During Graded Motor Imagery courses we run an exercise as part of the session on imagined movements that we call ‘taking a virtual walk’. Divided into pairs, one participant takes a literal walk around the venue, noting the specific sights, sounds, smells and feelings. Upon their return they take their partner on the same walk, but do it virtually – they describe in detail the specific sights, sounds, smells and feelings, asking their partner to vividly imagine the experience. On occasions, we have had participants report that they are just unable to imagine seeing what their partner is describing. When questioned further, they’ve reported that they simply don’t ‘see’ anything ‘in their mind’. This has always intrigued us and definitely had us wondering about imagined sound and vision.
A recent piece by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times explores this experience and reports on a recently published paper in Cortex that gives this phenomenon a name – aphantasia:
“Certain people, researchers have discovered, can’t summon up mental images — it’s as if their mind’s eye is blind. This month in the journal Cortex, the condition received a name: aphantasia, based on the Greek word phantasia, which Aristotle used to describe the power that presents visual imagery to our minds…
Among the questions, the scientists asked their subjects to picture things like a sunrise. Try as they might, most of the respondents couldn’t see anything. But some of them did report rare, involuntary flashes of imagery. The mention of a friend’s name, for instance, might briefly summon a face.
When the scientists asked their subjects to mentally count the windows in their house or apartment, 14 succeeded. They seem to share MX’s ability to use alternate strategies to get around the lack of a mind’s eye.”
I can’t imagine what it would be like not to be able to imagine an image… David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” seems like appropriate pondering music here:
I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude, over my head
Don’t you wonder sometimes, ’bout sound and vision
Would love to hear from anyone out there that has this experience, or knows of someone who does, in comments below.
Last chance to get on a Graded Motor Imagery course in Australia this year – David Butler in Sydney 10-11 July.