What is aphanstasia?
Before I just into my story and how I found out that I have this, I think that it is best that I explain what Aphantasia is, because up until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know it was a thing. The true definition of aphantasia as defined by Oxford is: “the inability to form mental images of objects that are not present”. So for example when someone says to picture an apple in your mind 98% of the population would see an apple in their mind. For the other 2% we only understand the concepts of what we know an apple to be, however we cannot physically picture an apple inside of our mind.
How did I discover that I had this?
I actually stumbled upon this recently as I was reading Illuminae and chatting with one of my friends. I was having a lot of trouble understanding what was happening in the story, when someone said that they felt like it was super immersive and they could vividly see everything as it was unfolding. That was when I realized when people say they picture things they ACTUALLY SEE IT!
I am not going to lie, at 24 years old this blew my mind. It took 24 years for me to learn that when people say they “picture” something they see an image in their head. People can actually recall landscapes and people face in their own mind? I didn’t even have words.
One of my bestest friends pointed me to an article written by the incredible fantasy author Mark Lawrence that you can read here.here. It was insane to me that this “thing” I was living with my whole life was even a thing. It made no sense, but perfect sense at the same time.
How does it affect my reading?
As of right now I am not sure how it affects my reading, simply because I have always been a reader with this. It has made me question a lot of things though. I have always noticed that I do not remember details of books like the people around me. When I am actively reading a book I am fine, once I set it down for a few hours I can remember the big events of what’s going on, but often times not character names. A day or two after finishing I forget most of the small moments and within a few weeks I forget almost all main parts of the story. I always chalked it up as bad memory, but some people that I have chatted with since having this realization if that is why I don’t remember books vividly. Science have shown if we read it, see it, and hear it we will remember. I don’t have the “see it” option to recall upon.
The thing about SciFi?
Science Ficiton and Fantasy are genres that usually go hand-in-hand. Most fantasy readers also have a list of their favorite sci-fi books and vice versa. As a fantasy reader, one of my biggest frustrations with myself is that I just cannot get into Science Fiction. In fact, Illuminae is the first science fiction book I have actually finished all the way through, and that is not for lack of trying. I have always felt a disconnect with Science Fiction and I think my Aphantasia may be to blame for that. In both fantasy and contemporary books I have a frame of reference as to what everything is. When you mention a forest, I have seen a forest before and even though I cannot visualize it in my head I have a concept of what it is. In science fiction we often get into these ships and these planets that I have no frame of reference and because I do not have a frame of reference already in my mind it creates this disconnect that doesn’t allow me to become truly immersed in a story. Leaving me bored and often times confused.
Overall this was such a crazy thing to learn about myself at 24 years old, and I am just very curious about people who CAN visualize things.
For anyone wondering if they may have Aphantasia as well I found this easy test on Reddit. People with Aphantasia will “picture” box 1.