Aphantasia and Word Clouds

A random thing for a Sunday! There’s a really interesting post on Facebook today – go and have a read of Blake Ross’ description of living with Aphantasia.

And, weirdly, I’ve got something similar to this.

I don’t have aphantasia – I can ‘see’ images. I do find it harder to remember scenes or ‘see’ images, but I can do it. But when I’m writing or reading, or you describe a purple elephant to me, I don’t ‘see’ it. I think in word clouds.

I don’t visualise faces; I can do all the components but I can’t ‘see’ them in my mind. I know a purple elephant or a red triangle will have certain characteristics, and I know the words I need to describe that, but I don’t have the image. I definitely don’t see the scenes I’m writing; I have no idea where most of the descriptions come from. In terms of writing, I think I’m actually less limited by not seeing the image; I get a word cloud that mixes emotion and feeling and smell and light and scenery and people and thoughts. I get everything at once, and I drop in whatever I want to from that.

Purple Elephant
From Questionable Content

So if you ask me to imagine a beach, I’ll probably do the word cloud. If you push, I can image an image, but it’s just a generic one – palms, sand, blue sky. You’d have to ask me to image a specific place – Bramston Beach, Lymington, Bude – for me to get that specific image, and even then it’s a snapshot of a moment. It’s the same with faces – I can remember a photograph or an image, but I can’t often remember the real thing (even though I can recognise people when I meet them!) The purple elephant has to specifically be asked for, and then it’ll be an image that I remember (in this case, from Questionable Content). If you ask for a red triangle, I don’t draw it; I just put the words “red” and “triangle” together and wait to see what you want me to do with them. It’s also why I’m crap at engine design (I live with an engineer…) because I can’t visualise normally, let alone in 3D!

On a side note, I think it’s also why I get so distracted by TV or films (and why I hate them). I can’t filter them – they plug straight into a part of my brain that I find hard to turn off, because it’s not the everyday discipline that I use. They’re too real, too immediate, and I can’t ignore it. If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with me when the TV’s on, you’ll know exactly what I mean!

How do you visualise things?