About a week ago I clicked onto a link found at the website of the Coast to Coast Am radio program (https://www.coasttocoastam.com/inthenews/) and noticed this: Aphantasia: why are some people unable to picture things in their mind? (https://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/news/367073/aphantasia-why-are-some-people-unable-to-picture-things-in-their-mind)
Why, indeed, was my first thought, because I am one of those people. At the end of the article this was read: This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
I clicked onto it immediately (https://theconversation.com/were-just-starting-to-learn-more-about-aphantasia-the-inability-to-picture-things-with-the-minds-eye-202670) and read the article again… Since then I have read many articles pertaining to aphantasia, the urls of some will be found in chronological order at the end of the post.
In a recent post (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2023/05/20/fm-todd-andrews-versus-grandmasters-robert-hungaski-and-david-arenas-at-the-american-continental-chess-championship-2023/) this was written: I could “see” 21 Bxe5, followed by 21…Nxe5 22 dxe5 Rxe5 23 Nf3, attacking the Rook. That is about as far my Chess vision allows. I can “see” that because it is all forced.
That was the day before discovering the article at the Unexplained Mysteries website. I wrote “see” because I cannot actually “see” anything when my eyes are closed; all I see is black.
The article at The Conversation begins: “When asked to close their eyes and imagine a sunset, most people can bring to mind an image of the sun setting on the horizon. Some people may experience more vivid details, such as vibrant colours, while others may produce a mental image that is blurry or lacks detail. But recent research has found that some people don’t experience mental imagery at all.”
“This lack of mental imagery is called aphantasia. People with aphantasia are often surprised when they learn others see mental images in their minds. Many people with aphantasia have said they assumed others were speaking metaphorically when they described seeing something in their “mind’s eye.”
Because of Chess I knew some players could see a picture of the board, or many boards, when they play blindfold Chess, or any kind of Chess without sight of the board, for that matter. Some players are able to keep a mental picture of myriad games in their mind’s eye. I thought they were freaks. Turns out I am the freak because, “It is estimated that roughly four per cent of people have aphantasia.” (https://theconversation.com/were-just-starting-to-learn-more-about-aphantasia-the-inability-to-picture-things-with-the-minds-eye-202670)
After reading the article emails were sent to some of my friends in the Chess community asking the question, “When you are playing Chess can you visualize the board and pieces when you close your eyes? Can you move a piece and see the new position?”
Some did not understand the question but after replying to their reply they found understanding. Some elaborated, which I greatly appreciated. The answer that made me smile came from one of my all-time favorite people, The Discman (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/the-discman/), who replied with one word: “Yes.” Not one person contacted said they could not visualize anything. One wanted more information, asking why I had asked “such a ridiculous question.” Although I have yet to inform anyone of why the question was asked, I did reply to the person, who, after reading, sent a very nice apology, using the word “profusely” prior to “sorry.” He was completely unaware, like most people, I suppose, that there are people who “draw a blank” when they close their eyes. “How the hell can you play Chess?” he asked. How indeed…
My roommate, the Legendary Georgia Ironman, was incredulous upon learning I could not visualize a Chess position, or a picture of my Mother. “That’s scary,” Tim said. He, too, questioned me, asking, “How do you analyze a position?” That is a difficult question to answer. Tim also asked about my being able to “see” a picture of my Mother. The only way for me to describe it is that I have a memory of her smiling, and a picture of one particular photo of her smiling, which are contained in my memory, but I cannot exactly ‘see’ the picture. It is more like something vague in a kinda, sorta nebulous way, I suppose one could say. “That’s frightening,” he said. “How is it possible you could win tournaments and become an Expert without being able to analyze in your head?” He also said, “I would not let anyone know you cannot visualize, Mike.”
I did not start playing Chess seriously until the age of twenty, and because of that fact I have always known there was a ceiling for me that would never be broken. Another friend questioned asked, “How is it possible you could have become an Expert without being able to see the board in your head?” How indeed… Now I know it was not just beginning late that held me back. After winning the Atlanta Chess Championship with a score of 5-0 in 1976 I discovered Backgammon, becoming Atlanta and Georgia Backgammon Champion. In Backgammon one need not visualize future positions because there are simply too many possibilities because the roll of the dice determines the next move. Although I still played tournament Chess occasionally, and did play two fifteen minute games with former Texas State Junior champ Steve Moffitt at Gammons, the only time any other game was seen played there, I was a shadow of the former player. After the Backgammon bubble burst and the boom ended I returned to tournament Chess, but although my rating increased, putting that much sought after crooked number (2) at the front of my rating, I was never again as strong a player as I had been before leaving Chess for Backgammon.
I decided to write this post because this is all new to me, and at my age, there is not much all that new to me now. I want to know how many other players cannot visualize. Therefore, I ask you to contact me at the email found at the AW website. I give my word that nothing written will ever be seen by anyone other than me, unless permission is given by those who contact me. In addition, I ask any and all who read this to share it with others. If the USCF forum was still operational I would ask someone to post it on the forum. If and when (or should that be when and if?) the forum is up again maybe some reader will put this up for discussion. Inquiring minds wanna know…
Here is a partial list of the articles, by date published, read in the last week:
Aphantasia: When Your Mind’s Eye Fails You
The word describes an inability to conceive imaginary or recollected scenes
Chapter 15 – Aphantasia: The science of visual imagery extremes
Volume 178, 2021
The critical role of mental imagery in human emotion: insights from fear-based imagery and aphantasia
10 March 2021
Aphantasia explained: some people can’t form mental pictures
Published: June 9, 2021 1.34pm EDT
What is the Link Between Mental Imagery and Sensory Sensitivity? Insights from Aphantasia
First published online August 31, 2021
The prevalence of aphantasia (imagery weakness) in the general population
January 2022, 103243
Memories with a blind mind: Remembering the past and imagining the future with aphantasia
Meta-analytic evidence for a novel hierarchical model of conceptual processing
We’re just starting to learn more about aphantasia, the inability to picture things with the mind’s eye
Published: May 16, 2023 3.32pm EDT
Aphantasia: why are some people unable to picture things in their mind?
May 20, 2023
Extreme Imagination: Inside the Mind’s Eye
Truth be told, this blog has more readers during the week than on the weekend, and even fewer readers on a holiday weekend. Therefore, this post will be up until after the holiday in order to, hopefully, reach more people.