Analiza i Egzystencja (Jan 2021)

Aphantasia and the Language of Imagination: A Wittgensteinian Exploration

  • Mélissa Fox-Muraton

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 55


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Congenital aphantasia, or the complete absence of mental imagery, is a topic that has recently aroused the interest of researchers in many fields including philosophy, psychology and cognitive sciences. While it is generally supposed that we all have rich mental lives full of imaged representations, estimates suggest 2-3% of the population may have never formed an image or seen ‘in the mind’s eye.’ This paper aims to address the scepticism surrounding aphantasia, the challenges in communicating about mental imagery, and the research methods used in cognitive sciences today through the lens of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. The paper argues that 1) communicating about mental imagery involves language games that persons with aphantasia may not be able to play (i.e., makes reference to expressions and concepts that are meaningless for them, such as ‘visualise,’ ‘form an image,’ etc.); 2) that as a consequence aphantasia, in present research, is only describable negatively (as lack or incapacity); 3) that rather than a cognitive or a psychological issue, aphantasia should be understood as a grammatical one; and 4) that we need to invent new language games in order to come to a better understanding of conditions such as aphantasia, and to be able to appreciate the rich diversity and variability of human experience.