Imagination is a wonderful thing. It allows us to construct scenes in our head of events that have never occurred. It allows us to dream and create. However, not everyone imagines in the same way. While for most people, thoughts occur in a combination of images, words and feelings, some people live in a world in which they cannot picture images in their mind voluntarily. This is called Aphantasia. 

This condition wasn't even named until 2015, but I have had Aphantasia my whole life. In fact, it's believed that 1 in 50 people experience Aphantasia. So the question is, if so many people have this condition, why has no one ever heard of it? Why has it been given so little attention that it wasn't even named until recently? 

As the video above discusses, most people don't bother to think about others' mental imagery ability. Others assume that I am able to visualize as well as they can, and I simply assumed that when people spoke about "visualizing," they were simply telling me to think about the matter at hand. 

My Experience

The first time I wondered about my experience was in a middle school debate. The question at hand was whether it would be better to have everything in the world be grey shapeless blobs or to have nothing physical and have everything imagined. My teacher asked us to close our eyes and clearly picture the Egyptian pyramids. Everyone quickly jumped on the imagination bandwagon and I was left confused. When I closed my eyes, there was only blackness. 

I was still young, so I simply brushed the experience off. I must have misunderstood what he said. The topic simply didn't come up again until many years later when I became interested in Psychology. I subscribed to The New York Times and constantly read the articles on psychology. It was there that I found an article detailing Aphantasia. While most people would assume that I was surprised that I didn't have mental imagery, the opposite was true. I was surprised that everyone else did. 

The Discovery

The term Aphantasia was coined by a man named Dr. Adam Zeman when a man, called MX, came to him after a surgery. He could no longer picture images in his mind's eye. Dr. Zeman was fascinated and began to conduct tests. While MX could no longer visualize in the way he used to, his memory and problem-solving abilities still seemed to be fully intact. He could answer questions that most would use mental imagery to solve, such as counting the windows in your house. The only true difference was the lack of visual imagery. 

Aphantasia Today

Many people are working to raise awareness of Aphantasia, so those who have the condition can be more aware of it. In this way we can avoid confusion when asked to count sheep to fall asleep or any other sort of task which involves mental imagery.

The most important thing to remember however, is that even if you have Aphantasia, you are not less than anyone else. We can still remember and we can still solve problems. We can still dream and imagine. We just think in a different way than anyone else. If you think you may have Aphantasia, go here to learn more and find more people like you.