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Sounds like a magic word a magician would say before conjuring a rabbit from his hat, doesn’t it?
But let me ask you this:
Can you visualize the magician pulling out the rabbit by his ears?
For most of us, it will be easy to recall images inside our head, using our mind’s eye.
However, if you could NOT see any image in your mind’s eye – no colors, no sounds, no smells, no textures, no flavors, nothing at all – you may have a condition called aphantasia or a blind mental eye.
Don’t freak out, though. Many people have aphantasia, even magicians.
Familiar with Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame)?
He is a famous magician and entertainer, and, he is an aphantasic(!). This was according to his own words on his Sunday School podcast, Episode 174.
By his own admission, Penn says he cannot conjure a mental image of a person or a place to save his life.
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What Is Aphantasia? A Detailed Definition
The term ‘aphantasia’ comes from the Greek words a, meaning “without”, and phantasia, meaning “a capacity to form mental images”.
The phenomenon was first described by the controversial psychologist Francis Galton – one of the pioneers of eugenics – in 1880.
The interest in the phenomenon was renewed after the publication of a study conducted by a team led by Dr. Adam Zeman, a professor of cognitive and behavioral neurology, at the University of Exeter.
Zeman’s team published a paper in 2015 on what they termed “congenital aphantasia”, now known simply as aphantasia.
For Firefox co-creator Blake Ross it was a surprise revelation that other people could visualize things in the mind’s eye while he couldn’t. “I can’t ‘see’ my father’s face or a bouncing blue ball, my childhood bedroom or the run I went on ten minutes ago,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
According to Craig Venter, the biologist who created the first synthetic organism: “It’s like having a computer store the information, but you don’t have a screen attached to the computer.”
Can You Dream With Aphantasia?
It depends on what you mean by “dreaming”.
For example, I just told you about Gerrard. He’s never seen Mt. Everest, and yet he’s climbed it. He had to have a dream to do it.
Some people with this condition do report that they dream. Others say they don’t. But even people without this condition also report they don’t recall their dreams.
The only way to really know is take it case by case and visit a dream lab.
Personally, I dream very vividly, but not particularly visually. I never see faces, for example. Strangely, I tend not to see technology either, such as cellphones or computers.
I know this because I have journaled by dreams for many years. I made them more “visual” over time by placing them in writing so I could cross-index the dreams, chart patterns and observe the workings of this mind at rest.
Some people with aphantasia also report that they can lucid dream. I’ve had similar experiences, and the sensations all culminate as physical, rarely visual. For example, I am often piloting a space craft, balancing on a tight wire or even levitating as I write in my dream journal.
And that’s a trick for you if lucid dreaming interests you: By keeping a journal consistently, you’re likely to start dreaming about it. When it appears in your dreams, you may become aware that you’re dreaming. It’s quite wild!
Also, you can think verbally throughout the day about your dreams. You don’t have to approach them from a visual angle at all in order to explore the wonderful world of dreaming as an aphantasic.
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How Common Is Aphantasia?
How many people have aphantasia? While research on the subject is still in its nascent stages, neurologists believe approximately one in 50 people or 2-5% of the population are non-visual-imagers.
Sounds like a big number?
Don’t be surprised. Being an aphantasic is nearly as common as having a food allergy.
Neuroimaging has shown that mental imagery, although strongly associated with the left temporal lobe, requires the use of large networks of brain pathways. This means that aphantasia could potentially occur in different ways in different individuals.
The Two Likely Causes Of Aphantasia
However, the exact cause of aphantasia is still unknown. According to Dr. Zeman heredity and environment both are likely to be relevant causes.
Interestingly, an aphantasic may have a visual memory which means they may be able to describe in detail about how things looked – the cat had blue eyes, the umbrella was pink and matched the skirt – even though they cannot see these visual images in their mind’s eye.
Moreover, many people who cannot form mental images can think in sounds, while others can remember physical sensations.
Penn says, when he dreams, he’s not sure if he sees visual images but has the sensation of knowing that “ideas wash over me”.
How Aphantasia Affects Memory
Our brain stores information in at least two different ways – verbally and visually.
Both these types of storage are independent of one another, and each can be used alone.
Therefore, even people with aphantasia can complete the “tests of visual imagery” without too much difficulty. They can also often (but not always) complete these non-visual sensory memory exercises.
Here’s a quick test:
Count the number of windows in your house.Quick #memory improvement exercise: Mentally count all the windows in your home.Click To Tweet
Even if you can’t see a “mental” image of your house and locate each window in that image, you would have an awareness of being there and recall from factual information the number of windows in your house.
While aphantasics can remember things from their past, they experience these memories in a different way than someone with strong imagery. They often describe memories as a conceptual list of things that occurred rather than a video playing in their mind.
As Ross says, he can ruminate on the “concept” of a beach, but cannot flash to beaches he has visited.
