About Aphantasia

Posted on Monday, February 10th, 2020

On the 8th of February 2020 my mind was blown. I found out aphantasia exists, thanks to this tweet:

According to Wikipedia:
“Aphantasia is a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind’s eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery.”

That’s how I realised I actually have this condition.

Prior to the 8th of February, I was sure everybody was doing their thinking the same way I do. Now, in a spectacular turn of events, it turns out I’m in a minority of people who think differently, with no images.
If I close my eyes, I see no images, or hear no sound, it’s a complete blank. I just have concepts.

According to the biologist Craig Venter“It’s like having a computer store the information, but you don’t have a screen attached to the computer”.

Remembering is harder

Apparently people with this condition have a harder time remembering things, faces, facts, especially autobiographic ones.
This is certainly true for me. Generally, I tend to be a forgetful person when it comes to remembering things in my life (where did I put my keys? Did I close the door? Who is that person that said “Hi” to me? No, I don’t remember that we went to this restaurant last year, and so on) but I have good memory for more abstract things that are not related to me, and I even often know more little facts than friends or family members. Also, I can more or less function well in society.

This issue has a name: SDAM, Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory. I might not have it to the extreme, but I definitely do to an extent.

How do I imagine things?

So Craig Venter is surely right and his description is spot on, but clearly there are other pathways that allow for that stored information to be reached, otherwise aphantasic people would not function at all, they would have no memories, no recollection of anything.

(Warning, here starts my crazy take on the subject full of highly non scientific ideas 👇)

The way that we aphantasic people “imagine things” could be similar to how functions work in programming.

In programming, when you call a function you get back some kind of result, and in order to do that some other function will often be called up.

So, in our case, let’s say I want to imagine my dog; instead of just picturing the dog in my mind like most people would do, I would take a slightly more complex approach. I would first call the myDog() function, which in turn would call a bunch of other functions, which would be put altogether in order to build the proper description of my dog.

Something along the lines of:

const myDog = () => {
  const calculateDogLength = () => {
    // do some on the fly stuff to evaluate roughly how long my dog is
    return 70cm
  }

  return {
    name: "Tobi",
    age: 5,
    length: calculateDogLength(),
    race: dog(),
    breed: "Jack Russel",
    description: "He has a black() circle() on his back() 
                  but he is mostly white()."
  }
}

const circle = () => {
  return "Circle: a shape consisting of all points in a plane that are a given 
         distance from a given point, the centre;"
}

Ok, the code is not actual real code, but what do you expect, hopefully you got the point :).

Conclusions

I am still a bit shaken by this newfound knowledge, I’ll see if now knowing this will have any kind of impact on my life – probably not – but it’s good to know stuff about yourself nonetheless.
In case you want to learn more about aphantasia, then the best place to start is probably the Aphantasia Network.