My posts about aphantasia
In April 2018, I started to write about the subject of aphantasia. At the time, I thought the condition was an entertaining quirk, something I was amused to have unexpectedly discovered about myself, with few practical implications. The more I thought and wrote about it, though, the more it seemed to me that the absence of a visual imagination has had a profound effect on the way I perceive and relate to the world.
The posts listed below don’t reflect a consistent development in my thinking on the subject. Rather, I’ve been tentatively exploring the subjective experience of having this condition, and trying out ideas. It’s important that I emphasize that I’m neither a scientist nor medically qualified. What you will find here are merely the speculations of a fiction writer, attempting to record and respond to my own experience of aphantasia.
These are the pieces I’ve posted since April 2018 (at first on Medium and more recently on this site) in reverse chronological order:
- I forgot the future: SDAM,aphantasia and a purpose in life
Before I knew I had aphantasia and SDAM, a psychotherapist asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had no idea. But now I know. It helped that I discovered that it’s not necessary to see the future in order to have one.
- Does someone with aphantasia dream in colour?
For years, I believed that my dreams were vivid and eventful, I just couldn’t remember them. Then I tried keeping a dream diary.
- The five stages of coming to terms with aphantasia
2018 was the year that I discovered that my inability to visualize is not something that everbody shares, and that we don’t all imagine and remember in the same way. I look back on my changing thoughts and feelings about this discovery at the end of that first year.
- Motivation, productivity and aphantasia
It’s easy to overlook the importance of being able to “see” the thing that motivates you. It’s hard to imagine now but for years I believed that I could and should be motivated by an abstract idea.
- Aphantasia, sex and gender
I’m just starting to appreciate the extent to which sex and memory are intertwined. That has implications for me, as a person with SDAM, but I haven’t yet got very far in working out what those implications are.
- Aphantasia and executive function
It’s possible that an inability to visualize may impair our nonverbal working memory, an important executive function.
- Aphantasia can look a bit like ADHD
Inability to focus? Unfinished projects? A chaotic workspace and poor tidying-up skills? An unshakeable conviction that gratification deferred is gratification forgone? That’s all to be expected when you can’t “see” things in your head.
- Gender identity and aphantasia
Is the lack of a sense of gender identity the result of not having a visual self-image, or are the two absences independent of each other? It’s difficult to be sure when you can’t experience somebody else’s self-perception.
- Anxiety, identity and self-image
If you can’t form mental images, one of the things you won’t be able to picture in your head is yourself. Is a nonvisual self-concept actually better than an inevitably distorted self-image, or would it be preferable to have the pictures, however unreliable?
- Might aphantasia be learned behaviour?
Aphantasia is authoritatively believed to be inherited, but there is at least one known case of it’s being acquired following injury. So perhaps it can be either. I take a highly speculative look at my own childhood (to the extent I can remember it).
- There is no Plan A
People who can’t visualize are incapable of holding a road map, a plan or a workflow diagram in our heads, nor can we take a quick mental glance at our schedules. Some aphantasics have found workarounds for planning, prioritizing and scheduling, but by no means all of us.
- Aphantasia, memory and self-image
There seems to be a connection between aphantasia and SDAM (severely deficient autobiographical memory). After all, if you can’t “see” your memories, you’re hardly going to experience them vividly. Also: the disconcerting experience of failing to recognize oneself in a photo.
- Aphantasia is not a disability
Aphantasia affects different people in very different ways, depending on a variety of factors, notably their occupations, circumstances and personalities. For many it seems to have no adverse affects at all and for most it is no more than an inconvenience.
- Straight “A”s
I thought I might have long-undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder. The therapist surprised me by telling me that what I actually suffer from is anxiety. No doubt she’s right, but what I didn’t know while I was seeing her is that I also have aphantasia.
Finally, there’s a post about autobiographical or episodic memory, and how I dealt with that subject in a short story before I knew I had aphantasia:
Deficient episodic memory in my short story “The Bourne Indeterminacy”
Last updated by Art 14-Jun-2020