“I know there’s sand. I know there’s water. I know there’s a sun, maybe a lifeguard. I know facts about beaches. I know a beach when I see it, and I can do verbal gymnastics with the word itself…But I have no visual, audio, emotional or otherwise sensory experience.”
The brain has many unique ways of storing visual information than just as a picture.
Multiple Ways To Create Visual Imagery In Your Mind
Neuroscientists believe that the brain constructs visual imagery in more than one way. There are separate circuits for things like shape, size, color and spatial relationships, and when these are accessed together, we form an image of a memory.
As AphantasiaMeow and I suggest in these videos, it might have to do with how the brains of some people develop:
There are still a lot of unknowns, that’s for sure. But it’s great that someone is doing such good work to help people create a mind’s eye.
Back to the source of the problem:
Experts think that aphantasics piggyback on neurons involved in controlling physical movements rather than using the visual brain circuitry to “visualize” or recall information.
For instance, you can trace the letter B of the alphabet in your brain to know it has curves or you can use your mind’s eye to see its image.
Does Aphantasia Hamper “Visualization” Memory Techniques?
Not in the least.
Tansel Ali and I talked about your multiple options in a recent interview.
Memory techniques involve more tools than just visualization. You have many options.Memory techniques involve more tools than just visualization. You have many #mnemonic options.Click To Tweet
When you use a memory technique like the Memory Palace use all the Magnetic Modes, you can memorize a very large amount of information relatively quickly without necessarily seeing the Memory Palace in your mind.
Here’s an infographic that tells you all about the different ways that your brain perceives information:
Personally, I don’t have aphantasia.
However, I am low on the visual threshold.
As a result, it took me a long time to understand techniques like mind mapping, let alone developing mind map mastery (which is still a work in progress, to be honest).
Most of what I do in the world of memory techniques involves thinking about strange combinations of images in words and sounds, not high-definition imagery. I would call this being audio-conceptual.
So, if you are worried that the inability to see visual images in your mind will stop you from using the Memory Palace technique…
Over the years, I’ve invested in myself so that I can “see” something like visuals in my mind.
But even to this day, the best results I get from memory techniques don’t require constant streaming of high-definition images in my head. I’m not trying to develop eidetic memory, after all. I just want to remember more.
Here’s my discussion on this issue:
In any case, if you want to visualize bright, vivid pictures in your mind’s eye, you can try image streaming.
Image Streaming Vs. Aphantasia?
Image streaming is a simple process that enables you to open up your mind’s eye to visuals.
Here’s how it works:
- Close your eyes and describe what you see.
- If you don’t see anything (which would exactly be the case if you have aphantasia) help your brain start seeing visual images.
- Start by gently rubbing your closed eyes like a sleepy child. Then describe the bright sparkly light that you see behind your closed retina.
- Or look at a bright light like a candle for a half minute, or a window which has strong light/dark contrast. Then when you close your eyes, you should be able to see after-images, like a blob of light or color, at back of the eye. Describe that blob of light.
- You can also describe a memory that you cannot “see” but remember from the past.
- The important thing is to use all senses to describe your bob of light or memory: sight (vision), hearing (audition), taste (gustation), smell (olfaction), and touch (somatosensation).
- While you are examining and describing your after-images or visual memory events, keep a look out for experiencing some other kinds of image. It could be a momentary face, landscape, or whatever. Notice when this happens, and switch to describing that new image.
- Remember to describe all images to an external focus – quickly and loudly. The external focus can be a friend or a dictaphone (voice recorder), anything or anyone you can talk to.
- Practice image streaming for only 10-20 minutes a day to enable your mind’s eye to see pictures. Then move on and try these multi-sensory brain exercises.
How to Use A Memory Palace With A Blind Mind’s Eye?
Here’s the basic idea behind the Memory Palace Technique, something you can use without actually seeing anything in your mind:
You associate pieces of information with a location you are familiar with, like placing a new word in a house.
The technique does not require you to visualize your house. You can “know” factually where your bedroom is in your home or where to find the kitchen window or the attic. You then use this knowledge to imagine that a funny or interested association is located there, such as using a statue of the magician Penn Jillette weighed done with small silver trees. Thinking about this concept in this location of your home can help you remember that Pennsylvania means “Penn’s small forest.” (Silva means forest in Latin.)
Keeping the full range of your Magnetic Modes in mind, you can use any home or location with which you are familiar. You can also explore different ways of navigating your Memory Palaces with these 5 examples.
The effectiveness of the Memory Palace technique is based on the scientific fact that your brain and spatial memory perceive space as a kind of image.
Check out this lecture for more information about how that works:
If you’re interested in this “Magnetic” technique, click on the image below:
Memory Is More Than Just Visual Memory
Memory is many things. It includes facts, figures and figments of information stored in various regions of your brain.
But more than that, memory is the ability to communicate these kinds of information to others and recognize them when they are being communicated to you.
