How does aphantasia affect IQ

Blind imagination

Aphantasia: The inability to visualize something seems to be widespread mainly among men

When a good friend told me for the first time that he had absolutely no way of forming images in his head, I was amazed. First, because I didn't think that something like this could be possible at all, but also because of his talents. After all, he studied mechanical engineering and is technically gifted like no other. He repairs everything himself, including his cars, and he designs and builds furniture and greenhouses. His sense of direction is also very good. And all of this without being able to visualize anything in his mind's eye.

When I asked him if he couldn't visualize anything at all, he replied that he already failed because of the term "visualize". When he closes his eyelids it is always black. I, on the other hand, can play entire films in Technicolor in my head and travel around the world, but I have to be careful not to poke my eye out while slicing bread or to get lost on the way to the front door. How can that be?

Approximately two percent of the population suffer from aphantasia. Whereby "suffering" is actually the wrong word here, the majority of those affected do not even know about their impairment into adulthood. For example, Blake Ross, one of the creators of the Firefox browser, didn't realize until he was 30 that other people can imagine things in their heads. "I thought 'counting sheep' was a metaphor," he wrote in an essay he published on Facebook in 2016.

Some people with aphantasia will not even believe you when you tell them that people around you can usually produce visual impressions without the appropriate sensory stimulus. When I was working on my thesis in philosophy with Paul Lorenzen, one of the most important scientific theorists of the 20th century, I stumbled upon a remark from him in which he doubts that something like "thinking in pictures" even exists.

Francis Galton, a famous cousin of Charles Darwin, who first discovered the phenomenon of aphantasia in the 19th century, was also surprised to find that the vast majority of his British colleagues in the sciences were skeptical of the reality of thinking in pictures. At his request, a French friend of his confirmed this opinion among French scientists after a questioning of the academics there.

In the course of his investigation, Galton found that the ratio in the normal population was completely reversed. Women and children in particular have very lively imaginations. In fact, the latest study on aphantasia found that 19 of the 21 people who contacted the researchers for their inability to generate mental images were male. Also, two of the three people with aphantasy Blake Ross found in his own research on Facebook were male computer scientists like himself (the third was his mother). My friend is also male and works as a programmer.

Ross also described in his essay that his aphantasia is not just about images. He can't listen to music mentally either and has never had a catchy tune (the lucky one!). When he thinks up things, it is purely verbal in a chain of word associations. However, this is not mandatory for people who are affected by aphantasia. My friend, for example, has no problem imagining sounds. In contrast to Ross, he also has visual dreams, which he can no longer really call up in retrospect. As surveys show, most people with aphantasia dream when they are asleep; they just lack the ability to daydream.

The opposite of people with aphantasy are eidetics, who can imagine things as realistically as if they were actually perceived. Inventor Nikola Tesla falls into this category, as does "Lolita" writer Vladimir Nabokov and animal scientist Temple Grandin. But most people with this gift live without accomplishing anything, or are often even mentally impaired.

Lack of visual imagination can be compensated for with more abstract strategies

On the other hand, in many areas that one would assume would require the ability to visualize to the highest degree, there are people who show signs of aphantasia. Galton found that even world-class painters can do without visual imagination. For example, Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest chess player of all time, is almost certainly suffering from aphantasia. The mathematician Bertrand Russell, one of the most influential logicians in history, also wrote that he cannot form any mental images.

The American magician and comedian Penn Jillette and the biochemist Craig Venter, who was responsible for sequencing the human genome and who created the first artificial genome, have confessed that they suffer from aphantasia. Albert Speer, chief architect and city planner of the Nazis in the Third Reich, certainly not a popular figure, but nonetheless extremely successful as a designer, stated in a psychological investigation during the Nuremberg Trials that he had great problems imagining something purely graphically.

In his study, Galton took the view that the ability to think abstractly and analytically might stand in the way of the development of objective thinking, and therefore pictorial ideas are less common among particularly intelligent people. In any case, more recent studies have not found any connection between the liveliness of mental images and the performance in tests for recording spatial imagination.

The researchers found that the strength of the visual imagination can be read with magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and that when performing mental rotation tasks, people with weaker visual thinking activate other areas of the brain. This suggests that they are employing a radically different, probably more abstract, strategy for solving such problems. Descriptions of people with aphantasia show that tasks that are normally dealt with with the help of visualization, e.g. B. the question "How many windows does your house have?" Can be answered by them through acquired knowledge. You memorize it as a fact, like what you learned at school, and call it up again in exactly the same way.

Aphantasia does not have to be congenital in all cases. A study published in 2010 describes a man who, after having had a heart operation, has completely lost the ability to produce mental images. His intelligence, sense of direction, and ability to handle spatial imagination tasks were not affected, but he said he now had to use a non-visual strategy to do so.

What the results of research and the long list of highly creative people and even geniuses of the century with aphantasy show without a doubt is that fantasy cannot be reduced to our everyday mental cinema. There is also a blind imagination and it is just as powerful as the most vivid imagery; if not more powerful. (Patrick zimmer different)

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