How I Imagine Stuff – I Don’t

   What is in people’s Mind? Could be nothing at all

Ottawa River

“I tasted it, and that was all I got. A one-time deal. I can’t taste it again in my imagination.” -Brian Leibold   It is like that for me too  because I have what is called aphantasia. It was discovered in 1880 and coined it  in 2015 by  cognitive and behavioral  neurology scientists, Adam Zeman in the UK.

I discovered I had it quite accidentally. What this means for me  is that it confirm I don’t see images in my mind. It is a neurological condition of not being able to visualize imagery in one’s mind.  At first,  I didn’t  think it was extraordinary until I discovered I was anomaly.  I have a condition that only 1 to 3 percent of the world’s population has.

  I discovered I could not visualize what my daughter was saying when she asked me to imagine a red ball on a table to test a theory, she had about me. Whenever I shut my eyes all I get is a blank slate. I can’t picture anything in my head at all! I replied no, I can’t see it. That is freaky because if – like most people – you can see in pictures in your mind, it must be hard to believe that others can’t do what you can so naturally do.  Another insight into that amazing organ, the human brain.  It fascinates me.  And a ha! moment for me.  This knowledge  significantly deepened my understanding of why I am the way I am.  Like  why I am geographically challenged and can easily  get lost. I cannot envision lakes, rivers on a map,  indeed , I cannot even  see a map in my mind. And furthermore, it now made perfect sense that when I was talking to architects who were designing either a layout of the kitchen, bathroom, or landscaping, I could not envision what they meant until it was completed, even with the swatch of color paint and tile in front of me. I could only see  it when the job was done with my eyes wide open.

Until then I always thought  when people said they saw something it was more  a metaphor … or like remembering with sense feelings like me.  It is  an interesting self-discovery  because I always thought that it was an intellectual process and not a situation of conjuring up an actual visual image with the mind. This knowledge does not change me. Although it does help me understand to some extent how my brain works or doesn’t work like others.

Four years ago, I had a partial stroke during surgery.   After that incident I developed curiosity of how my brain worked because I was diagnosed with left side neglect which fascinated me.  Although, I understood that the eye and retina are connected to our brain, I didn’t  understand how  my eyes could not see things on my left side,  until someone said there is a cup on your left side, and I would look again, and it  and  there it was. My eyes saw  the image, but it did not relay the image to my brain. For some reason the synapses  did not work.  I was fortunate that my mind continue to sense my limbs in space, so I knew where my arms legs were thankfully.      

I  thought my aphantasia  was the result of the stroke. However, upon  further consideration  I rejected that notion. My daughter confirmed this because she is aware I connect through my feelings,  and with  a powerful sense emotionally.  I often said I can’t see that image in my mind, but I thought everyone couldn’t either.  My memory works by connecting events that I have experienced and how  I felt in that moment. I have a memory of a sweater I received for my birthday as a child, it was orange,  cotton blue  and black thin horizontal stripes  and felt  so soft and warm. I know I had that sweater.  But I can’t conjure up the image of it. But I can feel what it felt like on and I can describe it.  

That said, when I think of people, I don’t get an image of them in my mind. instead, I get a “feeling” of them.   Which is why I have a picture of my late big brother, Rossi on my phone, as soon as I open my cell phone his image is right there. and it will help me remember how he looked, the cellphone image is facsimile of a visual image, if I could image him.    

You may think that I can’t dream but you would be wrong, I often dream in vivid colour. Which could mean my brain can create imagery when I am asleep, meaning it is possible it is stored in a different place than the images we can create in our mind when awake. I can’t voluntarily create images in my mind, but I can dream. Interesting, huh?  I think it is like all the data is stored in my brain  on a hard drive and it can be reassembled when needed. But it is not stored as  pictures but rather in concepts, thoughts, and feelings. I feel deeply. I once blogged that this was my superpower. My daughter corrected me and said mom your superpowers like a psychic ability. Of course, she is correct. I can often “feel”  people’s past and  their future, is it an aspect of aphantasia, I don’t know? It would make a fascinating conversation with a neuroscientist.  I  have read many of Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, and author’s books because I admire his intellect. My curiosity of the brain began prior to my discovery of  aphantasia and  partial stroke.  I have memories of my childhood home which of course, I don’t see as imagery but as I said, it is a felt perception. I enjoy  reading fiction, the more  detailed the description the more enjoyable the book is for me.  And,  if I play background music related to the book, for example if  what I’m reading is set in  India or Africa and play music from that country it deepens my enjoyment and I feel like I am right there. Don’t make the mistake that all aphantasia is the same. unlike the author of this article, I can easily recall my past and I have an exceptional memory. 

 I am a long time, meditator, I believe having aphantasia allows me to be an excellent mediator  because there are no noise, sounds in my head or images passing through my mind to distract. I can be fully present in the moment and go inward, my happy place.   To learn more information about aphantasia.   This is an excellent article to read.

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