I have Aphantasia (Zeman et al., 2015). This means that I do not have the ability to visualise. I cannot ‘see’ in visual imagery. I cannot picture objects, people or places in my ‘mind’s eye’ (whatever that is) in the same way that, apparently, most people can. Until relatively recently I assumed when people talked about ‘seeing’ things or ‘visualising’ they were just using a metaphor for thinking, or maybe conceptualising. However, it transpires that for an estimated 98% of the population, ‘visualisation’ does indeed mean ‘visualisation’, albeit at different degrees of clarity. The other 2%, like me, see… black! This is not necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing, but it is a thing. At the very least, it is one example of the natural variation between human brains, and how people perceive the world.
I have been called a ‘visual thinker’ more than once, because a lot of my academic work has involved, or been accompanied by, drawing, photography or other visual media. However, while I do not think in pictures, I do find it useful to think with pictures. Here, drawing could perhaps be understood as a kind of ‘extended cognition’ (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). My drawings etc are not reproductions of what I ‘see’ in my mind. Creating or using visuals helps me to think – extends my thinking – in ways which my brain does not otherwise allow.
References / resources:
Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. analysis, 58(1), 7-19.
Zeman, A. Z., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. (2015). Lives without imagery-Congenital aphantasia.
There’s an interesting Podcast on Aphantasia here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000h0ff
An article on the ex-chief of Pixar and his Aphantasia: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47830256
The Aphantasia Network is here: https://aphantasia.com