Aphantasia is the suggested name for a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind's eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery. The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 but has since remained largely unstudied. Interest in the phenomenon renewed after the publication of a study in 2015 conducted by a team led by Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter, which also coined the term aphantasia. Research is scarce. Further studies are planned.
The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 in a statistical study about mental imagery, describing it as a common phenomenon among his peers. However, it remained largely unstudied until 2005, when Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter was approached by MX, a man who seemed to have lost the ability to visualize after undergoing minor surgery. Following the publication of MX's case in 2010, Zeman was approached by a number of people reporting a lifelong inability to visualise. In 2015, Zeman's team published a paper on what they termed "congenital aphantasia", sparking a renewed interest in the phenomenon now known simply as aphantasia. Research on the subject is still scarce, but further studies are being planned.
In the original paper by Professor Adam Zeman, the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) is used to evaluate the quality of the mental image. This questionnaire invites the person to visualize a series of images (a relative, a rising sun, a shop they know, etc.) and rank how vivid the image is, from "perfectly clear and lively as real seeing" (5 points) to "no image at all, you only know that you are thinking of the object" (1 point). It is categorized as aphantasia if they score a total of 30 or less across 16 questions.
In the same paper, it was identified that aphantasia characterizes only voluntary visualizations; the aphantasiacs were still able to have involuntary visualizations (i.e. dreams).
Another study posited that frontal engagement driving feedback connections activates sensory representations in the visual cortex; people suffering from aphantasia could have a deficit with these feedback connections such that the visual cortex cannot be activated to produce an image.
In popular cultureEdit
In April 2016 an essay by Blake Ross was published on Facebook, describing his own aphantasia and his realisation that not everyone experiences it, with the account gaining wide circulation on social media.
In December 2017, Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights was published by Alan Kendle with a foreword by Professor Adam Zeman. It contains a collection of insights from various contributors detailing their lives with aphantasia.
- Larner, A. J. (2016-04-28). A Dictionary of Neurological Signs. Springer. ISBN 9783319298214.
- Galton, Francis (19 July 1880). "Statistics of Mental Imagery". Mind. os–V (19): 301–318. doi:10.1093/mind/os-V.19.301. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Zeman, Adam; Dewar, Michaela; Della Sala, Sergio (3 June 2015). "Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia". Cortex. 73: 378–380. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019. ISSN 0010-9452. PMID 26115582.
- Gallagher, James (26 August 2015). "Aphantasia: A life without mental images". BBC News Online. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- Zimmer, Carl (22 June 2015). "Picture This? Some Just Can't". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
- Grinnell, Dustin (20 April 2016). "My mind's eye is blind – so what's going on in my brain?". New Scientist (2070). Retrieved 9 July 2016.
- "To my astonishment, I found that the great majority of the men of science to whom I first applied, protested that mental imagery was unknown to them, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in supposing that the words 'mental imagery' really expressed what I believed everybody supposed them to mean. They had no more notion of its true nature than a colour-blind man who has not discerned his defect has of the nature of colour." (Galton, 1880)
- "You might not be able to imagine things, and not know it". The Independent. 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2016-12-16.
- Zeman, Adam Z. J.; Della Sala, Sergio; Torrens, Lorna A.; Gountouna, Viktoria-Eleni; McGonigle, David J.; Logie, Robert H. (2010-01-01). "Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: A case of 'blind imagination'". Neuropsychologia. 48 (1): 145–155. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.024. PMID 19733188.
- Gallagher, James (9 April 2019). "Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says 'my mind's eye is blind'". BBC News. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
- Keogh, Rebecca; Pearson, Joel (August 2018). "The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia" (PDF). Cortex. 105: 53–60 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
- Ross, Blake (22 April 2016). "Aphantasia: How it feels to be blind in your mind". Facebook. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
- Kendle, Alan (7 December 2017). Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights. Bennion Kearny. ISBN 978-1911121428.
- Gallagher, James (2019-04-09). "'My mind's eye is blind' - ex-Pixar chief". Retrieved 2019-04-16.