Two nights ago I came across a video on YouTube about something called aphantasia. What this means is, the inability to create mental images inside your head, also known as visualization. The term aphantasia came from the greek word for imagination - fantasia - and the "a" means without.
For my entire life, I have always assumed that when people talk about visualizing something, or being able to "picture" something, that they meant it as a metaphor. Because for me, when I try to visualize or picture an image, what I do is basically think about that thing or scene or setting and then describe it to myself in words. I run an inner narrative describing the thing or scene, like in a book. But I do not "see" any actual image. And for my 62 years on this planet, I had NO IDEA that other people -- apparently most other people -- actually do see images and pictures in their head. For real. This blew my mind!
I immediately asked my husband to do the basic quick test: close your eyes and imagine an apple. Do you see an apple? He replies, "Yes, of course." So I say, do you actually "see" it, though, like a real apple? And he says, yes. And I am like, NO WAY. I ask, is it flat, like a picture of an apple, or is it 3-D, like a real apple? After a brief pause he reports that he can create an image of a photo, or of a real apple. Then he says he cannot believe that I do not have this ability. But it is true. I don't SEE anything! My inner screen is totally blank.
I've spent two days now absorbing everything I can find about this topic. It is a real thing. Some people have 'recovered' or learned how to create mental images. Some are able to improve their abilities somewhat, but not to the extent that other people can do. And then some people have extreme abilities sometimes called prophantasia, which means being able to project a 3-D image in front of you, like you are seeing it with your eyes instead of in the "mind's eye" which, they say, is images that appear either on the inside of the forehead or somewhere in the middle of the brain. (I would not know, since when I close my eyes I see black or dark gray with some spots of flickering lights but nothing else, in either location.)
I have begun studying how to do exercises to train the brain to be able to visualize. Last night I saw some flashes of colors in the darkness. This is supposed to be a good beginning!
I am processing what this means to me. I understand that some things that have always felt like I'm just not good at, like having sense of direction, or recognizing the faces of people I've met casually, or being able to recall visual details like what I or someone else was wearing at a specific event, were just "quirks" and didn't mean anything. But now I am beginning to understand that these limitations are related to the inability to create and hold on to mental maps and images.
One way that some people like me compensate is by using words and language to remember and process everything. Instead of a mental image, if I want to remember the details of anything, I write it down. I have journaled almost compulsively since I learned to write as a child. I now see this was because I have to put things into words if I want to recall them later.
All of this has made me very curious to know more about how other people are able to visualize, to what degree, and what if any experiences do you have with working specifically with this talent or improving it. If anyone has any thoughts or insights to share, it will be greatly appreciated.