
Having no mind’s eye also means for some people that you have difficulty describing how your mom looks like or recalling the face of your boyfriend when he is not there. It’s not that I don’t know how they look like, I’m very good with face recognition in real life, but I can’t see them in my mind’s eye. I can however recall some facts that I saved in my memory, also certain feelings and sometimes even voices but it takes a lot of focus and effort. If I was ever to make a witness report about a crime that happened in front of my eyes , the investigator would probably laugh about the details I’ll give him.
Isn’t it interesting that sometimes you only find out that you are different when you speak openly about your experience of the world? Almost 30 years of my life I didn’t even know that others do have a mind’s eye! We generally have no idea how someone else’s reality might be like until we speak about it. And even then we can only get a glimpse of it.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about ”Imagination and Visualization” which I shared in a Facebook group and this post had a great resonance and many interesting comments from the readers – it made people think and share their own experience. Most importantly however, it made people realize how different everyone is experiencing life.
No matter what personal growth book you are reading, what teacher you’re listening to, which workshop or class you’re attending – it’s often all about Visualisation/ Imagination, isn’t it?
“Visualize your dream life, dream partner, goals,…. see yourself having reached your goal and truly feel it… imagine your favorite beach, listen to the waves, see the blue ocean… remember your most beautiful moment and relive this moment again… evoke the emotions you experienced back then”
I thought, “Yes everyone talks about it but why Imagination must be so fu***** hard?! Or is this just another (limiting) belief that I have?! Why does everyone presume that this is something everyone can easily do? I am meditating regularly since 9 years and I have never seen an image in my mind.”
Seriously, these were my thoughts.
Since many years I have this book on my reading list, it’s called “The Masterkey System” – it talks mainly about the importance of Visualizations and how you can be a powerful conscious Creator of your life when perfecting this skill. I always wanted to finish the book, but I never got to the next chapter because you have to do this task after each chapter which is to visualize CLEARLY. I started the exercise several times with all the focus I had but I could I never saw “clearly” – so I put the book aside again and again and again. I’ve experienced similar frustrations with other tasks like guided meditations f.e. Or when I was in school and needed to learn for exams. Are you guys actually consciously or unconsciously creating images to remember things better?
By now, we all know that Imagination is an incredibly powerful tool to access something bigger than ourselves. New inventions are being created in the minds eye; Architects are creating houses, entire cities; Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, John Lennon,… they all talk about it’s power. And I too believe that it’s the most powerful thing on this planet. That’s why it always bothered me a lot that I have difficulty accessing scenes deeply and clear with my minds vision.
A few weeks ago I read this article on Quora where someone asked why they just see black/ darkness when they close their eyes? –>
“Wow thats exactly my experience! – but wait, I thought all my life that everyone has more or less a similar experience when trying to imagine?!”
Turns out I was completely wrong and that truly blowed my mind.
Then someone commented with the following article on the post that I shared.
Blake Ross, founder of Firefox, shares his experience with Aphantasia and this is a very funny read –>
The following conversation that Ross had with a friend sounds very similar to my conversations that I had with many people in the last months:
Blake Ross: “—If I ask you to imagine a beach, how would you describe what happens in your mind?
—Uhh, I imagine a beach. What?
—Like, the idea of a beach. Right?
—Well, there are waves, sand. Umbrellas. It’s a relaxing picture. You okay?
—But it’s not actually a picture? There’s no visual component?
—Yes there is, in my mind. What the hell are you talking about?
—Is it in color?
—How often do your thoughts have a visual element?
—A thousand times a day?
—Oh my God.”
YOU CAN ACTUALLY VISUALIZE THINGS WITHOUT AN EFFORT? IT IS NORMAL FOR YOU? YOU LEARN LIKE THIS? YOU ACCESS MEMORIES AND FEELINGS WITH IMAGES?
Here I am, trying to imagineer my life day in and day out – since years, without being aware of the possibility that I probably simply can’t – or can I but just can’t access it yet?
It hasn’t been studied enough yet.
When I try to visualise, I’m getting a feeling for the mental image, but it’s not like any of my dreams that I’m having – which are actually quite vivid, detailed and “real”.
When I close my eyes (or leave them open as Imagination doesn’t have to happen with your eyes closed – many people imagine with their eyes open) I don’t see a beach, an apple, or a person. All I see is… darkness (or nothing when I have my eyes open). When I try to imagine a scene, I have difficulty accessing feeling states. And that accessing of feeling states is what it’s all about!! This is what makes you powerful!
You surely heard about the famous imagination example of biting into a lemon?
Imagine a lemon with all it’s detail. Now imagine taking a knife and cutting the lemon open into two pieces; take half of the lemon, smell the aroma, feel the skin and the texture, clearly see the lemon in front of your mind’s eye and now take a bite.
Do your senses respond? Do you taste it? – A person with an ability to create mental images probably has a strong sensual reaction.
I personally get the feeling and the sensory stimulation a little bit, but have no yellow lemon in front of my mental eye (I only work with my memory and have therefore a weak reaction). Some people with Aphantasia don’t even get the sensory stimulation.
I can describe things in my mind quite well, and I somehow agree… I must have this image stored somewhere since I can describe it, but I can’t really pinpoint it, and I clearly don’t see anything – it’s somewhere in the space of my awareness. Someone said its like imagining without switching on the screen. This is how it feels like.
So I started asking everyone:
When you imagine something, do you actually see it in color and like – almost real – in front of your minds eye if you want to? Hundreds of “YES of course!”
I said: “If I would actually see something so real, I would sit and visualise all day long- I mean… how cool is that!! Just out of fun and because I know how powerful and creative I would be!!”
So if you take your mental images for granted, I hope this post inspires you to be more grateful for this skill.
There’s a group on Facebook with around 2500 people who experience Aphantasia – the number is growing constantly. We have been asked to share the advantage of not being able to visualise, someone wrote:
Ease of contemplating the void (some people have to meditate all their lives to get to where we live)
This is a point. A very good point actually. But there are always two sides, right?
I’ve been questioning this lack of imagination of course, because I try to approach life from an enquiring perspective. I don’t like to have an attitude like “this is a fact and you can’t change that”. I’d love to imagineer beyond this but…. do I have to accept that I simply can’t or is it just an untrained muscle? – and again, my dreams are absolutely VIVID, so much so that I wake up everyday being amazed about how on earth “I” can be so creative – everything is so full in detail. When I can have mental images in my dreams, then why not while being awake?
There was one guy who answered on the above mentioned Quora question, and this totally resonated with me: “Don’t let others tell you that this is a thing you can’t fix (…)
He goes on… “But somehow, every single one of them assumes you’d know how to do this.” (…) He also used to see only black, but trained his visualisation with after-images to build the muscle more and more and says then: “First, I got zero results. Then, after about 2-3 weeks, I started seeing blurry, fading shapes. Next, I experienced very short moments of happy clarity. But still, very unstable.
Finally, after several months of daily practice sessions, I can now create vivid and controllable scenes, like being my own movie director.
Thus, I dare to say, that so called “aphantasia” (the dysfunction of the mind’s eye) does not exist. In my personal experience, aphantasia is solely the inability to see with your mind’s eye because of an untrained mental muscle.”
I’d love to hear about your experience: What do you see when you visualize if anything? What is your power sense?
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Some other articles if you are interested in Aphantasia linked here: