Having aphantasia means "imagining" doesn't work

I’ve only just discovered that I have aphantasia (the inability to visualise or see things in your mind’s eye) but it explains why the mnemonic stories on WK don’t help me remember. I can’t imagine what Jourm or JoAnn or Ken look like. I can’t imagine any of the ridiculous scenarios that are supposed to help us remember the kanji.

I create little rhymes in my head, usually based on the stories. Because my imagining is all verbal, I find that these stick in my head better than trying to picture scenes.

Are there any other aphants out there who have come up with other ways to help?


I didn’t test it, but yeah discovered a few years ago through this video:


While it of course didn’t help me to be told to visualise the mnemonics, I have a very strong audio memory, so I would often read them out loud.


I try to use a quick, usually one sentence, catchy rhyme or phrase for tough ones. If the difference is one similar looking part, try to memorize a simple phrase centering on that word.

E.g. Strong shellfish rule with knives.

These are easier to remember than absurd stories you can’t actually imagine.

P.S. I never knew there was a term for that. I could always tell other people could do different things with “Imagination” Swirl rainbows with hands But I never much cared to look into it. It’s not exactly a big game changer usually. Dreams are a little odd. I have vaguely wondered if it’s the same as dreaming as a (born) blind person. I get the idea of what I’m doing, but at most only brief flashes of “seeing” it. It’s funny escaping agents chasing you, but only knowing that’s the idea of what is happening. I also wonder if that is why I never dreamed much.


Ah, I didn’t even realize until now that this is how my memory works. Haha.


I have this, too. Didn’t know people could actually “picture” things until a couple of years ago. I always thought it was just a metaphor. My wife can actually create an image of whatever she wants in her head… it’s crazy.

Learning this changed nothing, though. It’s an interesting concept, however, I haven’t adjusted the way I learn or anything.


I’ve wondered the same thing. I’ve also wondered if it’s the reason why I’m usually aware that I’m dreaming. I’ve had lucid dreams twice, but the few dreams I’m aware of having, I always know on some level that I’m dreaming. I wonder if that’s because my brain can’t create a photorealistic surrounding. What I “see” in a dream just doesn’t match the reality that my eyes can see when I’m awake, so it’s hard to be convinced any of it is real. In my dreams, I know what surroundings I’m in, but visually, it’s nothing more than maybe a few vague colours. Everything is “foggy” and people are very vague shapes without faces. My dreams are mostly just whiteness, even if a hundred dream-like things happen.

Having aphantasia has extremely little effect on my life, but when I think about how other people can do that, I’m kind of blown away.

I always thought it was just a matter of speech when people said they could picture something. The first time I realised that wasn’t the case was when someone asked me how I pictured Harry Potter’s Snape (pre HP movies). I just said “…hooked nose and greasy, black hair,” because those descriptors were used in the books. It made me think on how character descriptions had never yielded a mental image of any kind.


It definitely does explain why the scene/character descriptions in books are so popular. I never understood what the appeal was growing up, like, why did they spend three pages telling me what the castle looks like? Lol.


What an interesting thread. Thank you all for sharing what your dreams look like.

I struggle with visualizing things as well and don’t have a full image of any of the mnemonics, more like fuzzy ideas. But I have full color immerisive dreams. I guess I am on the weak side but not blank.


Ah, interesting! While I am unable to visualize anything while awake, my brain is perfectly capable of full-image dreams. The brain is weird!


I’ve had a few full-image dreams in my life. I once hit a lucky cross-section of full visuals AND the dream wasn’t purely negative/nightmare like all other dreams are. I woke up feeling like I’d been to an exciting movie. :joy:


That’s a very interesting description! I checked out the video and I‘d say I don‘t have this condition at all, but I think I‘m affected by a related condition, and I wondered whether someone would know more about it (e.g. a name would be a great start already).
My thing is that I can perfectly imagine what somebody tells me to, and I love to read 3-page descriptions of castles. (For the apple example in the video, I rated myself ~8, actually.) But whenever somebody asks me to come up with my own stuff, I go blank (best case) or start to mildly panic (worst case). Trigger sentences are „Can you give me an example?“ / „Surprise me!“ / „Create a sentence with …“ and stuff like this. Does this sound familiar to anybody?