When it comes to how you get information to play with in the first place, there are many ways. Some are faster than others.
Using an effective, dedicated memory strategy system like Magnetic Memory Method you can easily retrieve those memories faster and with predictable and reliable permanence.
Add to it a balanced diet, meditation, and sleep and you will be able to enhance your memory, concentration and focus in a way that improves your entire life.
Doesn’t that make a pretty picture?
Thanks for this info. I have signed up for your courses, but have had some hesitation knowing that I don’t see mental images well. I thought I was just weird when I can’t picture even the face of my wife or kids, or see a fleeting image at best. I hope to understand this better, and will try to get more time to put into the memory training.
Thanks for this, Leif.
Although I can get a sense for what faces look like, I don’t actually “see” much, if anything, in my mind.
But association has many Magnetic Modes, and the great thing about consistent practice is that it reveals them in great detail. Just S.I.P. at it (study, implement, practice).
Interesting! I’m not highly visual myself… When I think of the beach it seems like the clearest part is the sound. Otherwise I’m mostly aware of what it would look like if I could imagine it, but I wouldn’t say I can actually see it.
It is indeed interesting because that is pretty much the first thing that comes to mind for me as well.
That said, I get “concept pictures,” such as hanging out with you on the beach and doing body weight exercises. And there is a strong sense of the cafe where we had several power sessions on our various projects, not to mention your visit to Berlin and mine to Madrid.
But these are far more felt than seen, even if I could tell you in great detail many of the visual characteristics of these places (it seems to me that the cafe in Gran Canaria was excessively white, for example, with gaudy yellow and pink colors on its sign, not to mention that horrible dinosaur grocery store in blue and yellow).
And the odd thing is that when I ask people who claim they have aphantasia (or have been “diagnosed” with it so they go around making it a problem for an industry to solve), they too can whip out all kinds of visual details even without seeing them. It all seems like one giant non-issue, kind of like many of the “problems” humans have with various aspects of consciousness and perception.
Given that my mind’s eye is usually blank when I close my eyes, I am surprised myself at what details I can come up with when I get in the flow of talking, playing with music or spoken word. These are mostly felt and just felt, various associations that feel right at the moment, with a lot of focus on the sound itself.
I agree that it’s often less of a problem than what it sounds like, I’m still able to draw, enjoy seeing concrete things in abstract/expressionist art and can come up with complex technical concepts and planning or even spatial imagination. And I have had times I’ve “seen” short flashes or even longer grayscale sequences after about a week of image streaming. A lot also seems related to the environment or other experiences felt. I’ve had times when I could see the texture I was touching (eg. seeing a sort of full screen fur when petting my dog). I even had one recent time with a full body felt, heard and seen out of body experience just comfortably resting in my bed (not sleep, I dream quite vividly sometimes but that’s different).
A lot of this fills me with hope that I could strengthen this part of my psyche, though it also often feels that having these experiences actually builds an expectation that makes it harder to reach them again.
Obviously there were some stronger experiences on psychadelics, though they don’t generally seem to carry over to sober states and are also hard to recall with aphasia.
It’s sad that our internal worlds are so hidden away and we generally underestimate how differently each person experiences the world. It’s only in my 30s that I understood that some people actually get real images in their mind’s eye thanks to a YT video. Also the differences in verbal and non verbal thinking and there must be countless others. It seems like a world of countless variables and subtlety, that feels so uncharted still.
Thanks for this.
It is true that we cannot “mind meld” with others to experience what others experience directly.
But we have created many great things, and we have language that allows our “theory of mind” to help us navigate life together. It’s actually quite miraculous when we pause to think upon what we have charted so far.
Very interesting article, Anthony! Didn´t know about this condition.
Coincidentally I’ve just listened to the autobiography from Tesla on Audible. It described how gifted he was with mental imagery and how the mechanisms appeared in his mind’s eye with great detail and perfection as if a computer would project a complex piece of equipment on air. With this power and his genius, he entered history as one of the most important men in the field of Science.
In the book, he described how he trained during his childhood while reading and being influenced by his mother and brother. Very interesting story, indeed.
Are there specific exercises to improve mental visualization? I already use my senses, association, stories, exaggeration and funny things to remember stuff. I try to use as many resources as I can so the info stick.
What would you recommend for me to try it out?
Thanks for this comment, Aleno.
Tesla certainly was fascinating. It’s very interesting to think about what he might have perceived in his mind and how that worked for him.
There are many ways to increase visualization. Some are as simple as going to an art gallery. Others involve brain exercises.
Follow up on those two links alone and you will unlock a world of visual power in your mind by putting the recommendations into play.
Then just direct memory techniques at completing specific learning goals. The process will do the rest, always keeping in mind that the visual mode is just one of the 6+1 Magnetic Modes. Bring them all under your control and you will do very well indeed.
Thanks for replying, Anthony!
I will check them out and go deeper into what you teach.
