I Don’t Have a Mind’s Eye or Inner Voice
In 2019, I had the most life-changing discovery I’ve ever experienced.
I didn’t know until a year ago that most people can visualise. I have never been able to see any images in my mind.
My mind is a black hole. It’s just… empty. Darkness and silence. Words and thoughts appear in my mind, but I cannot see them.
I also cannot hear anything in my mind, although this might not be related. As it turns out, some people can visualise, but not hear anything in their head, and vice versa. I have no internal monologue, I imagine that could be really annoying.
This neurodivergence is called aphantasia.
The funny thing is, I had always assumed that everyone functions this way. I thought that people were weirdly obsessed with metaphors like ‘picture this’ or ‘visualise’. It turns out they’re not metaphors.
Some Questions For You
Do you have visual memories?
Can you close your eyes and ‘picture’ something?
Do you see colourful, detailed images, or faint outlines?
It’s fascinating to ask these questions because there is a huge variation in visualisation ability. Some people can ‘see’ colourful, detailed images, complete with sounds or even smells. Others can only visualise outlines or ‘ghost-like’ images. Or if you’re like me and have aphantasia, there is just nothing.
It’s estimated that 3% of the world’s population are ‘mind blind’, according to The Aphantasia Network. If that number is accurate, it’s quite a rare phenomenon!
How I Discovered I Have Aphantasia
After a traumatic incident, I struggled with PTSD. During a therapy session, my therapist told me to close my eyes and picture a beach.
I got frustrated. I asked why he wanted me to do some metaphorical bullsh*t, thinking “I’m not Sherlock, I don’t have a mind palace”.
Then he explained.
My worldview changed in an instant. How had I existed for 24 years without knowing this?!
After therapy, I told everyone I know to picture a beach and asked if they can actually see it in their minds. They can.
Well, everyone except my mother, which may or may not be a coincidence. Hopefully, future research will help us understand if aphantasia is genetic.
After the therapy incident, I wrote a frantic blog post about aphantasia and found out that my internet friends can also visualise. I felt like my whole life was a lie.
I had heard of rare neurodivergences like eidetic memories and synaesthesia. The part I didn’t know was that most people have a visual imagination.
Initially, I felt jealous of most people in the world and their colourful, visual minds.
Am I empty inside?!
I can’t revisit memories in my mind. I can’t remember most experiences without photographs. I can’t even imagine what my own mother looks like, just a list of descriptive words.
I can’t remember my own childhood, save for a few specific incidents... like getting bitten by a monkey in Gibraltar.
I also find it very difficult to recognise people, especially if I haven’t seen them for a while.
Some Realisations I Had
1) I thought that ‘counting sheep’, ‘imagining an audience naked’, and ‘picturing someone’ were entirely metaphorical concepts.
2) You can actually have a song stuck in your head?! Mindblown.
3) I could never understand how Beethoven composed his music while deaf. How could he hear the music? Was he a magical enigma? I guess he could hear music in his head… like most people.
4) People can visualise characters and scenes while reading fiction! Now I understand why people often get frustrated at movies for not representing characters ‘how they imagined’. I prefer fiction with very descriptive language because my mind doesn’t fill in the gaps. Most of the time, I read non-fiction.
5) I do not understand what nostalgia feels like. At all. Someone said to me once that I wear the same perfume as his ex-girlfriend, and that it ‘took him back’. I didn’t understand how you can remember smells in that way.
6) I guess I’ve never actually daydreamed? I just think about things in words.
7) I know I have dreams and nightmares. I can recall what happened, as a description. However, I don’t actually know if I see anything while I dream because I can’t remember visually.
8) Having a phobia must be terrifying if you can visualise your fear.
9) When people say to be ‘present’ and ‘live in the moment’ as advice, I never knew what that meant. How can you not be in the moment? Are you living in the past?! It’s been explained to me that people going through emotional struggles like heartbreak or loss can replay memories in their head. It sounds awful. This is one thing I’m grateful for: my PTSD would have been worse if I could see or hear what happened to me in my mind.
10) I’m still a creative person. I make art, write music, and play several instruments… despite aphantasia. I have to express myself on paper and in the real world because there’s nothing in my head but words. When I write music, I have to physically play or sing it, then write it down to remember.
Perhaps I’d be a better artist or musician if I were neurotypical, but maybe not.
In summary: I have aphantasia and my mind is an empty black void. My entire life perspective has been changed.
Do let me know if you have aphantasia, or if you have the opposite condition known as ‘hyperphantasia’— it’s absolutely fascinating.