I wrote this piece on aphantasia for the Guardian last year.
I thought I would reference it here and elaborate somewhat. There seems recently to have been an explosion of people realising this is how they are - I won't say that they "have aphantasia" as that makes it sound like an illness or defect.
One early report on the - again I won't call it a condition - state of being was on the BBC and demonstrated a profound lack of understanding. It included such statements as:
Ironically, Niel now works in a bookshop, although he largely sticks to the non-fiction aisles.
"I couldn't really imagine what it's like to not imagine, I think it must be a bit of a shame really."
I doubt that anyone who has read my books thinks I would stick to the non-fiction aisles or that I can't imagine...
The misunderstanding lies in the fact that visualisation is such a central part of most people's imagination. For many the seeing of images in their head is synonymous with imagination. But aphantasia isn't a disability or lack. Think of it in terms of taking a different path to the same destination.
There's literally nothing that the majority of people can do that an aphantasic cannot. It's simply a matter of how they describe their own internal workings / experience when doing it. That's why it took so long to be recognised. Most aphantasics don't know that their internal experience is any different from that of the 98% who see mental imagery.
Various thought-provoking questions have cropped up over the years when considering the matter of artificial intelligence. One of them is to consider a black box that when asked a lengthy series of question responds in a way that leaves you unable to distinguish its answers from those of a person. The question then is: is the source of those answers intelligent, irrespective of the manner in which they were generated? I.e it could contain a phone through which a person was responding, or a computer coded with an AI algorithm, or a cunning array of clockwork, or a trillion ants working collectively, etc. Most consider that if a device provides feedback indistinguishable in character and quality from that of known intelligences then it would in fact be intelligent.
The extension here is that if someone acts as though they have an imagination then ... irrespective of the mechanics behind it (or the subjective description of the experience generated alongside those mechanics) ... that person has an imagination.
I can't visualise a spade, but I know what one is and I call a spade a spade.