Did you know that some people can literally visualize images in their minds? If that isn’t surprising, you should know that some people can’t.
I know, it may sound crazy but I can't summon mental images in my mind too.
This condition is called aphantasia which describes one’s inability to conjure mental images. The tricky part with this condition is that professionals can't really diagnose a person if they have aphantasia because it’s not really considered as a disability.
Early accounts of this phenomenon go way back as early as 1880 conducted by Sir Francis Galton and have been unstudied ever since. It’s a relatively new condition being brought up and studied by modern scientists, so we don’t really know much of this condition—or just not yet.
When I first tried guided meditation, I have to admit that I’ve always had a hard time visualizing the scenes the narrator tells me.
“Imagine you are in a beach…”
“Imagine you are walking in the middle of a forest…”
“Imagine you are on top of a mountain…”
It’s just black. Nothing.
I’ve always thought I wasn’t doing it right, but I kept doing it anyway. As I learn that some people have the ability to vividly imagine things in their minds, I felt so envious. I wanted to experience what it’s like to meditate and see what my “higher self” has to offer.
But I just can't. I was denying everything at first.
On one hand, if I do have aphantasia, I’ll have this overwhelming and constant burden of wondering how it actually feels to visualize things inside my head.
And on the other hand, if this is just a case of poor imagination, I’ll feel unimaginative and undeserving of my career--- especially that I’m writing and making films for a living.
This is a glass-shattering moment for me. Looking back, my childhood felt like a lie. I wondered how daydreaming went for some people now that I realize that maybe, just maybe, my “daydreaming techniques” were wrong.
As the glass continued to shatter, the following days for me have been a constant ride of bewilderment.
I felt left out.
Until I’ve come to my senses and realized something.
“Hey, I made it this far.”
And it’s true. I’ve made it this far. So what if I have aphantasia? So what if I have a weak imagination? If I really think about it, I’m not really at a disadvantage.
I’ve lived my life just fine not knowing what aphantasia was.
The label made me a victim, and I associated my “weaknesses” to the label. Just because someone is capable or better at visualizing, doesn’t mean I'm terrible at doing my job or losing in life. It’s really how we make of it.
I know I'm an over-thinker to the point where my internal voice doesn’t literally shut up. It’s like there’s a voice in my head, narrating what I know instead of visualizing them. It has helped me a lot in processing information.
When someone tells me to close my eyes and imagine an apple, I don’t necessarily see an apple at the back of my mind. No mental image, whatsoever.
Instead, an internal voice processes what I know of an apple. An apple commonly comes with a red or green color. It’s somewhat round similar to the size of a human fist.
It seems like my brain associates the idea of an object conceptually rather than seeing it as an object visually.
As B.L. Acker states in her piece regarding her experiences living with aphantasia, the mind works as if it races to a series of database that pulls out words to describe what was asked to visualize.
Mozilla founder, Blake Ross, also wrote an interesting piece with his experiences living with aphantasia. You should check it out if you haven’t!
For those who have aphantasia, or if you think that you have it, please don’t let it define you. It’s not something we need to overcome. It’s just what it is.
As cheesy as it sounds, we are unique in our own little ways.