My best regards,
Awesome. Please feel free to post any questions that arise, though always remember that most answers are in the S.I.P. (Study, implementation, practice.)
Talk soon! 🙂
I think this whole things is rather interesting. I can’t conjure up even the simplest of things in my mind, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve used to motion to compensate. If I’m really, really lucky, I might have seen something previously that’s relevant to what I’d like to visualize and if I count the windows in my place, I don’t visualize it, my eyes point towards each window.
I know that on some level my mind is capable of visualizing some rather sophisticated things because I can draw perfectly fine. It’s just that I have no idea what the thing I’m drawing actually looks like until I’m done. I just know where to put my fingers and which directions to move them. But, the elements in the image are clearly designed as they make sense spatially, I just can’t make any use of the few images that do pop into my mind unless they completely match what I’m seeing.
I do wonder if this is somehow related to my notoriously bad facial recognition skills. If I go from a mountain man beard to clean shaven, I definitely don’t recognize my own reflection and I can’t pick myself out of photos if I don’t recognize the clothes or the context.
Thanks kindly for sharing your experiences, Tom.
I think the drawing aspect of your post is especially fascinating. I have something similar myself (although I can’t say I draw perfectly fine).
That said, studying drawing deliberately has helped me increase the sense of imagery in my imagination, as has visiting art galleries and thinking about the movies I watch in visual terms. There are a lot of ways to grow.
Self-recognition in photos is interesting as well and possibly does relate. That is definitely an angle to think more about. One initial question that comes to mind is this: How often do you look at yourself in photos in general?
I ask because I’ve become very used to looking at my own photo and video footage daily, not to mention my own voice on the podcast. This extended and extensive exposure has certainly carved deep grooves in my brain that change the nature of this perception.
Almost three years ago I decided that it was time to follow my childhood dream, which is to become a writer.
I had no self-esteem, no courage, no faith that I can do it, so I had to listen to motivational speeches and subliminal messages (I still do, daily). I read uncountable articles, and books. I followed several advice that people with experience like you give to people like me.
Everybody speaks about meditation and visualization. Some (many) affirm that nothing can be done without both or one.
As I am very determined to reach my goal, I tried (and try) various techniques. None worked/works. I cannot stop my mind, I cannot see a thing, a shape, a shadow. Nothing except blackness.
I thought and believed it’s just a matter of practice. I tried more, again, and again and again and again.
I tried with objects, smells, sounds. Nothing worked.
I became extremely frustrated, but I still thought it was just lack of practice and something quite common among people. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.
I asked my brother if he can visualize and he said: “Yes, I do that since I was a child. I can see anything I want.”
At that moment I realized that I have never, ever been able to visualize anything in my entire life.
I often write about the fact that as I child I could not see myself in the future as other children I knew. That made me think that I was not going to have a future. I knew then it was not right not being able to see or imagine something that doesn’t exist.
I cannot draw, I cannot recall a scent, a sound, a feeling, a memory… nothing. Weirdly enough I write about past experiences (I published quite a few memoirs) but only as facts and if it’s something tragic, I feel the pain as I know I felt when the traumatic event happened. I know I felt that because I am very empathetic and sensitive, but I cannot go back in that moment.
What is even weirder is the fact that I can write a story from scratch.
As I start typing, the story flows. I don’t know from where. If I sat down and try to imagine a scene in it, it does not happen. I must type, then it comes.
If it doesn’t, I give up because no matter how hard I try, I cannot see something that it is not in front of my eyes.
I know now that I have aphantasia and I am worried because I am afraid I will never get where I work so hard to get without the power of visualization. I am way behind my schedule.
Aphantasia is such a beautiful name, but an unfortunate characteristic of a writer.
I will follow your advice and hope to get somewhere.
Sorry for this long comment.
I will also publish it on my blog with a link to this article. It will help people like me.
Thank you so much and best of luck,
Thanks for this, Christina, and for sharing the post.
There are so many questions to ask, but the one that would be most useful for the most amount of people is if you’d like to be interviewed on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast about Aphantasia?
I’m particularly interested in what you’ve said about not being able to see yourself in the future – this almost sounds like it could be very beneficial in some ways.
In any case, I’m devoted to learning more about aphantasia and would be grateful to speak with someone about it for the community – especially an author of your talents.
Please let me know! 🙂
I’m 61 years old and have felt like I have wondered thru life, semi-successfully. I too experience the continual grasping for something-and coming up short. I’m not giving up. After studying the brain for 3 years—- I’ve learned it likes and understands thru pictures in the mind. Well if that can’t happen…. Where does that leave us? I’ve read that people like us live more in the present and in a way that is good….. But pushing forward is hard….I feel it everyday now that I think about it.
Thank you for your post. I feel 1000% percent better that it’s not just me feeling that way. You wrote it in a super clear way…. Keep up your writing:)
Thanks for supporting Cristina’s post, Carol.
