Some person doesn’t have the ability to imagine the picture of things when they are asked to do so. Like, if you ask them to imagine an orange in front of them, then they won’t be able to visualize it. For some people, it is easy to imagine an orange and they can visualize the thing as if it is actually there, but some people have difficulty in imagining things.
It is hard to believe that something like this can actually happen, but there is a certain percentage of people who have no visual experience at all. In simple words, you can term their mind to be blind. This phenomenon where your mind is completely blind and doesn’t come up with an image is called ‘congenital Phantasia‘.
The blindness of the mind
Blake Ross, the founder of Firefox internet browser, came to know that his visual imagery experience is completely different from that of others. Ross was really confused about the claim that a man lost his ability to imagine things after surgery. He was surprised to know that there are some people who can actually imagine a picture in their mind.
Apart from Ross, there were several others who thought it was completely normal to not have the ability to imagine things when someone is describing something or some object to them.
Visual imagery is not only restricted to imagining objects only, you can also relate it to everyday tasks like navigation, facial recognition, and also remembering your past. There are reports from congenital aphantasic people are able to remember things from their past, but they are not able to experience it while narrating the incidents like the way someone with strong visual imagery power can.
For people with congenital Phantasia, they are able to conceptualize the things that happened in the past, but people with strong imagery power can actually play it like a movie in their mind.
Ross pointed out that he can relate sand, water, and other things on the beach, but he can’t visualize it in front of him while talking about it. When asked about his experiences of the beach that he visited, he is unable to build up an image of the beach where he visited last time. He is unable to get a mental image of the beaches.
The matter of mindblindness is nothing new and it hasn’t been discovered lately. As a matter of fact, this concept was very much there even in the late 1800s. Sir Francis Galton, a British Scientist, conducted research where he asked his colleagues and people in general to describe their internal visual imagery.
Sir Francis Galton had to rely on the reports that were provided by their colleagues and others, so it is subjective in nature. He had to trust the ability of the person to assess one’s mental process and this whole thing is known as introspection.
It is not that simple as it seems to be because we might see the same thing, but our description might vary or we are visualizing two completely different things but describing them in the same manner. So, this Phantasia can be termed as a poor case of introspection as well. They might be creating the same image, but when they are trying to explain it, they are unable to do so in a proper manner like us.
There is also a possibility that they are creating the images in their internal mind, but are unaware of the fact. This means that they don’t suffer from mindblindness, rather their internal consciousness is lacking due to which they are not able to see the images forming.
Recently, a study has been conducted to investigate whether mind blind does exist or it is just the difficulty of introspection by the people.
It is always dicey to rely on someone’s interpretation because they might be seeing something in their mind and describing it completely different manner. So, a new way has been chalked out to find out people’s imagination and that is known as binocular rivalry.
In this, the participants wear 3D glasses, where one eye has the red glass on it and the other green. We can never see both the images at once when it gets superimposed; therefore our brain shifts from one image to the other constantly.
But, which color to see can be influenced by this binocular rivalry. Make the participant imagine one of the colors beforehand to influence their binocular rivalry display. So, now if you are asked to look at the red color, then you will find yourself automatically looking at the red color when you put on the 3D glasses. Depending on the imagery strength you will be able to see that more frequently.
Now that they are seeing in the binocular so there is no need of the subjective introspection instead, what the participants can see physically is known to the researchers through this binocular rivalry.
The self-acclaimed phantasies were asked to imagine a vertical line in the green circle and horizontal line in a red circle for about six seconds prior to the binocular rivalry display. They were able to indicate the image that they saw. So, this proves that they had no problem with the introspection, but was unable to form any visual imagery.
Reason for being mind blind
The visual imagery involves a brain activity network spanning from the front of the cortex to the back of the brain where the visual areas are present.
The theories that have come up recently proposes that while imagining something we tend to follow the same activity pattern and try to reactivate it in our brain to the time when we first saw the image.
The better we are at reactivating, the better our visual imagery is. This is where the phantasies lag, they are not able to reactivate the traces clear enough to form visual imagery. But, it might serve as a boon in disguise because it is said that if the visual imagery is overactive, then it might cause cravings, addiction, and another form of anxiety disorder like PTSD.
Their inability to visualize the past allows them to live in the present and they enjoy their life fully. If it can be understood why some people do not get visual imagery, then it might be easier for the researchers to find a way out where they can tone down the overactive visual imagery of people. Not just that, it will also help in increasing the ability of people who don’t have that much visual imagery.