Should we “cure” aphantasia?

Many people email me looking for a cure to their aphantasia.

I am sympathetic to the idea. For a long time, I believed gaining the ability to visualize would be the thing that improved my life. 

My perspective fully changed when I came to understand two core ideas that I think you should know:

1. Mental imagery is not necessarily what I thought it was from the non-visualizer perspective.

It’s not like a computer screen that you have full control over. Visualization can be driven involuntarily and has a very wide range of phenomenology.

  • When I wanted a cure, did I want perfect, crystal-clear imagery? How clear?
  • Fully lifelike? In extreme cases, hyperphantasics report confusing imagery with reality. Is that what I was looking for?
  • What if the imagery was very blurry and hard to see; would I want that?
  • Did I want the images to have movement and holding power? Or did I want quick, static flashes like some people experience?
  • Did I want to see the images internally in the back of my mind, or projected into the space around me?

I could go on, but I think you “see” the point.

It’s easy to romanticize and want something you don’t have. “The grass is always greener”, so they say. But the lingering thought in my mind is “Be careful what you wish for”.

There’s so much more to the imagery experience than “seeing” vs “not seeing” images, and this gives me pause.

2. The desire for a cure presupposes that aphantasia doesn’t have its own unique strengths and advantages that are worth preserving.

I am now certain beyond a doubt there are advantages to our unique way of thinking, and since there is no known cure, it’s best to identify those strengths within us and allow them to flourish.

What are these advantages exactly?

These are the questions we wrestle with in our member community, but here are a few points to get you thinking:

  • Thinking in types vs thinking in tokens: One of the key strengths of ‘type’ thinking is its focus on the essence rather than the details, on the universal rather than the particular. This form of abstract thinking allows for a broader view, unencumbered by the constraints of specific imagery. This can be especially powerful in fields that, ironically, require big-picture thinking.
  • The ease of imaginability, probability be damned: Research shows ‘easily imagined scenarios’ are reported as more likely, but this isn’t always true. Our tendency to equate ease of imagination with probability can mislead us, as vivid events are more memorable, not necessarily more probable.

The reality is that human society needs a diversity of talents, skills and perspectives.