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yesterday i posted some links to a newly coined term, "aphantasia”. now, as the...

yesterday i posted some links to a newly coined term, “aphantasia”. now, as the researchers who coined the term noted, this phenomena has been observed before (even had some other names). however, beyond the incidences where aphantasia was a result of brain damage, there”s basically been zero research into this.

unfortunately, they attribute the first person to note that this was a thing is francis galton, the man who gave the world ‘eugenics”. super awesome. 😀

i”m going to quote some of the relevant parts of the paper here:

the majority of participants described involuntary imagery. This could occur during wakefulness, usually in the form of ‘flashes” (10/21) and/or during dreams (17/21). Within a group of participants who reported no imagery while completing the VVIQ, 10/11 reported involuntary imagery during wakefulness and/or dreams, confirming a significant dissociation between voluntary and involuntary imagery (p < .01, McNemar Test). Participants described a varied but modest effect on mood and relationships. 14/21 participants reported difficulties with autobiographical memory. The same number identified compensatory strengths in verbal, mathematical and logical domains. Their successful performance in a task that would normally elicit imagery e ‘count how many windows there are in your house or apartment” e was achieved by drawing on what participants described as ‘knowledge”, ‘memory” and ‘subvisual” models.1

This should hopefully answer a bunch of the questions I was getting yesterday.

Its kind of frustrating that this is emergent research (I mean, not even this paper has actually been officially published). There are a lot of questions to be asked here. Like. How is this related to autism, non-verbal learning disorders, prosopagnosia, synesthesia, etc and so on?

For my part, I literally got to an Official Paper Diagnosis™ for autism by starting to research why i can”t make mental images. I first was led to non-verbal learning disorders. Which… in my research does describe something similar to aphantasia. I mean. The learning disorder is exactly about learning deficits in the non-verbal realm. Which, no, isn”t restricted just to mental imagery, but this is part of it.

Given that NVLDs aren”t… in the DSM or widely recognized as a distinct learning disorder (I mean, I was told that it”d be more useful to get an autism diagnosis than an NVLD one). I wonder if this paper, and the ongoing studies on aphantasia, might actually help NVLD become a ‘canonical” learning disability.

coughs

Um. I actually wanted this post to be about me and my experience of aphantasia. Sharing it for the other ppl who”re curious about it and how it might work for them.

I do remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I actually realized that when people say ‘this is how i pictured it” they weren”t speaking figuratively. That they literally meant that they, in their brain, pictured it to be a certain way. It was on leaving the theatre after watching the first Lord of the Rings movie. My friend with me, as we left, said pretty much that “it was how i pictured it”. My response was, “Huh. Really? I never pictured it at all.” And so the ensuing discussion was about me realizing that my brain did not do a thing that many other people”s did.

I think until I got on the internet, I didn”t actually meet anyone irl who also had aphantasia. And while, yeah, I did think there was something wrong with me, I literally didn”t think to google it until about four years ago (when I was 28 or something). I actually brought this up with a neurologist when I was being checked for epilepsy (he said my brain was normal according to the RI). He… did not understand. So having a specific word is incredibly useful.

As far as where I am on the spectrum of this… It looks like I”m way, way into the severe (idk how to word it) category. Like. Total mindblindness. You can see from the study above that many participants noted that they did experience some level of involuntary mental imagery. Like visual dreams or whatever. As far as I know, I don”t even do that. The only times I can remember ‘seeing” something in my brain is one time when I was young and had a fever. I hallucinated. And this one time when I was meditating and actually saw something. I remember what I saw in both instances (in part bc this is so rare for me). I mentioned that only one of the times I used LSD did I actually manage visual hallucinations, in the forms of colours and shapes. I could see them with my eyes closed! It was fucking amazing.

As with anything like this, I”m sure there”ll be as many shades and variance as there are people with it. One of the questions the researcher poses in the discussion is whether or not there might be subtypes of aphantasia. It”ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I”m really glad he is continuing with the research.

One of the super interesting things for me is the mention of deficits in autobiographical memory. Because this is SO me. I honestly have forgotten so much about my life. And the further I grow from a specific year, the more I lose. It is something that has troubled me in the past. Since… idk. Especially when combined with alexythemia, I really do sometimes feel like a robot or something. I think of all the things associated with this, this is probably the thing I like the least. On the one hand, I guess it is kind of nice that I have trouble remembering the shitfest that has been my life. But I also don”t remember good things. I just…don”t remember.

The compensory strengths in verbal, math, and logic is def. something that I have. I mean… I used to study logic ffs.

Ok. I think I”m too sleepy to keep writing. So I”m going to stop.


  1. 1-2. Zeman, Adam, Michaela Dewar, and Sergio Della Sala. "Lives without Imagery – Congenital Aphantasia.” Cortex. Accessed November 9, 2015. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019.