Everyday Life Without Any Visualization

I’ve written before about Aphantasia, the condition of lacking a mind’s eye or ability to visualize.

For me, having Aphantasia means any number of things, but since I was unaware of the dichotomy between me and most people until I paid attention to my daughter, who has more acute visualization than average, I’ve never felt like I was missing out on much until I realized that this inability is actually a thing and is now described by science. Reading about and connecting with others who experience life without visualization has granted me better understanding of myself, and the pros and cons of having no mind’s eye.

After working for years as a paramedic, I saw numerous gruesome scenes. Never once have I flashed back on one of them, no matter how traumatic they were, because I’m incapable of flashbacks. I remember them, and returning to the scene can be emotional (driving by accident locations, or a rest area where a violent injury occurred for example), but though I can describe what I saw, I cannot picture it at all.

In daily life I don’t miss visualization, I have a running narrative constantly going in my head, and as a primarily auditory person, I focus on sounds far more than sights anyway. I lack a frame of reference for going through life with mental pictures, and it’s hard to miss what you’ve never had.

What I would enjoy, though, is being able to remember the faces of departed loved ones. I can remember details like eye color and face shape, but having an image come to mind sounds so lovely. At best I can bring up a vague phantom of a silhouette which immediately dissipates. Such as below.

My dreams are hazy and largely experiential with the running narrative which is the constant background to my waking mind. Any imagery involved is scant and indistinct.

But truly, as far as variations in the human experience go, this is just being at one end of a spectrum of ability. Other than finding visualization exercises tedious and fruitless and a complete failure to be hypnotized at my high school graduate party, I’m not actually missing out.


How Can I Write an Outstanding Book With A Blind Mind?

Picture this:  You’re writing a memoir.  In order to bring the reader along with you as you ride your roller coaster down memory lane, it’s crucial to use vivid descriptions of the numerous events you describe.  But you have pretty much zero visual memory.

Try to describe what the hospital room looked like…nada.

Try to describe your how your child looked…you draw a blank.

Your honeymoon?  Yep, nothing.

I have Aphantasia.  I lack the ability to visualize.  I read a book, and no movie plays in my head.  In fact, when an author spends a paragraph or two describing a setting or a character’s appearance, I skim because it’s just words to me.

Here I am, writing my heart out about some of the most poignant memories of my life, and I completely lack the ability to give the reader a mental picture.  I try to remember, I try to describe, and it feels contrived and artificial.  I’m preparing to edit my book into a second draft, and for the first time since deciding to do this project, I’m second guessing.  I’m concerned that my “blind mind’s eye” is too big of a hinderance to story telling, I’m worried that I can’t overcome this barrier, that I won’t be able to give my readers the story they deserve.

I’m going to give it a shot.  I’m going back in to revise my story and add in some of the details.  I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I’m thinking that if Beethoven composed masterpieces while deaf then I suppose it’s possible that I can maybe find ways to describe things that I cannot visualize.  My hope is that by being cognizant of this obstacle I will be able to work through it.  I might have to dig through old pictures or possibly even make up some of the visual details.  I mean, how hospital rooms look largely the same, right?

We’ll see.  I’m not giving up just yet.




Living With Aphantasia, A Blind Mind’s Eye

You’re reading a fabulous novel, the imagery is perfect.  You can see the characters, the setting, every detail,  if you close your eyes it’s like you’re there.  This is a part of the normal experience for almost everyone, but imagine having no ability to create mental pictures.  A blind mind’s eye, if you will.

That is my reality.  I have no ability to conjure images in my mind.

In 2015 this anomaly was described by science and given a name, Aphantasia.

I never realized I was different.  I assumed that the term, “mental picture” was metaphorical, that everyone was like me.  I began to wonder about it when my daughter could remember detailed images, and from memory draw accurate pictures of people,  places and things. She told me she just sees them in her mind, and meant it quite literally.  Her minds eye seems especially acute, I’m afraid she got my share.  She’s painfully aware of the dichotomy between us, and often,  when she envisions things then describes them, she will turn to me and and pityingly say, “but you can’t picture it”.

If you tell me to think of a chair, I know what a chair is, and can think of different types of chairs, a plush upholstered chair, a wooden kitchen chair and the like, but I don’t get any type of picture in my mind.  I can describe to you the chairs in my kitchen with fair accuracy, but I cannot envision them.   I can remember every detail about husband’s appearance in words, but not picture his face.  My dreams are primarily experiential and auditory, with strong emotions and only vague, fuzzy imagery.  It seems that even in sleep my mind is incapable of visualization.

Upon reading the BBC article which describes the phenomenon, I felt a strange blend of feelings.  Having verbiage for my experience is helpful, but also uncomfortable, I feel like more of an oddball.  I don’t necessarily feel like I am missing anything, it’s the only experience I’ve ever known,  though now I understand why relaxing visualization techniques have always mystified me.  The soft voice describing a beach setting at sunrise is just words to me, so I was baffled that other people were so engrossed by such things; until I discovered the answer.

What I lack in my mind’s eye I accommodate for in auditory processing and memory.  And while I cannot picture a person’s face, I can recognize people, even from years before,with ease.  As you may suspect I consider hearing my primary sense, and vision a distant second.  I am especially tuned to the sounds of my environment, which as a parent is as good as eyes in the back of my head.

I don’t know if I would change it if I could, I cannot imagine what life is like with a visual imagination.  I suppose I’m fine as is, even if it seems deficient to most people.