When you read the words “fluorescent green sheep,” do you imagine a radiant ram on a hill? A herd of bright beasts in a pen? Or maybe you don’t think of anything at all?
If you fall into the latter camp, you might want to hear the thoughts of TikTok-famous doctor and famed health myth debunker, Dr Karan Raj, who recently posted about aphantasia, or the lack of a “mind’s eye”.
If you can “picture things in your head even when you can’t see them in real life,” he begins, “congratulations... you have a mind’s eye.”
But one in 50 people can’t do this, the doctor explained. “That’s 2% of the population.”
So, what’s going on here?
“This is aphantasia,” the doctor states. Also known as image-free thinking, Dr Raj explains that it’s “literally the absence of fantasy.”
It affects episodic memory, image recall, and object imagery, meaning that “basically, [those with aphantasia] don’t have an internal home movie reel.”
You can take an aphantasia test here if you like.
But why does it happen?
Functional brain imaging suggests that aphantasmic brains have “normal” activity when looking at objects and faces. But they struggle to activate the same areas of the brain when asked to imagine objects or faces.
“This can happen due to brain injury, or you can be born without a biological search engine in your head,” Dr Raj shared.
The condition can have benefits
“It’s not a big deal” if you have aphantasia, the doctor says – in fact, “it may be helpful.”
He explains that because those with aphantasia often struggle with their visual memory, some may compensate for it with an increased function in other cognitive skills.
A CNBC article suggests that those with the condition might find more creative ways to engage with visual content than those without might ever think of.
There’s also a theory that those with the variation right be able to deal with trauma better as their memories lack a visual aspect – though the study which originally proposed this failed to confirm their hypothesis.
Newer research suggests that, rather than having “easier” or “harder” mental health issues, those with aphantasia may simply experience it differently to those without it. Although further studies are needed, the researchers said.
“Aphantasia is not a disorder,” Dr. Raj ends. “It’s a variation of human experience, and it’s more evidence we all see the world completely differently.”