The power of abstract thinking

If I’m so sure that aphantasia doesn’t need a “cure”, then what advantages does it really have? 

There are many, but this is the one I believe is most profound: Thinking in Types vs Tokens.

A ‘token’ represents a mental image or concept that is rich in detail and sensory information, derived from our personal experiences, culture, and memory. These tokens are more than just mental images; they are vivid, emotional, and deeply personal representations of the world that are experienced in the mind of the visualizer.

For instance, when a visualizer thinks of a horse, the ‘token’ might not be a generic horse but a specific one—maybe a chestnut mare you once saw, or a powerful black stallion from a favorite movie. Each ‘token’ is a unique combination of attributes—color, setting, action—forming a vivid mental snapshot.

With token thinking, many, if not most, details of a visualized object or scene are not consciously chosen but emerge automatically from the depths of our subconscious. The varying images experienced from the subconscious selection can lead to different emotional responses and judgments about the same concept.

We might frame our understanding, responses and decisions based on the unconsciously selected characteristics of the image without recognizing the alternative tokens that might be more appropriate for the situation. At the moment, we might not even be aware that other tokens exist.

For those of us with aphantasia, our approach is fundamentally different. The focus isn’t on vivid, sensory-rich images (because we can’t imagine them) but rather on the essence, the concept of the object or idea. 

When we think of a horse, we don’t ‘see’ a specific animal in our mind. Instead, we think about the general characteristics, the idea of ‘horseness’—its context, sounds, and typical environments. What does it represent? What are its essential qualities? 

This way of thinking in ‘types’ as opposed to ‘tokens’ allows us to bypass the specific imagery of our personal experiences and dive directly into the essence of the concept.

As we move beyond the realm of simple, tangible objects like horses to more intricate and abstract ideas, the potential for divergence in the way these concepts are visualized—or tokenized—becomes markedly pronounced.

This divergence, inherent in token thinking, can have profound implications on both our individual cognitive processes and our collective communication dynamics.

The key to harnessing the full potential of our cognitive abilities lies in understanding and strategically leveraging the strengths inherent in each cognitive style. 

‘Type’ thinking, with its focus on abstract thinking and universal aspects, serves as an essential counterbalance to the sensory-rich, detail-oriented nature of token thinking. 

One is not better than another. Each cognitive style brings to the table its unique strengths and valuable applications.

Cognitive diversity, when acknowledged and embraced, can significantly enrich our collective imagination repertoire. It offers a broader spectrum of perspectives, enhancing creativity, empathy, and problem-solving skills in both personal and professional contexts.

I’ve written about this in more detail on

I look forward to discussing this idea and more like it in our member community