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Monday, 31 August 2015
The Eye's Mind
So, I was pleased to read recently that a research project has started in to the phenomenon of "aphantasia" - the name suggested by the researchers for a lack of visual imagery. See http://medicine.exeter.ac.uk/research/neuroscience/theeyesmind/ for more information including an interesting presentation summarising the experience of a number of visual artists.
I have no visual imagery now (I am aphantasic!) but I think I did have some visual imagery as a child and young person. I can remember having had visual daydreams and have recently recalled an experience from my mid-teens when, during an history exam, I can recall that I "saw" pages of text sort of hovering in front of me and was able to copy it onto my answer paper. I also think that I have visual imagery in dreams, though I rarely remember dreams - perhaps that is because I lack visual imagery in waking life?
So what do my thought processes consist of? What am I doing when I access a memory? It seems that language is at the centre of my thinking; my sense is of an almost constant internal monologue (sometimes a dialogue) which I am "hearing". I do in fact feel as if I can hear sounds in my head so I have a mind's ear if not a mind's eye. It would be interesting to know if those people who have strong visual imagery also have an auditory imagination, or is there some trade-off between the senses? I also have a strong spatial sense; it is as if I can "feel" the physical relationship between things even though I can't see them. As for remembering, if I try hard to bring say a person to mind then it is as if I am hearing myself describe them, usually unsuccessfully.
I find this a fascinating topic and am looking forward to the outcome of the Exeter research project, though I suspect it will throw up more questions than it does answers.