you can’t do what?

A while back, I read what if your mind’s eye is blind? on kottke, which linked a facebook post by Blake Ross called aphantasia: how it feels to be blind in your mind.

It’s pretty lengthy, but well worth the read (no, really). It’s mind blowing. No, really.

Here’s the intro:

I just learned something about you and it is blowing my goddamned mind.

This is not a joke. It is not “blowing my mind” a la BuzzFeed’s “8 Things You Won’t Believe About Tarantulas.” It is, I think, as close to an honest-to-goodness revelation as I will ever live in the flesh.

Here it is: You can visualize things in your mind.

If I tell you to imagine a beach, you can picture the golden sand and turquoise waves. If I ask for a red triangle, your mind gets to drawing. And mom’s face? Of course.

You experience this differently, sure. Some of you see a photorealistic beach, others a shadowy cartoon. Some of you can make it up, others only “see” a beach they’ve visited. Some of you have to work harder to paint the canvas. Some of you can’t hang onto the canvas for long. But nearly all of you have a canvas.

I don’t. I have never visualized anything in my entire life. I can’t “see” my father’s face or a bouncing blue ball, my childhood bedroom or the run I went on ten minutes ago. I thought “counting sheep” was a metaphor. I’m 30 years old and I never knew a human could do any of this. And it is blowing my goddamned mind.

This blew my mind because – THIS IS ME!

I can’t make mental pictures. Until I read this I had no idea other people could. Mind. Totally. Blown.

It is incredibly weird to discover that most people have this ability that you don’t have. And that you have reached such an advanced age and are only just finding this out.

The best I can do is varying sizes of grey blobs in my head, but mostly it is just a blank void. I mainly “visualise” things with words and descriptions. I can’t hold an image of people’s faces in my head, I can’t conjure up pictures at all. I have an endless wordy narrative running in my head all day long. The words-not-images thing probably explains why I am a voracious reader and why I take a large number of photos.

I really did think counting sheep was a metaphor for simple counting, I use the same language as everyone else of “visualising” things, but I genuinely thought that was a metaphor too.

Obviously aphantasia is a spectrum and I am rather different in other ways from Blake Ross. For me, it’s just the inability to make mental images. Unlike Ross I have very vivid dreams and can play music in my head. I have a better than usual memory (though as I get older it is not quite so razor-sharp). I also have excellent recall – I can usually tell immediately when I have been somewhere before, even if it was many years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten where I’ve parked, for example. I’m very good at recognising people – even people I haven’t seen for years or have met only once. I suspect my brain has developed as some sort of compensatory mechanism – data is obviously still getting to my brain and being retained there, but I’m not accessing it as others do.

I’ve been thinking of signing up for the Exeter University research study. But I’m still not quite convinced that everyone else can really see pictures in their minds and I’m not misinterpreting the whole thing!

About carolbaby

is me!
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2 Responses to you can’t do what?

  1. Harriet says:

    Far out, you blew my mind because I had no idea that some people couldn’t see pictures in their mind! This is amazing – and that some people may see their pictures in cartoon form, etc – wow.

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