How do I start imagining pictures

"Everything stayed black" - how it feels to have no imagination

"If I tell you to close your eyes and imagine a beach, can you?" That is by far one of the most unexpected and weird questions my friend Sam has ever asked me in the past ten years of our friendship "My brother recently told me that most people can do this, but we can't," she tells me while I still look puzzled.

At 26, Sam discovered that she was one of the estimated 2 percent of the population who have Aphantasia, which in effect means that her inner eye is blind.

"When my brother first asked me if I could really visualize the blue water and yellow sand, the question looked pretty ridiculous at first," she says. "He read an article about Aphantasia and said that the Most people have some kind of inner picture in front of them when they imagine things - but not me. Everything stayed black for me. "

“At first,” she continues, “I thought it was probably a matter of interpretation, but then I talked to others about it and what they described to me was definitely not what I was experiencing in my head. I reacted somewhat disappointed Like I've just found out that everyone else has some incredible superpower that they've been keeping a secret from me until then. "

The term Aphantasia has only been around since 2015. He was shaped by Adam Zeman, a professor of cognitive behavioral neurology at the University of Exeter in England. Professor Zeman has since heard of about 10,000 people who, like Sam, are unable to visualize things.

Read more:A dream researcher explains how to fight nightmares

The researcher first encountered this condition about ten years ago. At the time, a patient in his 60s told him that he had lost his visual ability as a result of heart surgery. “He was a very eloquent, intelligent man and liked to imagine the faces of his friends or places he had already been to before his operation. He also read a lot and enjoyed immersing himself in the visual world of novels, "explains Zeman.

“It is absolutely unclear what happened during his heart surgery, but we suspect that he likely suffered a minor stroke. If so, it could be the reason he lost the ability to consciously visualize things. "

After about this case im Discover Magazine When it was reported, people started contacting Zeman saying, "I feel just like this man, but I've always been like that." Like Sam, many of them assumed that what Happening in their minds is no different from other people's.

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Tamara, 32, found out at 23 that she had Aphantasia while she was buying a new couch with her mother. “My mother is pretty good at imagining things. At that time she only knew the layout of my new room. When I saw a couch that I liked, she just glanced at it and said, 'No, it won't fit.' I pulled out the tape measure and lo and behold, it was too big, "she says.

“I asked her how she could know that. She just said that she took the couch and mentally placed it in the corner of the floor plan. I was totally confused and started asking more and more people if they could do that too. "

When she realized that she lacked her mother's ability to visualize things, Tamara began to ask a total of 463 different people if they could visualize things. “Neither of them had Aphantasia. The images in their heads were all different, however, and different degrees of strength, and each used their visual imagination in a different way, "she says.

Where does this mental quirk come from? As a neurologist, Professor Zeman says, “That's a very good question. I would suspect that something about the brain [of people with Aphantasia] is a little different. There could also be a genetic component. There are people born with Aphantasia and some who don't get it until something bad happens to the brain — I guess there could be psychological reasons. "

When I try to imagine pictures, I sometimes see flashes of light.

In any case, Zeman notes that research still has a long way to go. “Everything I can tell you so far is based on subjective reports and questionnaire data. We're just starting to explore or measure autobiographical memory and so on and put people in the scanner to see if their brains behave differently when they try to visualize a thought, "he explains.

The PhD student Tamara was so fascinated by Aphantasia that this year she held a TEDx Talk on the subject of "How to see the world without an inner eye".

“Aphantasia encompasses everything for me - images, smells, tastes, sounds. But there are also people with aphantasia who have a low level of visual imagination and who also dream in pictures, "she explains." I found it extremely interesting that each individual's imagination is different, although each of us thinks that he Sees things in his head just like anyone else. "

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Various sources on the net - including Tamara's TEDx video - have also helped Sam put her experiences into words. “When I try to imagine pictures, I sometimes see flashes of light, but involuntarily. It's like trying to interpret the signals from my brain instead of processing them into an image and skipping a step in the process. The end result is always the same, "she says.

“Of course I know what bread looks, feels, smells and tastes like and when I see bread, then I am also able to identify it as bread. But that's more verbal than sensory information, "she says." When I think of a friend, for example, I know what he looks like, but I just don't have a picture. It's like he's in the dark in front of me - it's pitch black so I can't see him, but I'm 100 percent sure he's there. "

Zoe, 31, started thinking about her imagination after seeing an online post shared on Facebook by Firefox founder Blake Ross. "For 30 years I always thought it was just a metaphor for people to say that they couldn't get pictures out of their heads or when they said things like, 'Picture it,'" she says.

Unlike Sam and Tamara, Zoe is not completely aphantastic. Regarding the example of the beach, she says: “My imagination is very limited, but if I really concentrate, then I can visualize the beach. However, the picture is very blurry and the colors are faded - like an old photo. It's all very exemplary. "

Read more:Between dream and LSD horror trip — life with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

While Sam and Tamara have problems recalling all of their senses, Zoe says: “I can feel the sand between my toes and the warm afternoon sun on my skin. I hear the soft, rhythmic sound of the waves hitting the beach. I can smell the salty air and the smell of sunscreen. It's just like I closed my eyes at that moment. But I also find that much more useful than being able to get an idea. "

According to Professor Zeman, this is pretty normal. "There is a certain spectrum that depends, of course, on whether only the visual imagination is affected or whether all the senses are affected," he explains. "If you ask a large group of people how vivid their thoughts are, the results are formed a bell-shaped curve. People with aphantasia - like your friend who just can't see - are detached from this curve. So they are special. "

Sam found it extremely frustrating to find that she has Aphantasia. "There's something magical to me that people can just close their eyes and imagine - I would do this all the time if I could," she says closes his eyes, can so clearly imagine that he has the feeling that she is standing in front of him. Maybe I rate that completely too, but when I hear what other people describe, Aphantasia looks pretty crappy. "


Photo: unsplash.com | Pexels | CC0

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