This, in fragments, was initially posted as comments to a FaceBook post.

This will be a “brief” note on diversity with mental imagery competencies. At age 22 (now 80) I discovered that I lacked mental imagery in ALL sensory modes. I have yet to discover one other person so lacking. An old study showed 3% lacked visual imagery, 7% lacked auditory imagery. This led to informal research into mental imagery, as I earned two PhDs, in physics and educational psychology. 23 years teaching multiple sections of Intro Psychology revealed a vast variation of imagery competencies in the student population. It also revealed the almost universal assumption the everyone has similar imagery experiences to oneself.

I am a champion of mental imagery and was part of its resurgence as legit research decades ago, after suppression by behaviorism. However, colleagues in the study of mental imagery were rather brutal in their attacking my claims of lacking imagery. They even claim that it is impossible to not have mental imagery. My mind is neither visual or verbal, the only two categories imagery scientists permit.

The Kossyln’s, et. al. 2006 book, The Case for Mental Imagery (referenced in the Facebook post, above) – which I have yet to read, appears to make little reference to the vast diversity of mental imagery. The “mental imagery DEBATE”, the theme of the book, IMO appears “esoteric” and a rehashing of the early, highly controversial conflict about imagery. I speculate that the leaders of the non-imagery, behaviorist view included persons lacking visual imagery.

Without light, I have a definable visual field that is usually mottled gray. It can take on temporary fine textures but no representations. Occasional swirls of color. I have no control of what appears in my visual field. I discovered what I was missing when I had a brief, brilliant visual image when in graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1957. I have had three in my life. Closed eyes under LSD was overwhelming with fine grain abstract, multiple colors and very rapid changing visual images. I couldn’t keep my eyes closed for more than a second or two.

I am a rare type of savant. But my disabilities and compensatory abilities don’t lie in accepted categories. I have many close and intimate friends who are very strong imagers. I like visual apps that facilitate my work; but find most inadequate. I believe I have visual information in my subconscious, but lack a visual working consciousness. Also, lacking auditory imagery blocks my ability to become fluent in second languages.

Strong mental imagery is both an asset and a handicap. Visual memories are powerful anchors resisting some conceptual imagination. Some persons are strongly “traditional” because of persistent visual remembrances. I have none, which frees me to be more future oriented. My futures imagination is also not limited by imagery. Futuristic visuals, from history, are astounding in what they don’t imagine changing from the present of the artist.

Many persons have weak and not very useful visual imagery, but still experience the handicaps of imagery. The role of imagery in reading with comprehension, descriptive vs conceptual literature, is profound – but ignored by researchers in reading. I am a very strong supporter of a new digital visual language – but its design cannot be dominated by strong visualizers.

There should not be competition between visual imagers and “conceptualizers”.  Visual imagery mentation is mammalian, and foundational. Symbolic conceptualization and languaging are new and uniquely human. Evolution has yet to adequately integrate the two. Functional autistics (Temple Grandin) attest to “visual thinking”. Doug Hofstadter’s [Surfaces and Essences] detailed exploration of analogy-in-thinking, demonstrates analogy-beyond-visuals.

I am strongly aware that persons with powerful mental imagery experience what I will never experience. Their perspectives are highly valued. I am also aware, from their reports, that persons with powerful visual imagery have masked processes that I experience first hand.

In my terminology, the “conceptual” relates to patterns within patterns, where the components are often sensory images. Visualizers attempt to represent these patterns with visual images. However, humans can use (subconsciously) relationship patterns that are not fundamentally visual. Symbolic systems utilize visuals in representation, but transcend the visual. My lack of visual imagery (beyond perceptual visual imagery) provides me “access” to some conceptuals-without-visuals. But, these processes are subconscious, where I am “informed” of parts in my experientials.

The diversity of humans is far vaster than we individually imagine, which is a powerful asset for our survival/thrival, if acknowledged.

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.


Could you give more detail about your mental experience? I have heard people say before that they see gray when there is no light. What I see is black, but the involuntary swirls and specks of color are ever-present. I can attempt to imagine shapes and images whether or not my eyes are closed, whether or not there is light, and these things seem to be in full color and mostly full detail. I can imagine sounds and textures and bodily movements, weight of objects, pain, heat, cold etc. When I was eight or so I found for the first time that I could imagine some smells vividly; this is mostly a freely voluntary act for me now as well.

Imagined things do not feel interposed on my visual field when my eyes are open looking at things. They are "somewhere else". I can think of them as existing within my visual field like a separate layer, but not "really" visible. When I'm not trying to do this, they are essentially centered in my vision, though still "somewhere else".

Do you have trouble remembering events from your life? Does it take a while to piece together what you did yesterday or earlier today? That's something I've seen other "aphantasic" people say. Can you describe any specific "coping mechanisms" you use -- that is, mental strategies which imagers may not need?

It would also be very interesting if you could describe what things you have "access" to which imagers typically do not.

I think that if we study the different shapes consciousness takes on in different people, we can to implement at least some of that variety within our own minds, or even design states of consciousness which have not existed before.