I discovered that I have aphantasia when I watched a video on the topic which was about how some people don’t have a mind’s eye and my reaction was, “wait, people can actually see stuff in their brain?”
I don’t see stuff in my brain. I think in words, concepts and emotions. When I recall a memory I don’t see it replay, hear the sounds of it, smell the smells of it or feel the physical sensations of it, but I do feel the emotion of it. When I think about my dad I can’t bring his face to my mind or hear him calling me “tickety boo” but I feel the warmth of his love for me. When I’m doing a guided meditation and they tell me to imagine certain things, I don’t create a vision of those things in my mind, I conceptualise them and feel the emotions it would bring up.
As an aside, I’ve seen many people say that one of the benefits of aphantasia is moving on from loss quicker because you can’t see the person anymore – they don’t haunt your memories. This has absolutely not been my experience.
Recently I’ve been wondering if aphantasia is why I feel so deeply. Why I’m so ‘sensitive.’ When I was researching going vegan it seemed the whole world wanted me to watch videos of slaughterhouses and factory farms because “that’s what will convince you and stop you being tempted.” I never did because I don’t need to see it to understand what is going on and how it makes those animals, and the people working there, feel.
I engage with the world through emotions. They’re my frame of reference, my method for understanding what’s happening and figuring out what to do next – they’re a pretty well toned muscle! I have no idea if people with a mind’s eye have this same relationship with their emotions but it seems to me that, with so many more imagination options, maybe it’s not. Which leads me to my question; can aphantasia make you more empathic?
It seems to be a plausible explanation – when the way you engage with the world is through emotions, of course you’re going to be more attuned to them and put more weight on them. If when you’re thinking about people living in poverty you don’t see their living conditions but imagine how they must feel, how can you forget it and pretend it’s all fine?
Clearly #NotAllAphantasiacs are going to be more empathic than the average bear but it fascinates me to consider how this difference in brain function could explain other things.