Aphantasy: The Blind Mind Or Living Without Mental Images

A small part of the population lives without knowing what it means to dream with images. Neither can these people recall, in their memory, the face of that person they love or the house where they grew up. Aphantasia, or blind mind, is a type of neurological deficit that is as striking as it is curious.
Aphantasy: the blind mind or living without mental images

Aphantasia affects 3% of the population. People who suffer from it do not know what visual imagination is. They live in a formless void, in a blind mind where there are no images, faces or landscapes. These men and women do not know what it is to dream; they have never mentally escaped to a haven of peace to calm their stress or get lost in parallel universes where the possibilities are endless.

This condition may seem very strange to us. However, beyond its particular aspect, one notices especially its dramatic side, even sad. People who suffer from it cannot remember what that deceased relative or significant being they have not seen for a long time was like. We could nevertheless say that a person born with this so particular characteristic cannot have this impression of lack in front of something that he has not known.

However,  living in a spirit trapped in aphantasy places them in a corner where they feel isolated, on an ongoing basis.  Very early on, a child with this psychological deficiency knows that something is happening to him because he does not know what dreams or nightmares are. They cannot visually remember things they have seen; this afternoon at the park, those days at the beach don’t exist in their minds. However, this gives them a feeling of strangeness because they see that others can do it.

Here we are faced with a reality as particular as it is interesting, which is worth exploring.

The mind of a person suffering from aphantasy

Aphantasy: what is it and why does it happen?

Neurologists define aphantasia as a type of mental blindness. This term, of course, impression. But how is the life of a person with this condition? Is it very limited? And what is its origin? We are here facing an alteration that began to be studied more exhaustively from 2016.

We have known of its existence since 1840, when Sir Francis Galton, the famous British psychologist, anthropologist, explorer and geneticist, described several cases, even providing statistical analysis. Already at that time, he estimated that between 2 and 3% of the population could suffer from this mental problem, from this inability to create mental images.

We had to wait until 2016 for the scientific community to take an interest in aphantasy again. It was finally Dr. Adam Zeman, cognitive psychologist at the University of Exeter, who gave this name to this condition. That same year, Blake Ross, co-creator of Firefox, published an essay in which he described his own experience with this new neurological condition. As a result of his work, aphantasy began to go viral on social media and gain the attention of experts.

What is the origin of aphantasy?

Imagine two apples, one green in color and one shiny red.  Reading this, 97% of us (according to statistical data) almost instantly visualize this image. However, those people who suffer from aphantasia will be unable to initiate this neurological process. Their mind, in fact, does not see. The image does not exist in their cerebral universe.

This could be due, according to the researchers, to a flaw in creating patterns on everything we see.  Thus, each visual stimulus creates an impact in our brain, a trace that gives rise to a type of pattern, a sequence, a shape. In this way, when we remember something, it is common that, almost on the spot, these same patterns arise creating mental images.

People with aphantasia do not create visual patterns. There is therefore a flaw in this process. Everything they see or have seen does not generate an image in their brain. It is like suffering from partial blindness. Our inner eyes, in the end, do not catch what is outside. So they can’t bring him back inside.

A woman suffering from aphantasia

 

How are the people who suffer from this neurological condition?

Life with aphantasy is not limited. The person can relate to other people. She can be independent in every aspect of her life, work and succeed like anyone else. Even so, these people know they are missing something.

Doctor Adam Zeman also tells us the positive reaction of those who finally receive a name and an explanation to give to this phenomenon from which they have always suffered and which they do not know very well how to define.

  • So, a person suffering from aphantasia mainly faces  an inability to remember in the form of pictures. She cannot conjure up faces and this usually causes her discomfort
  • While the majority of people spend a good deal of their time in thought imagining and moving from one image to another,  these people cannot even dream with images.
  • Those who suffer the most from this condition are those who suffer from acquired aphantasia. Usually, following an accident or brain injury, they actually end up developing this deficit and, in this case, the reality is more complex.
  • In addition, we could see that this neurological deficit  is also linked to prosopagnosia (difficulty recognizing faces) and orientation problems.

Today, there is no treatment for aphantasy. While it is true that living with this condition does not limit the daily lives of those who suffer from it, it is curious to know that those who have been diagnosed say that they feel different. They are aware that they are missing something. Ultimately, nothing is more uplifting and exhilarating than thinking with pictures, imagining …

 

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