Thank you. Its so good to read this. I have tried and tried for my whole life to just see something. Or hear. Nothing. I have never had a song stuck in my head, nor can I recall an image of my kids or even the vague outline of a triangle. I build stuff like cat poles and shoe cupboards from math and logic, having barely any idea what the result will be. When I think of my wedding day I could describe in detail what happened, like a transcript. But what people wearing or how the room looked even though I chose it myself, nothing. I feel as if the difference between weak imagery or no imagery is bigger than people think. Especially if it relates to basically all senses.
This is exactly how I feel!! That not being able to visualize things is going to hold me back from what I want in life 🙁 my whole life I’ve thought something was wrong with me. I just barely found out about Aphantasia and I’m trying to be positive and happy that I finally found out why I am this way. But it makes me feel stuck. How do you feel about all this since you made your comment in 2018? Have things improved for you at all?
Thanks, Jasmine. Hopefully we’ll hear back from Cristina soon.
In the meantime, many people are perfectly happy with themselves even if there is a word that describes this situation. Do you think that might be possible for you too?
Hi Cristina, After reading your experience I saw myself, you describe me. I can write an acrostic poet in 5 minutes, but can not draw even a women, I can not see the colors in my mind, I can not recall my traumas…It might be late to discover this, but also relieving. For meditation, I suggest you to track your body sensations instead of imagination.
Thanks for your sharing
I realized two years ago that I couldn’t picture anything in my mind’s eye. As I started to research Aphantasia, I realized that people are capable with more than just images, but also touch, smell, sound, & taste. Wridly enough I have none of these abilities. I somehow this with an inner voice, but I don’t actually hear this voice. It just happens silently in my head.
There are perks I believe. I have had some pretty traumatic events happen in my life, but they do not really effect me too much after the fact. I don’t think it is possible for me to get PTSD since I cannot relive those terrible moments. I am also a very talented software engineer and have always been amazing at math, probably because of my ability to think very linearly and logically.
I find the cons are mostly around social interactions and relationships. When I something jogs my memory about a conversation I’ve had with someone, it’s hard for me to link it back to a specific person since I do not have the person’s voice or face connected to the memory. I also find it can be hard to have close relationships, because I remember vague outlines of conversations, and sometimes specific facts but fail at remembering many details. Sometimes I feel much more lonely than I actually am because I do not remember or think back to many of the amazing memories I have with others.
Even though I lack all of these skills in my brain, I find myself to be very emotionally driven and very empathetic. I feel emotions very deeply, so maybe this counteracts my brain’s inability to create the other sense.
Thanks for sharing your experiences in such incredible prose, Amanda. I find it difficult to imagine you being anything but perfect as you are when you can write so well.
And that is ultimately my gripe with the Aphantasia movement: People hypnotizing themselves into letter a word make something wrong with them.
The fact that any person can use their situation to assess the self is so positive and such a reflection of higher character, that everyone would do well to reflect in this manner frequently, if not daily.
Do you write anywhere else on the net we can check out? 🙂
Your description almost exactly matches my perception. I also have to meet someone several times to remember who they are when I see them.
My biggest issue at the moment is that I would like to get into meditation and I am unable to visualize anything.
Not being able to visualize should be an advantage to you if you want to meditate, Ian. It’s being interrupted by mental imagery that frustrates to many people in this area.
What kind of meditation training have you been getting into that requires you to visualize? That is just one kind, but there are many other options. Let us know and we can possibly provide you some better paths.
About 5 years ago (aged 44) I was very ill with a virus after which my memory and “mind’s eye” was affected. I have a very poor short term memory and even older memories have been affected. Mostly I see very vague images as if it’s in the “corner of my eye”, never central and the more I try to focus the more it disappears. I cannot visualise people, not even family. Sometimes I just see blackness. Prior to this, both were fantastic and I could rewind life like a video tape. This loss was an awful blow to me as I’d lived my life with these abilities. My whole life was affected. So began a life of trying to relearn coping skills. I am still struggling which is why I have been searching for answers and lead to me finding your post. I have now been diagnosed with ME/CFS. I wish I knew what happened to cause this loss, perhaps it might help me deal with it. I have tried to meditate and even self hypnosis but my mind feels blocked in some way – hard to describe. I hope that your memory training will help. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks kindly for sharing your experience, Miranda.
Knowing the “why” certainly can create relief and also a path to potentially exploring solutions.
By the same token, it’s also a good skill related to meditation and mindfulness to learn acceptance of how things emerge in life.
When it comes to meditation, what have you tried? I’ve learned a lot about why some people don’t respond to certain kinds of meditation and might be able to suggest a few alternative practices that still count as meditation, but are less known. I’ve found them to be very effective for me personally – especially because they exercise memory too.
