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Mozilla Firefox Co-Creator Says He Can't Visualize Images: What You Need To Know About Aphantasia

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Internet browser Mozilla Firefox co-creator Blake Ross shared in a Facebook post that he suffers from aphantasia, a condition that renders him unable to picture mental images.

Ross penned an essay that detailed the struggles that he had to face. He said that he did not have any idea the people can have mental images in the first place. He only found out when he read an article about someone who "lost the ability" to visualize images after undergoing a minor surgery.

From that incident, University of Exeter researchers, who first coined aphantasia, identified more individuals affected by the condition.

To further test whether he is suffering from the same condition as the one in the article, Ross asked 74 of his Facebook friends about their ability to come up with mental images. Of the 74 friends interviewed, three of them cannot conjure a mental image. Two of them are engineers like him and the other one is his mother.

"Some people don't find out until they're 50," wrote Ross. "Some never do."

What Is Aphantasia?

Individuals who suffer from aphantasia are unable to visualize images using their mind's eye. Oftentimes, an individual's memory is linked to an image that can easily be retrieved when necessary, such as placing a face when someone mentions a friend's name. People with aphantasia cannot retrieve such image.

When asked to create a mental picture, they do not describe a particular image. What they do is they would mention facts or features of an object or person.

Aphantasia was first discovered when a 65-year old man, referred to as MX, came to visit neurologist Dr. Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter Medical School after a minor surgery. MX complained that he can no longer create mental pictures.

Intrigued by the condition, Zeman and his colleagues conducted further studies and found out that about one in 50 individuals suffer from such condition. They also discovered that the condition is not caused by trauma alone - it can also be congenital, as with Ross' case.

Since aphantasia is a newly described condition, Zeman is hoping that more people who believe that they may be suffering from the condition would come forward. He hopes to conduct a bigger scanning study to further understand aphantasia.

Photo: Sgt. Pablo Piedra, U.S. Army | Flickr

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