Wait. You can ACTUALLY SEE things in your brain??

OK, so, listen. Have you heard about this? Aphantasia? It’s the inability to “picture” or “see” or “visualize” things in the mind. Apparently, 2-4% of the population has aphantasia, but most have no idea they have it. IT TURNS OUT, THAT IS ME, and it’s kind of blowing my mind.

So, I read about aphantasia a couple years ago (for example, here’s an article in Scientific American), and I was AMAZED by how very differently our brains work. BUT, I thought I didn’t have it because I have always, always, always considered myself to be very good at visualization.

Like, if you ask me what an apple looks like–to visualize and describe it–I can do it in acute detail. What I failed to understand, because the concept is so completely foreign to me, is that THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CAN CLOSE THEIR EYES AND SEEEEEE IT WITH THEIR BRAINS. And, in fact, that that is MOST humans.

Wut?? What even is that magical mind power? Is that true? That most people can do this sorcery? I polled the people who live in my house, and ALL OF THEM can do it. Just not me.

Truthfully, I didn’t understand that I have aphantasia until I took the “Vividness of Visual Imagery” test online. I have deep, complex understanding of what images are, and I thought that was the same thing. I didn’t understand people close their eyes and see pictures or 3D images or, like, video, vividly and in color. I only “know” what an image looks like. But unless there’s a picture in front of my eyeballs, I can’t actually, physically SEE it.

And I learned that there’s a genetic component to this phenomenon, so I called my parents and asked if they have aphantasia. They BOTH had the same response as me. “WAIT. WHAT? PEOPLE CAN SEE LITERAL PICTURES IN THEIR MINDS?” Yes, My Parents. YES, THEY CAN. The verbs “picture” and “visualize” AREN’T FIGURATIVE, AFTER ALL. They are REAL, LITERAL actions people can make happen.

Now, Greg is wandering around the house feeling sad for me, but he’s also wondering why I love reading so much if I can’t “see” what’s happening in the books. Except, I feel like I can. I “imagine” in great detail, but it’s with knowledge instead of pictures.

So I am (obviously) totally obsessed with this now, and I must know… WHAT DO YOU SEE IN YOUR BRAINS, FRIENDS? Tell me everything!

P.S. If you take the “Vividness of Visual Imagery” test, you don’t have to give any personal information to get your results. Just don’t check the boxes or give the info. Check the privacy policy box and hit submit.

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8 responses to “Wait. You can ACTUALLY SEE things in your brain??”

  1. I’m very middle of the spectrum on this. Like, I don’t visualize in crystal clear clarity, but I do have a general image in my head. What does this mean about when you dream? Do you see things or just think them?!?

    • No, I dream! Before this, I would’ve said vividly. I remember a lot of detail and can describe my dreams like I can describe the tree in my backyard, just without using a picture in my brain. But I also can’t really tell whether I dream in pictures or not. Now that I’m reading more about aphantasia, I’m suspecting I don’t…like, I just “know stuff about my dreams instead of seeing them.

  2. I was just reading about this somewhere else. I’m hypohantastic. I can imagine something that is described but it is not unique, it is a flash of something I’ve seen in the past. I’ve known for a long time that I don’t learn things as well from visual mediums (learning/neuroscience geek here) but I didn’t know there was a name for not being able to imagine pictures in my head.

  3. Your Imagery Profile is Phantasic. I definitely cannot watch any horror movies ever, too much visualization!

    • I find most horror movies amusing, and I’m pretty sure now that aphantasia has a lot to do with that, since, while I do “know” the images, I don’t have to “see” them again. What I hate is movies with DREAD, because that’s a haunting emotion I can’t as easily dismiss and it’s much harder to suspend my disbelief.

  4. My Imagery Profile is Hyperphantasic. Which makes me wonder if that is why I don’t really enjoy sex scenes in books. And I can’t read gore. I have to rush over it and make my brain run away.

    • This is so interesting to me! As you know, I adore the sex scenes (if they’re not terribly written), and I don’t mind gore at all…and I’ll bet it’s because it’s just not that vivid to me. I “know” what’s happening but I don’t have to “see” any of it.

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