Can’t Picture the Beach? You May Have Aphantasia

Can’t Picture the Beach? You May Have Aphantasia

Most of us don’t even think about the ‘movies’ in our minds.

When I think of the ocean, I am able to picture the blue crashing waves- which is actually caused by light absorption– crashing against brownish sandy shores. Then I think of iced tea and the cool, murky, sweetness of it. However, while I can picture, and even imagine the taste of the ice sea and the salty water, not everyone else is able to do so. There’s a neurological condition called Aphantasia that effects the ability to ‘see’ images in your mind’s eye. While how the disease is contracted varies, overall the effect of it on a person remain constant.


What is Aphantasia?

People with Aphantasia are unable to ‘see’ an image in their mind. When most people read, they see the scene in the novel being acted out in their mind, but people with Aphantasia simply grasp the concept being described. For some this solely affects their ability to ‘see’ in their mind, but for others a multitude of senses are unable to be brought forth through imaging. For Tom, having Aphantasia means that he cannot imagine taste, smell, sound, sight, or emotion. Firefox co-founder Blake Ross is unable to have visual dreams, or picture his mother’s voice. In MRIs, brain activity of those with a normally functioning brain varies from those with Aphantasia.


How Does One Get Aphantasia?

Often times, those who have the brain disease are born with it. However, there are other ways of developing Aphantasia. A man in the sixties lost his ability to mentally visualize after a cardiac procedure. Another instance noted by doctors is of four people who lost the ability to see with their ‘mind’s eye’ after depressive episodes and anxiety attacks. There currently isn’t any information has to whether the disease is more likely to show up in males or females.


How Does This Effect Day-to-Day Life?

Most people with Aphantasia don’t realize that the way their brains function is any different than how anyone else’s would. This disease mostly effects day-to-day memorization skills. The inability to see something in your mind hinders a level of perception. While the brain makes up for the disease in other ways, there are some functions that it can’t account for.


What Research is Being Done?

A 20th Century survey deduced that 2.5% of the population has Aphantasia, but a more recent study (2009) predicts that 2% of the population have the disease. The study also predicts that about 2-5% of the population who have normal “visual recognition abilities” are very poor are imagining images. “The Eye’s Mind” was founded by the Art and Humanities Research Council to study Aphantasia.


Where Can You Learn More?

Research, research, research. By that I mean use the search engines. Journals talking about the disease are also a great way to discover more information on not only the disease itself, but also the varying degrees of mental imagery people are capable of. Read all about the more extensive information on Aphantasia on The Eye’s Mind.

Although there have been studies about Aphantasia for quite a while, there is still much to learn. The important thing to remember is that, while people with ‘normal’ brain functioning can’t imagine life without mental movies, the majority of people with Aphantasia can’t imagine-literally- life with them.