I recently read the story of Blake Ross and how he discovered that he has aphantasia.
“What is that?”, you may be wondering. Well Blake recounts his story of discovery and explains his experience in the full (and lengthy) article here should you want to read it. If you don’t want to read it then here is the TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) version below.
Aphantasia is the absence of fantasy. Aphantasia is when the visual portion of a brain doesn’t function. This means that Blake is unable to project an image within his mind. He explains it like this;
If you tell me to imagine a beach, I ruminate on the “concept” of a beach. I know there’s sand. I know there’s water. I know there’s a sun, maybe a lifeguard. I know facts about beaches. I know a beach when I see it, and I can do verbal gymnastics with the word itself. But I cannot flash to beaches I’ve visited. I have no visual, audio, emotional or otherwise sensory experience. I have no capacity to create any kind of mental image of a beach, whether I close my eyes or open them, whether I’m reading the word in a book…
This blows my mind, the very act of reading the above triggers the visual portion of my mind. He mentions sand and I can immediately see it. I can recall and even ‘feel’ the texture. I can ‘see’, ‘hear’ and even ‘smell’ the water on a beach in my mind. Images fly into my mind with ease. But for Blake, there is nothing. He knows the facts, but that is all. The rest of the experience is completely foreign to him. Wow. He also says this about fiction;
I “imagine” scripts conceptually as described earlier. It’s easier to write for characters that have already been realized on the screen, especially when so many of them share my dry, sarcastic personality. If you reread the Silicon Valley script, you’ll find it’s heavy on ideas (what if a lawyer had a clock that counted money not time? what if Erlich compiled interview questions while stoned?) and light on descriptive language. Same with the Theranos parody. Overall, I find writing fiction torturous. All writers say this, obviously, but I’ve come to realize that they usually mean the “writing” part: They can’t stop daydreaming long enough to put it on the page. I love the writing and hate the imagining…
Now I know I am not a prolific writer but I could simply not fathom the concept of not creating fiction. Many of my stories die before they leave my mind but much of my dialogue is done with characters and situations I make up on the fly for humour. I honestly don’t know how I would function if I couldn’t picture those situations in my mind. Sure Blake got on fine for 30 years without the ability to picture things and he has accomplished a great deal (he was the co-founder of Mozilla Firefox) but there is a dimension in life that he will never experience. This makes me appreciate something that I took for granted all these years.
I have the ability to imagine and create crazy situations in my mind. I can randomly create a purple and blue spotted fuzzy monster with a bow on their left ear holding a sign that says ‘free hugs’. I just did that, I just crafted that image on the fly in mind (and it is adorable by the way). This is a gift. I have been blessed with the ability to imagine and to create. Each of us with this ability should be thankful that the Lord has given this to us. As with all gifts, we should appreciate it and use it. Now that I know that this isn’t something I should be taking for granted. It changes my perspective. I must not waste this gift. This is gift that I need to use wisely. Write because we are blessed with the ease to do so. Write in such a way as to reflect the wondrous and supreme creator God. Sola Deo Gloria. Even in my writing.