From The New York Times:

That’s when I discovered I had aphantasia, the inability to conjure mental images. … Aphantasia was first described by Sir Francis Galton in 1880 but remained largely neglected until Dr. Adam Zeman, a cognitive neurologist at the University of Exeter in England, began his work in the early 2000s and coined the name from the Greek word “phantasia,” which means “imagination.”

Many don’t discover that their experience is any different from that of others until their late teens or early 20s. It might be while reminiscing about the past and realizing they’re having a different experience with memory than their friends or family. It’s not that they don’t notice that they don’t visualize. They just don’t know that other people do.

Ashley Xu, a rising junior at Williams College, had this experience. A friend had come across an article about the condition and mentioned it to her in passing. “Did you know that there are some people who can’t picture things with their mind’s eye?” her friend asked.

Ms. Xu was confused. What did it mean to picture things in one’s mind? To try to explain, her friend asked her to visualize an apple.

“I couldn’t see it, but I didn’t know that was abnormal,” she explained. “In my mind, it was black, but I knew that there was a little leaf, there was a brown stem, it was a red apple, but I just couldn’t see it.”

Aphants use an array of strategies to compensate for their lack of mental imagery, but since aphantasia varies from person to person, what works for some may not work for others.

Some draw on other mental senses, such as what might be called the mind’s ear. For example, I often read my notes aloud to myself and rely on auditory recall on tests. But that won’t work for everyone: Approximately half the people who have contacted Dr. Zeman about their aphantasia also describe an inability to conjure sounds, feelings or smells in their minds.

Others take a kinesthetic approach. When studying for her pre-med classes, Ms. Xu acts out scientific concepts with a friend, gesturing with her hands to make a lesson on ligand-receptor interactions stick.

If there is a metaphor here for our current politics, I will let readers suggest it in the comments . . .

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