If I were to ask you “What does your house look like?” You would likely conjure an image in your head of what your house or apartment looks like, and then begin to list the things you ‘see’. You might even see yourself unlocking your own front door, helping you to remember those subtle, specific details.
Believe it or not, some people can not do this. And I’m not talking about recalling details. Some people literally can not conjure an image in their mind’s ‘eye’. It is a little known condition called Aphantasia.
Aphantasia is a neurological condition where a person completely lacks the ability to imagine something visually. It first came to notice in 2005 when a patient who suffered a brain injury began complaining that he could no longer ‘imagine’ things. His Neurologist, Dr. Zeman, could not find any information on the condition and began to research the matter further. Through some very preliminary case studies, it seems as though quite a few people may be afflicted with this condition. As many as 2 out of every 100 people may have been living with Aphantasia their whole lives, but simply didn’t know what they were missing.
After all, how do you describe an absence of something you’ve never known, especially when the thing that is missing is so ethereal to begin with?
We understand so little about our ‘imaginations’, yet we take them completely for granted. Is a visual imagination a distinctly human trait, or perhaps even a learnable one? There are a few articles out there on the subject, which I find really intriguing.
Here is a NY Times article which gives a wonderful overview of the subject, and talks about how the condition first came to light:
And here is an article from a man who has Aphantasia, describing how he never noticed anything was wrong… until he did! He captures his epiphany through inquiring texts to his friends, and tries his best to describe what does go on in his head.