We believe that our daughter , 11 years old, has aphantasia. After years fighting with her to read and write, we finally asked the right questions and figured it out. She reads functionally well but as they are only ‘black letters on a white page’ it is boring, so little-to-no expression and ignores punctuation as they have no meaning. She does seem to visualize when hearing a text- even a book as complicated as Swiss Family Robinson or Dicken’s Christmas Carol. As we are homeschooling, we have the opportunity to adjust to her needs and introduce alternate methods, but we have not found any educational protocols for assistance and wonder if you have any ideas. We do have her listening and reading books at the same time and that does seem to help. She is also extremely literal and only recently has been able to, independently, create a sentence. We have not pushed creative writing, for the sake of sanity and tears. Thank you
Thanks for sharing your daughter’s experience, Doreen.
I read along with a lot of books while doing my doctorate. When I couldn’t find an audiobook, I would read them aloud myself. It was just too difficult to concentrate or connect without some kind of audio component.
Your daughter is a good age for starting to explore memory techniques. I have two interviews with parents of daughters age 10 that you might like to go through for some ideas.
I also released some sensory memory exercises here on the blog as well. I’ll update this page to link over to them.
My only major suggestion beyond these things would be to see if you can let her follow her own interests as much as possible and learn more about how she experiences things cognitively. If you can perceive and learn the “lingo” of her own experience, you may find portals of entry and exploration that would not otherwise reveal themselves.
Not only that, but you might find that she has incredible strengths that exceed “creative writing” and lead to great fulfillment. I’ve always been quite literal myself and see this as an asset, not a deficit.
Thanks again for the post and look forward to an update if you would like to share one.
I can’t visualize things and this put me many times into trouble, because usually I struggle to remember faces. On the other hand I found that in deep state of meditation I can imagine some visuals and find it rather distracting and annoying. To be honest, I think ‘aphantasian’ state of thinking is faster and effective, as you could expect from information-based mind compared to image-based.
Agreed, Agniezska, and thanks for sharing.
Although I’m not a full aphantasic and cannot understand what that would be like, it seems to me that people are creating a problem where there isn’t one. The benefits are likely far better than most people realize.
I don’t necessarily think there is a difference between image and information, however.
As Gregory Bateson put it:
I predict that if you look at the brain scans, the exact same areas of the brain will light up in everyone, including the visual pathways in aphantastics.
I the research continues, it will be interesting to see if this prediction proves true.
Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope to hear from you on the blog again soon.
I suspect I have aphantasia, and yes, it is annoying and embarrassing to be unable to remember people I’ve met. But let’s look on the bright side! On those (rare) occasions when I watch a horror movie, I don’t have to worry about disturbing images staying in my head; like everything else, I won’t be able to visualize them later.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Leticia.
Have you ever tried any memory techniques for dealing with names?
We know that there are aphantasics who can use them successfully, so chances are it will work for you. After all, mnemonics are not entirely about visualization. For many of us, that is the least of our mnemonic tools.
Hi, I googled ‘why can’t I visualise’ recently when I got fed up with not being able to do ‘guided meditations’ as part of my spiritual practice. Then I discovered aphantasia and your website, which is great and explains a lot. I think in words and information (but not visual, kinaesthetic or auditory info). I can’t ‘see’ things on command eg ‘visualise a bridge’ leads people to be able to describe the bridge they ‘see’: how old, how big, what its made of etc. When asked to do this, I was only able to perceive (not exactly seeing) a bridge-shaped thing ie an arch of some sort. Others couldn’t understand that it didn’t have bricks or a size or age. I guess it was the concept of a bridge that I was producing. I also can’t see or retain details – eg if asked to visualise a friend’s face, I just have a kind of concept of John, but cannot describe the shape of his face, I will know if he has dark or light hair but that is not because I recreated a picture of it. I would be interested to know if there is any connection between aphantasia and autism/aspergers?
Thanks for sharing your experience, Rachel.
I don’t know if there is a connection between aphantasia and autism or aspergers. It’s complicated given that some people don’t agree that aphantasia actually exists. Have you heard my interview with Alec Figueroa on the aphantasia test and how he helps people realize that they can see images in their minds?
For myself, I used to not be able to visualize faces in my mind, but gradually trained myself to do so. It’s still only slight, but more than enough to work with, and I have a whole module on the process in my video course on memorizing names and faces.
This blows my mind. I just had someone describe this to me. And I’ve been told I have a photographic memory. Every house I have clean (I clean house for a living). I can tell you the exact set up… but. I also picture things I don’t want to. Which has caused my ptsd. The brain is a crazy thing
That’s interesting about your memory. Are you also able to memorize information from books, or recall other things with significant detail?
I carefully checked and double checked, but I could not find the link to Penn, the magician, to where you describe him talking about his airport imagery.
I am viewing this on my iPhone in Safari. I checked your podcast description, as well as this webpage description.
Is it possible you could post the link here? Thank you
Thanks for your post, Steve.
