In 2003, an unusual event occurred in Exeter, UK. A 65-year-old man, now known as an MH patient, went to his neurologist complaining of a complete loss of the ability to visualize images with his mental gaze. For Professor Adam Zeman, who does cognitive and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, this was a mystery. No known case of this kind had been described in the literature.
However, the MH story caught the public’s attention and went viral. Initially it was an isolated case after heart surgery, but it soon became clear that aphantasia, a condition in which a person loses the ability to visualize images in their imagination, is a real phenomenon that many people face. Ten years after MH’s treatment of Zeman, the condition finally got its name: aphantasia.
What is aphantasia and how does it affect a person’s life? Afantasia affects up to one in 50 people, and many are surprised to learn that those around them can actually “see” things in their “mental gaze.” People with aphantasia cannot present images in their imagination, even though they can see these things in real life.
A study of aphantasia by Wilma Bainbridge, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, found that people with the condition don’t understand what it means to “count sheep” before they go to sleep. They think it’s just a facial expression and don’t realize that other people can actually visualize sheep without seeing them.
However, despite the lack of visual images, people with aphantasia can remember information and reproduce it from memory. Studies have shown that they may even be better at it than people with visual imagination.
Why do some people lose the ability to visualize images with their mental gaze? At this point, scientists don’t know the exact reasons for the aphantasy. However, there is speculation that it may be due to the way the brain and its connections work.
Can aphantasia be treatable? So far, there are no known treatments for aphantasia. However, research is ongoing, and scientists hope to find ways to help people with this condition.
Aphantasia is a rare condition that, until recently, remained unknown. It is of interest to scientists and the public, and research continues. Maybe in the future we will learn more about the causes and treatment of this condition.