“And she was richer in dreams than in reality. For things seen pass away, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Imagine a shiny red apple on a plate lying on a table alongside a sharp knife. Now, how would you feel if I told you not everybody sees the same image in their minds as you do?
When I try imagining the above scenario, I see pitch black, no hazy outline or shine insight. While I know what apples and knives look like when I try to imagine them nothing comes to mind. I’d move on to the next line and then the next paragraph and so on. My best friend, on the other hand, would have possibly travelled to another world by now. She’d probably envision the apple in graphic detail and be transported straight into the world of Snow White, where she would relive the magnificent scene where she gets the apple from the witch. My siblings’ mental imagery, on the other hand, could be somewhere in the middle.
Imagination and the clarity of the images we visualize mentally are spread across a wide spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, there are people like me with the inability to visualize images, seeing nothing but a dark void when they try to imagine something. This condition is called Aphantasia and is also known to be experienced by people with ’no mind’s eye’. On the other end there are people like my best friend, who fancy extremely vivid images, sometimes just as detailed as the ones in real life. This condition is called Hyperphantasia, more commonly known as having an overactive imagination.
People with Aphantasia typically excel in Math and more logic-dominated fields and have an analytical approach to most things in life. Research indicates that people with this condition are not affected as much by disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because they can’t relive their traumatic memories. They also tend to live more in the present as they can’t get fixated on their past or dream about their future. Most of these people may find it less fun to read since it is harder to visualize the scene the author writes, no matter how beautifully it's written. They can also find it harder to learn things like art that heavily rely on mental imagery and visualization. Surprisingly enough, Ed Catmull, a co-producer at Walt Disney suffered from Aphantasia, so it’s always possible for there to be exceptions.
As someone with Aphantasia, I can confirm that I am an ardent lover of math and logic games like Sudoku and Mahjong. I do have memories that I can recall but I can’t relive them and as a result, tend to live in the present. I love reading storybooks, especially fantasy stories, but I cannot imagine the scenes the author is walking us through with their writing. As a keen observer with a solid grasp of their words, I can understand what they are trying to convey but unfortunately, I can’t express my understanding artistically.
In contrast, people with Hyperphantasia excel in creative arts as they can lucidly gauge outcomes and visualize the end product of something beforehand. This makes it easier for them to take a step forward towards their goals because they can foresee the finish line even before they start to work towards it. They also tend to get trapped in the past or future due to the sheer detail of their imagination. Needless to say, they might also be more prone to daydreaming. Mozart and Tesla are some famous personalities that had Hyperphantasia.
The best friend I mentioned earlier is someone who loves art and draws well. At the same time, she enjoys solving puzzles, chess, and playing other logical games too. She also loves reading fantasy books and can picture the entire story like a movie running in her head. But contrary to what we saw earlier, I see her as someone who lives in the present.
At the end of the day, having Aphantasia or Hyperphantasia doesn’t define who you are as a person. Both conditions have their merits and demerits but they can’t limit what’s possible for you to achieve in the future. Difficulties can be conquered and you can become the master of anything.