Have you heard of a condition called ‘aphantasia’?
No, nor had I until a few months ago.
Aphantasia is a neurological condition in which a person is unable to recall memories as pictures or create images in their imagination.
For most of my photographic career I found it impossible to picture images in my head. To refine ideas for my photography I had to fetch a sketchbook & pencils and begin drawing the composition on paper.
All I could see when I closed my eyes was a reddy/brown hazy, fuzzy nothingness.
Before I Found a Cure
This is my best shot at showing you what it looked like. Can you see the elephant I’m imagining here?
All I was seeing (I guess) was the inside of my eyelids! Definitely no elephants.
Ten to fifteen years after leaving college I happened to attend an eight day training course in London, England. I didn’t go because I thought I had aphantasia (the term hadn’t even been invented then). I went as part of my regular personal development regimen.
The subject of the course was Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The techniques we were learning required us to close our eyes and make the images we saw grow bigger/smaller, brighter/dimmer and closer/further away.
I had been really struggling with this and had mentioned it to several of the assistant tutors. When I stated that I couldn’t see images when I closed my eyes, I was told I could. When I insisted, I was told everyone sees pictures in their heads.
Several days in to the course one of the Lead Tutors, a man named Michael Neill, asked whether there was anyone in the audience who couldn’t see images in their mind’s eye. Lots of hands when up—I wasn’t unusual after all!
Mr Neill invited a member of the audience to go up to the stage and started to explain and demonstrate a technique he called ‘Image Streaming‘.
This technique affected me in two ways:
- First, if I was aphantasic, this cured it. After a few months of daily practice I was seeing bright, vivid images in my head. I haven’t practiced it since—but I still see beautifully clear images in my mind’s eye.
- Second, it improved my photography like nothing else I’d ever done. From that point on I didn’t need to construct a set, find models or leave the house to play with composition or photo ideas. I could just sit back, relax and close my eyes. Image Streaming helped me become a better photographer from the comfort of my armchair.
Today I can close my eyes and see detailed images that are pretty close to what I’d see if I had my eyes open and was looking at a TV or cinema screen. I can freeze motion, move props and models, add new items and change the lighting.
As someone who couldn’t ever do this before it still amazes me when I close my eyes and create something beautiful. This is something I’ve learned to do—I definitely wasn’t born with it.
And a really useful side effect of Image Streaming is that it can help you fall asleep at night (more about that at the end).
How to Image Stream
It’s easy to learn. Watch this video, practice it for a few minutes every day and you could soon be imagining super-sharp, super-colorful, moving images in your mind. I’ve included a live image streaming recording so you can hear exactly how it’s done:
The Early Days
The sound clip that I’ve included within that video is from a very early Image Streaming session. I have become much better with practice. Images now come easily, clearly and quickly. For me, at least, it really has been worth the effort of dedicating time every day to practicing streaming images in my mind. (I don’t know whether it’s improved my IQ though.)
Do You Have Trouble Getting to Sleep?
There’s a super useful bonus reason to learn how to image stream. Not only can it improve your photography and potentially improve your intelligence it can help you fall sleep more easily!
To quickly and easily fall asleep, perform the technique in the way described in the video with one exception—rather than speaking the detailed descriptions of what you see out loud—say the words inside your head while you lie in your bed.
There’s no need for a voice recorder or friend! Doing image streaming in this way will send you to sleep quickly.
You can read more about using image streaming for falling asleep, together with other useful tips for getting a good night’s sleep, in the book “Fall asleep! It’s Easy…The (miraculous) Kaleidoscope Method: How to get to sleep, sleep help, cure insomnia and have better sleep” by Eli Yeats.
Can Image Streaming Cure Aphantasia?
If I had known that there is a ‘condition’ called aphantasia while I was college I would have asked to be tested for it. Its description seems to fit my experience.
However, the fact that I now do have a functioning mind’s eye means that either Image Streaming is a cure for aphantasia or I was never truly aphantasic. All I know is that I was never consciously able to see images in my mind’s eye until I learned to Image Stream. Related or not, I was never conscious of dreaming prior to learning to Image Stream. I am now.
I’d love for this article to reach some true aphantasics and for them to practice the technique to see if it offers them any solutions. The great thing is that you don’t need to be able to see images to practice Image Streaming!
Michael Neill cited Win Wenger, PhD as the inventor of Image Streaming. Here’s a link to the Image Streaming section of Dr Wenger’s website and to the 24 back-up techniques that he lists which can help those people who really can’t see images start using with this technique. I’ve also included some other links that you may find interesting.
- Project Renaissance—Image-Streaming
- 24 Tested Back-Up Techniques to Help Start a Flow of Images
- Aphantasia article on Wikipedia
- A discussion on aphantasia (including James Somerset’s contribution) on Quora.