I just found out that most of you can just shut your eyes and see a pyramid any time you want? What the hell?!
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Aphantasia (Experience pt3)
In the May 1977 issue of American Psychological Review there is an article called Telling More Than We Can Know. Verbal Reports on Mental Processes. Whilst it differs from person to person is concludes that most people are unable to accurately communicate their inner lives. And yet, it says, we should not dismiss arguments made from introspection. Subjective certainly can be shared across many people.
Last weekend I found out I have Aphantasia. It’s taken 36 years to realise that ‘mind’s eye’ isn’t a figure of speech. Or the metaphoric space I have always believed it to be.
Aphantasia, for those who don’t know. Is the inability to voluntarily create mental images in one’s mind. The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880. But the term wasn’t coined until a 2015 study conducted by the University of Exeter.
I’ve known about Aphantasia for years. But I always assumed lack of fantasy meant something else. Like, not having an imagination or something.
Back in episode 18-05, a true deep cut, I spoke about my Synesthesia. I said I “see’ and “feel” conversations in my mind’s eye. I am aware of the existence of, or rather presence of, a shape, colour, or texture. But I don’t see or picture anything.
I thought the place that this synesthetic awareness occurs in was the mind’s eye. Which is why I had assumed I didn’t have aphantasia. But no. People can literally visualise shapes, and colours, and do it all the time.
I only found out because I was watching a video of people doing an Aphantasia test and was blown away by their responses.
Let’s do it right now.
Close your eyes.
Imagine a ball sitting on a table.
*Some Time elapses*
Ok, we’re done. What colour was the ball? What material was the table?
Post your answers in the comments on my blog.
In the video without hesitation people would say “I saw a silver ball on a wooden table”, or “the pixar ball on a laminated school desk”.
What the hell!!??!!
I close my eyes, and there’s nothing. Just blackness. Just the concept of a ball placed on the concept of a table. Hanging there in the same mental void as I feel, navigate and think in. The same mental space that my synesthesia manifests itself in.
It’s not that I don’t have an imagination, I just don’t visualise thoughts or even memories.
So Mea Culpa. I’ve been using the term ‘mind’s eye’ wrong my entire life.
Years ago, I spent hours of my life, day after day, trying to visualise the platonic solids. I worked so hard at it, week after week. I managed to get some of the solids to a level 2 on the Aphantasia scale.
I was so happy, so pleased.
THIS I thought is what all the pythagorean cult visualisation exercises are all about.
Now I find out that most of you can just shut your eyes and see a fucking pyramid any time you want?
What the hell!?
Apparently people read books and see it like a movie playing out in their minds? Most people can close their eyes and picture the face of a loved one? I can recall the details of what people look like, but I can’t imagine up a mental photo of them on demand.
This has caused me to reconsider my own claims about my perception of the world and how I understand them. I will have been meditating for 10 years this year. In 2019 I began to no longer experience myself as being inside my head, behind my eyes and between my ears. I moved into my own body. But what does this mental spatialization even mean when there’s people out there who can think ‘think shapes’?
I’m honestly blown away. Shocked even.
I have 1000’s of hours of meditation under my belt – I’ve done a great deal of it. And honestly, I have always thought there was something fishy about guided meditation and visualisation exercises. “You’re standing in a forest. Inside the Heart Chakra. The green of the Anahata”. I’ve never been about to do it. I can be inside the concept of the forest, nested in the concept of the heart chakra. But why make me walk through a wood in my mind to get from one to another. I’ve never understood it. But now i realise that everyone else in the room was fucking walking though a wood in their mind I totally understand. But It’s not for me.
I don’t know what to make of it all. A spirit is something you can see with your eyes closed – I agree. I’ve had all sorts of intense visions and experiences when meditating and I’m now more convinced of their validity. I’ve seen all sorts of shit in the looking glass when doing psychomanteum work too.
I also wonder about my hyperreal memories of DnD games coexisting, co-located between the world we’d conjured and the kitchen we would play in. Remembering the game world and the world.
I think about all the people going about their daily lives just.. assuming that their experience of the world is similar to others. When something as fundamental as even having a mind’s eye can be so different from person to person.
We must all do better to cultivate deeper understandings of others’ goings on in this world.
The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.
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