- Oct 29, 2002
- East of Suez
Imagine realising that you’ve spent your whole life unable to visualise anything in your mind. Helen Thomson speaks to a 42-year-old man whose internal world is pictureless.
By Helen Thomson
25 May 2016
Close your eyes and visualise the face of the person you love the most. The colour of their eyes, the texture of their hair, the detail of their skin. Can you imagine it? Philip can’t.
Although Philip, a 42-year old photographer from Toronto, is happily married, he can’t conjure up his wife’s face because he has no images of any kind in his mind’s eye. When he thinks about a face, it comes to him as an idea, as an intellectual concept, rather than a mental picture.
This newly described condition is called aphantasia and has prompted scientists to reexamine an experience that we so often take for granted – our imagination. What’s more, studying it is offering new insights into how we all might boost our visual imagery to improve our memory, increase our empathy and even gain new treatments for conditions like addiction and anxiety.
Aphantasia was first discovered in 1880, but has recently attracted much more attention thanks to a 2015 study by Adam Zeman at the University of Exeter and colleagues, who investigated the claims of 21 people who were unable to summon images to their mind’s eye.
Continued at length:
It's also fascinating that for the vast majority of his life he believed that all talk of imagination - all - was figurative!