What is Aphantasia?

Aphantasia is a medically diagnosed condition in which an individual is unable to intentionally produce a mental image. A blind mind's eye is another term for it and most people are completely unaware it even exists. Often, even those that have it might not realise they're any different.

I can't see pictures but I can conjure up smells, do I have aphantasia?

Many aphantasics do report being able to mentally replicate other senses, and that has also been our experience. Those that cannot form any external senses have complete aphantasia. But remember, we're not limited to just the 5 primary senses. In fact, scientists have listed as many as 21.

But I definitely see images in my dreams...

It is not uncommon for those diagnosed with aphantasia to still report dreaming, in fact, many do. This can also occur with medication or recreational drugs. But aphantasia is a term reserved for the intentional creation of mental images, not sporadic or when induced by external factors.

How come I've never heard about this before?

Well, aphantasia only recently caught the public's eye in 2015 when researcher Adam Zeman published his findings on a patient who underwent heart surgery and afterwards had lost his ability to form mental images. That's when the medical community officially recognised the term aphantasia.

People must have known before that though, no?

During ancient Greek times, the famous philosopher Aristotle did mention and refer to phantasia, the ability to create images in one's mind, and he did make reference to differing degrees of it as well as alluding to its importance. 

Fast forward 2,000 years and the next mention was by Francis Galton who medically recognised that some people could not form mental images and there existed varying degrees of capability among his participants.

Ah, so this isn't a yes/no condition?

No, most definitely not. British psychologist David Marks created the VVIQ (Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire) in 1973 in an attempt to measure this faculty of mental imaging and later in 1995, the VVIQ2 with a more comprehensive list of questions. 

The questionnaire is still currently used as an accurate indication of where one falls along the "phantasia" spectrum, and there is significant evidence to confirm that this test is still a valid and reliable measure.

What's the Phantasia spectrum?

Phantasia is a condition that affects people to differing degrees. True aphantasics cannot form any mental image. Lesser aphantasics may get some semblance, although with great difficulty and the images may not be very distinguishable. On the other side of the spectrum, there are hyperphantasics which are diagnosed with hyperphantasia. This is where visualisations are extremely vivid and vibrant. 

That sounds awesome!

Not quite! This can, in actuality, be a problem as true hyperphantasics suffer from an overactive imagination to the point that it can intervene with everyday life and even bring about depression, anxiety and retraction from society.

The majority of the population, however, falls somewhere in the middle with the extremes being reserved for only a few. That's why it is often met with surprise when someone that has mental images hears about aphantasia as being a real condition. 

How many people are like me?

Aphantasics make up about 2% of the population according to the most recent studies. That's not to say that a larger portion of the population does not have difficulty forming images, only that this 2% (1 in 50) cannot produce any image at all. These figures are only an estimate as research on the subject is still new and there is yet much to be discovered.

But what causes Aphantasia?

Science cannot at the moment provide us with any conclusive information as to the cause of aphantasia. Brain scans have revealed that the part of the brain that is activated when you ask a non-aphantasic to visualise will not have the same level of activity for their aphantasic counterparts. It is significantly less.

We believe this to be a very important point that should not be overlooked because nevertheless, there is some level activity, however small. 

What are you guys implying?

Based on our own anecdotal evidence, we have found that through persistent and rigorous training, this area of the brain can be activated and trained to the point of developing functional phantasia.

Wait, so I can be cured?!

We believe so, yes. Everyone we've worked with has had success so far. It's a bit of a stretch to say it is curable for anybody, but, in our experience, we haven't come across anyone that has not been able to develop vivid and rich visualisations.

How do I get started?

Hold your horses. 

Firstly, it's not easy. It requires diligent and focused practice. You're literally rewiring your brain, forming new connections and activating a part of your brain that has been dormant for quite some time now. However, we have found that these changes are permanent and that there are numerous benefits to many other mental faculties.

Before making a big commitment, we suggest taking our interpretation of the VVIQ questionnaire here and seeing where you fall on the spectrum.