Oof, being put on the spot is the worst. Can you come up with wild flights of fancy or ideas when on your own, or do you always struggle? :thinking: I know a lot of people, myself included most of the time, that will go instantly blank when having an expectation to perform thrust upon them without warning.


i’m definitely on the sliding scale: i can picture things, but it’s like trying to look at an 8 inch black and white tv from 10 feet away. what i DO experience in the extreme is the closely related SDAM - severely deficient autobiographical memory. i can’t picture past events, but i can recall them; it’s like storing your history as cliff notes. i’ve climbed the pyramids, but i can’t picture it - just tell you that it’s something that happened. i literally can’t picture anything that happened in the past. i had no idea it was abnormal until aphantasia came into the news a few years back!


Yeah, agreed, that even adds another layer of issues :persevere:

That’s a very good question :thinking: It’s a bit hard for me to confirm that I can never do that, but it’s definitely very rare… I can reuse canned imaginations, e.g. I remember that I played „being an American Indian“ when I was a kid but that’s because I had read books like „Winnetou“ which gave me enough material. Or I can create a „new“ dish because I know a bunch of dishes and I can mix and match to a certain extent. But e.g. when I want to design a new training class, I can never come up with good new examples even if I think about it for weeks or even months…

(I‘m very sorry, I don’t mean to derail this thread! Initially I just thought that it’s about my „issue“ because I usually think of myself as „having no phantasy“ so aphantasia sounded very fitting! But maybe I just mistranslated the German word „Phantasie“ and a better translation would be „having no imagination“? :thinking:)

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Is this why renovations/decorating are almost impossible for me? I can’t picture what something is going to look like until I actually see it. You can show me a single board of hardwood flooring but I have absolutely no idea what it would look like in a whole house. Or I would have no idea what THOSE windows would look like in MY house. Those little paint swatches are a nightmare (I mean how can you tell what that tiny square of blue is going to look like in a particular room with a particular couch in particular lighting… It’s a problem because you can’t see your mistake until you’ve already made it. I need sketches, computer images of what it might look like.
People think i’m just being difficult when they say “well just imagine it in your space” and I"m like “I just can’t…I need to physically see it”.


Same! :raised_hand: :smiley:
I read aloud all of the words I add to my Anki decks and when reviewing items in WaniKani. In WK even when I’m asked for the meaning in English, I will read the kanji/vocab item aloud and provide the meaning in English afterwards.

The limitations I’ve experienced so far:

  • homonyms and when I didn’t associate the reading with the pronunciation so when I hear the word on the news, I often only “hear” its kana and not the meaning.

  • slight variations in sound length which in Japanese are crucial, but depending on the listening material, long sounds can be barely longer than short sounds, thus I sometime struggle to recognize the same words as the same due to pronunciation and sound length.


Somehow reading books did give me images, or more like a vague visual impression. But conjuring something up from my own, just gives me blackness.

That said I have pretty good audiovisual memory. So it’s possible that I can see memories flash by. And I dream from time to time. It seems that I can form images unconsciously no problem.


Thanks for bringing this perspective to light! When I learned about aphantasia in school for my Human Memory class (the professor has aphantasia too :D) it didn’t cross my mind that things like visual mnemonics wouldn’t be very effective, so it’s cool to know how those with it get around that.

As for myself, I actually don’t do well with visual mnemonics either, even though I can visualize things in my head fine. Creating rhymes or rhythmic phrases (like having a bouncy quality to it) or something that makes me laugh is way more effective for me to learn things like kanji and words. I don’t know why audio sticks better than visuals, but realizing this for myself has certainly made some aspects of learning easier for me.


Alphant too, and this has not been my experience at all.

Maybe you are talking only about the “hint” part of the mnemonic ? (Often start with “Picture yourself” or “Imagine”"). If so, yes, I agree, thoses parts don’t help, because they rely strongly on visualization, so I skip them.

However the mnemonics themselves work fairly well for me, precisely because they are very verbal ! Little stories, joke or pun, recurring character, wacky situation, word association, they rarely require visualization.

With the focus on stories over images I would say that WK is quite aphant-friendly overall. (Again with the exception of the ‘hint’ part)