This was Episode 174 and appears to no longer be available. Although my quotes from it are drawn from the episode, I did not think to download the file, assuming they would keep it up forever.
I cannot find it archived anywhere else, but there is a long thread on Reddit that mentions the episode and that it is no longer available.
What I do have is a copy of the email I sent requesting an interview with him about it. I also reached out via Twitter, but did not get a response. We all know he’s a very busy individual, but if anyone reading this has better media outreach skills than I, please let him know there’s a large audience of people who want to know more about his experience with the condition.
I have aphantasia and have known about it for a couple of years now. I do find it frustrating, once you know about it, how many times in life one come’s across people or books asking one to visualize things. It is a tool that is used much more often than we realize. However, to an extent I agree with you that it isn’t necessarily a huge problem; for the most part my life is fairly normal.
Anyways, for the benefit of some of the other readers I wanted to post a comment related to what others have said about not being able to remember people. That isn’t necessarily aphantasia. I definitely have aphantasia, and even though I can’t see a person I just talked with, I don’t have much of a problem remembering folks I’ve met (their names; that’s another story, but the person themselves I will somehow remember.) There IS however another (possibly related condition) called Prosopagnosia, which is the inability to remember faces, and in extreme cases even the inability to recognize one’s own face. It is likely one of the earlier posters has prosopagnosia in addition to aphantasia.
Thanks for the info on this page. I was googling today whether it is possible to improve memory even if you have aphantasia, and the words on this page give me some hope!
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and perspectives, Chris. That is much appreciated.
It’s interesting that you mention face blindness. Jaron Lanier writes about his experiences with the condition in Dawn of the New Everything, which is especially fascinating because the book also includes thoughts about using Virtual Reality to create Memory Palaces.
Since writing this post, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough with my own visualization. It’s on the aphantasia cure page, and in the interview video with AphantasiaMeow, I relate some of the reasons I wouldn’t mind if the mental imagery I’ve started seeing went away.
It will remain a fascinating topic and I’d love to hear more about your experiences with it, especially if you undertake any efforts to change your experience.
In the meantime, I’m especially glad to hear that you’ve not had issues with memorizing names. Without memory techniques, I struggle to memorize names and faces, and the variations I came up with use other senses than the visual to make the mnemonics work. If you ever take them up, I’d love to know how it goes for you.
Thanks again for your comment and hope to hear from you again soon!
I have aphantasia and i have very good visual memory in fact i have been tested online and in real life and reults were something like top 0.5-2% of population. It is really a mystery why i cannot visualize things in my minds eye when i have such a good visual memory.
I believe the answer is because aphantasia does not exist.
Keep in mind that science is an evolutionary process.
Someone comes along and discovers something. They give it a name.
Then they find out that their name and description actually doesn’t quite really explain anything because there are so many variations and combinations.
But, because they live in an academic world, they now have to defend their “territory.” So instead of being truly scientific and re-assessing, they double-down and defend.
I think we’ve seen a lot of this in the world of aphantasia. But hopefully soon better terms and definitions will arise and this unhelpful description will be left for historians to sort out.
In short, I see no reason to believe there is anything wrong with you or anyone else.
Thank you for this podcast and supporting commentary. Do you know of any researchers in the U.S. studying aphantasia? I am particularly interested in learning about current or anticipated research associated with childhood trauma, a thinned corpus callosum, and aphantasia linkages. (I have not come across any U.S. researchers studying aphantasia–only in Europe and in Australia.) Thanks much in advance.
Thanks kindly for this, Tonya.
The lack of global researchers is a bit disconcerting. I’m not aware of specifically American people working on this apart from a young person who goes by the screenname AphantasiaMeow. He might be aware of more researchers based in the US.
Please let our community know if you find out any compelling details.
Yes, I have watched a couple of his (AphantasiaMeow) YouTube videos and listened to your interview with him. I was hoping my review of the literature overlooked a U.S. contingent of academic researchers. Thanks again for your offerings–much appreciated.
I’d still suggest reaching out to Alec. He seemed well-versed on the state of research last time I spoke with him.
I see Gregory Bateson’s name in your comment. Where did he mention that phrase please…? Is it beneficial to read his works and which are related to mind and memory?
Please see “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.”
I’m aware of very few books that would not be beneficial to read if you’re a curious, life-long learner that wishes to be well-informed. This means being a researcher and not worrying about whether this or that book is “beneficial.” The learning project itself is beneficial.
As you can tell by the title of this book, it is related to mind. I do not know in which context you would want material from him related to memory, but that’s a great research question to guide your own reading of his works if you choose to dive in.
I wish I could visualize like Nikola Tesla.
I see images in my mind’s eye, but it’s still dark, blurry and not sharp.
How can I improve my visualization to be like Tesla’s.
(Tesla said he thinks the theory behind his great imagination was caused by excitement of the retina).
Tesla is interesting, but since he’s gone and cannot be consulted, I don’t think however he may have visualized is a wise benchmark.
