Aphantasia

So I had other plans for the first blog post, but something came to my attention the other day and I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s likely you don’t know this word, and I don’t blame you because I had never heard of it either until a few days ago.

Let’s preface this by saying most humans can visualize images and colors in their mind just by closing their eyes and thinking about it. And I, in my late twenties, NEVER knew people could do this.. and that I was actually missing something pretty significant that the majority of the population can do. It wasn’t until a friend on Facebook posted that they had just found out they have Aphantasia, which is the inability to see or picture images in your mind, that I realized so did I.

It was shocking, confusing, and brought about SO many questions. Why has no one ever mentioned they can do this? Have people hinted at this before and I just thought they must’ve meant something else? Is this what songwriters meant when they’ve said “I see you when I close my eyes“? I really thought all of that was something like a metaphor and that they must’ve meant they were just thinking about the person a lot. Same goes for daydreaming.. I remember always being asked this on personality tests, how often I daydream, and I was always puzzled about what this meant. I had never had a daydream in my life, and I wasn’t even sure what a daydream actually was.

So I do have incredibly vivid dreams and I do see images in that way, and I remember them pretty well, but I actually used to think I had a photographic memory. Which I now know isn’t true since I don’t actually see images in my head when I am awake. I have tested this by trying my hardest to close my eyes and picture something familiar or something simple, and I see darkness, nothing else. I really had no idea that most people could see images in their mind whilst awake; eyes open or closed for some. I believe this is also why meditation has been difficult for me, as well as falling asleep in general. Sometimes the instructor for meditation will tell you to picture an ocean, and I never really understood what they meant, but I did focus on trying to think of the beach, the waves, the sounds, the air blowing.. but I could never actually see it.

This then made me think about what it means to be an Artist and have this condition. The friend that posted about this is also an Artist and Designer, and since I am as well, it makes me think about whether or not we are in fact even more creative than we previously thought since we are basing our art on pure thought process and experimentation. We have no image in our mind to go off of, or to aid in our process. I almost always have to copy from an image or a real life representation for accuracy. I also always noticed that I had more trouble than some of my classmates while in College when it came to thinking up with ideas for paintings. Now being out of college, I’ve found it even harder to come up with ideas or inspiration without prompting.

Those that find themselves relating to this, I wonder what other senses we have that are possibly heightened to make up for this difference? I wouldn’t say we are lacking anything necessarily, but that we just have a different way of thinking. And maybe that IS what makes us better artists.

Here’s a test to find out where you are in the scale of this.. Close your eyes and picture a Red Star. Open your eyes back up and view the image below to find out what ‘number’ you align with that depicts what you saw. If it is a 1, like me, it is likely you are feeling the same way I have been since I found this out. Feel free to leave a comment with which number you saw.

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