Aphantasia – Being Blind In The Mind

In the year 2003, a 63-year-old patient bought a strange problem to Dr. Adam Zeman, a neurologist. The patient, who was later titled‘ MX,’ could not conjure up images in his mind of his family, friends, and the places he had visited. MX, a retired surveyor, was doing fine, living his life while happily reading novels and drifting off to sleep with the images of his loved ones in his mind. All was fine until he underwent a minor surgery that left him blind in mind. 

Since MX, Zeman and his team have had 16,000 people tell them that they have no mental imagery. Scientists have also claimed that this condition has tens of millions of sufferers. The condition that MX suffered from is now called Aphantasia. The word is derived from the Greek term ‘Phantasia,’ which means ‘imagination.’ 

Meaning of Aphantasia

Historical References

The first ever mention of the phenomena of being mentally blind was in an 1880 study by Francis Galton named “breakfast.” Francis, a British naturalist, asked 100 adult men to describe the table where they had breakfast. He asked for information about the color, sharpness, and lighting. To his utter surprise, 12 among the 100 men could not answer much. They had, up until that point, thought that the phrase mental imagery was not meant in the literal sense!

Since then, scientists have documented several instances of people having Aphantasia. 

In a 2009 survey by Bill Faw, a student of Brewton-Parker College, around 2% of the 2500 people he interviewed lacked mental imagery. 

However, research into the condition was inadequate until 2010. This was the year when Zeman’s study on MX was published. Discover magazine reported on the findings leading to several people coming forward and reporting similar symptoms. 

Read more: The Power of Creative Visualization Techniques.

Living A Life With Aphantasia

People having Aphantasia deal with a variety of problems every day. For instance, they regularly have difficulty in remembering faces or places. This can get infuriating with time, leading to functional and social difficulties. 

However, Aphantasia has a broad spectrum. Not all people dealing with it lack the complete ability of mental imagery across senses. Some people are able to imagine the tune of music they have heard. However, they may or may not be able to recall the images associated with them.

An article by Scientific Reports points out that some people having the condition might also be able to see some images while dreaming. However, they might lack the clarity and vividness that individuals without the condition experience. 

Read more: Mental Health And Music Therapy


The illustrations above show several invisible differences between people who suffer from Aphantasia and those who do not. However, these individuals are fully capable of living fulfilling personal and professional lives. In fact, some of these are actively working in creative and scientific industries

Aphaantasia shows how many human experiences are not as universal as they are thought to be. There are, in fact, a number of intriguing differences that exist. 

Feeling mind blown yet? Well, we are just getting started. 

Apart from Aphantasia, there lie a host of unusual psychological disorders. To know more about them, click here.

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