To improve, check out my interview with AphantasiaMeow. In it I share a hypothesis around why I think I finally managed to visualized based on combining a number of practices.
Would the bridging technique be wise to implement if one can not sharply imagine other’s faces. As far as I am concerned, the bridging technique requires the mind to imagine characters that we follow along on a journey. Thus, if I can not imagine them vividly should I not use the bridging technique and possibly imagine everything from a first point of view? This way, I would not have to remember any faces and only remember the details of plain objects which would be infinitely easier.
Does it matter if we remember objects vividly in a memory palace? Am I fine if I know the placements of said objects in my memory palace that I can then de-code or is vivid memory required?
Every time I visit my memory palace, I have to reassemble the characters from recent memories- I can never have a concrete image of a what a character looks like. Does this hinder performance?
Is there a quick guide you could give me on improving my imagination as I am quite busy now?
Best regards, Sergey
Thanks for this question, Sergey.
It’s interesting now that you mention it because I don’t use the faces of my Bridging Figures. I use their names and the sounds of their names as I experience them mentally.
Also, in my experience, there is no need to visualize things “vividly,” though I do sometimes use that term. Often, just having the smallest hook is all that is need to trigger back the target information. The trick is to practice decoding with what you’ve got – and when what you got isn’t working, think about how you can enhance it so that it will work. Again, the focus is on what you’ve got and making the most out of it as you engage in exercises to improve.
I have loads of resources for you. If you search the site of “visualization” a bunch of choices will come up.
One of the biggest game changers will come from thinking through what you mean by “concrete” and whether such a requirement is necessary. The fact that you have a notion like this is already a strong mental image, so contending with the imagery you have as such in order to work with it is often the fastest path to change. I have found this many times when working one-on-one with individuals – they are so busy thinking about what they lack in terms of mental imagery that they completely miss what they have.
And when they switch on to the incredible asset of consciousness they do have, many things change for them very rapidly.
Does this response help you out?
Firstly, I am really grateful for all the relevant and helpful information you have put forth through your article, as I haven’t come across many relevant sources when it comes to Aphantasia.
It was back in 2017 that I lost my mental monologue (Inner Voice, as many may call it) and imaginative skills to aphantasia due to trauma and stress.
I believe that my self-diagnosis is a little inappropriate, but I am not exactly living in a country capable of analyzing such things.
Before this happened, I was a greatly dependent on my imaginative skills and image recalling for learning and remembering things, so basically this has kind of mentally sabotaged me, and I have lost many of the memories that where stored there beforehand. I earlier assumed that it was just due to my lingering past trauma that I had difficulty imagining and recalling, but later on I learned of a new term that sounded rather relevant to my problems.
I’d appreciate if you could share your views and thoughts about my problem, and would also greatly appreciate any advice on how to cope up with this, as this is terribly ruining my high school performance.
Thanks for this post, Agrim, and sorry to hear that you’ve had this experience.
Without speaking with you to learn more, my best advice is to learn the Memory Palace technique. It is possible for people with aphantasia to use and will help you get information into memory.
Don’t accept sabotage and keep finding a path forward. Even if recovery might not be possible, there will be a way for you to succeed if you want it.
And please keep us posted on your progress.
I am so glad I found this avenue and Anthony- thank you for helping this community out. I have been fairly successful in my professional life and have reached all milestones I aspired but at the cost of personal life, relations and peace. A few months back, I got into reading about stoicism and zen philosophy and attempted meditation and failed miserably at it due to not being able to visualize anything. I then moved on to NLP and finally after failing to implement anchoring- realized that I have this condition since birth and have total blindness when it comes to the mind eye. Reading this blog and community posts gives me a sense of belonging and hope. Any recommendation from your end on how to make best of NLP and meditation with this limitation?
Thanks for this, Siddharth. I’m glad you found it as well.
Can you say more about which aspects of NLP you’ve studied. I’ve studied it as well, so will probably know a little bit about exactly which parts you mean.
In terms of meditation, I do long form meditation based on memorized Sanskrit. It’s very rewarding and has surely been part of how I eventually started experiencing visuals.
My book on the topic is called The Victorious Mind: How to Master Memory, Meditation and Mental Well-Being.
Penn’s episode 174 is no longer available, tried various places but can’t get it. In fact hard to get episodes before 600 or so! Is there any chance you could overview what he said?
It’s good to hear someone else talking about what I experience. The number of times people look at me like I’m an alien when I say I can’t usually see images in my head! I am just hoping to be able to increase my memory for learning languages, so thanks for this!
Thanks for your post.
Yes, it unfortunately disappeared from the Internet. Out of respect I didn’t copy a clip, though I did try to obtain permission.
Long story short, as I remember it, he talked about verbalizing directions in airports as working very well as an alternative to imagining a visual representation of a journey.
This resonated with me because I have often repeated what people are saying in my head in order to better understand them.