Do You Have Aphantasia?

Personally I don’t, but when I came across this article in I Fucking Love Science, it explained a lot.

Picture a sandy beach, waves lapping at the shore, and the Sun setting on the horizon. For most people this is an easy task, but for a small proportion, it’s impossible. Known as “aphantasia,” doctors have described for the first time a condition where people can’t form mental images in their “mind’s eye.”

It’s thought that as many as one in fifty people might have aphantasia.

“I can remember not understanding what ‘counting sheep’ entailed when I couldn’t sleep,” said Kenmuir in a statement. “I assumed they meant it in a figurative sense. When I tried it myself, I found myself turning my head to watch invisible sheep fly by. I’ve spent years looking online for information about my condition, and finding nothing. I’m very happy that it is now being researched and defined.”

A few probing questions later, and I realized that my boyfriend has aphantasia.

I used to get very frustrated with him, when asking him to recall certain things. “Just picture it”, I’d say to him, “Just close your eyes and remember what it looks like. Then describe it to me”. He wouldn’t even bother closing his eyes. “I can’t”, he’d reply. “But you’re not even trying! Just try to remember!”

It turns out, he cannot visualize images, whether recollections or imaginary. I thought he was just being lazy, and his very poor memory was in part a result of his not trying to push himself mentally. I was wrong. This also makes him an abysmal liar, though that is something I can’t really complain about.

The funny thing is, people with aphantasia can still dream, despite the fact that they cannot recall images in their “mind’s eye”.

This is a relatively new discovery, and more research is needed in order to figure out exactly how this all works, and how the neural pathways involved in dreaming differ from those necessary to voluntarily create mental pictures, but in the meantime I am still fascinated.

Do you, or does anyone you know, have aphantasia?


  1. anat says

    The phenomenon that people differ in their ability to visualize scenes was recognized by Galton way back in the late 19th century. He asked several dozens of his colleagues to imagine what their breakfast table had looked like that morning and report how sharp and how detailed the image appeared to them. So I find it surprising that the existence of people at one extreme of that distribution is considered a new finding.

    I am weakly phantasic (phantastic?). I can visualize, but if I try to focus on any kind of detail in the image it kind of dissolves, and I get the feeling that I can’t trust the image to be related to a physical source.

  2. roachiesmom says

    I was going to snark something about “yep, on VHS and DVD both.”

    Then I read the blog. Yes, actually, I do have it. OMG this is a Thing!!! It’s not just me?!

    I’ve never been able to grasp even the concept of trying to mentally picture things. And people would get annoyed and frustrated with me. They never seem to understand how frustrating it is to me, either, trying and trying to even understand this concept of actually picturing things in thought, much less do it. Later, I thought maybe it was another autism thing, but then I have friends in aspie groups who can visualize. Some visualize to the point that it sounds like almost every thought they have is in pictures. I just can’t even.

    I’m not sure where it falls on the aphantasia, um, ‘spectrum’, but I usually dream in words. For as long as I can remember. And it’s weird, because yes, sometimes those words are images, like I can see them on the page; I am aware of reading in my dreams*. I do have a few other, very rare, dreams/aspects of dreams where I can sort of recall images, but later it’s more about having words that describe what I vaguely remember seeing in the dream.

    It’s all about the words for me. I think in words, I dream in words, I create in words. Even when I look at an object and suddenly know what else it could be, it’s not because I can picture it, that end result, any more than I could take my eyes off the item itself and ‘picture’ it without looking right at it.

    *And without fail, I always wake up right before the end of the dream book. I never get to read the to the end! But I swear, there is either a superpower or a novel here in this somewhere.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Now Im thinking… what would it have been like for you if you had never learned to read or write? How would you dream or “picture” then?

  3. purrs says

    …I think I can form mental pictures, but now I’m second-guessing myself and getting ridiculously existential about the whole thing. Can someone who thinks they’re definitely not aphantasic describe what it’s like to visualize something? Just to be sure?

    • miserble git says

      Could someone share what they ‘see’. If you are asked to imagine sheep jumping over a fence do you actually see an image of woolly white sheep leaping over a wooden fence or what?

      I personally don’t see anything, I think of the sheep jumping over the fence.

      Oddly I also kiss with my eyes open, always have. Don’t know if that’s related or just me being weird

  4. says

    I have aphantasia. It’s a less extreme version than Blake Ross describes in his article, or how you describe your boyfriends aphantasia. I’d describe my form as having images that I am unable to see, rather than truly not having images. I can think of an elephant, form an “image” of sorts, without ever seeing it. It’s completely different from seeing things in dreams. But I can think of what my son looks like when I’m not seeing him, draw from memory, and even follow along guided visualization exercises. I’ve done that so well my whole life that I never realized I was doing anything wrong, or that other people could actually see the things being described! Anyway, wanted to pass that along, since you were asking about people with aphantasia.

    Sorry about the necro, but wanted to contribute since I actually do have aphantasia.

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