The phrase mind’s eye refers to the human ability for visualization. Visualization is the unique human capacity to bring into our minds things that aren’t present or don’t exist. Galton figured out in the 1880s that some individuals lack visual imagery; this phenomenon was mostly neglected over the following century.
Recently the terms “aphantasia” and “hyperphantasia” are coined to describe visual imagery vividness extremes. In 2005, Dr. Adam Zeman, British neurologist observed a patient who, after a minor surgical procedure, lost his ability to conjure images.
Since coining these terms in 2015, Dr. Zeman and his colleagues have received contacts from more than 14,000 people who say they don’t have any mental imagination. The scientists named this special condition aphantasia, and some experience extraordinarily strong mental imagery, called hyperphantasia.
It’s fascinating to realize what happens in one another’s minds.
Distinctive human ability to imagine, highlight links between our experience, brain science and art, sheds light on the wide variety of our capacity to ‘visualise’.
It is an intriguing variation in human experience, analogous to synaesthesia, another variation which causes unusual experiences like seeing letters in particular colours or tasting shapes. Interestingly, some evidences suggests aphantasia is psychologically significant because, for example, if you have aphantasia you are more likely to work in scientific or mathematical professions than if you have hyperphantasia. Still, both imagery vividness extremes look likely to have a mix of advantages and disadvantages.
The examples of some aphantasic, and the aphantasic artists and authors demonstrate that people with aphantasia can be creative and imaginative. Imagination enjoys more complex capacity than visualisation.
Scientists from the university of Exeter discovered that this difference in visualisation ability has distinct neural correlates in the human brain; it correlates with the strength of the functional connectivity between individual’s prefrontal cortex and their visual areas.
This finding has implications for designing neurofeedback and non-invasive stimulation/neuromodulation protocols that could potentially enable people with aphantasia to visualise, via strengthening the connectivity between frontal and occipital areas, and could help people with hyperphantasia stay ancored in a current reality by reducing the strength of their occipital -prefrontal connections.
“This is not a disorder as far as I can see, It’s an intriguing variation in human experience”
Keogh R, Pearson J, Zeman A. Aphantasia: The science of visual imagery extremes. Handb Clin Neurol. 2021;178:277-296. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-821377-3.00012-X. PMID: 33832681.
Zeman, A., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. (2015). Lives without imagery—Congenital aphantasia. Cortex: A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 73, 378–380. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019