I’m a Novelist Living Without an ‘Imagination’
How discovering I have aphantasia has changed the way I see the world, my work, and the power of the mind
My name is Casey Lawrence, and I am a writer with aphantasia.
From the prefix a- meaning “without,” and the Greek root word phantasia, meaning “imagination,” aphantasia describes people who lack the ability to produce mental images. When I close my eyes, I see static — not pictures. Until I was a grown adult, I thought phrases like “picture a beach” or “visualize the outcome” were purely metaphorical. Exercises like “counting sheep” or “taking a mental snapshot” have always been meaningless to me, and the idea of “creating a mind palace” or any other meditation technique that involves using visual imagery seemed totally ineffective. When I read or write, I do not “hear” a voice reading the words on the page; I cannot make my brain read this in the voice of Morgan Freeman. I have no “interior monologue” — or at least not how most people describe it. My thoughts are not auditory, nor visual. I’ve never known anything different.
If this sounds strange to you, you’re probably one of the majority. Most people, it would seem, have some sort of visual imagination. For some people, imagination is like a high-def picture in their mind; for others, its like writing on a whiteboard in front of their eyes. Some people can hear, see, feel, and even taste thoughts — and each of these sensations falls somewhere on a scale like the one below. This scale is illustrated with a series of shapes ranging from “photo-realism” to “nothing” (hyperphantasia to complete aphantasia):
On this spectrum of ability, I fall on the far right (5). That’s right: I got nada, not even the suggestion of an apple when I’m asked to imagine an apple.
I’m not alone, but it’s hard not to feel that way sometimes. In an incredibly witty and moving account of how he discovered his own aphantasia, Blake Ross writes that
Reading this article [about a man who lost his visual…