What it's like to have aphantasia, the inability to create mental pictures

Originally published at: What it's like to have aphantasia, the inability to create mental pictures | Boing Boing


That’s fascinating. I couldn’t imagine (pun intended I guess) living without the images I see all the time. Or losing interest in reading, which has been a big part of my life. Or how that would affect my writing.


Serious question - Do you actually “see” images or pictures, whatever, in your mind while reading, etc.? Or is it just a phrase to see something with your mind’s eye? I’ve never seen an image in my mind but always when I’ve heard people say to draw a mental image I assumed it to mean to just think about it.

1 Like

I see images. I see the words as well, although sometimes I get so absorbed in the book it’s almost literally like watching a movie. Reading The Black Watch for the first time lately and as I thought about your question and remembered last night’s section, it was all very movie’ish (even though it’s only a so-so book for my tastes).


I think this must be a spectrum. Because I am definitely not aphantasic but I also don’t literally see images. I will picture characters in my mind when they’re being described but it’s not like I continually see the action in front of me while reading.

In other words, I don’t see movies when I read, but I also don’t not?

These kinds of descriptions always make me wonder whether we are just describing the same experience with different words or whether there actually is a difference.



Do you think you might have aphantasia? Consider the following questions:

  • Think of a friend or family member. Try to conjure an image of their face in your mind. How clearly can you see their features, face, hair, and shape?
  • How clearly can you picture their characteristic movements and gestures?
  • How vividly can you picture that person’s clothing?

If you struggle with your responses to these questions, you might have some degree of aphantasia.

Even better - screen yourself:


Thanks for the checklist! I have no problem with any of these. That’s why I’m wondering whether it is an issue of the two of us interpreting and describing a similar experience differently or whether there actually is a real difference.

Brains are weird and asking a brain to objectively describe its own perception must be one of the most impossible things to ask of it.


Could be a good thing? None of that “this didn’t turn out the way I imagined” frustration. Just creating in the moment.

1 Like

Literally I cannot do any of that. I agree with Doctor_Faustus in that trying to describe what your brain does is difficult. But at no time do I have in my mind any image (moving or stationary) of any real or imaginary thing or scenario. I don’t in any way feel limited by this. I think I have a good imagination and when I was working one of the things I did best was quickly run through in my head all of the possible outcomes of any proposed actions. None of it involved any images, though. Thanks for the responses!


Is there an equivalent article about the opposite? It seems odd to single this particular manifestation of the endless bizarreness of the brain out…!
About the only thing I am completely certain about is that there is no such thing as “normal”. We’re all just varying degrees of odd, it’s just that some of us are perhaps better at faking it.


One question I’m curious about: is there an equivalent for acoustic, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory “mental image” equivalents? When I read I hear as much as see the words, I have mental imagery but not terribly vivid, but my ability to imagine tastes, smells, and tactile sensations is quite bad.


I’ve never questioned seeing images in my head and often assumed they were there for an idiot check of the words I take in. An example from my youth: When the Dungeon master described the room, great; there’s a great big, grey box waiting to be filled with objects and momentums in a half rendered, fleeting brain image. When he says there are suddenly 40 orcs in front of me, my “word brain” reaches for the biggest defense (forgive me in this current timeline, please) but the “image brain” just says, Woah! that can’t have happened–there’s simply no room or trajectory for that available.

Later when riding motorcycles, my brain was constantly bubbling with visual scenerios–usually in a quick illustration of Will this curve get me what I want? in lines and the most simplistic of 3-D space, etc. Word descriptions are too slow in the moment. I get that this is working backwards but I simply reach for images before words.

I guess the tl;dr would be: Pictures fast; words slow but how does this relate to the evolutionary brain and why does this spectrum of brains occur?


I have this. I only in the past year had a word to describe it. I was at a party in VR when a guy was putting people though a thought exercise to explain it and I was over the side freaking out as he was putting in words the thing I always was. I would think how people visualize in media were just narrative exaggeration.

I have met many people with this condition in VR and I realize the selection bias going on. Furries with aphantasia are drawn to VR because you can actually see yourself as your fursona as we never had the ability to imagine it before.

Knowing my brain is different in other ways has given me the opportunity to explore now and try to understand a bit more how I think.


I appreciate this drilling down. Despite reaching for images, I cannot conjure or even bring over a face well enough to pencil it in.

The OS willing but the RAM is weak.


I was an art student, and a very semi-pro comic book artist. I’ve never had more than a flickering minds eye, and now, when I close my eyes, I just see darkness. I would love to be able to conjure up images in my head. Oddly, I do dream in colour.


That’s what I wanted to know, that the essay didn’t address: dreams

Dreams are literally conjuring images in the mind…and must be unrelated to or at least a different process from seeing something “in the mind’s eye” if one can dream but not conjure images when awake.


If I was an art student it may be a problem.

Surprisingly, it’s not that big of an issue for Nanashi Mumei who said she has this issue that also affects her visual memory and she happens to be an art student too. She has a knack for drawing very realistic animal photos, nightmare fuel or a bizzaro combination of the two.

So much so that Hololive staff has banned her from drawing other members after that day^ without their explicit permission so they won’t get creeped out that bad haha.


I ‘suffer’ from this as well, but only discovered that I was different about 5 years ago. Like everyone else, I thought my mental life was typical (well, except for the voices) and that “mind’s eye” was just a metaphor.

It is a spectrum, with synesthesia along toward the other end. There are constellations of phenomena and experience that group with it. For example, I know right from left, east from west etc, but in daily life I have to think consciously about every such choice. Watching and describing a boxing match, for instance, is an exercise in hilarity. This is not an uncommon companion to aphantasia.

As many have said here already, brains are weird and there is no single normal.


Same here, which is why film adaptations of older books makes me one of those people who gets annoyed when they don’t match up with images that have been in my head for years. With newer material, I’ll read it after watching it just to avoid that reaction.

This is why I couldn’t be an artist, because my talents lie elsewhere. Fortunately I can find talented people who can realize my “vision” much better than I ever could! :wink:

Same here. Every one of mental movies has a soundtrack!

My big question is whether or not there are reliable techniques to turn this off. If I think of a song, and it plays in my head, and it’s something I recorded years ago (or it’s from an album), the next song on the playlist follows, and one tune turns into ten or twenty.

Watched that video, and immediately thought of Bigwig’s fight with General Woundwort. Less than ten seconds in, and that scene popped into my head! This is why I avoid watching horror movies, because scenes from them can replay in my mind for years. Sometimes thought stopping techniques work, but it’s not always effective. Definitely don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of sad or scary events from real life, because that’s worse. So far, the only thing that always stops “automatic playback” mode is immersing myself in external images and sounds. :woman_shrugging:t4: Thank goodness for unicorn chasers and eye bleach!


I have a similar disability, called a-Fantasia. It is the inability to imagine Mickey Mouse conducting classical music.